Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
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    Why Trauma Survivors Can't Just 'Let It Go'

    It seems the deeper I journey into the healing and recovery process, the more I find that much of our cultural and conventional wisdom does not help trauma survivors. All the trite platitudes and sayings that might help someone having a garden-variety bad day can actually become giant triggers for someone living with trauma. Let’s assume everyone wants to live a healthy, pain-free, abundant and productive life. There are hundreds of motivational books and centered on “fake it ’til you make it” principles, which encourage people to “think positive,” “let it go,” “don’t sweat the small stuff,” etc. They may have helped some people. Judging by book sales, they have probably helped many. Yet, for many trauma survivors searching for relief, these books and motivational coaches don’t help. In fact, many, like me, feel more depressed, broken and impossibly disconnected after reading them. Here’s why. Trauma survivors are often highly motivated people. Many are conditioned to be hyperaware and hypervigilant out of survival. They are often overly critical of themselves because they were held to impossible standards by their abusers, and their attempts to please them often went sour. Some become overachievers, yet never feel like what they achieve is enough. Because nothing is ever good enough to appease an abuser, some survivors give up trying, becoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of whatever their abusers told them they were. Many survivors internalize that they are “lazy” when it’s not a lack of motivation that keeps them from their goals, it’s trauma. Trauma causes the nervous system to fight, flee or freeze, and for many survivors, their bodies are either stuck in one of these, or alternate between the three. Holding this pattern together is a web of toxic shame that is extremely difficult to break. Think of a race car stuck in first gear, with a foot on the gas and a foot on the break. That’s how many survivors get around. To a survivor, telling them to “think positive” sounds cruel. I mean, that’s exactly the problem for anyone recovering from psychological and emotional abuse. Their thoughts were hijacked by someone else, and now they are fighting for their sanity to get their own thoughts back. And it’s not just their brain that was taken over. Emotional trauma gets hardwired into the physical body. Not only does it cause mental anguish, it creates a lot of physical pain, which can sometimes morph into serious long-term disease. Doctors and scientists are currently making great strides in connecting the dots between trauma and disease, but the general public is years behind in understanding and accepting this reality. “Positive thinking” shields the reality that sometimes people feel shitty. In order to heal, survivors need to let down their shield and feel their feelings. Here’s the other problem when a trauma survivor feels pressure to “think positive.” Often, for a survivor, this can sound like it’s not OK to feel whatever they are feeling, so they stuff it away, often relegating it to the subconscious. Trauma survivors are experts at burying their feelings. But burying feelings doesn’t mean the pain goes away, it means the survivor is less able to access what they need in order to heal. Many survivors experience dissociation. Dissociation is a common coping mechanism that needs to be broken by actually facing the terrible thing that caused so much terror that mentally “going away” was the only option. Similarly, minimization plays a huge role in coping, either by the survivor or the people around them. Usually, it’s both. “It’s not that bad, ” or “It’s not as bad as X has it…” is not only a huge roadblock to recovery, it’s a road block to being aware of the trauma in the first place.  So, when a survivor decides not to “sweat the small stuff,” the small stuff turns into a giant, insurmountable mountain of shutdown feelings and emotions. Getting into a pattern of not speaking up, whether to keep the peace or to avoid uncomfortable emotions means more skeletons for the pile in the subconscious mind. Survivors need to pay attention to the small stuff. Here’s another one. “Just let it go.” If only it were so simple. If survivors could, they would gladly be doing it. While this is actually the end goal for resolving trauma, it often gets waved in front of the trauma survivor’s face like some shiny, magical, yet unattainable talisman. Too many people are trying to let go of trauma they haven’t yet fully grasped. To let go of something means you need to be aware that you’re holding it in the first place. Trauma that is stored in the locked closets and cupboards of the subconscious mind continue to control from within, often without the survivor fully understanding what’s happening. The process of letting go can’t happen until those things are dragged into the light and fully processed. Once again, that means feelings uncomfortable feelings. It means grieving. It means giving yourself the kind care and attention that no one else did. Sometimes, it means wallowing for a little while. The harsh inner-critic of a survivor usually doesn’t allow this for very long. It means sending the critic away. It means bringing all of our subconscious thoughts into our conscious awareness to objectively take stock of what we’re working with. So, next time you feel compelled to encourage someone to “let it go,” don’t. Instead, see if you can encourage them to lean in to whatever it is and feel it. Letting go will happen in its own time. That is, if you allow them to give their brain and body what it needs to heal.

