Friday, June 27, 2014

The 29th year.

It's 11pm on June 26th.
I was bound and determined to carry on a tradition of writing in this blog on National PTSD Awareness Day (also known as my birthday). Last year I missed out on doing so because I worked 2 jobs and capped off the day with spending a few hours at my internship. After 14 hours of work that day, I was too tired to muster a thought.

Usually I might ramble on about some sort of current PTSD related frustration. This year will be a bit different - this year I want to tell you about my 29th year. 

Here's the one thing I will tell you about PTSD - it tends to suppress the warm fuzzy futuristic memories that one may have. I honestly really couldn't tell you what a future is supposed to look like or what it's supposed to be like to envision one but I do know for sure that what happens in my brain is far from what the norm is. My brain is constantly (unwillingly) focused on past memories... memories of things that weren't pleasant to experience. Because of this, my brain seemed unable to have the capacity of any type of futuristic thought. 

Future? What future? You don't have one
I couldn't envision a future. I couldn't see myself the way I wanted to see myself some day - as a parent, a wife, a person happy in their career. I wanted it. I've always wanted it. But it was so far out of reach that I even convinced myself a few times that I didn't care if I ever got it. 

So January 1st 2013 was this very important turning point in my life.
On this particular day, I was absolutely elated. I had spent the previous night with a family that I both loved and adored and I was in a total state of bliss because I realized the next day on my drive home that I had spent the entire evening/night/morning PTSD free. 
My brain had shut up for almost an entire day. 
For that entire time, I forgot how unforgiving my mind could be. For that one period of time I felt safe and secure and loved and happy and I forgot that I wasn't the same as everyone else. 

When I realized this, I had to pull over to the side of the road because I began to cry out of pure joy.
This, I had a feeling, was going to be the best year of my life. Something had shifted, I felt it. 

2 days later I sat in my driveway and cried for the exact opposite reason. The person I had been in love with (and had spent that New Year's eve/day with) hardly had a word or two to say to me at all. I was back to being miserable and confused and frustrated. What kind of life was this anyway?!

I was almost 30.
I lived in my parents basement. (for good reason since I was about to be working 70+ hours a week)
I didn't have a career... and despite being in college for 12 years straight I didn't even have a degree.
I miserably worked in retail and was currently having to change out of the job title I enjoyed doing in order to be allowed to work my potential internship hours. 
I was almost 30 and desperately grasping on to a relationship that after almost 3 years of trying, had still not even amounted to girlfriend/boyfriend status. 
I was almost 30 and I was nowhere near the life I had once grasped to dream of.
I had accomplished nothing. 

The 28th year proceeded to get worse.
First I started to realized that I wasn't capable of being a counselor, especially because of my PTSD. (Honestly, what the hell was I thinking?!) I called my advisor and told him I was throwing up the white flag. 

In the 28th year I slowly watched a friend grow more and more ill. I watched the hearts of people I loved most in the world break into pieces as we lost an amazing person who had touched the lives of so many people. 

It was now the beginning of March and what I had previously thought (on that January 1st) was going to be an amazing year - had turned out to be one of the worst in a long time.
In quiet exhaustion I had reached out to (the boy previously mentioned) and he had responded in a classic "I just don't give a shit" kind of attitude for the very last time because I could no longer take the emotional toll of a one sided half assed relationship. 

Life was in fact, going backwards. 

I turned 29 in June. 

Now - I would like to tell you about my 29th year.
I don't even expect you to entirely believe that life turned out the way that it did.
Everything just seemed to fall into place.  

In my 29th year I was newly into a relationship that had previously seemed impossible.
No, it wasn't with the person previously mentioned who had upset me in the beginning of the year.
It was "previously impossible" because I strongly believed that there was no way that you could ever fall in love with someone that you had previously known (and not loved). But I fell in love with someone who I had known well for 6 years. 

One day my mind just showed me these small glimpses of a future.
This, a future I had never previously been able to see - no matter how hard I had tried.
I'm not going to lie, I felt like I was insane at first. But it all suddenly just made sense.

In my 29th year, I fell in love and was loved in return.
And there really was never a moment in which I had wished I had done things differently because I realized that every heartache I had previously been through was allowing me to appreciate every little thing that he did for me. 

In my 29th year, I regained my belief in myself as a counselor thanks to a very special coworker that I met during my internship. She forever changed my life in the very best ways possible. Because of this, I flourished. 

In my 29th year, I moved out of my parents basement and in to a house with my boyfriend. 

In my 29th year, I quit smoking for the first time in 14 years. (the previous attempt in my 28th year had ended after 6 months) 

In my 29th year, I became engaged after a beautiful surprise proposal complete with candles and rose petals that spelled out "Marry Me". 

