I once had to write a paper for my psych class about what it was like having PTSD. Not just the clinical part, but the impacts it has on us on an everyday basis. I wrote about the symptoms and the hardships of having PTSD, then I struggled for how I could put how it makes me feel into words. I finally said:
“Having PTSD is like waiting for the other shoe to fall.”
That was all I said about it, but it was enough. Not only did I get an “A” on the paper, but my instructor came to me and told me that one, simple statement blew him away because it captured the essence of the feeling completely. We know disaster has happened once. We expect it to happen again – we just don’t know when it’s coming.
When we’ve gone through a trauma that’s bad enough to cause PTSD, we end up fearful that another will soon follow. It’s that sense of waiting, fearing that something is coming, but never knowing exactly when, that makes it so difficult to handle. It’s hard living like that because you miss so much just waiting for whatever is coming next.
I’ve thought of that statement over the years and I still agree with it. I’ve heard the first shoe drop to the floor. I know there is another and it’s just a matter of time before it falls too. Until then, I’ll be hypervigilant waiting for it to happen. That’s the true essence of PTSD – knowing what can happen, and waiting for it to happen again.
I’ve noticed that sometimes those of us with PTSD tend to take on the title of victim as a defining term for who we are. We wear our pain like a badge of courage, and use our experiences as an excuse for not having a more fulfilling life. For example, I was brought up in a very violent family. My siblings grew up in the same environment, and there is a great difference in how we internalized similar experiences.
One of my siblings used drugs as a way of easing the pain. Another fell back on her past as an excuse every time she failed. I looked at it as the perfect bad example! It was a way of life I would never inflict on anyone else. I believe two of my siblings learned to depend on pity and sympathy related to how we were raised as a way of explaining or excusing their failures. The problem is, once we are adults, it’s really no longer a valid excuse.
I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like who you are today, you can start changing yourself with your next breath. I choose to not play the role of victim. I choose instead to say, Yes, I have PTSD, but it’s not going to be the entire definition of who I am throughout my life. I may have had a poor childhood, but that’s no excuse for who I am today. I’ve had plenty of time to learn who I want to be and to work towards that.
As a child, I lived in a war zone. I was subjected to brutal force, and I have PTSD as a result. If I choose those experiences as defining who I am, I may never realize my full potential as an adult. I choose not to be a victim any longer. I still have PTSD, but I won’t willingly carry the pain, the warped self-image, and the excuse of what happened to me into my future. It is my future and my abuser has no claim on who I am now. I don’t diminish my experiences or the damage inflicted on me. I simply acknowledge that although that happened in my past, I won’t give it any additional power. I won’t be a victim forever. I choose to leave the past in the past. I’m happy with that decision…I can live with it.
I saw the sun rise this morning. It was awesome! It was like a fountain of burnished gold, gleaming as it erupted from the horizon. I saw the sun rise this morning, and it took my breath away. I have seen it rise in the past too, but I was never struck by the beauty of it then, because of PTSD. I was too busy watching everything and everyone to make sure I was safe. I am still very alert, but I don’t know if I can say I’m hypervigilant anymore. I still have PTSD. The difference now is that I can appreciate the sun rise, not just witness it.
PTSD can be costly to those of us who have it. We become so focused on being safe and protecting ourselves that we often fail to see the wonders in life, even when they are right in front of our face. That’s kind of sad. I want a life where the beauty of a sunrise can make me catch my breath in awe.
I want to be able to appreciate the good things in life in spite of the bad I’ve experienced. Sometimes I have to stop and remember that it is still a wondrous world and a terrific place to be.
I saw the sun rise this morning. It was awesome. I hope you saw it too!
With PTSD, it is necessary, at least for me, to find time each day to back away from all the stress and turmoil in my life, and find that sweet spot of peace where I can go. It is necessary because I need to replenish myself mentally and spiritually. Only in that way can I continue to cope with all the stress. I manage this by finding the little things that mean something special to me, and focusing on them.
I can find my place of peace in many different places: I may be engrossed in a good book, or take a walk in the woods. It is always surprising to me how much nature nurtures me!
I may listen to music that speaks to my soul, or spend some special, quiet time with my dogs. I may go take a walk in the mall or go to a movie.
Your way of connecting to your peaceful place may be far different from mine. I spend time working with crafts. You may like to go fishing. I call up a good friend and share my latest situation that made me laugh with her. You might rather spend hours cooking something special.
Whatever it is, and however you can get there, take the time to look for and connect with your peaceful place each day. You’ll be better off for doing it!