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, You and Me

Post traumatic stress disorder

P      T      S      D

Tightening every muscle

A giant fist of anxiety

Unkind, abusive people are not safe

Safety is on much higher ground

Pay no mind to the nasty folk

They will only bring us down

There is no known cure for this

It’s just the way the brain is wired

Stress and cruelty can wear you down

Leaving you emptied out and tired

Some days are better than others

There is no telling how they might be

You just wake up and try your best

Hoping things work out peacefully

The world is rife with assaulting sounds

People ready to argue on a dime

Guard your heart, your mind and ears

With soothing sights and music sublime

On the days when nothing will work

Take heart in how well you have done

You may have been through wars of many

Yet you are here, living and moving on

PTSD may never be completely gone

It may always be lingering inside

Make friends with your worst fears

Let your “safe people” be your guide

We may never win the war on PTSD

The grueling challenges may never end

Take heart, know you are not alone

In me you have a PTSD friend

(c)  Janni Styles

Here is my latest PTSD poster, number 7 in the series:

How I help YOU cope with my PTSD

Right after I was physically assaulted years ago I lost my coping skills. I repeat, I lost my coping skills, not my intelligence. You do not suddenly lose your intelligence but you do suddenly lose your coping skills with PTSD. This means it may be harder to access your intellect because your brain is so highly reactive in PTSD mode as I have experienced many, many times since that physical assault.

Once when I arrived at the bank to find funds missing, I was so jolted by it, I could hardly think straight let alone figure out how or why I was short of the money I needed to pay my rent. It took quite some doing and nearly an hour after trying to listen to the young clerk who spoke in that “uber-speed-fast-food-window” lingo. I could not understand a thing she said. The bank manager and security were called when I raised my voice to ask her to stop speaking so fast and burst into tears at the same time. The matter was resolved, the missing money was located and refunded and all was well in the end. But at the time I felt like my brain was banging inside my skull and instead of being treated kindly, I felt like they were all deeming me at fault in spite of the error being theirs in the first place.

What I did to prevent this happening to me again was ask to have a note placed on my file so that any future teller or clerk would be able to read that first before dealing with me. I even wrote out the note for them and the clerk did type it into my file.

The note was simple: “I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), please speak slowly and clearly and please don’t rush me.”

This has worked very well and even resulted in an older lady asking me about how I cope because her niece has PTSD from a bad car accident. Recently I was putting my bank card away and a sharp pain struck me as I was fighting a sinus infection. I cried “OH!” surprising myself and the kind man who had just served me at the bank. He asked me asked me if he could get me a glass of water. That alone was music to my ears and calmed me because even though I was not in a triggered PTSD episode, he knew what to do and how to help any one who might be.

At every opportunity I try to educate and inform others who may be misjudging a situation where PTSD is evident. Other things I do to reduce the incidence of triggers is go out with a “safe” or “anchor” person, check my surroundings constantly to try to avoid shocks or surprises, get second opinions from my “safe anchor” people to ensure I am not misjudging a situation, try to anticipate as much as possible, always have a plan A, B or C for crowd or large group situations so I can sit where it feels “safest” to me and exit quickly if need be, tell someone safe I need help or to leave and I even hold back tears if I am triggered right out of a building because I try to create the least possible upset to others.

A couple of years ago a friend who also has PTSD suggested I hand out flyers on trauma to people who do not understand it so they can learn instead of compound the situation. This friend educates people whenever she can about trauma because, she said, it is her best coping skill. Today I created my fifth poster on PTSD which follows this piece.

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday and since she only died a few years ago, the possibility exists that I may be “triggered” into a PTSD episode because of the high emotional levels around these special occasions.  I am hoping not and plan to be with “safe” people the whole day but you just never know. A fragrance, an aroma, a visual or a rack of “Mother” birthday cards could trigger me, it is not always possible to know what a trigger may be. This fifth poster is to help people understand and cope with my PTSD and that of others who are also still surviving with it. First, here is one of the last pictures ever taken of my mom as I prepare myself to try and not cry too much tomorrow:

mom-alone-cropped

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom.

 

ptsd-poster5

 

 

Why don’t people want to learn about PTSD?

My name is Janice and I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  There, I’ve said it aloud to the whole wide world now. Yes, I know my loyal blog subscribers have read it before but not everyone bothers to read what I post here and often many don’t want to read about PTSD at all. I understand. I wish I could write cheery, delightful posts every day but that’s not likely to ever happen on my blog anyway. I am not much on small talk and idle missives. I like what I write to mean something, more importantly to possibly even help even just one person in the world.

