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PTSD: When Monsters Under the Bed Stay With You Into Adulthood

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When I was a child, thinking about turning 18 – and becoming what society views as an adult – made me incredibly happy. Not because it meant I could legally drink alcohol, sign tenancy agreements and buy fireworks. Because it meant that all my childhood monsters would disappear. Or at least, that’s what I thought would happen.

• What is PTSD?

As children we all hear stories about slender men in the woods, the bogeyman in our wardrobe and the monsters under our beds. We race up the stairs in the dark, build safe fortresses out of blankets and don’t let our limbs hang stray over our mattresses. We’re taught, in a sense, that protection is gained from hiding away from these terrible, scary creatures. To make sure that they can’t get to us.

So what happens when you grow up a little, and you meet new monsters? Fiercer, scarier ones, disguised as discrimination in the workplace, abuse from somebody you once thought was special, or panic attacks caused by a nervous voice in your brain? Do you still hide and run from these monsters?

This is something I have frequently asked myself during my recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What is the best approach when dealing with the cause of all your fear? When fighting what feels to be the thing that holds you back the most?

For me personally, accepting what does and doesn’t make me feel comfortable was the first step. For example, I can’t sleep without a night light on as the darkness plays with my imagination and causes flashbacks and nightmares. At 18 years old, this wasn’t something I wanted to admit to myself, when in reality it’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Another example is how I feel anxious over things that don’t cause a direct threat, just because they can possibly link to the cause of my PTSD. Such as pebbles, the color orange and the crunch sound leaves make when you step on them. I feel silly admitting that things like these make me feel uncomfortable even though there’s an explanation as to how they all link up in my brain. You need to try your best to listen to yourself, and to what is and isn’t good for you. You know your body and brain best and know what speed to go at when it comes to your safety.

The next step is a point that I’ve reached but have been stuck at for a while – to slowly face the things that make you feel uncomfortable, anxious and scared. Address the panic that can follow these emotions. However, recognizing what causes the worst of your PTSD symptoms and then having the courage to face them is a monster in itself. And it doesn’t matter how old you are, or how long it’s been under your bed, the difficulty remains and you’re left feeling vulnerable.

I can’t tell you how to best address your fears. I can only tell you that I know you can and that you don’t deserve to feel scared. Most importantly is to try and assure you that this won’t be how you feel forever.

Embrace your monsters. Let your inner child take baby steps if necessary. Join the monsters under your bed and say hello. Invite them into your blanket fort. Never feel ashamed if your monsters don’t leave as you grow. As long as you’re trying, things will one day be OK. Fight for everything you believe in and what you think is right. Confronting what scares you most can only ever make you stronger. I promise that one day, you’ll be sleeping soundly with no disturbance from any monster.

Thinkstock image via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: February 20, 2017
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