An Imaginary Exercise for Anyone Who Doesn't Understand PTSD

“What’s it like having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?”

I get asked this question quite often. In fact, I also get asked if I was in the military. Typically, it’s all in the same sentence. Well, I decided it was about time I answered those questions instead of telling people it’s none of their business, which I have done countless times. It’s a sore topic for me.

I’ll answer the military portion first because it tends to lead to a second question. No, I have not served in the military. Before you ask how I got PTSD, please remember any traumatic event can cause it. I was sexually assaulted and now I live with PTSD.

PTSD is often characterized by symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, depersonalization, hyper-vigilance and a few others. I could probably just leave it at that; however, you still wouldn’t really understand what it’s like to live with it. So I’m going to have you do a little imagery exercise before I continue explaining. Don’t worry, it’s really simple.

I want you to think of the worst thing you’ve ever been through. It can be the sudden loss of a loved one or maybe a car accident. Now, remember all of those feelings you had at the time, the fear, the pain, the hurt and the turmoil. Now, imagine if you felt like this every day, like you were still in that situation and it was never ending. Do you feel panic from that thought? It’s OK if you do, and it’s OK if you don’t.

Now, while you may not experience this every day, I and many others do. My mind was once a safe place I could retreat into. Now, it’s one of the worse places to be. A normal day for me will consist of waking up, walking my service dog, drinking coffee, taking multiple medications, trying not to think about the past (and probably failing), trying to finish a painting, binge watching Netflix with my mother and hiding in the bathroom so I can have a panic attack or flashback without anyone knowing. Then, I take more medications so I can sleep, only to be interrupted throughout the night by nightmares. Needless to say, I am permanently tired and mentally drained after only getting four hours of sleep.

I live in fear every day of my life. Fear I will have a flashback without warning and people will see it and never look at me the same. Fear I will never be strong or whole again. Most of all, fear that no one will try to understand and accept me. However, while the first one is most likely to happen, the other two are not true. I have an amazing support system in place. While I do not feel strong, I know I am.

It’ll take time, a lot of therapy and a lot of acceptance, but I will be whole again. The flashbacks will one day happen less and less, as will the nightmares. When that happens, my service dog will probably just become a regular dog. It’s a day I dream about in my most wildest fantasies.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or a loved one are affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-0656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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