In my 29th year, I graduated with an Associates Degree.

In my 29th year, my SIL helped to free me from shame by turning my arm of ugly scars into artwork.

In my 29th year, I became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl

Not everything has happened without pouring my heart and soul into it. There were parts of my 29th year that were hard and scary and could have easily turned into the worst year of my life. But it didn't. Some way, some how - everything always seemed to work out for the best.

So now, it's after midnight - officially June 27th.
In the hour before I sat down to finally write I had been on the couch snuggling with my baby girl who was peacefully sleeping curled up on my chest. I kissed that beautiful face and put her to bed and sat down to share this blessing of a life I've been granted. 

My PTSD (and currently unmedicated brain) tends to throw me into a panic that it's all going to be taken away from me but I try my hardest to believe I will get to live a long and happy life with my new family. 

My family.
That thing I had previously thought impossible. 

And now, I will tip toe into my bedroom where my soon to be husband and my daughter are both sound asleep and most likely snoring in unison.
A year and a half ago I feared the age of 30. 
I felt unaccomplished and like my life would never amount to anything.

Today I am 30 and I am madly in love with this life.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's about what it can become.

The PTSD brain is constantly storing memories without my knowing. Taking bits and pieces of my day and cramming them into some hole in my brain, ready to retrieve them at any given traumatic moment. It stores and stores and stores until one day something bad happens and a tiny little PTSD monster runs to retrieve them all and lock them in one of those godforsaken rooms.
It remembers things that I didn't even know it could be capable of remembering.
Things I can hear, things I can feel, smell, see, experience as if it was that exact moment.

When something bad happens the memories all come flying back at me tenfold. The memories I wasn't aware I was keeping.
A simple sentence spoken by a friend, about what his life could be, becomes a haunting memory when that life is cut short and he's no longer in existence.

Sometimes it's a daily, hourly, struggle to keep triggers at bay. They're always present, but you have them on a leash so they can't get out of control. They're still trying their damnedest to get away from you, run free and reek havoc on your mind. It's a game these triggers play and they don't want to be distracted away or put back in a safe box where you can't see them, where they can't grow into a big ugly monster.
Memories want to ruin your brain, tear you down bit by bit until there's nothing left but blank space. They're only there to win and they will come at you until there is nothing left to break down. Until you're staring off into nothing and can't even seem to form a thought at all.

My triggers depend upon so many different variables to the day. Did I sleep well? What did I dream about? How many opportunities for distraction will I have in a day? Did I get to listen to the radio when I woke up? What time of year is it? Is it a trauma day? Is something weighing heavy on my mind that particular day? Did someone creep out of the abyss to say hello?

I didn't sleep well last night.
On my way to work the radio started talking about festivals over the summer.
(Today this particular topic has triggered my brain.)
I thought of fairs.
The state fair.
The county fair.
Then I had a flashback. I saw a memory I had from a fair - one with someone who is no longer here.
Then I envision what his death may have been like. How he lay in his bed dead for 2 days before anyone found him. These are things I'd rather not remember. Even the happy memories I have of his life are enough to pull on the heartstrings of loss.

Then a whirlwind of sound and a rapid fire of short clips of visual memories of that person flashes through my brain. They've all been let out of their tidy little room. The door to that cluster of memories has been knocked wide open and here I stand, watching them rush by.

Most of the time I'm able to literally run from that situation.
It would have stopped my brain at the fair memory had I been able to distract myself. Life is life though, so it's not always that convenient to do so. I was in my car at the time and there's only so much one can do. Even with years and years of practice I don't always catch myself before it's too late. I could have turned on my copy of The Fault in Our Stars (my favorite novel) on audio to drown out the voices that played through my mind, but I didn't. I got sucked in too fast and rendered the ability to think about solutions until it was an afterthought.

Last week at work a client smelled like a familiar smell. The Naltrexone running through my body had done it's job to serve as a "get the hell away from that now!" warning so I tensed up and walked quickly away. This, thankfully, happens several times a day, this warning of sorts. It isn't a pleasant feeling (imagine the feeling you get from being startled by someone who you were unaware was waiting right around the corner - this is one instance in a day where I feel like that) but it's far better than the alternative mind trap of memories that I don't want. My amygdala is running wild at the warning from the drug that keeps the flashbacks at bay. I feel like I need to run as fast and hard as I can until I'm nowhere near the "danger" (trigger).
I can't run. I'm in the middle of a counseling a group, my clients would think I was insane if I took off running. Instead I just look around in a panicked manner and take a seat on the opposite side of the room as the person who's scent triggered my brain. My heart is racing and my veins are pulsing with adrenaline. All the while my brain is frantically searching for the connection of this scent and whatever unpleasant memory goes along with it. All I can do at this point is pray that it's unsuccessful in finding that link.

