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