lady gaga

How Lady Gaga's Reveal on the 'Today' Show Helped Me With My PTSD

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Lady Gaga is not only known for her songs and her role in the now hit show “American Horror Story,” but for her humanitarian efforts and love for people. She has shown many women, girls, men and boys that it is OK to be yourself and sends body-positive messages.

Recently Lady Gaga came out with the information that she has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while on the “Today” show. I do not think she knew what the implications of her telling the world about this was when she did it, but they’re huge for some of us.

 

When I heard that a successful, kind woman like her has PTSD too, I didn’t feel so alone. I felt like perhaps if Lady Gaga can deal with the effects of something as hard as post-traumatic stress and still be who she is… maybe I can too. Maybe I can achieve my dreams. Maybe this doesn’t have to control my whole life.

I had big dreams for  myself before my PTSD, and I still do, but I have never really, truly thought I could achieve them. I felt hopeless in my trauma and wasn’t sure it would let me do anything good with my life.

Now, I am sure. I can do it.

If Lady Gaga found a way to work through her trauma to become who she is today, I can too. I will open my restaurant and my church group with my husband. I will help LGBTQIA youth and the homeless with those things. I can get there.

So if by chance you ever ready this, thank you, Lady Gaga. Thank you for inspiring me and I’m sure many others. Thank you for being you and using your platform for good. I am very grateful.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Photo by Eric Garcetti 

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I’m the Girl Who Wants to Forget but Can’t

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I was sitting on the couch in between two girls, and one grabbed my arm to get me to move over. The fear and panic arose. I couldn’t think straight. “What’s going on!?” my mind screamed.

I looked around me and could vaguely see others watching me. Maybe they saw fear on my face as I tried pulling away and snapped at her to let me go. Maybe they saw me struggling to breathe as I felt like I was being suffocated to death.

Can’t breathe.

I look for an exit but feel suffocated, boxed in, with nowhere to run or hide. I don’t know where I am. Everything is dark. All I know in this moment is fear, panic and pain.

I was standing around in a group of young adults just talking and one girl, who I barely knew, walked over to me. She got in my face, staring me down. When I was finally able to walk away, I felt so upset and agitated. Her intent gaze felt like a violation of my personal space, space that people violate to assault me.

Run!

Hide!

Scratch your skin.

Try and get the feel of their touch out of your memory.

Yet, it’s not their touch. It’s not their fault. It’s the stranger on the street. It’s the classmate on the playground. It’s the shadow walking toward you on the street. It’s the disappearing stranger in the heart of your neighborhood.

I tried taking a break from playing games when a guy came over to me and grabbed my wrist to pull me into the new game. I pulled away using self-defense techniques. My head was spinning. I had to run and hide.

Don’t let anyone touch me.

Still, I didn’t truly notice the deep effects of this act until bedtime when I tried sleeping. I had that nightmare again. I was being chased by a guy who was trying to hurt me. I woke up the next day hoping to just forget about it. Then, that night, it happened again. He grabbed me again, and I was back in that dream, every night for weeks at a time. I suddenly had no desire to sleep. If I did, then I would just spend it running from those who wish to hurt me.

No, can’t sleep.

Can’t breathe.

Can’t think.

Run!

Hide!

Don’t speak.

Don’t move.

Don’t trust anyone.

Someone is behind you.

Oh right, it’s just your shadow.

No, someone is behind you.

You’re in danger.

I’m safe, but my body and mind can’t see it. How could it? I might know I’m in a safe environment, but my mind feels trapped. It can’t forget. No matter how hard I try, and I really do try.

Some days, I think I’m free. Then, someone inadvertently triggers another episode. I’m being hit for no reason. I’m being called names, told I’m worthless or that no one cares about me. I wonder why I even exist.

I’m back in that dark spot where suicide feels like the best possible solution to my pain. I decide to reach out for help instead. Then, I wonder why I didn’t just end my life, as the ridicule begins.

“You’re so selfish.”

“You’re a coward.”

No, I was the face of a victim. I was a victim. I felt weak, powerless and helpless. The demons may still have me at times, but I’m not that girl anymore. I might be broken, but I’m not a victim, weak, powerless or helpless.

