What PTSD is to me

I was first diagnosed with PTSD in November 2011 after 15 years of Domestic Violence. I understood the brain injury a bit as my youngest daughter, who was 6yrs old at the time, had been diagnosed with PTSD a few months prior. Her diagnosis made sense because I had watched her trauma reaction unfold. She was having nightmares, humming and rocking herself, poor concentration and odd behaviour such as peeing in various spots in the house. My diagnosis, on the other hand, left me in shock. I understood that I scored high on all the tests. So on paper the diagnosis made sense, but as I left my psychiatrists office I thought, “Is this real?”

I was put onto various meds. Some pills treated anxiety, others my deep depressive disorder and others helped
me sleep. I hadn’t slept properly in over two years. My fear of my ex hurting or killing me as I slept was all too powerful. My brain never shut off. It was always on alert. I learned that that was very common with PTSD because your brain is constantly assessing for danger even while you sleep. It is always in the “fight or flight mode.” What is the “fight or flight mode’? Well you have a part of your brain called the amygdala that kicks in when you sense danger. You will freeze for a moment, feel a rush of adrenaline and blood flow will increase. You will either stay frozen or you will run far from the danger (hence the increased adrenaline and blood flow).

I learned that my brain had changed in shape. I saw scans of a normal brain compared to a PTSD brain and it looked completely different. Almost enlarged. This made me angry. I didn’t want it to change, but it looked like it had without whether I liked it or not.

I decided one of the best ways to cope with this diagnosis was to understand it. I did some research. I learned that PTSD was originally called shell shock and it was a term given to soldiers after WWII. The Soldiers had gone through so much trauma that when they came home the sound of a car backfiring would make them cower. In their mind they were back on the battlefield. They would suffer nightmares and flashbacks. This greatly puzzled doctors at the time leaving these soldiers with little support. Thankfully for me there has been progress made in treating PTSD. There are many therapies like EMDR and Cognitive Therapy that help you cope and heal.

One of the other interesting things I learned about PTSD is that anyone can get it. It does not descriminate.  On the flip of that, not everyone within the same trauma will get PTSD. I found it interesting that only one of my children was diagnosed with PTSD. My youngest daughter had witnessed most of the abuse so this explained her diagnosis, but so did my other daughter. My son had been physically abused. Why didn’t they have PTSD? I found out that trauma affects everyone differently and one event may deeply terrorize one person, but it may not affect the other person the same way. It’s all depends on how the brain processes the trauma.

In the end I realized this all came down to my brain. It had changed. It had changed in shape and in how it functioned. It had been damaged and this affected my whole being. I suffered a severe lack of sleep. When I did sleep I had terrible nightmares that left me shaking in a cold sweat unable to move. I lost my short term memory. I would talk to a customer at work, they would say their name and what they needed and by the end of that sentence I remembered nothing.  I was scared and beyond frustrated. I would get severe headaches, feel spinney and craved silence. I learned that when my brain was overwhelmed  it would choose assessing danger over anything else. As a result my brain would start shutting down other functions. Hence why I got headaches and became irritated with tasks that had nothing to do with survival. For example reading a book. This would not save my life so my brain saw it as unnecessary, I would loose my focus, become irritated and stop doing it. Noise was too much for my brain to assess on top of survival so I would crave silence, literally wanting to crawl into a hole to avoid what else was going on.

When I was diagnosed I tried to keep working, but in the end my doctor took me off of work permanently. I had to leave a 15 yr career in the corporate world because my brain could no longer do the job. It could not cope with the pressures involved with my job. I would suffer panic attacks and a severe lack of focus while doing the simplest of tasks. Also my serious loss of short term memory was affecting everything. My doctor called PTSD the cancer of mental illness. I was beginning to think he was right.

How did I cope with this major life change? I learned how to manage my PTSD. With no known cure this was my best bet. I planned my day around small tasks. Nothing too overwhelming. I took a nap each afternoon to let my brain recharge. I paid attention to my bodies cues like headaches, panic attacks and feeling overwhelmed. I knew that these were signals that my brain had had enough and I needed to find a quiet place to relax.  I constantly assured myself that I was safe. I also went to therapy and made friends on line who suffered the same diagnosis.  I told my family what I needed to get through this change in my life. I managed this injury.

PTSD can be so debilitating, but I am learning how to work with it.  I have accepted that much to my dislike I have changed. I live a life now where I need to be aware of what could trigger me and do my best to work around it. I am making progress every day. I’ve always been a fighter and having PTSD is not going to change that. If anything it is going to make me stronger.
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About Janet B

I am a Domestic Violence Survivor, who battles PTSD. I share what I know to help others on their journey and to help educate society. I also Supervise a Mentoring Program at Verbal Abuse Journals (http://verbalabusejournals.com/). This program matches Survivors who have been out of the abusive relationship for a few years, and are now Mentors,  with Survivors who are either still in an abusive relationship or have just left. A mentoring relationship is set up via email where the Mentor offers guidance and support to the Survivor for as long as they need. Please feel free to sign up for this free service at  http://ow.ly/LSii8

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