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The Irritability That Sneaks Up on You When You Live With PTSD

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It sneaks up on me unconsciously.

It’s like for no reason at all I’m annoyed at it all.

• What is PTSD?

I know logically this is a symptom of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety — things I shouldn’t be ashamed about because I didn’t ask for them, but also “diagnoses” I hate to admit and only accept when it’s convenient for me. I guess the shame comes from the stigma.

All other times I don’t know what to do with it — so complicated and controversial — because it’s easier to shift the blame of my hurtful actions onto things outside of myself when I don’t want them to be there.

That’s when, almost automatically, my irrational thoughts take over, and I willfully ignore that I know exactly why I’m feeling this way and it feels out of control.

Combative, defensive, frustrated, cranky, angry… normal human expressions that can become destructive if not used in moderation. When they become a go-to response, though, it can be an indication there’s something deeper going on.

No one is the way they are for no reason, whether bad or good.

Why is it so easy for me to get annoyed with how someone talks or what they’re saying when I’m triggered, even though I’m unaware that I am?

That word… it has such a confusing connotation, but it’s so easy to use because when you say it you feel like others just get it, or at least you want them to.

When in reality it’s the things I get annoyed with in others that, when I think about it, I can’t stand in myself. That’s why I react the way I do — it’s a visceral response.

It’s difficult for me to be present when my moods take over and control my automatic responses and reactions. It’s almost like breathing, only with breathing you don’t think about it. With this you can’t stop thinking about it. An out-of-body experience.

Overthinking, overanalyzing, reoccurring thoughts racing. Ugh, make it stop please.

You don’t even realize you’ve been holding your breath, shallow breathing or clenching your jaw and tensing your body out of hypervigilance — out of fear that something bad is “supposed” to be happening when in fact the opposite is occurring and you’re actually safe. But it doesn’t feel that way because you’re not used to it.

As the old adage goes, “You can either be a master of your mind or let your mind be a master of you.”

And it feels like I’ve done both. Even you, reading this now, have a first-hand look at my regression and my growth.

And I know rationally that change is sustained with practice, but what happens when autonomic habits become conscious burdens?

I’ll tell you: self-hate sets in, feeling guilty and full of shame becomes dominant, and questions like, “Why am I like this?” start to infect you.

It’s wild how much mental and emotional abuse you can impose on yourself when these negative behaviors make negative feelings linger — even after you’ve been held accountable and apologized.

Feeling myself spiraling within, going into thoughts of unworthiness and depression, justifying why I think I deserved to be hated by a family member or someone else who comes into the line of my misfired irrationality — confirmation bias.

But on the plus side (because there’s always a silver lining) I know why they say change is one of the hardest things for a human being to do because if it wasn’t, everybody would do it; I’ve tried more times than I can count, but isn’t that how a “master” is born? From failing over and over in order to keep trying to get it right?

Truthfully, it can be extremely difficult to reframe and rationalize my own mind when something is taking place. It’s only in hindsight where reflection and responsibility are able to occur.

Reflection to compassion and understanding then becomes a requirement, and patience from other people becomes a necessity. They are the only thing that will calm the storm within and make the rain peaceful again. They are the only thing that bring me back to baseline and calm my inner critic down.

Without this awareness one can’t have empathy for others who have reacted the same way towards them — the seemingly out of nowhere anger or lashing out that happens when someone isn’t doing anything to warrant a response like this.

I’ve learned that most of the time, other people’s anger has nothing to do with me. This perspective can be sobering and humbling.

So I guess my own irritability is just an unfortunate involuntary mood that my mind swings into seemingly out of the blue, which simply happens when I’m triggered internally. A term others around you should take into consideration before taking your actions personally, but also something that shouldn’t be an excuse to justify your own bad behavior towards another.

I’ve learned it’s better late than never though — to acknowledge these shortcomings and utilize this knowledge in the future.

Mindfulness helps to ease the self-critique, which can hopefully prevent the looming self-defeat that comes after.

Because that’s what mindfulness is — noticing what’s happening and then, and only then, do you have the capacity to change it.

This is possible with rational thinking, reframing the negative to positive and being nice to yourself, but these things are easier said than done — they’re good things in theory. Because honestly, they’re so much more difficult to implement. Trust me, I’ve tried.

But hey, awareness is the first step in the right direction, right?

I guess overcoming the contradiction of me wanting to actually feel my feelings, but also wanting to not be so overly emotional, makes my internal state a paradox and my mood swings the enemy.

However, it’s said that, “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches you what you need to know.”

Well what I’ve learned is that when something keeps showing up over and over again, it’s there for a reason, and you need to take a hard look at it and reflect.

This must be done with self-compassion and understanding though, and with the understanding and compassion of others, you can go from being a suppressed, self-protected, aggressive, self-medicating person who hurts themselves and others, figuratively speaking, to figuring out the root cause causing your irritability.

That’s when labels like PTSD and anxiety become less of a necessary description to more of just the symptoms expressing the issue. They’re an explanation of my irritability, an inconvenient truth for everyone else and a wake up call for me to put these knowings into action until it’s no longer the instant, go-to mood.

Getty image via npdesignde

Originally published: July 16, 2019
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