How I'm Learning to Accept the Fluidity of Recovering From PTSD

It seems I have a pattern — I am continually shocked that I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m not sure if it’s mental gymnastics that I perform with gold medal perfection or it’s normal when living with a chronic illness to have a fluidity of acceptance.

The past year has been a whirlwind of powerful and positive changes in my life. I just came back from a wonderful remote camping/canoeing trip where I experienced a total reset. I have come to a place where I have processed and accepted my past, for the most part. I have a huge toolbox of distress tolerance tools and have gotten the answers to the big questions that were tamped down in a dark, repressed past. I graduated from therapy and have been able to incorporate the tools my therapist helped me accumulate with pretty good success. My children are in places in their lives where they are content, and I’m very fortunate to work for two wonderful small business owners who understand my limitations, knowing that sometimes I can only work a couple hours per week. I have taken wonderful, exciting and sometimes painful strides that have propelled my trajectory of healing.

So, why do I still have symptoms of PTSD? Why do I still have flashbacks? Why am I still triggered by certain sounds? Why can’t I make my brain concentrate for more than two hours at a time without it shutting down and becoming so overwhelmed that I begin to decompensate? And why am I still shocked that I experience these symptoms?

Driving home from the Boundary Waters, I thought, wow, I am so relaxed, I bet after four days in the wilderness, I’m cured.  As I was performing my mental gymnastics routine, I thought; I was sick, I worked hard in therapy, I incorporated all the tools, I just spent four days in relative silence (except for nature sounds and my camping companions) — I bet I’m fine. I’ll wake up tomorrow, find a full-time job, and re-enter the life I knew before I was hindered by my illness.

I have some long-lasting effects from the trauma I endured. From the reading that I’ve done, and the understanding I have about the extent of my trauma, I’m still going to struggle with PTSD. I’m not intimating that this is a forever illness — I don’t know what the future will hold. Most days, I’ve accepted that even though therapy ended, I’m still going to suffer from symptoms.

When I was talking to my son about this yesterday, he looked at me and said, “you wouldn’t expect someone who has broken their leg to stand up and walk just because they are done with physical therapy, would you?” I replied, “of course not!” I wonder, is it the invisibility of my illness that makes me so uncomfortable, or is it that I have an illness that makes me feel so uncomfortable and disappointed? Maybe both.

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m working hard to heal and it’s not anything I did or am doing to cause these symptoms. I’m not perpetuating them, I am living with them. When I lose sight of this, I find myself getting very angry at my PTSD. When the anger and frustration well up and starts to boil over, I make myself stop, sit down, reflect, rest and try to focus on the goal of what I want for my life. I can acknowledge my progress, watch my children fly from the nest and make adult lives for themselves, and feel good about my ability to contribute to a life I want to have, and still understand that I have this invisible illness of PTSD. The fluidity of my acceptance has me revisiting, once again, that idea that some wounds are extremely slow to heal, but they will heal.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.

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