Things I Realized While Getting Therapy To Treat My PTSD

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Not too long ago, the apartment complex I was living in for a few years now burned down to ashes. The extension socket that one of my neighbors was using short-circuited and caught on fire. Since it was on the carpet, the flames spread faster than they could douse it down with water, and it engulfed their apartment.

At the time, I was sleeping when I heard shouting and screaming and crying outside. I could have been burned alive as well if not for a fireman who broke my window to check if there was anyone left there. When he brought me to the ground, though, that’s when I realized that I did not even manage to get my wallet or phone. It was already too late to try to go back in there because they were hosing the entire place down but to no avail.

After that unfortunate incident, I had to move back in with my parents. I had money left in my bank account and could get another apartment again, but I was afraid of it burning downing like the last one. It was hard for me to see even the flame from the gas stove as my mind would replay the images of the fire I just survived from. However, it was only when I freaked out when a lighter (that my dad was using) produced a spark that they told me that it was time for me to see a psychologist.

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It did not take the mental health professional a while to diagnose me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She said it was common for individuals who had a traumatizing experience like me. The psychologist then recommended me to a psychotherapist she knew, and I could say that it changed my life for the better.

Jane McCampbell-Stuart, LMFT,  a certified EMDR therapist, and a certified professional coach says this about PTSD:

“As we undergo a traumatic experience, our brains remember the cues – such as sounds, smells, images or sensations – associated with the event that harmed, shamed, threatened or frightened us. If a similar cue is ever experienced in the future, the higher cognitive and emotional functions of the brain automatically shut down to enable the most primitive, instinctive part of the brain to take over and cause us to fight, flee or freeze and so avoid being harmed again.”

Here’s what I learned while getting therapy.

1. Cherish The Second Life You’ve Been Given

I did not realize until after talking to my therapist how lucky I am to be alive. The fire could have engulfed me along with the building, but I managed to come out of it. It is my second life, and I am wasting it by hiding in my parents’ house and letting past events control my life. For that reason, I should stop doing that and cherish my life instead.

2. Stop Fearing The Unknown

As mentioned above, I fear that the new apartment complex where I’ll move in might burn down to the ground as well.  I have read about this too. Gary Brown, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles, CA who has worked with organizations like NASA and the Department of Defense, says, “You probably have a sense that something is wrong, you don’t quite feel like you normally do, and might alternate between feeling extremely upset or possibly nothing at all,” he says. I was holding on to that idea for a while, but my therapist helped me to stop letting something that has not happened yet to dictate my actions. Whatever will be will be, after all.

3. Live Life To The Fullest

Therapy has also encouraged me to start going out again and face my fear of seeing flames. I realize how ridiculous that phobia is now, considering how much I used to love BBQ parties and scented candles. Now, fear still comes to me from time to time, but I no longer entertain it.

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Final Thoughts

Inspiring words from Lisa Dale Miller, LMFT, LPCC, SEP:

“Even in times of difficulty we can unlock the mind’s wellspring of radiant clarity and compassion. This innate embodied well-being is not dependent upon the existence of agreeable circumstances or pleasurable objects. In fact, like the lotus that grows in mud, human flourishing flowers best in life’s most challenging moments. This is the happiness that comes from knowing one’s own true nature.”

Overcoming PTSD can never be easy. I am fortunate enough to get diagnosed while the disorder is still not severe; that’s why the treatment has taken effect on time. Nevertheless, even though you have PTSD for years, you should not lose hope. You can get rid of this condition – believe in yourself.

 

 

 …

Time Did Not Heal All My Wounds

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I am Meredith, a 48-year-old nurse in Ohio. I just got promoted to a supervising position in a hospital I’ve been working at for almost 15 years now. My two sons, aged 21 and 15, are healthy and already taller than me. My youngest kid is getting ready for senior high now, while my eldest is close to finishing his bachelor’s degree. I can say that my life is far better than ever.

However, things had not always been excellent. In truth, I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I acquired that illness after suffering from domestic abuse, which was inflicted by the father of my children.

According to licensed Professional Counselor, Melanie Skipper-Relyea, MHR, “You may not have full-on flashbacks, but if seemingly unrelated experiences seem to trigger a traumatic memory, it’s worth keeping note of. If having that traumatic memory again colors the rest of your day, it may be PTSD.”

My Story

When I met John, he was working as an engineer at a tech company near the clinic where I was doing an internship at the time. He was smart, funny, tall, and gorgeous. After a familiar friend introduced us to each other, we hit it off right away.

Our dating phase-only happened in six months. I was so in love with him; I thought he’s the one. Naturally, I said ‘yes’ when he asked for my hand, even though my family was hesitant about it. I thought, “We had enough savings to buy a small house, John’s earning well, and I won’t need to work another day again.” That was honestly the case while I was still pregnant with my firstborn.

Only, after I gave birth to our second baby, the tech company where my husband was employed filed for bankruptcy. John had a hard time getting another job, but I did not worry much at the time because I had this idealistic notion that our savings would get us through life. But then again, a few months of buying diapers and baby formula and clothes and paying for house bills, we found ourselves with only a hundred bucks to our name.

That was when John became addicted to alcohol. He would drink every time he’d come home from a failed job interview. He would drink whenever I’d tell him that we need to buy something for the house. Once I try to take the bottle of liquor from him, he would yell at me and tell me his life got ruined when he married me. Sometimes, John would shout at our kids as well, and then we’d fight, and he would end up hitting me.

 

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How I Got Out

None of those incidents became known to my family for a while. I didn’t want to tell them because I was hoping the guy I married would come back. I would borrow money from my parents, but I could not say that John stopped trying to get a job a long time ago.

I only reached my breaking point when I came home one day and saw my eldest son underneath his bed, shaking, because his father hit him with a belt. In that instant, I packed as much as I could, went to my family’s house, and never looked back. The pain that my husband brought to me and my kids was beyond too much already. I couldn’t understand the emotions I had deep inside.

“Domestic violence is something that impacts someone’s mental health, but there are all these other pieces to it,” says Cristine Murray, an American Counseling Association member who teaches a class on family violence to her counseling students. “There’s no easy way to say, ‘This type of abuse has this specific answer.’ It’s different with each person.”

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The Reality

After that incident, John somehow never bothered to call or ask us to come back. My sister helped me get a job in a hospital in Ohio, too. It was a bit far from my parents’ place, but I chose to relocate my children there so that they could forget the ordeal we had to go through as well.

I act tough on the outside and say that I have moved on from what happened 15 years ago, but the truth is that I still have nightmares from that day. I regret not leaving John when he hit me the first time. I regret choosing to lie to my family because I didn’t want to have a broken marriage. Most of all, I regret giving him a chance to traumatize my children like that.

Karen Smith, Ph.D., LPC, states, “A child with PTSD feels that they are unable to escape the impact of the trauma. They try to avoid people or situations that remind them of the event. Sometimes they will experience memories or “flashbacks” of the event, or they may have nightmares about it that feel very real. These constant reminders make living day-to-day life a real challenge, especially for young people who might struggle to express what they’re feeling and experiencing.”

It has been 15 years, but time has not healed all my wounds.…

What To Do With PTSD Comorbid With Anxiety

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When you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it will not take too long to get diagnosed with anxiety as well. In truth, the latter is one of the significant symptoms of PTSD. I have heard of patients who cannot even open their windows in fear of someone watching their actions through that. Other individuals who have come from the war zone tend to jump whenever they hear a loud bang, regardless if it’s from a pot knocked off the counter or a book that actor smacked on the table on a TV show.

Life is undoubtedly tricky for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when it comorbid with anxiety. The examples given above are still considered mild. In worst cases, there may be too many unrealistic ideas running through the patients’ mind, to the extent that they no longer know what’s real or not. That is when their behavior becomes erratic, and some even end up harming others before killing themselves. According to Kathleen Smith, Ph.D., LPC, “Traumatic events often include physical violence, an accident, a natural disaster, war, or sexual abuse. Children or teens may have experienced these events themselves, or they may have witnessed them happen to someone else. A child or adolescent with PTSD feels that they are unable to escape the impact of the trauma.”

Nevertheless, the fact that you are in this blog, reading this article, tells me that you don’t want yourself or a loved one with PTSD to have the same fate as those people mentioned above. Because of that, you should learn a few practical techniques to beat the manifestation of such mental illnesses.

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  1. Take A Deep Breath

Zachary Taylor, LPC, explains that “In addition to overwhelming feelings of fear, panic attacks are usually marked by shortness of breath or trouble breathing and a rapid heartbeat. Other physical symptoms can include sweating (without physical exertion), a tingling sensation throughout the body, feeling like your throat is closing up or feeling that you’re about to pass out.”

The first thing to realize is that panic attacks occur when you are dealing with anxiety. It typically means that you lose control of yourself and even forget your ability to breathe. Before it happens again, therefore, you need to teach yourself to take deep breaths to make sure that your brain and lungs get a steady supply of oxygen. That may allow you to think more clearly and realize that your fears are all in mind.

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  1. Try Meditating

Meditation is always recommended for anyone who has mental health issues. The reason is that the diseases target your brain and rob you of your cognitive skills. Even if your eyes can see the reality, to be specific, your mind cannot process that. Feel free to try different meditating techniques until you find the most suitable one for you.

According to Charmaine J. Simmons, a Licensed Professional Counselor, “Meditation offers practitioners powerful benefits, yet many people are confused as to what exactly those benefits are. In a nutshell, meditation focuses attention in a deliberate manner, taking you from a state of noisy mental chatter to calm and quiet inner peace. And isn’t that something most of us could use?”

  1. Keep Tabs On Yourself

It does not hurt to maintain a record book or chart that will help you to monitor your condition. It can be a daily log of the symptoms you have experienced, what you have done to overcome them, or how you have prevented a panic attack from coming. Keeping tabs on yourself this way gives you an actual idea of what’s happening with you.

  1. Don’t Stay Alone For A Long Period

Considering your friends or family members offer to stay with you throughout this ordeal, you should let them do that. Now is not the time to act too proud, as if you don’t need help. It is not good to be too shy either and think that you may get in their way. These people will not be offering to keep you company if you are a burden to them. Besides, it matters for you to have others to depend on now because you can’t trust your brain right now.

In The End

There is no cure for PTSD or anxiety. It may not be easy to detach yourself from either or both at once as well, especially if you have been living with the mental illnesses for years. However, if you are determined to beat them, who’s to say that you cannot do that in the long run?

Good luck!…