Usually when I start talking about PTSD people skitter away and want nothing to do with even learning about it. Why is that? So many people have died because of it, including an entire family in Nova Scotia mere days ago and yet people want to stuff it under the rug along with all other manner of mental health issues as though sufferers should be ashamed and not talk about it or even dare be triggered into a full blown episode.

The shame is not ours but belongs to anyone who would rather look away than learn about this awful disorder that can strike anyone at any age. Trauma is not something we ask for nor do we want it. Yet, many of us have experienced so much trauma that we just lose our ability to cope. This includes many who were abused in childhood, many who will likely suffer PTSD all of their adult lives. This includes a man who works as a Police Officer. This includes the woman who works as a Paramedic. This includes all people working all front line jobs where trauma occurs daily from the Emergency Room to the soldiers who return from war torn daily life to be triggered by hearing a car backfire down their street. Some people may never develop PTSD but others, it seems, cannot avoid it. We do not lose our intelligence, we merely lose our ability to cope. All the intelligence in the world cannot prevent a person from getting PTSD.

How did I get PTSD? Well, the doctors feel I may have had a mild form of it from all the shocks I endured in my marriage. But I managed to cope and soldier on until 2012 when a long time trusted friend physically assaulted me while my ex held my arms. A near 20 year friendship down the drain with a kick by a woman who has martial arts and could have exploded my bladder and killed me on the spot. (No, she was never charged because he and she lied to the police and police dropped the charges). For two years I had health issues that stemmed from that kick, some I would rather not mention here. Not to mention my shoulders both now full of scars from clawing myself awake from nightmares for two years.

Some things about having PTSD are better now. The thing I struggle most with is the “trigger” unpredictability which can overtake everything so that you need sticky notes all over just to remind you of every day tasks or things you promised you would do for others. It’s not that you don’t want to do those things, you simply, well, speaking for me, I simply cannot remember everything and greatly appreciate reminders.

The first year I had PTSD I was unable to take in any amount of information. No matter how many times the clerk at the bank might repeat herself, I could not make out what she was saying. Her words were foreign, another language, it was all gibberish to me even though she was speaking English, my birth tongue.  I started to tremble, then tears flowed and the manager was called. I asked to have it noted on my file that I have PTSD, I also asked that they please “speak slowly” and “be patient” with me because PTSD is not something I can control.

Jumpiness used to be worse for me than it is now but I can still be startled by people coming up behind me in the grocery store (why oh why do people do that anyway…sigh).  Even walking right out in front of me virtually cutting me off, stopping me from walking because their royal rudeness couldn’t just wait their turn can trigger me.

A nasty phone call or exchange I don’t deserve from a mean neighbor or other person on a rant, an abusive text from my ex or criticism from any source can trigger an episode. An episode for me can last a week. A week’s worth of jumpiness, anxiety, depression and needing lots of quiet, safe solitude to recover. This is better though, for me. You see, I used to suffer from PTSD 24/7, with no end or break in sight. Anything and everything triggered me and I just kept withdrawing more and more from daily life to protect myself.

Even standing in a line at the bank or grocery store where people practically press right up against you can trigger me. I can’t stand anyone invading my space and will try to keep three feet between me and the person behind me. If they push up, I step away, sideways if I must just to get rid of that sense of invasion until it is my turn in the line. Sometimes I have had to flee a store, just drop all my intended purchases and race out the door to my car where I can get in and lock the doors against intrusive, invasive types out there in the public.

Personally I am sick and tired of people being sick and tired of hearing about this very important condition anyone can be struck down by. We were given two ears and two eyes and one mouth for one reason. Let’s stop shaming people for having this and start listening, seeing, sharing and asking more questions instead of bolting away as though the person has a highly contagious disease. PTSD is not contagious. Stupidity can be. If you let it. Let’s not let it.

In an effort to educate others about PTSD, I have begun making posters about it and will share the first two here with you now:

ptsd-and-you-poster-january-2016

 

ptsd-and-you-poster-2

If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, I would love to hear how you are coping and what helps you to calm when you are triggered by people or events out of your control.  Also, making these posters will be ongoing so if you have anything you feel you’d like others to know about PTSD please share and I will include it in a poster.  Take good care and be gentle with yourself.

See you next time.