If you ever see me dance in place for no reason, you can bet that my body is telling me to run at a time that I know I have to sit still. My eyes are probably wide with fear and knowing. I might get snippy with you. I might be short in my answers. I might appear as though I'm extremely annoyed with whatever is going on around me.
I'm not. Don't take it personally. If you still feel like it pertains to you, just ask. I'll be happy to reassure you it doesn't.

This week one of my favorite podcasts (that I usually use to distract my mind from being triggered) did an episode on PTSD: Stuff You Should Know - How PTSD works. (<-- you can click those words for a link) if you have the time you should check it out, it's very informative.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

All at once

I wish that when something devastating happened you could just choose to give up. I mean, I know most people say things like "I had to be strong for XYZ reason"... but what if you had a choice? What if you had no one that you were actually responsible for and you could just simply say "I'd like to give up now."?

And then *poof*, someone takes the pain away. They take you away and then you don't have to continuously relive that horrible moment that brought you to your knees. You don't have to allow that thing that damn near swallowed you whole to continue to live inside of you.

Why should it get to live on? You don't get to truly live. Instead it lives inside of you and you have to wake up in the morning and slowly let it all seep painfully back into your consciousness. Then you get to watch time tick by slowly while every minute is greeted with a pain that might as well be a blade through your skin. Every time you think of that ugly festering thing you get nauseous so you can't even look forward to simple pleasures like eating a meal during the day.
So you continue to pray that something distracts you for even the smallest moment so you don't have to deal with the constant reminder that your failed life is dancing a cheerful dance in your brain. During all of this day... your one objective is to get to the night time, to bring an end to the day... when you can sleep and not have to be consciously tortured by your mistakes and the wrong doings that have been done to you. Not to mention the decisions you've made that were (of course discovered too late) the wrong decisions.

But then sleep... it's just as evil as wake. In sleep your mind can take your fears, the fears it had so slyly learned during your waking hours, and it can run with them. Sleep can turn them into reality. Force you to see what you're trying your hardest to forget.

How beautiful this brain is.
It rips us to shreds and leaves us cowering on the ground.
Makes us wish that life didn't exist.
It hurts and hurts and hurts and just when I think I can't take anymore - everything grows quiet and calm. When the brain can't handle any more it shuts down. Then there is nothing. Nothing except the quiet whisper of one sentence; "I don't want to exist anymore".

I have to fight back from that. Constantly. PTSD intensifies everything that I experience... the good and the bad. My biggest question is always "What's the point in all of this? Why do we wake up and choose to struggle through a day?" I constantly want to ask people what makes them want to get up in the morning.
Just when I think I can't answer any of those questions, I have these strong serene moments where I see the good in the world. I see purpose and people with cancer who are fighting like hell for their life and then someone, unknowingly, squeezes me in to the facets of their world - making me feel like I belong somewhere.

This world can be so beautiful and so very cruel all at the same time.

At first, I was afraid to share such brutal honesty. I wanted to keep it for myself, as I usually do. But then I realized, that's not what this blog is about. This blog is about me being able to say the real things, the things that other people might not understand. The things that make the people who do understand, feel less alone.
...About the things that PTSD does to the mind - regardless if someone is behind me whispering "you're not supposed to say that out loud...".

They say "That's not normal."
Well, it's my normal.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The doors of PTSD

Work and a full school schedule has kept me too busy to blog over the last 6 months. I carry a fully time job, two part time jobs and (just barely over part time) school schedule. I've spent the last 10 years of my life in college. Some years had proven harder than others but I still came out with a 3.6 GPA. At one point towards the end of this semester I remember being really overwhelmed and struggling to keep my mind in check and worrying that I wouldn't get A's in my classes.

I wondered - for the first time ever - how much more successful I could be if I didn't have to do my school work and battle my brain on a day to day basis. Sometimes, at the end of the day when I sat down to do my homework and write papers, I had nothing left to give. Sometimes I could barely even stay in the present moment much less concentrate and succeed in what I was doing. I did it anyway and I rarely got a B on an assignment much less in a class as a whole.

In my early years of college I had often sought guidance from the school's support for those with disabilities. There were some grants I could get that would pay for some of my schooling. I decided early on to not pursue those grants, no matter how much easier it would be for me to actually finish school, because it was always on the terms of the person assigned to my case and that person would always cringe and say "No offense, but with your disability I really don't think you'll be able to be successful in that program."
They'd tell me I couldn't. Of course, they'd always pat me on the back and smile and make it sound as encouraging as possible, but they'd tell me I couldn't.