    How C-PTSD Can Cause Suicidal Thoughts, Even In Your Happiest Moments

    The restaurant is already closed, and we’re those people. You know, the people who tend to camp out at a restaurant way after they shut down, causing servers to get out later than they’d like. Usually, I’m super cognizant of leaving in a timely manner, but it’s my birthday. I deserve to drag this moment out. Beyond tipsy and pleasantly drunk, I’m surrounded by the people who held it down for me during the hardest year of my life. My family-scape changed forever by the vice grip of death and dementia – it isn’t lost on me how precious this day is. I made it. We’re here to celebrate life. We sit around the table, everyone singing happy birthday. I look up through the haze of three too many mimosas, swaying back and forth to the disharmonious voices of the people I love most when one intrusive whisper of a thought makes my heart sink to my stomach. My smile falters. “They’re all going to die one day.” I’m no longer at my birthday dinner twerking to the Stevie Wonder rendition of the birthday song.  I’m fast forwarded to the future funerals of my best friends. Their family hugs me and thanks me for being a good friend, and I tell them I’ll never be as good of a friend as they were to me. How it’s because of them I saw my 26th birthday and every one after. I’m wearing their favorite color, as black at a funeral is so overdone and they’d be so disappointed in me if I didn’t show out the last time I’d be able to do so in their honor. What will I say about them? Will I tell the story where we almost died going to see Rocky Horror Picture Show (multiple times on various occasions), or how they watched me fall down an escalator when leaving John F. Kennedy Airport that one time? Will I be able to look at their cold bodies and say goodbye? Will that set me back to the suicidal grief ridden place I just escaped? How many more times can I see the people I love die and be left behind with all the broken pieces from the mosaic that was our lives together. Then, my chest constricts remembering the final moments I’ve already experienced. Holding my dog as her heart slowly stopped . My grandfather actually remembering me and who I was to him the last time he’d ever see me in person, standing in the doorway of our house watching me drive back to Orlando. I promised him I’d come back soon and now I’d never get the chance. I lied to him, and I can’t say I’m sorry. All the colorless days, weeks and months that passed where I had to do all the firsts swirled around me. My first time witnessing a bad thunderstorm and not having to turn on all the lights and put on a special playlist so my dog wouldn’t shake out of her skin. My first Christmas without my grandpa wrapping gifts in the most oddly ornate ways where you’d never guess what the present was. I’ll have to do that all again, unless I die first. Then I’d never have to see another person I love cross to the other side of the veil. I blink, and the birthday song finishes. A candle sits in front of me and seven pairs of eyes stare at me expectantly, not knowing how far I had traveled in what was probably three seconds tops. “Make a wish,” one of them says giddy in their seat. I smile back, genuinely happy to experience this moment with them, but now remembering how fleeting life is. Complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD)  fucking sucks. There are these moments where everything is great. You’re no longer drowning or even treading water. You’re surfing amongst the waves and basking in the sun and then out of nowhere you’re sinking again, if only for a moment. That doesn’t change the fact that when you come back up for air, you’re drenched all over again and now you have to take time to disrobe, and be forced to sit in your own naked vulnerability while everything dries around you. My 26th birthday was one that I’ll never forget, and it will go down as one of the happiest days of my life. Spending most of 25 performing life versus actually wanting to live it, it was weird and new to feel pure blissful happiness, but it still couldn’t last without being stained by my C-PTSD. My friends feared me not making it to my 26th birthday, but me? I fear that the longer I live, the more deaths I’ll have to experience and then one day it’ll be me alone, without the reasons I stuck around to begin with. I make my wish, blow out my candle, and go on to dancing in rose gardens and drinking more champagne pretending that nothing happened to begin with.

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    15 Grounding Exercises to Manage Stress From Anxiety or Trauma

