When You're Learning Not to Fight Your PTSD Symptoms

I’m in the throes of fighting against my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. I’m extremely angry at them right now. There are some things going on in my life that I want to change and my symptoms are preventing me from making the changes in a way that makes me feel useful.

I want to stop the flashbacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, depression and other PTSD symptoms. When I finished therapy last spring, my therapist helped me understand that I was still going to be living with symptoms. He felt that I didn’t need therapy any longer because I had reached a point where I had processed the memories, worked through the feelings and emotions, and had mastered the distress tolerance tools I had learned over the course of the eight years we worked together. He did the best he could to help me understand that I would still be affected by symptoms, that it was OK, that I was OK and that it was because of the effects of the trauma. I didn’t like hearing that but was determined to find a way to live with my symptoms. Maybe we could form some sort of symbiotic relationship?

I want to work! I want to be able to work more than two hours a day without my brain getting overwhelmed and shutting down. This is a symptom that I fight against continuously. I have the wonderful opportunity to do some marketing for two wellness centers. I’m extremely grateful for this work and the very generous owners. Most of the time, I can accept that this is what I’m able to do right now. It’s not much, but it keeps me employed in a way that helps them and brings me contentment. The other day,  a friend looked at me and said, “you’re underemployed!” Immediately, I felt the tapes of worthlessness, laziness and “can’t get better” begin to play, and my fragile balance of living with my symptoms turn into a self-esteem fight.

I’m also fighting against the fact that for me, there are triggers — triggers everywhere. I was asked to go on a night hike in a beautiful snowy field the other night with a friend who I know always has my back. The sky was clear and it was one of the serene landscapes. I saw the dark woods surrounding the field way off in the distance, and my heart and head panicked. I wanted to go, to ignore my symptoms, but my panic took over and I heard myself saying, “no, I’m scared,” over and over again. I was so mad at my symptoms.

These are just a couple of examples that have been front and center this past week. These incidences put me into a fight zone with PTSD. It’s not useful, nor helpful, and really all it does is exasperate all my symptoms.

Recognizing that I’m frustrated right now creates some space and gives me the room to name it, rail against it for a moment (if I really feel the need), then rest and move back into acceptance. I’m still a work in progress and rarely lose hope that things will get better. They are already better (different) than they were six months ago.

But right now, I’m in the throes of fighting against, not living with, my symptoms.

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