For the month of May, Defying Shadows will be joining the Mental Health Awareness Month by sharing a post daily on a different type of Mental Illness or “Shadow” that people commonly struggle with. Join us in creating awareness and working to end the stigma that goes with these topics! Today we have Melanie Pickett sharing on Anxiety. ~ Defying Shadows Team.
Imagine being the victim of a violent crime…
Or involved in a traumatic accident…
Or witnessing a traumatic event…
Suffering a traumatic illness or surgery…
Being active duty during wartime…
Imagine how you’d feel: terror, fear, pain, panic, anxiety, and perhaps a whole range of other emotions.
Imagine being months or even years out from the traumatic experience but still having episdoes of feeling the same as you did when you were in that moment.
That’s how PTSD feels.
Mayo Clinic defines PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. The symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares about the event, flashbacks, anxiety, and mulling over and over the details of the event as well as physical reactions and symptoms.
For the person experiencing PTSD, certain triggers can make them feel the fear and panic that they felt when the event was taking place. In essence, it can mentally and emotionally “send the person back” to that time causing physical reactions. A person who has served during wartime may flinch or brace himself when hearing fireworks or a person who suffered a rape may become very tense if she hears a voice or sees a face that reminds her of her attacker.
The triggers vary from person to person, depending upon their experience, of course. Likewise, it can vary within the same person. What might not be a trigger today, may become one tomorrow.
Four years ago, I was the victim of a violent sexual assault at gunpoint. PTSD can be tricky. For awhile I was in shock. I couldn’t fully process what had happened and I’m sure much of that was my brain protecting me; you can only handle so much and I believe when the situation calls for it, one’s brain needs to digest things in pieces and you kick into autopilot, allowing one to still function in some daily capacity while not having to absorb the weight of the event all at once.
It wasn’t until about six months later that I felt the gravity of what had happened to me. Until then, I had experienced some PTSD symptoms such as positioning my bed in such a place in my bedroom that I could immediately see if someone unexpected entered in the night. Of course, I didn’t really think someone might break in, but the minute possibility was enough to cause me to prepare for it. You fear anything that threatens your power.
As time went on, my personal PTSD experience was that it got worse before it got better. I had nightmares. They’d come in waves. I may not have one for three weeks, but then I’d have one every night for a solid week. The nightmares were the same theme with varied details: my attacker was after me again but the details of where, when, and how may be different each night. Once I even awoke, terrified and paralyzed with fear, absolutely certain he was right there next to me. When I experience the nightmares, I wake up with debilitating headaches that sometimes last for days.
Since the attack, I bristle at anyone male who isn’t a familiar and trusted friend or family member, who invades (even innocently) my personal bubble. Even the most well-meaning person made me tense up. My radar went on and I mentally braced for an attack. I couldn’t be home alone if a repairman was coming. If I was walking down a sidewalk, hallway in a building, or getting onto an elevator and a man was approaching or near, I’d go out of my way to avoid being next him or wait for the next elevator.
Even now, I still have a little OCD routine at night. I check and double check locks and windows, protecting myself and my family from an intruder. My attacker is dead but I still keep protecting us from a ghost.
When I anticipate a rape scene coming up in a movie, I can’t watch it. I can’t heart it. I can’t know about it. My fists involuntarily clench as if to keep out the evil. I know these scenes aren’t real, but they’re sick and it brings back the horror and pain I felt.
I don’t claim to be an expert on PTSD. I’m sure there can be may different symptoms that I haven’t covered completely just as I’m sure they vary from person to person. But I can share my experience as well as share what has helped.
If someone you know or love struggles with PTSD, counseling is likely to be their #1 help, but in their everyday life they need compassion and understanding. They can’t help how they feel or the fears or apprehensions they may have as a result of their traumatic experience. Even if you can’t understand their routine or reaction, be accepting of it, loving towards them, and understanding. If they simply can’t handle a crowd and must leave, understand that they’re not trying to be difficult: they simply can’t tolerate it.
Immediately after the assault I sought Biblical counseling. This makes a world of difference, trust me on this. If you’re struggling with PTSD or any mental health issue, Biblical counseling is key in your coping and recovery. I have an amazing, capable Biblical counselor who I see on an as-needed basis now, sometimes as little as every few months—it just depends. Originally, I saw her weekly.
But I feel like I’m well on my way to healing. I know these triggers may crop up off and on, maybe for years, maybe forever, But I know how to help myself and I know I’m normal. I’m not broken and weird.
If you’re suffering and struggling, you are not alone. You are not the only person who feels this way. There are people who will help you, come alongside you to listen as you begin to heal.
For more information about PTSD, here is an excellent resource: PTSD Perspectives. In addition, talk to your pastor for local recommendations of counselors or your family doctor about counselors who may deal specifically with clients with PTSD. Keep the conversation going to find the help you need and don’t be afraid to confide in close friends and family. They will be the support you need in your everyday life and help you through this to a more functional and hopeful path.
Melanie Pickett is a writer and blogger and is currently completing her first nonfiction book. She has battled Crohn’s disease and complications, has a now-healthy son who was born prematurely under challenging circumstances, and survived a 15-year abusive marriage and her first husband’s mental illness and eventual suicide. A wife and mother of two, she loves Red Wings hockey, working out, reading, playing piano, and traveling adventures.