Well, someone told me once that I couldn't hold a job either and now I have three. Discouragement encourages me to prove them wrong tenfold.
I may be a few years late to the game, but I'm done with classes - just an 8 month internship and I'm done completely (before having to most likely go on for further education so that I can make a living off of my degree) and the day I graduate, I'll be saying "Hey, thanks for telling me I couldn't do it!"

That's not what I'm here to talk about though, I'm here to explain my day in doors.
There's still this quiet aspect of PTSD that I think people aren't able to fully grasp when they learn about it and that is how incredibly hard that someone with PTSD has to work at their every day. I know you've read those words written by me before. I know that you know what that sentence means. I personally tend to do better understanding something if someone paints me a picture.

So here it is, once more - my analogy of the endless doors of PTSD.
If someone were to say "paint PTSD" I would paint them this:
Imagine sitting in the very corner of a V - the bottom part - and along both sides of the V you can see nothing but doors, kind of like how hotels and apartments are set up.
Each door holds a handful of memories. Some are horrific. Some are not. Some may hold the memories of the days and moments I was with someone who is no longer here anymore. Some rooms have adjoining doors where memories are connected to one another. Each door should be, and should remain, locked.

So, here's a sample day of doors:
As I've said before, when I sleep, I lose all control. My safe spot at the bottom of the V where I can see and attempt to control the doors is not there. Instead I'm running blindfolded through the halls like my life depends on it - praying that someone doesn't grab me and pull me inside one of those rooms. For this reason, I don't sleep well. The moment I feel myself being sucked in to a room I wake up. I look at my clock, it's never time to wake. I tell myself that I'm fine, I'm safe even though even I don't believe myself, and then I fall back asleep and repeat that action over and over and over until one time I'm not strong enough to wake up and I get sucked into a room.
When my day starts, I'm waking up in one of those rooms.
The door is locked from the inside. I am trapped with my monsters.
I grab my phone, flip through some social media, check the messages that I usually don't have, check my email which is usually all spam. With each successful distraction on my phone I'm able to take steps towards that door to get out. With time as an issue, I usually need to give up on my phone and start getting ready. The first thing that I grab for is my alarm clock radio that sits on my bathroom counter. The morning shows on the radio is my morning savior. I hate the weekends for the very fact that I am not able to use it as a distraction so I don't wake anyone else in the house. The mornings that I can use the radio I'm able to take a few more steps towards the door. The chatter and stories as told by the morning show slowly let me regain my brain power.
Distraction is the Achille's heel of the PTSD monster. It's my only weapon of defense.
On some days, the time that it takes me to get my coffee and gather a lunch may be enough time to knock me back a few steps. As soon as the radio is off in the basement I'm at risk again, no longer distracted. My brain is in a weakened state when I'm trapped inside a room. Some days I continue the radio with my iHeartRadio app. Some days I'm already too far in my head to remember to even do that or maybe too many commercials are being played and I haven't had enough to concentrate on.

I'm upstairs now but the time that I've had the radio off has allowed me enough time to worry if I've unplugged my flat iron or turned off my lights. I run up and down the stairs a few times before I can successfully remember if I've done so.
I'm still locked in the room, but I'm also now in my car. If by some miracle I managed to make it out of the room by the time I get to my car, then I can play on the radio whatever I'm in the mood for. Those are the good days. Most days aren't that kind. Most days I need to find a talk show or a book or a playlist of songs that I have to concentrate to remember the words to.

Sometimes by the time I get to work I'm out of the room. Sometimes I'm not.
If I've made it out of the room I'll greet you with a smile or a sarcastic remark.
If I haven't then I'll most likely look a bit disheveled, quiet or cranky. You'll probably pass it off as a crabby morning person.

By the time I make it out of the room, I'm exhausted but I manage to lock the door behind me and make my way to the corner of my V.
I'm tired, so I may be quiet. I'm tired, so I may not respond to you when you say hi or wave at me. I'm tired because it took a lot of work just to get to the starting point of my day. To undo everything that I can't control at night. I'm tired because I don't sleep at night. I'm tired because I force myself to stay awake to avoid the time that I can't be in control. No matter how many times I've had to go through it - I dread the helplessness of the night.

I spend my day guarding my doors. Making sure that they stay locked, monsters inside. Every single hour of every day I need to be busy with distraction so that my mind can't take over, so doors don't start opening and letting all the monsters loose to reek havoc on me.

