People say ‘you look fine’. It is one hour, one day and sometimes one week at a time to find the way to thriving. Having been diagnosed several years ago with PTSD, I had no idea how my life had changed up to that point and continues to change today. I thought once I retired, I would be fine. The stigma over mental health and depression has been a longtime of small steps of understanding and acceptance. In the words of Lady Gaga, “until it happens to you” can you truly understand the reality for those living with mental health illnesses. Staring in the mirror it is the same face and a different me. I look at life differently from years ago. My old self is gone, parts are mentally scarred so badly that I don’t even remember what she was like. Family and friends and old pictures are the reminders. I am still ME!
Each day depends on energy level from sleep or lack of sleep due to nightmares the night before and the constant pain from a duty related injury. Somethings we can control and somethings we cannot control. Learning to recognize the difference is an ongoing lesson. For example, being alone at night, that hyper-vigilance,fear, can and was paralyzing. The obsessive checking, rechecking locks on the the doors and windows. Having the lights on outside and in the bathroom to keep away the terror of the darkness. Keeping a bobbie-trap by the door. Locking the bedroom door and rechecking locks before taking a shower, rushing for fear of someone breaking into my home, the vulnerability . Waking in the night to re-check the locks and doubting that they were secure, is exhausting. Hyper startled response, low concentration, problems with memory, little / no interest in sex, headaches, pains, stomach and intestinal problems ( diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 1999) are some of the symptoms.
Visiting the places, buildings and people who were part of the trauma, the panic, anxiety made it an awful experience, memories of the violence as vivid and damaging years later as if it happened yesterday. Re-living the moments. I had to learn deep breathing to relax, wear my sunglasses to hide my fear and avoid triggering situations. Living with PTSD is a life long journey. I was surviving not thriving.
Looking back and now forward how I got through my darkest days was having a positive attitude and creating strategies to cope, recognizing these triggers, learning to trust my voice to keep me safe. The impact of constant triggers was destroying life, relationships and hope. Living with PTSD is different for everyone and how we cope to thrive is different. Part of this journey for me is to speak up, share these tools and strategies, create positive dialogue of hope. First tool in my survival tool kit was nail polish. Something small I did for me, made me feel good about me and strong enough to face another week of abuse in the workplace. You are not alone, speak up and seek out positive supports. Stay tuned!