I’m strong.

My scars are internal. Invisible. To some, they don’t exist. To me, they changed my world.

I’m not just a girl. I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter. I’m a girl who wants to forget but can’t. I’m a girl who feels guilty because her pain doesn’t seem as bad as the pain of others.

No, I’m a girl who needs to know and remember that her pain matters. Her trauma is real. Her trauma deserves acceptance.

I’m that girl who

Can’t sleep.

Can’t breathe.

Can’t think.

I’m the girl whose mind screams at her to

Run!

Hide!

I’m the girl whose mind says,

Don’t speak.

Don’t move.

It’s in these seemingly small actions that the pain comes crashing in like huge tidal waves. Uncontrollable. Uncontainable at times.

So, I smile. I laugh with you. I may even joke with you, but I may never forget. I’m a survivor of trauma, and I live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Hardest Part of Holiday Shopping With a Psychological Disorder

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After Thanksgiving dinner, many people immediately start thinking about all the deals they can snag for Black Friday. And about what stores are going to have exactly what they are looking for, specifically for their loved ones. For some of us, though, especially those with anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sensory issues, holiday shopping can be hell. As opposed to the best in-store deals, we often look for who has the best shipping deals. Who has all-night hours. And the fastest route in and out of stores.

My husband and I both have PTSD, his from combat in the army, mine from years of abuse and bullying from my schoolmates. Come early- to mid-November, we start looking on different sites. We figure out shipping times. We look for stores that are open 24 hours. And we look for stores that offer site-to-store.

On top of both of us having PTSD, we both also struggle with an anxiety disorder. Crowds terrify us. Neither one of us like people (that we don’t know) getting physically close to us. We even stay basically glued to each other while we’re at the store.

When you’re at the store and you see someone with headphones on, or you see someone high-tailing it down the aisle, I believe nine times out of 10, they aren’t trying to be rude. They could have anxiety or PTSD. They could have sensory sensitivities. Or they might just be a**holes. But you really have no way of knowing.

Yes, there are medications we can take to help ease the anxiety of busy shopping centers. However, just like with any medication, there can be side effects. And many of them are far from pleasant. In my experience, one of the biggest side effects of many anxiety meds is they can make you groggy — which is possibly one of the worst side effects when you’re in a crowded place, when there are plenty of unknown people who may want to try and take advantage of or steal from those who they view as “easy targets.”

This holiday season, please think of your friends and family members with psychological and sensory issues. Offer to either go with them, or go for them. Help them do their online searches. Be a shoulder for them after a stressful shopping trip, even if you live far away from them. While you may enjoy holiday shopping, remember there are some people who dread shopping during the holiday season.

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This Is What PTSD Looks Like

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On July 4, 2016, I attend an annual beach party at a family friend’s house, complete with the obligatory barbeque and fireworks show on the beach. I’ve always disliked fireworks, and my startle response has gotten increasingly heightened in recent years. Because of this, I arrive more than fashionably late (so that my car won’t get blocked into the one-lane driveway) and have every intention of leaving before the fireworks show begins. The 10-minute warning is called, and I put my half-finished burger down to say goodbye and head to my car.

Confidently walking toward my car, proud of myself for going to the party even though I didn’t want to, my stomach drops and my body numbs when I discover I am blocked in, trapped, without any way out.

Boom.

Crackle.

My heart skips a beat as the fireworks begin. I fumble for my car keys and finally shut the door behind me. Shaking, I blast the music at full volume, hoping Mumford and Sons might drown out the fear. It doesn’t. I spend the next hour hunched over, shaking, sobbing and scratching my skin until I bleed.

This is what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) looks like.

Recently, more information has become widely available about war veterans with PTSD. So when I tell people after the summer holiday I hate fireworks, I sarcastically get asked, “Why? You didn’t fight in a war.” To which I can say nothing but shrug and accept that though I may not be the expectation of what trauma looks like, I am still a face of PTSD. (This is not to say the experience of a war veteran with PTSD is somehow less valid, but simply that there are other reasons folks develop trauma disorders as well.)