Someone at work climbs on to the metal step ladder and since they're not careful it makes a loud crashing noise - metal against metal. This startle sends a door in a hallway crashing open with the same force. I run to close it. Meanwhile - my actual mind is begging me to run.
run run run run run get the hell out of there!
But I can't. I have to stay where I am even though my muscles are tense and twitching at the same time, itching to help me flee. In my mind I'm rushing to close the now open door and while I'm doing so, other door knobs start to rattle. Everyone wants out.
Distraction distraction distraction - I need distraction. I need to run. A monster has escaped the room and is running through the halls. Now I have to chase him around attempting to contain him. He brings memories with him... throwing them in my path. Reminding me of things that I'd rather not remember. Not only giving me images but literally making me feel like I'm back in the moments that the memories were created.

Even if I just simply asked you to recall a memory of a time that you were sad, you wouldn't relive it. You'd simply see glimpses of it and maybe remember the emotion that happened at the time, but you won't see it like I see it. You won't actually re-experience it like I do.

Doorknobs are rattling and threatening to open, a monster is running a muck throwing memories at me and I have to try my hardest to stop the memories from leading into other bad memories and contain the monster and make sure the other doors stay closed.
And I have to talk to you.
I have to have a conversation, a normal conversation with whoever is around me. They probably think I'm stuck up, ignoring them, being antisocial... but I'm in the middle of what could result in a war in my brain. I'm simply busy just trying to be normal.

My constant need for distraction is why I have my "tools" with me at all time. I have a book in my purse, I have my favorite book on audio on my iPod  I have my favorite episodes of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me and Stuff You Should Know podcasts, I have my favorite episode of Glee downloaded to my phone... all things that calm me, help my brain to focus on something that I know and love. I distract myself out of the bad memories and then in the moments after I've stepped back into functioning I feel a worried rush of panic.

Reading or watching something on the TV or computer allows me to live inside someone else's world for a bit. Afterwards I'm a bit dazed but then I'm remembering that I was distracting myself from the evil that lives inside my mind and that feels like the panicked moment that you remember that something awful has happened. The way you feel when you wake up the morning after something horrible has happened and for that small second before coming back to consciousness you have forgotten that the horrible thing had happened at all.
And then... it all crashes down on you, heavy and filled with a sadness that you're certain might make your heart stop beating.

Contain the monster, lock the door, sit at the bottom of the V and wait for the next storm to roll through.
Unfortunately anything can cause the doors to fly wide open and not every day is the same. My triggers are many and they are sometimes not triggers at all, it all depends upon what door is already open and what monster is running a muck.

Yes, there are times during the day when I have no monsters to battle. There are even the rare moments during the week when I forget all together that the hallways of doors even exist. Those are beautiful, beautiful times and they mean more to me than people can even imagine. They're rare, but they happen.
Unfortunately, the battles are far more than the calm time sitting and guarding the doors.
Unfortunately I can't make anyone who doesn't have PTSD understand how long and grueling my days are. I'm constantly busy because if I'm not busy, then there's too much time for the monsters to start the war in my head.
Some days I can't compete any more. Some days I just have to sit with my back to the wall and my arms cupped over my head. On those days I can't even pray for sleep to come because it'll be just that much worse.

Sometimes... my mind whispers Imagine what you could be without this.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

National PTSD Awareness Day - June 27th

I haven't had much to say lately. I'm not too certain of the point in which my rambling turns into a repetitive mess, but then again - my life is a repetitive mess and I am trying to help people understand the inner most workings of the PTSD mind. In the beginning of the blog I wanted people to understand me but I've recently realized that even if I put myself out there and pour my everything into this public display - I still can't make people read it.
I've heard every excuse in the book. I've heard how "hurtful" it can be or how "hard it is" or how people "don't have time to read". Please spare me the time you've wasted on your excuses. If this is hurtful to you, then please take a second to realize both how hurtful both my every day is and how hurtful it is to know that you don't care enough to know who I am. This is just as hard for me to both live through and share as it is for anyone reading it.
For a second, I felt bad for some people (the ones who spat out hurried excuses) and I let them chew on those excuses for a while with validity and confidence. But then I realized this: if I loved someone - I would want to know not only everything about them, but also how to help them if they needed my help.

Is that not how people love? Wholeheartedly? Unconditionally? Without question or complaint or resistance? Shouldn't that be how you love a child or a sibling or a friend?

All I want from this, is for one person to gain insight from it so that they either feel better about themselves (if they are relating to what I am saying) and what they're experiencing or are able to apply it to people that they love or are trying to help.
I want you all to know, that any time that I'm understood or that someone attempts to understand me, it means the world to me.

