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A Walk in My Shoes With PTSD and Anxiety Disorder

While I was officially diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and an anxiety disorder less than a year ago, I can remember having my first, full-blown panic attack during my senior prom (triggered by practically everything and literally nothing). I remember the strands of PTSD showing up as early as my elementary school days (triggered mostly by watching my mom struggle with mental breakdowns, which took her out of our home far too often).

Fast forward to present day as I hike at home in Colorado with the amazing guy I share my life with. Many days our hikes are a delightful discovery of fresh trails and fantastic views. Some days, like an awful one we experienced weeks ago, hiking is a grueling fight through erroneous fears as I overlook the beauty of why I’m toughing through it all. Suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, I’m overtaken with distress. Without words or reasoning, I cannot explain why we need to immediately turn around on a familiar trail only moments away from home because… because my brain simply wouldn’t allow my body to fully enjoy life for the moment.

Although my guy gladly accepted my apology for interrupting our sunshiny walk with a burst of tears and blistering words, he didn’t quite understand the origin of. After this specific episode, I couldn’t help but think, “What if he were hiking in my shoes?”

What if he knew what it feels like to be suddenly overcome with fear and frustration in your mind where bliss and bravery abided just moments before? What if his everyday life was often interrupted by memories he didn’t know were still there and fears he hopes will never happen? What if he had moments of absolute panic and pain, which come from apparently nowhere, yet his subconscious recognizes it immediately as it’s all been with him longer than a two-faced friend?

Though I would never wish the pangs of my soul and pressures of my mind on anyone, I can’t help but wonder if those who question the plight of a person with a challenged psyche would have better answers if they were in our shoes. Experience is the mother of empathy as genius is the mother of invention. For instance, while I have compassion for any woman who’s having a tough and uncomfortable time during her pregnancy, my empathy only runs as deeply as an individual who’s never carried a child in her womb.

While we who fight anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any other exhausting battle of the human psyche don’t expect anyone to “hike in our shoes,” we do hope that others would be mindful in their hike amongst us or even with us.

As I’ve told my incredibly supportive guy before, “I don’t expect you to understand everything I’m still trying so desperately to understand about my plight through mental health. All I ask is you don’t hike past me in impatience or atop me in distress. The journey is already tough enough to bear.”

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Image via Thinkstock.