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What I Realized When I Was Overwhelmed by Hopelessness From PTSD

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, or domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.


I struggle and live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to being in a physical and sexually abusive relationship from 2008 to 2012 and being raped by two strangers six years ago. Even though I feel like these things happened so long ago, my body seems to think they happened yesterday… and today… and tomorrow. My body doesn’t seem to want to forget, no matter how hard I try to keep it out of my mind.

• What is PTSD?

One of the symptoms of PTSD is a term called “hypervigilance,” which refers to a constant heightened state and increased sensitivity to the environment, sort of like “feeling on the edge” all the time. Your body is constantly on alert mode, ready for danger, even if everything is completely safe. One of the biggest (and most annoying) ways I experience this is from another item on the PTSD symptom list, a “heightened startle reaction.” Someone could sneeze in a quiet room, and I will immediately jump and feel a rush of unwanted adrenaline surge through my body forcing a panicked fight-or-flight reaction, just because of someone’s allergies.

I’m not sure why, but I thought when I found real love, my PTSD would just go away. It certainly did not. In fact, it can make things even more difficult for me sometimes; but thankfully, I have an incredibly loving and supportive partner. For instance, once after a late night snack run, we were coming home to our condo and as I was unlocking the door, he innocently set his arm on me. I screamed. Like, horror movie screamed. Outside the door of my condo at 1 a.m. I’m lucky no one called the cops. I crumpled to the ground, again overwhelmed by the unwanted effects of my body’s fight-or-flight system, and just asked myself, “Why me? Why do I have to be like this. Why can’t I just fix it?”

It was Sunday and my friend was having people over to her house to watch pay-per-view wrestling. Wrestling has never been my thing, but when you watch with friends, it can be a lot of fun. I had been looking forward to this event for six weeks, and then just a few hours before, I saw some dirty laundry on the ground and I got very upset at myself for not being more productive all weekend. (This can also be attributed to a lack of concentration and depression also associated with PTSD.) I sat down on the floor and I started to cry, which led to me breathing harder, which led to my heart beginning to race. Sometimes, experiencing these types of emotions can remind the body of the traumatic event and trigger a flashback. These series of events had also caused me to miss two events in the past two weeks with my friends. Then, all of this came flooding on me there on the floor, these physical symptoms, relationship interference, feeling as if I am continuously letting my friends down. I just didn’t want my life to be like this anymore. I was so frustrated that I wasn’t just “better” yet. I felt completely helpless, just like I did then.

But then it dawned on me: I was not helpless. I had the power to try new things, things I hadn’t tried to help yet. I had been getting frustrated because I expected my PTSD to heal just with time, which is not the case. There are many interventions to help PTSD — books, therapies and such. I had the power to try them and to keep trying. That night, I bought several PTSD books and workbooks, and started a journal, too. I finally felt in control of something. I also looked into joining an intensive outpatient counseling program (IOP).

About five weeks ago, working with my counselor, I had uncovered some childhood trauma my mind had forgotten about. Since that day, I have had unbelievable insomnia, which is another common symptom of PTSD. Most nights, I was sleeping two to four hours a night total. Every night, all of my traumas would play on repeat in my mind and I just couldn’t escape. The night after my IOP assessment, I came home and had my best night’s sleep in a month. It was as if I was finally starting to regain some control of my body taken by PTSD. That morning as I woke up, realizing the sun was shining again and I had a real night’s sleep, I didn’t feel helpless, I finally felt hope.

If I had one thing to say to PTSD survivors who feel hopeless, it’s that you are not helpless against PTSD. You always have the power to work on your recovery. There is no timeline or expected rate of recovery. As long as you are trying, that is something beautiful, and the world needs more beauty.

Unsplash image by Paola Aguilar

Originally published: March 27, 2020
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