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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PTSD: What does being triggered look like?

Trigger Warning!

Triggers for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are as individual as we are. There are a few commonalities from a high startle response to loud, sudden noises  or not recognizing your surroundings even though you are in a familiar place you have known for decades.  What I have learned is that anything at all can be a potential trigger.

Here are a few triggers from various sources as well as some of my own:

  • Hearing a baby cry can trigger tears in me as I panic and think, someone please help that baby right now…
  • Loud voices, yelling and arguing of any sort online or otherwise trigger me severely
  • A childhood sexual abuse survivor cannot stand the sound of loud eating, smacking or slurping
  • A survivor of an abusive marriage cannot take any criticism of any sort from any source without violently shaking
  • People with one track minds who yell me “shut,” cannot or will not hear a word I say set me to stuttering and shaking
  • A man who once led troops cannot step off of his front porch without a reaction that sends him back inside for weeks

What being “triggered” looks like:

  • You may not “see” anything at all, the person may “appear” just fine, most of us do unless the “trigger” does not cease
  • For me, I start shaking and this can grow to full body convulsive tremors if the trigger does not stop or I cannot get away from the trigger
  • If badly triggered, I will start stammering, stuttering like nobody’s business despite being a public speaker and team leader for years
  • I internalize most triggers which means choppy sleep, if any, a return of the relentless terrifying nightmares and extremely high anxiety
  • Fleeing the person, place or thing that caused the trigger is not uncommon for me, getting away is often my own source of relief
  • Profuse sweating happens with me yet I am cold and clammy and I also have difficulty breathing, feel as though I cannot get enough air

These are just a few triggers and a few examples of what being triggered can look like. There are thousands more triggers and, I am sure, just as many responses. For years after the physical assault, I would rock hours away. Anywhere. Doctor’s office, trauma survivor workshop, restaurant, wherever I was I would just start rocking often without even realizing I was doing it at all. Hard to imagine I know. Recently I have started rocking again. This makes sense because I was ill almost the entire month of July, the heat flared my asthma daily and I was ill with heat exhaustion for over two weeks. I am now fighting what I believe to be a misdiagnosed bladder infection which is wearying me severely. When I am not well physically, I “trigger” more easily. Yesterday (August 14, 2017) I was triggered. I hardly slept last night from the abdominal and back pain I’ve had for nearly three weeks now and because I was so anxious from being triggered, no amount of pain killers eased my physical state. PTSD makes us vulnerable to a host of triggers both known and unknown. What I have found is there is an acute lack of understanding from friends and loved ones who do not grasp the disorder and can even trigger us because they don’t want to learn or even try to understand. This is why you will find me writing about PTSD every so often. Educate, educate, educate is all I know to do.

If you or someone you love has PTSD please feel free to share your or their experiences in the hope that, one day, we will not have to explain ourselves any longer but may simply live our lives in peace.

(c) Janni Styles

Bell Let’s Talk Day January 25, 2017: Let’s talk about PTSD

It seems hardly a year has already flown by since the 2016 Bell Let’s Talk Day and yet here we are again. Let’s hope this year’s campaign results in more people keeping the conversation going instead of shutting it down as so many are wont to do when it comes to mental health issues.

Instead of stuffing the big purple elephant under the carpet yet again, let’s talk about why people are suffering without help or experienced support. Some are too ashamed due to life conditioning around mental health matters. Some do not have the financial resources to obtain the expert help they need. Some areas are so lacking in funding for mental health services that programs are limited and wait lists can be up to two years long.

Two years is far too long. In two years a person can grow so desperate they may self harm, grow addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffer a complete psychotic “break” that costs them or those they love their very lives as was the recent situation in Nova Scotia where a man killed his family and himself. He was a soldier needing help for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and just did not get all the help he needed in time.

Let’s not make this another year full of needless tragedy.

Let’s make this the year we not only say “Let’s Talk” but let’s keep on talking and talking and talking. No matter who tries to “shush” us. Let’s keep talking for the sake of all those who are still with us and who still may have a chance to get the support and help they need to heal.

Below is a link where you can learn more about Bell’s Mental Health Day January 25, 2017 and all the wonderful work they do to keep people talking and healing. Following that is my latest PTSD poster and yes, you may share as much and as often as you please. I would be very grateful if you did.

See you next time.

#BellLetsTalk

http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/bell-lets-talk-day

Learn more about Bell Let’s Talk Day January 25th 2017

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