Yes, I Have PTSD and Experienced Trauma. No, I'm Not 'Traumatized'
“Cara, you’re traumatized. You have trauma in your body cells that you can’t remove. But that’s OK, because when I pray just now, God is going to banish the trauma from your cells and you are not going to live another day traumatized.”
That was how I was introduced to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This statement did nothing for me but freak me out. And for an apparently “traumatized” person, this surely is not a good feeling to have in front of a counselor, the very person who is supposed to make me feel better, not worse.
Worse yet was the next morning, when the perfume of the lady on the bus next to me sent me into an episode of flashbacks and dissociation. At the time, I didn’t actually have a name what I was experiencing as I didn’t know what was going on. I realized that God in fact hadn’t “banished the trauma from my cells” as my counselor had said. So, alongside the normal fright, confusion and exhaustion that follows flashbacks, there was now an illusion added to the mix that being “traumatized” must be my destiny, since the quick fix suggested by the professional hadn’t worked.
This initial encounter with (false) awareness of PTSD led me to stigmatize my own illness. I let myself wear the label of “traumatized,” which for me portrayed weakness and inability to cope with life’s obstacles. I also believed there was a “quick fix” for PTSD, and that if I couldn’t find it or make it miraculously heal me overnight, then I would diminish all possibilities of ever being able to undress from the “traumatized” label I made myself wear.
But fear not! This story gets better!
Now, after legitimate diagnosis and treatment, my understandings of my PTSD are much healthier and more truthful:
Just because I have PTSD, does not mean I need to see myself as a traumatized person.
Rather, I am a whole being who has experienced some traumatic events in my past, and sometimes my body and brain forget these events aren’t still happening now. They sometimes like to default into coping mechanisms that helped me to survive at the time. This isn’t my fault. It’s just bad luck that my brain was affected in this way.
There is no “quick fix” for PTSD.
PTSD is a physical, chemical change in my amygdala and hippocampus that will not be magically healed over night. My brain needs retraining. It needs to be taught it doesn’t need to activate the fight-or-flight response every day anymore. It needs to be taught how to differentiate past memories with the present-day reality. This takes a lot of practice, patience and love — just like training a puppy.
In saying this, however, I definitely do still have my moments. I have moments of wondering whether I will ever be able to fully escape my past. I have moments of guilt, self-blame and self-victimization. I have moments of convincing myself I don’t have the energy to face another day of differentiating reality vs. brain-tricks, past vs. present and healthy vs. unhealthy coping mechanisms.
But each day I am coming to a deeper understanding of who I am without the trauma, and learning how to be more and more in touch with the reality of my present, rather than my past.
Just some facts that everybody should know:
1. Not everybody who experiences trauma develops PTSD, and those of us who do aren’t weaker or more “stuck in our past” than those who don’t. It’s just bad luck that our brains were affected in this way.
2. Not only war veterans struggle with PTSD, and it can develop from both an accumulation of experiences as well as from just one experience.
3. PTSD isn’t weakness. It’s an illness.
I’m not destined to flashbacks and dissociation for the rest of my life because of my experiences. I fully believe one day I will be 100 percent free of PTSD.
Please bear with me a moment while I undress from my “traumatized” label, and banish it from every ounce of my being.
Once I do, I will never be seen wearing it again.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo via Lanka69.