Close up of a woman's hands clasped together in her lap, she's leaning forward from a seated position, and her face is not visible.
Editorial,  Featured,  Mental Health

The Good and Bad Days with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Lydia Joy Launderville

Country of Origin: United States of America

It took me years to know I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition that often appears after a traumatic event such as a car accident, assault, or even combat. The symptoms can range from awake or asleep flashbacks, hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, and unbearable fear. I was 27 when I was finally diagnosed with Chronic PTSD and was 27 years into surviving trauma left and right. There was childhood sexual abuse, religious abuse, and physical violence both witnessed and that I experienced, along with emotional, verbal, and mental abuse. I lived a life always on edge, walking on eggshells, trying to save everyone all while trying to protect myself. My childhood home was a monstrous prison, and I was held captive. When the sexual abuse ended as a child, the pattern continued in the form of grooming and sexual harassment even as an adult. My relationships were rocky, difficult, and scary.

There are ten listed “Adverse Childhood Experiences” questions presented in questionnaires for putting into words how traumatic a person’s childhood was and how it may contribute to health and mental health issues, especially PTSD. Questions range from “have you ever witnessed a loved one attempt suicide (yes),” “did you experience physical abuse (yes),” “did you grow up with a caregiver who had an untreated mental illness (yes),” to “did you experience the death of a parent as a child (also, yes).” Those are only four out nine questions I scored out of the grand total of ten. As an adult, I weep for that little girl who faced so much, so young. It wasn’t surprising after reading that questionnaire why I grew up to be finally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

I experienced watching family members with severe mental illness and fought to keep loved ones from being killed or killing themselves. I broke up fights at just nine years old (maybe younger). I watched my back constantly from being thrown to the ground, my head against the walls, or of course, sexual abuse that not only hurt me physically but mentally. I had nightmares as a child about snakes and spiders, about being left alone and without a family… of staying with my family. I wrestled weapons out of the hands of people about to use them and physically wrestled others away from hurting those I loved.

I still feel my body fueled by adrenaline when behind the wheel, watching a car get to close, walking down the street or in the store and feeling like “I’m finally going to get raped.” I do not like the loud, noisy city too much, but I hate the eerie feeling of silence in the country as it reminds me of the nights I was molested as a child. I’ve come to often feel my nervous system plain out hates me and I gave a little sad smile while writing that out. I know my body was trying its best, handling so much,  (too much,) as a child.

I had severe fears about being hungry. I did not have the ability to speak up and ask for food, so often I would hide it in places where others wouldn’t find it. I had complete panic attacks about bills, lack of food, price of gas, not having clothes as just a child. I felt guilty for needing to go to the doctor for bronchitis. I hate the cold, bundling up to keep warm without heat. I watched as my hands and feet turned a bit blue due to Raynaud’s syndrome. I had migraines that left me on the floor as a child, nearly throwing up and so scared. No one believed they were more than a headache, but now brain scans point to how wrong these people were. What researchers now know is that migraines can cause lesions on the brain and those with migraine are at higher risk for stroke.Unfortunately, a combination of family genes and high stress levels that triggered migraines in me as a child have literally scarred my brain. 

Chronic pain makes me feel trapped on some days. I feel stuck, locked in a room, and violated all over again in so many ways. I feel helpless… that’s the actual emotion I feel. I feel helpless to stop something that has not healed, no matter how hard I try to do so, no matter how many doctors I see. This, in and of itself, is part of my PTSD. I feel sensations strongly and sometimes can’t bear to be touched without wanting to scream, fight or kick.

It’s days like today that remind me that PTSD is very real. Today and the past few weeks, month or so. I had been thriving, seeing so much improvement and then some life changes, difficult situations and I’m left surviving again. That progress isn’t void; it’s no more null than my surviving. But the truth is PTSD has its remission periods. I know, because I was in one for the most part. Sometimes though, it comes back, scratching, screaming, biting, and pinching. It scratches at your heart, screams inside of you having you convinced something (and everything) is terribly wrong, biting you as you bite your tongue when you silence yourself after a person’s comment hurt you, and pinching in the form of physical pain, pain that gets worse when you feel the need to curl up in the fetal position.

