As I laid in my bathtub, it dawned on me the mental funk I had been in lately was a very familar one. The numbing and apathetic thoughts that can turn into self-doubt, guilt, and pity. The kind of thoughts that engulf the mind and manifest into daily life. It was the return of the vicious cycle of anxiety and depression that if left unchecked could turn into a full blown PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) episode followed by a painful residual period.
After experiencing multiple traumatic events, I had to become diligent in consistently rerouting and adapting my mind to manage my emotions and thought process. Believe me when I say that it has taken continuous effort on my part and generous support systems over time to get to where I am. With that being said, it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with keeping myself in check. With multiple decks of cards stacked against me (family history of alcoholism, addiction, and mental illness), I had to find my own way to successfully managing my mental health.
When I was in my early twenties, having already experienced back to back traumatic events, I had no idea the impact it truly had on me as well as those around me who were affected by my behavior. This was caused by several factors, including being misdiagnosed as bipolar (only to have another counselor diagnosis me with PTSD), heavy alcohol and marijuana usage, and the lack of structure in my life. By engaging in an unhealthy lifestyle of self-medicating and the constant need for distraction, I was had set myself up for disaster that would implode. Between the bars, bong hits, unhealthy friendships and relationships with men, I fell into a spiral, constantly feeding into a cycle of dysfunction that led to my eventual downfall.
Unfortunately, many people do not have a complete understanding of PTSD. It is now often portrayed as violent outbursts and demonized by the media, creating a stigma of those who suffer from this disorder. Between this and the lack of conversation, it becomes harder for those who need help to seek treatment. I’m not saying that the anonymous hotlines and therapists of the world don’t help, but it takes communal understanding to support those in need due to its very complex symptoms and nature. Like many mental illnesses, not every person who deals with PTSD has the same triggers, symptoms, or responses.
If I do not invest in my physical, mental, and emotional health regularly, the initial response is to go into manic mode. I get jumpy, erratic, sense of paranoia and distrust towards others kicks in, and my emotions and moods become a roller coaster. After a while my brain begins to get sluggish from it being on high alert, and I become very apathetic about life. I become a being of “less: less cheery, less energy, less committed, less myself. I become restless and a shell of my usual self. If I continue down this rabbit hole and don’t address my mental wellness for a long period of time, being thrown into a full-blown PTSD episode becomes inevitable.
This typically happens when I have been burning the candle at both ends or I don’t feel safe in my present surroundings or situation. In over a decade, I have unfortunately had these moments more times than I’d like to admit. Does it happen often? No. Usually, my mental distress hibernates for a very long time before it happens. I’d like to say I’ve gotten it figured out and that time has gifted me with predictability but I know that that the triggers and responses also change over time. What happens is my mind goes into complete fight or flight mode. I am intensely paranoid, lash out in unreasonable behavior, and do not remember when I “come to” due to such intense activity in the brain. It’s utterly terrifying to have others tell me things that I had said or done and completely unbearable. It’s like I am a completely different person when it hits. In the aftermath, I wrecked with guilt, and tend to isolate myself from others, because I feel like no one should ever have to deal with the pain I caused.
If that wasn’t enough, next is the residual period. With all the activity my brain had endured, it goes into shut down mode. It’s like a migraine, hangover, and whiplash all rolled into one. Your muscles tense for a long period of time during the episode so when they relax you feel like your whole body has been torn apart. Even the slightest of sounds became completely unbearable. I would push back blinds, and the sound would be like nails on a chalkboard. All I wanted and could do was curl into a ball in my bedroom to lay and wait it out.
I don’t think I can stress enough about the necessity of support in times like these. I have had those who come from an understanding place, and there are others who chose to see my behavior as a deal breaker. I don’t bear any ill will or hold against those who have chosen to walk away because I know that they had to make the decision that was in their best interest and well-being. As for those who have had stayed, I have no way of expressing the gratitude I have for being there when I needed them most.
The best advice I can give to someone with PTSD is to get to know yourself, your stressors and how to deescalate them. Be aware of who takes your energy and who gives you energy. Don’t just be kind to others but to yourself as well. Never be afraid to dive into yourself: your fears, failures, or imperfections. All these things that we were taught to be ashamed of, make us who we are and hold the power to take the negative and turn it into a positive.