I've struggled a lot with this lately - with feeling like my thoughts weren't significant enough. Like my PTSD was or was not relevant at all. I've recently had someone tell me that it's my problem so I should deal with it. I've searched endlessly for things to share to help educate people on PTSD - especially with so many soldiers coming home from war with PTSD - but there was a bit of a road block. Almost all the information that I find has to do with military PTSD. I love my soldiers and I wholeheartedly appreciate everything that they do for us and I feel horrible for a soldier that has to have their memories branded into their brain compliments of PTSD. With that being said - I also need to say this: My brain is just as broken as theirs is. My PTSD isn't irrelevant because my trauma was different.

On any given day, I could stop fighting. And no, I'm not saying "give up my life" but I could wake up one day and say "I just don't feel like busting my ass to stay functional today." But I don't, I wake up every day and fight like hell through every hour of the day. The general public (or even friends/family/coworkers) don't see it because to them it looks like I just might not be paying attention to them or like I'm crabby that day or that I'm just another one of those people with their face in their phone.

I can assure you that no matter how cool and collected I might always look, I'm constantly fighting for custody of my own thoughts or trying to being completely aware of my surroundings in order to avoid a triggersome situation. If I'm laughing and smiling... well, then something has made me happy and I'm in the present. I'm distracted, I'm here (instead of in my head).
(Trust me, I hang on to those happy moments just as strongly as I do the bad ones - I use them for distraction if I can manage it.)

Still don't understand how severe it is? I'm writing this entry while locked in my bathroom because my brain is telling me I'm not safe. Is it lying? Most likely. Am I able to convince it of that? Partially... that is in fact why I am locked in a small room. It appears to be safe.

I can't stress it enough - education is key to helping people with PTSD or any other disability or disorder. If you love someone, the best thing that you can do for them is listen and try your very hardest to understand.

Today, June 27th - my 28th birthday - is National PTSD Awareness Day.
Can you do me a favor? Please spread awareness, even if just for this one day. Even if it's just sharing this blog (share away, that's what it's here for!).

Thank you & thanks for caring enough to read!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

faux pas

Sometimes I feel fake.
Sometimes I feel like people read my blog and say things like so what and big deal and what's so hard about that? I've been inside of my head for so long that this life feels completely normal and I have a hard time convincing myself that I'm different and that what I go through on a daily basis is not in fact normal at all and I have to remind myself that just like Marla did for me, my writing could be helping others to feel like they're not alone. It could be helping someone understand PTSD. Understand me.
So I trudge on.

I ran across this article today: What is it like to have PTSD? written by a veteran.
A large majority of people know what PTSD is because of the amount of soldiers who have come back from this war with PTSD. A large majority of any new articles or findings or tools for people with PTSD are geared towards soldiers.

I'm exhausted today. I didn't get any sleep last night...none at all. I had horrible nightmares that didn't stop intruding in on my thoughts until well after 1pm today. I'm tired, so my thoughts are becoming drained and irrational and I thought "I'll read this man's blog and then I'll see what it's really like to have PTSD, he'll put me to shame."

So I read it. And he has the same type of PTSD I do and he's saying the same things I've said all so many times.
He fought in a war, I fought in my life.
No, it's not the same, but a trauma is a trauma and we can't say that one person deserves to be labeled traumatized or having PTSD and another doesn't. Trauma can still break you, all the same. Leave you fearful of every minute of every day.

His words, are important, so I wanted to share them with you.
They might help you. They might help you understand someone you know.
They might make you think twice before you tell someone to "get over it" or label them as crazy.

What is it like to have PTSD?