    In my experience, grounding exercises can be a good way to stabilize strong emotions due to stress from anxiety or trauma. Grounding works by redirecting your attention away from what is causing stress and back to something more pleasurable and relaxing. There are many ways to practice grounding, but the general idea is to connect back to the present moment by settling into your body through the five senses. Try one of the following grounding exercises, or a combination, in order to manage stress, improve focus and stay in the present moment. 1. Sip a hot or cold beverage and focus on the feeling of the temperature on your lips, throat, and stomach. 2. Breath in slowly, counting to four, then hold for four and release slowly, counting to eight. Repeat as many times as necessary. 3. Tense and release each muscle group in your body, one by one. Pay attention to the sensations that linger in your body afterwards. 4. Look around the space where you are right now and find every object that is blue, every object that is yellow, every object that is silver, green, red and so on. 5. Close your eyes and imagine a very, very faraway place. Imagine every detail of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and physical sensations of traveling there in your mind. 6. Turn your favorite music on loud and dance to the beat. Or turn your favorite music on softly and pay close attention to the sounds of each beat, instrument or vocalist. 7. Open your kitchen cabinet and smell each spice one by one. Pay attention to any thoughts or memories that are conjured with each scent. 8. Hug yourself tightly and rock yourself side to side gently and slowly, as if you were cradling a small child. 9. Use your index finger as you would a pen and softly trace the letters of a calming word, such as “peaceful,” “safe” or “relax” into the palm of your opposite hand. 10. Close your eyes and slowly scan neutral sensations throughout your body. Feel your feet grounded on the floor, feel the support of your seat below and behind you, feel the texture of your clothing on your skin, the temperature of the air around your face, the weight of your tongue in your mouth, the very tip of your head and the crevices between your toes. 11. Think of a category such as fruit, capital cities, words that start with “M” or animals, and think of examples from that category until you can’t come up with any more. 12. Watch videos of kittens, puppies or other baby animals on the Internet and pay attention to the sensations that arise in your body. Feel the expressions on your face when you do. 13. Pick up any object from nature — a leaf, twig, rock or flower — and examine every detail of it. Notice it’s smell, texture, color and contours until you have it memorized in all of your senses. 14. Make a list of three things that have gone well today. Even tiny examples count. 15. Start again until you find peace. When you feel grounded, know that you can come back to these exercises at any time. To find more information from Anna Lindberg Cedar, visit Anna Lindberg Cedar Counseling and Consulting. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via pcatalin

    Alyssa Rossi

    When Repressed Memories of Trauma Resurface

    The impact of recovering memories that have been repressed for years can be a debilitating process in your trauma healing. They have been repressed for a reason; that reason being that when a person goes through significant trauma, the brain shuts down, dissociation takes over and as a survival technique, the trauma(s) get unconsciously blocked and tucked away from you and stored into disorganized files in your brain due to a high level of stress, or you were in a situation where you felt threatened and it was a matter of life or death – so your mind did what it had to in order to keep you safe, and therefore you could go on and have the ability to live your life and function in society. Repressed memories can come back to you in various ways, including having a trigger, nightmares, flashbacks, body memories and somatic/conversion symptoms. This can lead to feelings of denial, shame, guilt, anger, hurt, sadness, numbness and so forth. Having new memories come up can affect your current state of reality, your relationships, your perception of the world and of those around you, which can take you back to the past and keep you stuck there, making you feel as though you are re-living the trauma all over again. It can destabilize you and your life, and may be followed by dissociation, depersonalization/derealization and dissociative amnesia. It can make you see “safe” people as “unsafe,” and while you’re stuck in those memories, nothing and no one may feel safe – not even yourself. This can then lead to isolation, avoidance, low self-care and a war within your mind and your body. Your body can react in ways that it did back then which can be both new for you, and extremely frightening. You may find yourself going into the fight, flight, freeze, flop or fawn responses at what you think are minuscule things. Your memories may come through in re-enactment behaviors. You may find yourself repeating behaviors that relate to your traumas. However your memories come back to you is valid. However you and your body respond to your memories coming up are valid. Your feelings towards your memories are valid – and all of this is OK. You are OK, and you are safe now. When repressed memories come up, it is important to try and understand the biology behind it – why they’re coming up at this point in time, how you can work with them, learn to trust yourself and what your mind and body are trying to tell you, and how you can manage your safety and wellbeing as you’re working through them. Try to acknowledge what is happening for you and validate your past experiences, learn and identify your triggers, and allow yourself to sit with the feelings that are coming up. Ground yourself in your current reality, “It is 2019, I am in xx years old, I live with __ now, I am safe.” Differentiate between your reality and your memories and work on staying present and grounded, and give yourself permission to be kind to yourself during this process. Communicate your experiences with a trusted therapist. Allow space for vulnerability. Be gentle and compassionate towards yourself. Trauma recovery isn’t linear – you might have all of your memories of your trauma, and you might have none. You might not have memories, but it may still be affecting you subconsciously. You might have scattered jigsaw pieces of different traumas and not the full puzzle, and that’s OK too. Your repressed memories come to you when you are finally ready to deal with them. They are not there to hurt you or ruin the life you have created for yourself – they are there to tell you what happened to you, to help you make sense of why things are the way that they are, that it’s time to work with them and that you are safe enough to do so.

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    Meet Vicki
    Vicki Peterson is an emotional abuse survivors and certified trauma recovery coach who writes for The Mighty to help people like you. Dig into her collection of stories.
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    If you could say anything to your inner child, what would it be?

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