Friday, June 24, 2011

Living with PTSD

Thank you to everyone who has written to me with support and questions.  I cannot thank you enough.  My purpose behind writing the post below was beneficial for me in many ways - mostly in that I refuse to live my life in hiding, or shame.    I have to admit when I hit publish and walked away I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach and a moment of "What have I done?" 

Then I asked myself, why should I feel shame?  Does a person feel shame when they break their leg?  Does a person hide behind closed doors when they have cancer?  MS?  Why does our society have such a stigma attached to people with mental illness?

"All people with PTSD have lived through a traumatic event that caused them to fear for their lives, see horrible things, and feel helpless. Strong emotions caused by the event create changes in the brain that may result in PTSD." - Dept of Veterans Affairs - National Center for PTSD

Why should you feel ashamed over something you could not control? 

I am not dying.  I am fully capable of being happy, and functioning on most days.  Other days, depending on the stress or stimuli I may experience what they call 'flooding' a flood of emotions, anxiety, panic, turmoil.  Those days are not my best. Only my family have witnessed those days because I do not leave the house.  I have not been out in public for several years alone.  If I am not with a dog, I am with a friend, child or my husband. 

A debilitating thing about PTSD is that you cannot control your reactions.  I have certain 'triggers' that will bring on a PTSD 'moment'.  For example:  yelling (or what I perceive as yelling), loud noises, being overwhelmed, sudden startle, being touched unexpectedly, someone behind me, fast unexpected movements in my peripheral vision, certain smells or locations.  I am learning how to control my reactions and anxiety level.

Many times though I am overcome by a feeling of being out of control, and I respond with anger or yell myself, but lately it has manifested in tears.  I simply cannot stop crying.  Believe it or not the crying is a good thing - finally the emotions are coming to the surface and over time I will begin to process them.  

I been learning how to control some of those reactions by identifying both the internal and external triggers.  It took a long time to even identify what was happening -  for years I did not have a clue about what was happening.  I felt intense shame, which only exacerbated the stress.   

Medication can help with the 'flooding'.  Therapy helps with the rest. When things get too much, I choose to walk away, to protect is the only thing I have left to do.

The best way to cope with a trigger is avoidance.  However, this is almost impossible to do. Why? Well, you cannot really avoid your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Much of these are out of our control. In regard to external triggers, we can take some steps to manage our environment (for example, not going to certain places that we know will trigger us), but we cannot control everything that happens to us.
- Matthew Tull, PhD.

The best thing for a person struggling with PTSD is understanding, and acceptance, not judgement. 

I have PTSD.  I am not weak.  Shame is a barrier to healing. Shame isolates.  I am not ashamed and neither should any one else out there struggling with any type of emotional trauma or illness.  You are not alone.

To learn more about PTSD please visit:

Department of Veterans Affairs - What is PTSD


Pat A said...

Carolynn, you are the most important person in Brynn's life and if she chooses to be your service dog above being a great sheep dog, it does not surprise me. She loves you above all. She is a winner. You are too because you try your best and that is all that is important. Winning a ribbon or prize is not important, It is trying our best that is and you always do that.

Jennifer Rose said...

lots of people with MS do actually hide behind closed doors :/ because a lot of the time the disability isn't noticeable, when it does show up in public, people sometimes just think you are a drunk or avoid you, so its easier sometime staying in :/

i think society has a stigma against people with mental illness because "normal" people don't want that happening to them.

writing about your illness so that hundreds of people can read about it, proves you def. are not weak :)

sagechronicles said...

You are truly amazing--I'm sure going public with your PTSD was a scary thing, but I find our blog friends are very supportive. That Brynn chose to be your service dog is wonderful, for both of you.

RYKER said...

We wish you inner peace and happiness. Give that Brynn a big hug from us.