I thought I would write a personal entry today on what post traumatic stress disorder is like for me. We all have our own unique experiences in life so my example may not be like others. Besides, I don’t just have PTSD. I have agoraphobia and depression alongside with complex PTSD. My story might be very different from your own. If it is the same as your own, I would like to hear from you.
When I get up in the morning, my goal is to not leave the apartment. I feel safe inside, I have established my own safe house in what appears to be a combat zone outside of my door. I know where my trusty knife is, I know where people will exit and enter the apartment. I will not be surprised by people coming and going. If the shit goes down, I am in a good position to defend myself because this is my turf.
At any moment a loud explosion will go off and shatter my sense of peace. It will cause me fear and anxiety. My adrenaline will pick up, like it always does when there is a explosion. I will have to look around and act quickly so I can see how many survivors there are to this blast and hopefully I will be able to find the enemy that set off this explosion. I don’t have any real weapons though so it is difficult to execute a proper defense. All I have is my pocket knife and this scares me. I wake up in a panic some nights because I cannot find my M-16 rifle. For years it was right next to me, but it has been almost a decade since I have turned my weapon in to the United States Marine Corps armory on Camp Pendleton.
When I am on the bus or train in this city, I am always looking around. Over my shoulder, I take quick glances at what is behind me. When I am not looking over my shoulder, I am looking straight ahead, to the right and scanning to the left. I must assess who is a friendly and who is the enemy. At any moment I will get hit by incoming fire so I must remain vigilant. I just hope this bus doesn’t run over another metal construction plate in the road. Last time it did that, it triggered panic so bad that I was put in the hospital last year. This year’s goal is to stay out of the hospital and I intend to reach my goal.
I hate surprises. I get agitated when accidents happen, when loud unexpected noises are created. I don’t like being surprised by people, phone calls and the like. I haven’t called my family at all this year and I know they are worried. They keep calling me but I don’t pick up the phone. I feel terrible for it but I just don’t want to talk. 
When I look at other people, I often see the faces of my Marines amongst the crowd. I’ve been through this for years now and I know that those faces are just an apparition, a ghost of my past. Sometimes it is comforting to see those faces but today it is not. It makes me fearful.
The explosion will come. I know it will. Just like that one night in the desert, where it seemed to come from nowhere. The peace has been shattered but I must continue to fight and protect myself and those around me. The only problem is that there are no explosions here. There is no enemy. There is no cause for concern. This fear and panic is all self created and is crazy to others. So I should keep my mouth shut about this so others do not think I am crazy. I have already been to the hospital more than a fews times and I do not want to go back. It’s scary being there...being held against your will. Having family and friends to come visit you and the whole while feel like shit for being in that situation.
I know I have to get a job soon or there will be trouble. I am living off of my $970.00 disability check in an expensive major city and I am barely making it. Yet I cannot explain my gaps in employment because if I had to be honest, I would have to reveal my disability, my hospitalizations, my medicines, my fears and everything that I want to be kept a secret. My family wants me to ask the VA for more disability money but I am so ashamed. I don’t understand why I have to go through this. I didn’t do anything wrong yet I feel like I am being punished. At times I wish that explosion took my life. I wish my body had been turned into pink mist spread across the desert sand. 
I’m not suicidal today and that is a great feeling. Tomorrow the thoughts will likely return but for now I am going to hold on to this feeling and try to get it to stay. I need to keep moving forward instead of treading water in my apartment. I don’t know what I am moving forward towards but I must keep moving.
Some people will read this and think, “What a nightmare.” Well it’s not a nightmare. It is my life. It is the way it is and it is, what it is.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Relentless brain.

The peaceful quiet of the night is unforgiving and it’s during that silence that I question my reason of existence at all.

There are things about PTSD that we just don’t talk about.
We don’t talk about it, because people don’t want to hear it.
They actually don’t want to hear a large majority of it – but here’s the relentless truth: one of the symptoms of PTSD is suicidal ideation. There are some days when a person with PTSD simply sits down and says “What’s the point?”. Yes, the person who is in constant fear of dying from some horrible accident some days just sits down and thinks that the easiest way of getting out of their head is to end their life.
Most of the time it’s just that – a simple thought of “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I’m well educated on PTSD and I’ve been living with it for longer than I can remember (to be honest, I don’t know a time in my life that I didn’t have PTSD symptoms) so I’m well aware of these intrusive thoughts and I know the difference between the simple thought at the end of a day and when I should fear myself. I think the thought, most likely have a bit of an attitude for the rest of the day, go to bed, and wake up ready to face the next day.
I don’t actually fear myself in these moments of defeat, but in the chaos of our PTSD brains it crosses our minds.

I can tell you it’s exhausting to be in my head, but you’d never quite fully grasp those words unless you were in my head. When I was younger I struggled a lot with this thought. I knew that my thoughts were different than other people’s thoughts and I wasn’t ever able to explain myself in ways that people understood.
It’s not that bad, get over it.
I couldn’t. And it was that bad. And I used to spend my days distracting myself by envisioning this alternate reality where I had this power to simply grab someone’s arm and project the images and thoughts from my head into theirs, so they could see what I saw.
So they’d stop telling me to stop being a baby and to suck it up and to just leave the door unlocked or the window opened.

But my imagination couldn’t become a reality so I had to continue to muddle through life with my mouth shut, suffering through the attack on my brain that occurred on a daily basis.

“Dr. Jonathan Shay, a P.T.S.D. specialist, thinks that even calling it a disorder is misleading: P.T.S.D. is an injury. There are degrees of damage, ranging from standard combat stress, which can be treated with a few days’ rest, to full-blown complex P.T.S.D., which is very difficult to treat, let alone cure. It is best understood, though, as a psychic wound, one that can be crippling, even fatal, in its myriad complications.”

