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How Sleepless Nights Helped Me to Discover My PTSD

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

What I forgot to remember,
What I remember and want to forget,
What I have tried to ignore for so long,
What I have numbed for so long and am finally starting to feel,
I can’t stop thinking about it and all I want to do is stop thinking about it and feeling it and letting it be inside of me.
Make it stop,
I should just be over it already.
Why does it still leave me in so much pain?
This is what I hide beneath my smile, my polished grin.

“This is what my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) looks like: It’s 4 a.m. I am still awake. My brain won’t shut off and my thoughts are racing so fast, I can’t catch them. I sit up on the edge of the bed and cry quietly so I don’t wake anyone up because I can’t even pinpoint why I’m crying and telling someone whom I don’t know just feels fake.

“This is what my PTSD looks like: I wake up covered in sweat after finally falling asleep and can’t remember my nightmares, but my heart is rapidly beating and my chest is tight.”

When I read this Mighty article, it was like something connected for me — connected the sensations and things I had been experiencing but wanting to ignore even five months into a PTSD diagnosis. It was months of sleepless nights, nightmares and waking up in the middle of the night after all that had brought me to uncovering the PTSD symptoms I had been hiding for years.

I climb into bed and just lie there, wondering when I will fall asleep and terrified of what will happen if I do. I get up in the morning, washing my face as I try to wash away the dark circles that have become more defined in my mind over the past few months.

I take deep breaths as I drive into work and hope today is better, that today I don’t feel on edge the entire day and don’t end it by driving home and fighting back tears.

It all feels like it comes in a cycle: a few days of somewhat restful sleep and feeling less fearful, less panicky; then, it slowly starts again and I think that, of course, it isn’t truly over.

I’ve learned to do things that are more helpful and restful, especially on the hardest days.

I’ve learned that although I have gained some skills and tools through recovering from an eating disorder, this is a different thing I am learning to overcome and what I have done so far has gotten me to the point of starting down the road to healing from my past. I’ve learned to accept the grace that has been given to me and to be patient on the days I am just done with feeling so many overwhelming emotions.

I am slowly becoming more and more OK with feeling angry and sad about the things that happened to me and also happy and peaceful about the parts of my life that have been good, that have helped me to survive.

I still don’t always understand my physiological and psychological reactions and their relatedness, how they define my diagnosis. I’ve started to identify them more and more which has been strange because, in a way, they are ways I have always functioned and I’m only starting to recognize they are a part of the PTSD. It scares me and also has allowed me to accept them more and to start putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

I am still fighting shame and guilt constantly. I still don’t talk much about it because it feels like I have to justify my PTSD because my trauma has occurred over a lifetime and is not defined cleanly and publicized regularly. It doesn’t make for an easy-to-explain answer or an easy Google search for books and articles that clearly outline it. Everyone’s trauma is valid and their truth — it’s just hard sometimes when all you want is to find something that helps to explain and you have to dig through all of the information available and maybe find an answer.

So, to everyone out there who is struggling with healing from trauma and struggling to accept a PTSD diagnosis when you have had your trauma ignored, downplayed, disregarded, invalidated and/or even treated like it never even happened, your trauma is valid, no matter what others say. It does not have to define the rest of your life and there is freedom to be found from the pain of your past. I have started to experience this in just recognizing the years of pain but it’s still a part of you that will have to be worked through. I wanted to keep ignoring everything I was feeling, even after I received a PTSD diagnosis, but I realized quickly that in order to move forward, I have to heal. I have to take back my life completely from everything that has tried to destroy me.

You can do that too.

Just start.

Open up to one person whom you trust; I know full well that can be incredibly difficult. It could be your therapist or counselor if you have one and have never talked about your past in a detailed way like I had not until January. It could be a close friend or family member, depending on the relationship you have with them. Find a treatment professional in your area who works with trauma, who can help you to unpack and put your trauma back together in a way that helps you to heal. Be gentle with yourself and remember you are doing the best you can each day, and there has to be a balance between the things you can control and the things you can’t every day.

It does get better, even on the days when you have to remind yourself multiple times a day.

For me, it’s praying for the things that are hardest to pray about. It’s learning to trust again and again and again in the people who love me and God’s love for me, especially when I feel alone and afraid.

It’s messy and complicated and that is the beauty I have discovered once again in healing not being linear.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash