Growing up with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is unimaginable for some, but that’s what I experienced.
From around the age of 4, I remember my parents fighting almost every night. My father loved to drink while my mother was always busy working. Whenever Mom would come home and see Dad’s bottles in the living, I would hear the disappointment in her voice as she’s telling him that that’s not the life she expected. Dad would get angry every time he would listen to that, and they would bicker and call each other names. Sometimes, both would get physical, too. It’s either Mom would smash the bottles on the floor or throw things at Dad or Dad would slap or push Mom.
Because of that experience, it became an uncontrollable habit of mine to feel scared whenever I see the two of them in one room. I didn’t want to witness another fight; I didn’t want to hear them cursing each other. It was too much for me.
According to Jane McCampbell-Stuart, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a certified EMDR therapist, and a certified professional coach:
“Trauma can occur through any situation that threatens our safety or sense of integrity. If we have ever been caused to feel intense humiliation, fear or powerlessness, we have experienced a traumatic event.”
The fighting only stopped when they filed for divorce, and it was just Mom and me. However, the fear stayed in me. My body would shake when someone raises their voice, even if the anger wasn’t directed at me. I could not face confrontations, even friendly ones, because it might turn out like the ones that my parents used to have.
A psychologist diagnosed me with PTSD when I was nine years old. I started going to therapy around that time as well. A few years later, though, it did not feel like it was doing me any good. Still, I did not want to live with this disorder any longer, so I tried different things to help myself get over it. Now that I am 25 years old, happy and free from the traumatic experience I have had, I can tell you what techniques have worked for me.
Because of my PTSD, I gave myself zero chances of doing what other kids my age used to do. I did not play outside, go on playdates, or try various extracurricular activities. However, during a low point in my life, I started running around the neighborhood. You could imagine how winded I was after 10 minutes, but it made me feel good. I tried it again the next day and then the day after that, and I get a sense of accomplishment every time.
Since it was hard for me to open up to my therapist verbally, I had the idea of using art to express how I felt instead. The first one I made was genuinely dark. I drew two figures facing each other with a red crayon, and then I colored the entire paper with black. It slightly made me feel better, so I tried drawing once more. This was also backed by professionals saying that art therapy is really helpful for people like me. “Traumatic memories typically exist in our minds and bodies in a state-specific form, meaning they hold the emotional, visual, physiological, and sensory experiences that were felt at the time of the event,” says Erica Curtis, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist. True enough, I noticed after a month of doing it was that my drawings started becoming less intense. The same goes with my feelings, which I appreciated.
Back then, I thought I was the only kid who was suffering from PTSD. However, I came across a schoolmate his foster parents physically abused one day whom I found out. That’s when I realized that other people had more significant issues than what I had. I asked my mother then if we could volunteer at an organization that helps PTSD patients. She agreed, I loved helping others, and we have been doing that ever since.
Getting over PTSD on your own may seem like a far-fetched dream. After all, you are not a licensed therapist; you don’t know how they work. Despite that, mental health disorders are not like cancer and diabetes that have physical manifestations. If you don’t want to get better, therapists cannot help you.
Paul Silverman, MFT, LPCC, says of trauma care: “Trauma-informed care can be crucial in helping you move on from the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We can’t change the past, but we can keep it from running your life.”
If you do want to overcome PTSD, then feel free to try the activities above or find out what other things work for you. Good luck!