This is what PTSD looks like.

My partner calls me after being aggressively hit on by a customer at her work place. She is scared to walk to the bus stop alone, for fear of being followed. I promise to stay on the line. I ask for her location. I promise to call 9-1-1 if we get disconnected. We both know it’s unlikely that anything would happen. Yet it could, and it has in the past. She feels powerless. I can’t let her know I do, too.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m on the ferry when the boat blows its horn. I know the sound is coming, but I still cower in fear.

This is what PTSD looks like.

We argue over the dirty dishes in the sink. I am angry, but I’m not allowed to be angry. Anger, I’ve learned, is dangerous. So I shut down. I cry. I can’t speak. She’s never hurt me, but still I’m scared of getting hurt. I whimper. I apologize. I hide.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m incredibly lucky to be with a woman who makes me feel so safe. In the three years we’ve been together, she’s taught me that love is gentle, consensual and kind. Yet my body doesn’t always remember that.

Suddenly, her lips are not hers. The tongue in my mouth is foreign and forceful. The hands on my breasts morph from loving to violent, and I am scared. It’s no longer 2016, nor Chicago, nor her. I don’t know where I am and I can barely breathe. She rubs my back, whispering to me that I am safe. I open my eyes, and it is 2016. It’s Chicago. She is safe, but I didn’t know that 20 minutes ago.

This is what PTSD looks like.

The sex is great, until her tongue does that thing or her hands move that way and suddenly I am back in that hot, sticky bedroom, too drunk to speak and no way out. I hear the AC running in the living room, and the dog’s pitter-patter on the floor. I come back to the “now,” but I am still scared.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m talking to my therapist and become overwhelmed. I curl up. I cry. Their voices get louder, and I swear they’re living inside me. I punch my head to make it stop. Anything at all to make it stop! Yet they only get louder with every bang. My therapist grabs my hands. She doesn’t let me hurt myself. She tells me I’m safe. That it isn’t happening anymore. That there aren’t any hurts here. Yet I don’t believe her, and I still don’t feel safe.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m leaving work after dark. As I walk to the train, I’m certain the shadow behind me is my perpetrator, following me, planning to hurt me once more. I turn around and the only shadow is mine. My heart is racing, and I call a cab. I don’t feel safe in my own neighborhood.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m taking a shower, and my shampoo gets in my eyes. I wipe it clear and realize it’s Wednesday, but the last memory I have was Sunday morning. Where did the time go? I worry. I wonder. I go to bed. I come to at school. It’s Friday. Where did Thursday go? Where is the lost time?

This is what PTSD looks like.

People always seem to think I’m making it up, that my memory can’t be so badly affected by something that isn’t happening in the present moment. I start to believe them. I start to believe I’m making it up, that it’s all in my head and I’m being dramatic. That my trauma is just drama and that’s why I chose a career in theater. Yet the more I tell myself I’m making it up, the louder the flashbacks and body memories become.

This is what PTSD looks like.

It’s 3 a.m. and my thrashing body wakes me. I’m drenched in sweat as I scream out for help. I flip over to my stomach, and my head smacks against the hotel headboard. I’m dizzy, and I’m scared. I wonder where I am. I turn on the lights and reach for my glasses, and I know once more it is 2016 and I am safe. Even so, I can’t shake the feeling of fear the next day.

This is what PTSD looks like.

The bruise on my forehead isn’t just an indication of klutziness (as many might believe). It is yet another physical representation of how invasive PTSD really is. PTSD doesn’t only show up when loud noises happen. It doesn’t only affect me for one hour a week and then go away until I see my therapist once more. PTSD affects me every damn day.

It changes my perception, my relationships, my ability to trust, my sex life, my memory and the list goes on. PTSD is what I live with every day. It is the pills I take to keep the nightmares at bay, the fidget toys I carry to keep anxiety from taking over. PTSD is the monthly expenses that are half of what I make and the medical bills that are more than I can pay. It’s the insurance reviews that cause undue stress and the days when just getting out of bed feels impossible. It is the scars on my arm from scratching my skin and the period cramps that remind me of their bodies inside mine.

