Four years ago, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite therapy and treatment, I continue to experience flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and periods of dissociation. For every symptom experienced, there are consequences. The most difficult consequence I have encountered and remain affected by is the loss of relationships with family and friends.
Disconnection and avoidance are symptoms that not only affect the person with PTSD but their loved ones as well. If ever there was something I feel vital for other people experiencing PTSD to be aware of, it would be these symptoms. Having to accept the effects of this condition is difficult enough, but having to deal with additional feelings of loss only intensifies it.
I don’t know why PTSD entered my life, and I don’t like what it has done, but I have accepted it is now part of who I am and I am learning how to deal with it. I no longer mourn for who I used to be or the life I once lived, instead my energy is spent learning to live with who I am today and finding things I am able to do despite the barriers I face caused by PTSD.
PTSD usually happens because we experience or witness a traumatic event our brains are unable to process. It is so severe of an event that the shock almost causes our brain to freeze and results in it being able to shelf the experience in order to continue. We do not intentionally cause this to happen, and it is in no way our fault. It results from trauma and is the brain’s way of telling us it needs time to recover. I believe to accomplish this, our brain forces us to relive the traumatic event until such time it is able to process and manage it, finally finding acceptance, which leads to its ability to recover from it and return to “normal” once again. For some, this process can happen almost immediately, but for others, it can take an undetermined amount of time with progress being very slow to occur.
I am still in recovery, and with every two steps I take forward, I find myself taking one or more back. But I continue, knowing although slow, I am making progress. Be active in your treatment and believe you can get past this period in your life. Understand you in no way caused this to happen and it was beyond your control. You are brave and you are a survivor and you made it through what caused it, now I believe you must continue to be brave on your path towards recovery.
No matter what you encounter on this journey, I believe the most important thing is to ensure you remain connected with your loved ones. Write reminders on your calendar or set alarms on your cell phone to remind yourself once a week to keep the line of communication open. You don’t have to have contact in person to achieve this. We are fortunate to have many methods available such as text messaging, email and even the old method of writing a letter and mailing it. I believe what matters is that you don’t allow disconnection from your loved ones to happen.
If you are the loved one of a person who has been diagnosed with PTSD, learn to find ways to ensure contact is maintained. Respect that they may not want to actually have in-person contact, and do not take this personally. Their condition has nothing to do with anything you have caused or done, it is something that has happened to them and you must give them the space and time necessary to work through it. Text, email, write a letter and mail it, use whatever method you choose.
Don’t try to “fix” them or tell them you understand exactly what they are going through. You can’t “fix” them, they must do it on their own. Remember, you don’t understand exactly what they are going through because it is their individual experience. Just remind them how much you care, that you respect their need for time and space and assure them you are there when they are ready.
For people with PTSD: you are on the journey towards recovery. You have endured something traumatic, and survived. Never forget you are brave and you are worth the fight. Don’t give up.
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Thinkstock photo via Natalia-flurno.