One time when I was out to eat at my favorite restaurant, I was triggered by a couple who sat close by that was having a heated argument. My brain was tired that day and my defense on my brain wasn’t very strong. I immediately recognized that I was triggered and had the other person I was with distract me, but sometimes, no matter how well versed in fighting my own battle I am – it’s not enough.
I kept flashbacks at bay, but my body still reacted. The world got loud and adrenaline surged through my body as if it were needed for survival. It became hard to concentrate and by the time I left the restaurant that night, I was 100% exhausted.
My brain grasped at that memory of a trigger that lead to a memory and stored it away as valuable information. Every time that I’ve gone back to that restaurant since that day, my senses are heightened and I feel the urge to run for my life.

My brain is relentless, unforgiving. It thinks it’s doing the job that it needs to do in order to survive. It’s all it knows. Some days, it’s really hard to see the silver lining. Some days, I feel like I’m just too damn tired to wake up and do it all over again.

The other thing we don’t “talk” about is our foreshortened sense of future. Obviously no one can predict what the future holds but some people with PTSD have a problem with seeing the future at all. I wrote the following on a discussion I was having with other people with PTSD:

I'm 27 years old. PTSD has been all I've ever known, so it's not like I yearn to get back to the "normal" way that life used to be or anything - but what I wanted to talk about/ask is in regards to the fact that I can't "see" past tomorrow. 
I know that there are many people who have been living with PTSD far longer than I have and I wonder: does it get any easier/what have you done to be able to "see the future"? I know I have to go to work tomorrow and that this weekend I may spend a night with friends watching a movie and that in May I'll be an aunt again... but in reality, I expect to die this afternoon. Or on my way home from school tonight. Or tomorrow morning. (Not by my own hand, but by some wicked twist of fate) I know that I have plans that are "future based" (like a set date for an event I’m attending), and I look forward to those things but I never plan on living that long. I actually spend a lot more time thinking about it than I ever let on to. It's not something I consciously decide, it's just how it is. I can't see ever getting married or having a family or watching children grow or being retired. I WANT those things, but they don't ever feel attainable. 

I can’t look forward to a life that I can’t force myself, no matter how hard I try, to believe exists. I want it to exist. I want to look forward to it, but I can’t see it. On the rare occasion that I do see a glimpse into what “could be” I grab ahold of it and store it away as a reminder to myself that it could happen. After all, I am 27, I’ve made it this far and that’s far longer than my 18 year old self would have predicted.

Now once again it’s midnight and I’ve avoided doing all of the things that I’m supposed to get done because this nagging at the back of my mind said “get this out”, so I did.

I recently saw a neurologist at a sleep clinic, hoping he could shed some light on the subject of PTSD sleep that most doctors don’t have the slightest clue about. He wasn’t too versed in PTSD but he did understand how the brain physically works in those who have PTSD when it comes to sleep. After drilling me with various questions (sometimes repeatedly) he assured me that he 100% believed that I had sleeping problems and in the same breath told me that I was fighting a battle that I couldn’t win.

He said “Your amygdala, the fear center of the brain, doesn’t sleep when you do. It’s over active during the day and you seem to have a good awareness around that and what you can do to counteract it, but when you sleep, it’s still going. It’s overproductive, releasing unnecessary levels of adrenaline into your system at unnecessary times. It’s watching your dreams and gathering pieces of them that it deems dangerous and it’s waking you up for protection. We can’t change that.”

We can’t change it, but we can drug it. So now, once again, Prazosin is added to my drug cocktail – normally diagnosed for high blood pressure, it’s supposed to reduce the amount of adrenaline that my dear amygdala releases while I sleep, hopefully reducing the amount of times that I wake up during the night.
I’ve been prescribed this drug before, but by a doctor who had absolutely no clue as to why she was prescribing it. No one could tell me why it worked so I wasn’t comfortable taking it. So this neurologist explained the how’s and why’s and then I asked the question that had kept me from taking the risk of a new drug the last time I had possession of it.

I was afraid to take the Prazosin last time.
I was afraid it would kill me. I was afraid to go to sleep and die.
It won’t kill you. You won’t die from taking it.
Are you SURE?
Yes, I’m sure.
Ok, I’m going to trust you on this.
And I’m also going to blog about it, so you better not be lying.
I’m not.

Suicidal ideation, foreshortened sense of future, fear of death. Confused yet? Yeah, me too. 

For more information on PTSD sleep you can visit the website for the one and only sleep center devoted to PTSD sleep here. Unfortunately it's in New Mexico and requires (for best results) that you stay either at the sleep center or live near it in order to actually benefit from it so it's officially #1 on my list of things to do if I win the lottery/publish a book.
A podcast on iTunes relating to PTSD and sleep is what lead me both to the existence of the sleep center and the drug Prazosin but I can't currently find it (I'll keep looking).

Here is a link to the article that the quote used in this post was obtained from. It talks about the suicide of a Marine who suffered from PTSD.