I’m not a war veteran, and explaining to people that I struggle with this disorder is difficult, especially when I don’t look like the person who’s expected to be diagnosed. I may not be who you expect to have PTSD, but that doesn’t mean I don’t. I am the one in five women who have been raped, and I am one of more than five million faces of PTSD.

This is what PTSD looks like.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Dear Daughter: This Is What I've Learned About Love and Mental Illness

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Dear Daughter,

I never thought limes would be a metaphor for loving someone with mental illness… but as it turns out, they make a pretty good one.

I was 11 the year I took my first flight to New York to see my aunt and uncle. I thought they were rich because every time we drove by a Sonic, my aunt would point and my uncle would do a U-turn in traffic to take her for a lime-aid.

I didn’t really like the lime-aids back then… they were too sour for my taste, but my aunt would give me the cherry out of hers, and I would sit in the back seat of the car and suck on it like it was candy, pulling the stem into my mouth and pushing it through my teeth with my tongue.

Later, I used limes for cleaning. Oh, the bane of being a mom. Limes are great thrown in the garbage disposal though after your 16-year-old sends his fishing worms through it. At least I hope those were worms I tugged out like intestines…

I used to find myself at the grocery store in the produce section, handling the small fruits… rolling them in my palms and remembering my aunt as my uncle would do a sharp turn for her lime-aid. She told me once that when I found a man who would do U-turns for me over a lime, I would know I’d found the right man.

For a long time, I kept a lime in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator to remind me of that.

I have found out there is a lot of truth in what my aunt told me, especially when it comes to loving someone with mental illness. Your father was never there for me like I needed him to be. I sunk into the depressive episodes of my bipolar disorder alone, and then later post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) became the overriding factor of my life. I felt abandoned until finally I had to leave the relationship. And I know the divorce was hard on all of us.

I had to start over. We all did. And this time, I took my aunt’s advice to heart and chose someone who would “do a U turn in traffic over a lime for me.” (Figuratively.)

My new partner knew upfront who I was… my flaws, my mental illness — the works. I don’t really like limes like my aunt did, so he doesn’t have to do a 180 in traffic to get me a lime aid, but what he has done since the day he has moved in with us is far more important.

He has sat with me when I’ve had PTSD flashbacks. He’s stayed up late at night with me when I had nightmares, even when he had to get up at 3 a.m. the next day to go to work. He’s made coffee on weekend mornings and sat on the balcony with me as I cried my heart out while you were sleeping in. I’m not sure you’ve ever known. He did it so you didn’t have to know.

I did this for you. I did it for us. I did it because that’s the kind of love I want you to find some day. No matter how your life turns out, I want you to remember you are worthy of finding a healthy and loving relationship.

I can’t give you a life with a mother who is free of mental illness. But I can give you a life with a capable and worthy mother. So, that is what I’ve done.

All my love,

Mom

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Thinkstock photo by Claudio Ventrella

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Reminders for My Silent Superman During Those Dark, Difficult Moments With PTSD

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I know our relationship has been significantly affected by my past. I can’t help but feel it is my fault when we have problems. The men in my past have left a lasting scar on my soul. And I know because of this, I am different than the other girls you might go out with. I know there have been days when you’ve watched me lay in bed and not want to get up. There have been times when I have tried to shut you out or retreat. There have been moments when I have said hurtful things to you, because I want to be angry. The truth is I don’t want to be angry with you. I’m angry with my abusers. I’m in pain because of the bruises they’ve left on my heart. I’m angry at the world for thinking it was my fault. I’m not angry with you. In fact, you are one of the biggest reasons why I love this world.

I’m sorry you’ve been dragged into the psychological damage that others have caused.

I know it isn’t easy to be with me all the time. I know we fight about little things that have nothing to do with you. The events from my past have molded me into the person I am today. And it can make our relationship difficult and at times painful. It has strained my ability to be my real self with you. The emotions and intensity of my thoughts are tricky to understand. I watch you as you stare at me in your bed. I’m not able to communicate to you how much pain I am actually in. I know you watch me while I cry about the men of my past. The men who have affected our relationship today. I want you to know you aren’t doing anything wrong. In fact, you are doing everything right. But in those dark, difficult moments there are some important things I want you to remember.

