Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Is it really Invisible?

Trigger Warning – Trigger Warning – Trigger Warning!

Here she goes again, you may be thinking, writing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No poetry or short story today because a recent “trigger episode” (not a partner past or present) has me realizing yet again how many people are unaware of what PTSD is or how to deal with it so I am sharing what I can for those who would like to know more about PTSD.

The causes of PTSD are varied. The one common factor is trauma. Two humans can endure the same traumatic experience with one recovering swiftly and the other unable to “shake it” for the rest of their days. There is no time line on recovery. It is as individual as we are.

  • For me it was a brutal physical assault in 2012 by a long time friend who has martial arts
  • For some it can be childhood trauma or sexual abuse
  • For some it can be witnessing horrific events such as war or other catastrophic tragedies

The reactions to being triggered also vary from person to person. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a whole body trauma that can leave a person shaking, having excruciating headaches, nightmares, vomiting and having diarrhea. This is not a complete list of physical symptoms when triggered, we are all different. Some may start having horrible flashbacks of the traumatizing incident(s) all over again, some may grow depressed and withdraw from people or avoid certain places, some may grow angry at everything and everyone, some may feel slammed right back to the time of the incident that caused the PTSD. For me, having several chronic physical health conditions means stress exacerbates those and the stress of being triggered does this, among other things, to me:

  • Since the trigger approximately a week and a half ago I began having nightmares again, filled with extreme terror and menacing images of the person who triggered me
  • Fibromyalgia is really flaring up now, the pain spikes so much higher under stress
  • Diagnosed in my 30’s with the Diverticulosis of “an 85 year old man” which, for me, under stress inevitably becomes diverticulitis meaning abscesses in the out-pouchings through-out my intestines. Not only is the pain horrific but once it flares up, the relentless cramping and flu like symptoms can take weeks to settle. I spend much of my time in the washroom and cannot eat solid food until I heal. Right now I am on baby food again and it is improving but I notice, with aging, this healing is taking longer than it used to

PTSD is, more often than not, invisible. While these pictures are far from pretty, I am sharing them because so many people simply do not even understand PTSD, it is just a word or a condition but they can’t “see it” so it means very little to them. It is my hope these pictures will help create awareness among those who have never had PTSD or those who love someone who has PTSD.

That is my left shoulder in the above photo. I am clawing my shoulders open again. Why can’t I just stop? Because I do not even know I am doing it. I am doing this in my sleep just as I did for the two years immediately after the assault in 2012. I awoke nightly and daily from nightmares with clawed shoulders, bloodied fingernails, bloodied sleepwear and bedding. This happened fairly consistently for two years. You can see the white lines and patches where old claw marks have healed.

Well meaning people can hurt us. While I believe they may mean well with no intention of hurting us, some well-intentioned people may unwittingly trigger us even further by:

  • Making excuses for the abuser(s) instead of making them “accountable” for “their” abuse
  • Pressing you to try things they believe will “fix” you because it worked for them or others
  • Shame blame your condition for the trigger instead of who or what actually triggered it

Nobody should ever be “shame blamed” for being triggered. For years the trauma counsellors said, “It is not your fault.” Over and over and over. They were right. PTSD is NOT our fault. There is a reason why they call it “trigger” and once we understand how it all works, we can better help others who have PTSD. Just be safe, be kind, be gentle. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? It really is. There is no magic bullet, instant fix or preventing a full blown trigger episode. But being kind, being gentle and being safe is something we are all capable of doing and this can go a long way to helping the triggered person recover. Still, it may not be enough to help. Sometimes there is nothing for a trigger recovery except passing time, using your coping techniques and leaning on your professional health care team to guide you through it.

Seeing is believing for some. This next picture is my right shoulder scarred from those two years of horrific nightmares I was trying to escape. Because I am right handed, my right shoulder is less scarred and thankfully so far this shoulder has not yet been clawed open since those awful two years.

If you know someone with PTSD, just let them be wherever they are. Safety is needed far more than advice. Ask if you can do anything but don’t add to their stress by repeatedly saying what you know worked for yourself or someone else. Those who press us deeper into re-living the trauma might well stand over a terminal cancer patient or a person with dementia yelling: “Stop that!”

