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A Letter to Myself When PTSD Makes Me React in Ways I Wouldn't

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As an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I experience a heightened fight-or-flight response. What people often don’t realize, though, is that it isn’t just fight-or-flight, it’s really fight or flight or freeze or fawn, meaning people either run, attack, shut down or try to befriend the threat in situations that are subconsciously interpreted as immediately threatening. Because this response is heightened, sometimes I react to situations that are entirely safe as if they are immediately threatening, especially if something about the situation is triggering. Because of the type of trauma I experienced, my immediate response is usually either freeze or fawn, or some combination of the two.

• What is PTSD?

It’s taken time for me to process the ways I previously responded in situations that were legitimate reasons to panic. In fact, my current phone wallpaper says, “To the girl I was then: I forgive you,” because I’ve needed that reminder to forgive myself for the survival mechanisms I utilized in the middle of traumatic situations. Since that response is heightened, though, sometimes those survival mechanisms I needed to survive previously, show up in present times when they really aren’t necessary, and that can be harder to process because it feels like I just had an entirely irrational response to a perfectly safe situation. This is a letter I wrote to myself in the midst of trying to process after one of those situations.

Dear me,

I forgive you.

Let it go, girl. Let go of it. You do not deserve to be angry at yourself for this. You deserve to forgive yourself, no matter how much it doesn’t feel like it. It is not your fault your body has been conditioned to respond as if there is a threat in safe situations. It is not your fault you have PTSD. It is not your fault you have been through trauma. It is not your fault you haven’t completely healed yet. It is not your fault.

Say it with me:

“It is not my fault.

It is not my fault.

It is not my fault.”

You survived the seemingly unsurvivable. No one could ever survive what you have survived without adopting some maladaptive mechanisms along the way. You did the best you possibly could with what you had, and you really didn’t have much, but still, you survived, and that is something to be proud of. Regardless, there’s no escaping the fact what you went through changed you, and some of that will take time to unlearn. This is not your fault; it’s how trauma works.

Yes, you are now responsible for the work it will take to unlearn those patterns, and that isn’t fair, but if life was fair, there would be no need to write this letter in the first place. It is your responsibility to get there when you can, how you can. Healing does not happen overnight. You are doing the best you can with what you have, just like every other human being on this planet, and that is all anyone can reasonably expect of you. Bumps along the way are part of the process, and that’s OK. There is no perfect way to heal from trauma, but what matters is you’re doing the best you can with what you have.

You have survived everything that has tried to kill you. You are still standing here, a whole human, alive and breathing with your own lungs. That is worth celebrating. You are worth celebrating. Your strength, your resilience, every part of you that has gotten you as far as you have come is worth celebrating. It is not your fault some bumps happened along the way. Those bumps will heal, but it takes time.

For now, keep fighting the good fight. You’re doing great.


Getty image by Big_and_serious

Originally published: April 24, 2020
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