When I snap or shut down, it has nothing to do with you.

I shut down because sometimes my nervous system literally cannot handle dealing with anything. My body physically shuts down. This is a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s not because I’m mad at you or because of the things you say. It is because I have ghosts in my head that like to play games. They will pop up into my thoughts whenever they want to. When this happens, all I need from you is a reminder that you are there. Whether it’s a hug or a quick trip to get ice cream. And in case I don’t tell you right away, I am sorry for snapping at you. You did nothing wrong.

When I get clingy or too attached:

It’s not because I’m “crazy.” It is because you give me one of the greatest feelings of security. Security I didn’t have with other men. Sometimes I feel so safe with you, I forget that you also need to feel secure. In these moments I want you to be honest. Tell me you need some time separate from me. Tell me you need to go hang out with the boys or to spend some time apart. The last thing a survivor wants is to feel like a burden in someone’s life. I want you to share with just as much as I share with you. It helps if you are honest with me in a positive or neutral setting. If you let things build up to the point you are angry, I take it personally. And not because of you. But because of my past abuse. I want our relationship to be healthy and real. And when you are honest with me, it reminds me I am not broken.

When I have episodes of depression and anxiety:

I know how hard it is for you to sit there and feel powerless. In the moments when I can’t get out of bed or don’t want to go out in public, I see the pain it brings you. I know how frustrating it can be to see the person you love not taking action in their life. In these moments, I will not be offended if you go do things by yourself. But I greatly appreciate when you ask me if I would like to tag along. I love the moments where you tell me you want to go outside for a walk, or go get coffee. It makes me feel like you want me to experience life with you. And most of the time I will probably be ecstatic you asked me to join. But on the days where I simply can’t get out of bed, what really helps the most is knowing that you love me. Knowing that you see beyond the exterior of my blanket and see the real me underneath. A kiss on the forehead or a hug that squeezes me into oblivion goes a long way. And if you want, I am never opposed to you crawling into bed with me and watching The Office.

These tips may be helpful. But they don’t fix anything. I understand how hard it can be to watch the person you love struggle with their existence. I know how frustrating it can be to watch as I struggle to get up and make healthy decisions. I know how painful it can be to tell me how you feel because you don’t want to upset me. I know how overwhelming it can all be. And believe me, there is nothing more I want than to break the chains of my past and solely focus on the now. But I promise if you are willing to work with me, I will love you more than you could ever imagine. I already do. The fact that you are willing to overlook all of the layers of gray and see my true bright self is a gift I will never take for granted.

I also want you to know I am trying. I am trying my hardest to battle the beasts of my past and still live in the present. I want to get out of bed, I want to have a job and I want to be excited about life. And in the moments or days when all I can do is lay in bed and watch reality TV, please be patient with me. My feelings of being overwhelmed and sad will pass, sometimes I just need time. Please also remember I am not broken. I am still a powerful woman with so much to offer. I have dreams, goals and ambitions. Sometimes those get masked with my feelings of pain and depression. But I am still the strong, excited, wonderful woman you fell in love with. I haven’t gone anywhere, I just might be hiding a bit due to the trauma.

So finally, I just want to say thank you. In case I don’t tell you enough, you deserve to hear it. Thank you for turning over at night when I have a nightmare. Thank you for getting me outside and breathing fresh air with me. Thank you for keeping me laughing from the deepest part of my gut. Thank you for the spontaneous moments when you tell me I’m beautiful. Thank you for blasting music in the car while we drive around. Thank you for keeping me in the present. Thank you for holding me accountable for using my healthy coping skills. Thank you for reminding me you would never hurt me and I am safe with you. And most importantly, thank you for loving the real me. The me that loves dogs, sings oldies and likes to go bowling. Thank you for seeing through the heavyweights of my past and embracing who I really am. Thank you for reminding me every single day you love the person I am, not the things that have happened to me. You are my silent superman. Thank you for everything you do. I love you.

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