  • We are all different. What works for some does not work for others.
  • There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution to PTSD
  • Meditation works for some but not for all
  • Cannabis in various forms works for some but not for all
  • Certain types of counselling work better for some than others
  • How we heal or whether we ever do is also not our fault

Again, what works is as individual as we are. Here are a few of my coping techniques and no, they don’t always work but they I just keep on trying as and when I start feeling better:

  • Peace and quiet. I love the quiet especially as a writer but even more so since getting PTSD. That said, it doesn’t have to be total quiet. Listening to a breeze, birdsong or gentle music can be soothing. Sometimes I just need absolute uninterrupted quiet for days after a bad trigger
  • The arts really help me. I find writing therapeutic but also enjoy colouring, drawing, painting, even growing a garden or some flower pots of your favorite plants, just tending these plants leaves me feeling calm and peaceful.
  • Being short of sleep just heightens the effects of a trigger for me and of course, being triggered means I won’t sleep well. I try to avoid medication but sometimes it is the only way to get a good night’s rest. Without rest I find it hard to cope period, never mind during a trigger.
  • Talking to a “safe person” whether a safe friend or a trauma counsellor, sometimes just talking about what triggered us can help us feel better about managing it
  • Good self care. I know it is all too simple to say but even if I don’t feel up to it, I always find something grounding in my personal care routines from choosing healthy food to eat to showering or just giving myself permission to sit quietly doing nothing for as long as I need to. When I find what works best to self soothe that becomes my trigger “go-to.”

Things you may not know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  • Nobody wants to get PTSD
  • Nobody asks to get PTSD
  • PTSD is not “our” fault. Nobody needs more abuse such as “shame blaming,” the same mental and emotional bullying already responsible for so many suicides in our world. If you don’t know what to say, please just be kind, safe and respectful as in, “I don’t understand what you are going through but please let me know if I can help you in any way.”

 

To all the trauma survivors out there, I understand some of what you must be going through and respect that your trauma is different from mine and that you are different from me. For me it takes a lot of time and gentle living to put myself back together after mental, emotional or physical abuse. Take your time and go gentle on yourself. Sadly, a lot of misinformation exists from the same minds who think we should just “snap out of it” which contributes to errant world responses and it can take a very long time to start feeling better. It can be done with concerted effort and new life patterning but again, even that does not work for everyone. Still, there is always hope that we will find our own way through it, our own comforts and healing practices while we mend our hearts and minds. I have had PTSD for years and I am still learning about it and how to manage it. Some never get any peace or rest from the excruciating effects of PTSD and my heart goes out to those people because I know I am one of the lucky ones.

© Janni Styles

 

 

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The Rose Series: Seven Sisters

Witness those grown humans

Rosie said to her six sisters

they sure are prickly posies

and they don’t even have

any thorns

Every year the same nonsense

talking to this one

or not speaking to that

maligning sister or brother

behind their kindly backs

Mother Superior of Roses

please halt those double talkers

who hold nothing in abeyance

full mean estates exposed

by fork tongued surly word hawkers

Fifty years on

we’ve bloomed every single spring

faithful, loving and true

just to witness all this sniping

they almost unconsciously do

Being human is oft over rated

I fear, so glad am I to be a rose

so many human faces splinter

leaving loyal blossoms heavy

heartened by a hastening winter

(c) Janni Styles

The Rose Series: False Virtues

Sister Rosa, please do tell

why so many see writing truth

as speaking unwell

 

They are mistaken, said she,

the false virtue they protect their own

for the dead are long gone and free

 

Never mind what they all do

nevermind what they all say

just you keep on being you

 

They all know you speak facts

they lived through it all, too,

just don’t be unkind or nastily wax

 

Truth is a light many wish to dim

just keep writing truths no matter the chatter

it is always worth it to grow a new limb

 

More joy to be had from more blooms

to silence the naysayers wittering

about bodies long since entombed

 

They forget the soul is flying high

they know not what true loyalty is

just keep writing truth across the sky

(c) Janni Styles

 

 

 

 

The Rose Series: Best Things

Nodding together in the wind

the roses spoke softly:

some humans spend their

whole lives

searching

never realizing the simple things

are the best things

opening a new bar of soap

the fragrance of fresh cut grass

resting your head on a soft pillow

reading by a sunny window

Look, there go more seekers

racing to places and acquiring

things they think they need

Oh, what will they do

when all the petals fall

when lingering to touch

a rose

is no longer possible?

Their heavy heads bowed:

Will they still remember us?

(c) Janni Styles

The Rose Series: Threadbare

times were memorable

rose gardens plentiful

back before their hearts

were worn threadbare

 

now there is nothing

between two strangers

save a hollow name

nobody ever called her

 

yet the garden flourishes

rain and sunshine nourishes

for the wise roses always know

everything blooms again

(c) Janni Styles