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How Understanding My PTSD Triggers Helped Me Cope

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Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often means understanding there are triggers everywhere. Coping with PTSD often means learning the tools to handle the triggers.

• What is PTSD?

Before I was diagnosed I had no idea what was wrong with me. I was quirky to my friends and family, but inside I felt out of control and “crazy.” I could tell that the people I was with didn’t react the same way I did to certain situations, but I couldn’t understand why.

People can sometimes sit down at a restaurant and marvel over the choices on the menu. I become anxious and lose my appetite because the choices are overwhelming. Walks in the woods typically are filled with deep breathing wonderment at the smells and sounds of leaves rustling and crunching. I would cringe and keep looking over my shoulder because the crunching meant someone was running behind me to catch me.

The noise of distant fireworks is often a sound and sign of summer festivals and fun. I bristle and remember a time when I heard guns or bombs. The beautiful full moon shining brightly in the sky brings a sense of awe. I often feel leftover dread and fear for the rituals the solstices brought in a place long ago, but not so far away.

These are just a few PTSD triggers with which I have to manage to live.

I used to flounder and drown in the vortex of my symptoms, but now, I have the tools to help me cope. I understand there are triggers everywhere and I know the reasons why. Knowing the truth and understanding my past has been a huge help for managing my mental health.

I understand what flashbacks are, and while they are terribly uncomfortable, I have the tools to cope with the aftermath. I have the tools to work through panic, anxiety and fear. I have a plethora of distress tolerance tools and I have to employ them daily. There are days it feels like my full-time job is consciously finding something to ease the distress, but it is time well spent.

I understand that going to a restaurant, grocery store, library or a place with a lot of stimulation brings some responsibility on my part. Perhaps I can look at the menu online and find something to eat before we get there. I may need to put a book on reserve and pick it up versus wandering the shelves of the library and becoming overwhelmed by the choices. I have to communicate before my anxiety ramps up, but I also need to remember and acknowledge if all is well, giving myself a mental pat on the back.

One of the tools I’m appreciating the most right now is that I’ve learned to enjoy the moments when I’m not symptomatic. I’m still hyper-vigilant and my startle response is off the hook sometimes, but I’m not necessarily waiting or looking for someone or something to happen, and I can calm myself a lot quicker with my learned tools.

Reminding myself I’m safe, understanding that my intense symptoms caused by triggers are time-limited and that I’m OK helps me live with PTSD. The tools help me cope and accept PTSD and all the symptoms that come with it.

Some days it’s still a tricky dance and I find myself stunned by the experience. I feel clumsy and inept, but with continued practice, I’m hoping for a symbiotic relationship between triggers and the tools to calm and soothe.

Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash

Originally published: September 30, 2017
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