I did not jump into abusive relationships as an adult; I avoided them. I didn’t date at all for years. When I finally did, learning to trust a significant other was like nails on a chalkboard to me. I couldn’t bear it in many ways. Trusting was terrifying. I would have my highs and good times, but the lows included crying for hours at a time, and clinging to my partner because I was processing, sometimes for the first time, the abuse I experienced. 

There’s something incredibly intimate and utterly vulnerable by soaking your partner’s chest with your tears, snot, and heaves during an overwhelming bout of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. Of fearing you’re fucking everything up, ruining your best relationship because of stress, trauma and PTSD that makes you feel that you have no control. So, what do you do? You fight old coping patterns with the new you’ve learned from therapy (in my case, CBT and likely soon EMDR). You know that shutting down is a symptom of PTSD, so you try to hug your corner of the bed, voicing you need space because even voicing, “Please don’t hug me right now” is progress, a win you fought hard for. Making that step was so draining that you no longer can continue to advocate for yourself. You don’t even have the words in reality. You are both numb and raw with emotion. You are both logical and irrational. You are both wanting to speak but not knowing what you feel or actually need or want to say.

I learned I’m a fearful avoidant in my attachment style, the utter beast of attachment styles. Both hot and cold, both craving affection but oftentimes not being able to feel safe experiencing so. And because I have healed so much, I also can point to the fact that I’m doing better. But better, better, isn’t fully better. And because you feel the symptoms, you feel sick. And feeling sick is a trigger in and of itself. You feel broken, while knowing you are not. You feel like a burden while knowing you deserve good, no, GREAT things. You have learned to communicate in so many ways, but still shut down in other ways too. You crave security, you crave authenticity, you long to just feel normal. Normal, or at least, not a mess.

I’ve never been able to embrace my “mess.” I have looked at it and either felt a sudden need to cry or have rolled my eyes towards its annoyance. There is something physically and mentally exhausting about always trying to get better, be better, and heal. Life stressors can act as triggers. You work so hard and suddenly cross over into thriving territory and then because your body and brain are so sensitive, something stressful – a doubt about your relationships, a bad memory, life stressors, etc. – spin you back into simply feeling like you are surviving. Treading water, head feeling exhausted for holding it up so long, limbs feeling sore and heavy from paddling or trying to release the tension to be able to relax and float. I could never float as a child, was too scared that I’d slip under that water. 

I wholeheartedly believe in professional help. That’s how I got my diagnosis of PTSD, after all. It’s important to take care of your mental health. I’m feeling that struggle again, the fear, the depression, the big shutdown, or meltdown on the horizon. I know logically I’ll be okay; I have support, I have doctors, and I have therapy. But what I wish I was more prepared for was treading the water in one sea ending up on shore, self-rescued and building a beautiful life and then thrown into another sea of a different one. Healing is messy, we’ve heard that a lot. But as I shared before, I hate being a mess. I’m terrified of the water both in reality and in my PTSD symptomatic brain.

Even with all these feelings, it’s important to remember you can work through what you feel by understanding that feelings aren’t always reality. With PTSD, you will find your feelings will provke thoughts that the world is over, that you are not getting better, and that you’re getting worse. Managing stress by setting boundaries with toxic family members or friends who may trigger your PTSD symptoms, and taking care of your body and brain by getting more sleep to help the cells in your body heal and regenerate, are key if you have PTSD. I realized that the things I have been struggling with lately are due to not doing those vital things. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is like an injury caused by trauma to your brain. Like any other injury, it takes time to heal and needs to be cared for. 

If you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I’m here to say you’re not alone. You can have good and bad days, and both are okay. Your feelings can be validated but they don’t have to be reality. If you are struggling, take time to rest, recharge and relax. Release the tension, eat something healthy and comforting, read a good book, put on your favorite music, get extra sleep, take any meds you need to stay healthy, and breathe. Tomorrow is a new day. You’ll still wake up with PTSD, but you will find more moments to be happy. You’re not alone.

Lydia Joy Launderville is a writer based in Virginia. Her work can be found online and in print in The Mighty, MSN, Yahoo News, Baptist News Global, The Virginian-Pilot, and more. She is also a copywriter and ghostwriter who writes articles, books, web copy, and more. Her interests include advocating for victims of abuse, volunteering for a nonprofit that helps victims of religious trauma, blogging, reading, traveling, being outdoors in nature, and spending time with her rescue cat and the ones she loves most dearly in this world.