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.
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.
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.