Twitter is one of the few places where I write about PTSD because I grew weary of people asking me “what war were you in” after openly discussing my PTSD. I even came up with a clever comeback for such instances – “my childhood.”
But the good news is that I don’t care anymore about people’s judgments. If I did at this point in my life, I’d never leave the house.
The common perception of PTSD is that it’s a casualty of war. And yes, it is. Every mental hospital I’ve been in I’ve spent time with veterans with severe PTSD and they were absolutely beautiful human beings struggling so hard.
But so was I.
Comparing traumas is futile. It’s the impact the trauma had on the individual that matters. Take one of the harshest situations – being a POW – and some come out the other side unscathed while others die by suicide.
And this doesn’t mean those with PTSD are weak or overly sensitive. I look at it like Lyme disease – many people have it and have no symptoms, while others die from the disease.
The misconceptions of PTSD made it safer for me to focus on my Bipolar Type 1 diagnosis when talking about mental health. It’s ridiculous to think that one mental illness is more socially acceptable than another, but it’s true.
And here’s my truth – PTSD has by far been my biggest challenge in my life and I’ve done the bulk of my therapy work to find tools to live with this disorder. It sets off all my other disorders and it’s at the core of all my illnesses.
Why? Because unresolved trauma remains in our bodies and makes us sick. And the insane amount of cortisol and adrenaline I had pumping through my body for the first 8 years of my life caused damage to my adrenals and hormones and EVERYTHING which in turn wreak havoc in the body.
If I went into intensive PTSD therapy once we escaped my father’s violence, I may not have turned on my alcoholism, bipolar disorder or Hashimotos genetic predisposition and then my Lyme disease may have remained dormant and wouldn’t have caused all the Lyme co-infections including CAEBV.
But that’s a big hypothetical, I know.
I started therapy at 33, after my first hospitalization. I learned that the 4-hour daily panic attacks I had for over 2 years were from PTSD, as a normal panic attack lasts 15 – 20 minutes.
Again, I had cortisol and adrenaline raging through my body just like in my childhood and doing more damage to my cells.
But after 11 years of therapy, my PTSD rarely ambushes me now because I know my triggers and I avoid them. Sometimes a movie can sneak attack me, or a person. Or a surprise situation. I’m not impervious to triggers by any stretch of the Armstrong imagination.
But once I’m triggered, I can identify it for what it is. Generally I can tell because I start to have a panic attack. My heart starts racing, my hands shake and I have a hard time swallowing. I fear I’ll throw up. I break out into cold sweats. And then I leave my body – which is the worst of all.
I’m well enough now to stop everything (or get out of the situation as soon as I can) and take care of myself instead of push through and pretend like nothing is happening to me.
I’ve become a safe space for myself because I don’t trust 99.9% of people and don’t believe that spaces with humans in it are safe. I still have relationships with people I don’t trust because I’ve learned how to preserve my inner safety.
I’ve come to accept this about myself. I still have deep, meaningful relationships with people even though I don’t trust them. I’m constantly growing and maybe this will change. Or not. And I’m ok either way.
If you have PTSD, I’m sorry. I know how hard facing each day can be. I know what it feels like to be in a room full of perceived enemies and I know what it is to be caught off guard so badly it takes months to try again. I know not being able to leave the house without Xanax in my purse.
But I also know what it is to have peace. I know what it is to trust myself and be my own safe space. I know what it is to go years without cortisol rushing through my bloodstream and to go years without a Xanax or even a prescription.
Because there’s a solution to every problem. It’s like universal math. It may take decades to find it, but when I make the decision to seek, I’ve always found. It never looks the way I wanted it to, but it shows up, nonetheless.