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To My Friend Who Was Recently Diagnosed With PTSD

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Dear Friend,

First of all, I just want to say that I am so, so sorry you’re struggling so much right now. You don’t deserve to feel this pain; this burden never should’ve been yours to bear. Life kicked you while you were already down, but this isn’t your fault. Still, here you are. You’re struggling. You’re hurting, and now there’s a new diagnostic label that you’re trying to process: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s a heavy one to handle. I know, because I still remember when I first received that diagnosis myself. I remember how overbearing it felt, as if this new diagnosis somehow had a right to permanently define my existence. It didn’t, but in my mind it did. To be fair, I also had such severe symptoms that I spent six months in residential…but this isn’t about my story. It’s about yours.

• What is PTSD?

I know a PTSD diagnosis can look and feel like the end. The end of your dreams, the end of life as you know it, the end of any hope of healing from what happened. As cliché as it sounds though, this diagnosis is just the beginning. This diagnosis is the beginning of your recovery journey, the beginning of the story of how you got from the person you are to the person you’ll be. I’m not going to lie to you — you will never be the same person you were before you faced your trauma, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong, you have always been an incredible person. You’re an amazing friend and I am so blessed to have you in my life. But this life is a process of becoming, trauma or no trauma, diagnosis or no diagnosis. Our experiences shape us into the people we are – even the hard ones. And honestly, as messed up as I know this sounds, if I could go back in time and take away my own trauma, I don’t know that I would. Both my trauma and my diagnosis have made me who I am today, and I don’t know that I’d want to change that. I know right now anything other than wishing it all away probably feels like a foreign concept, but you’ve been through enough that I think you can apply the idea to other things you’ve experienced. Of course I still hate that I went through what I did, but I’ve learned to recognize that it’s not as black and white as one would initially assume.

You keep telling me that you feel trapped, like it’s never going to get better. I remember that too. Something about PTSD feels like it means you’re stuck with the same intensity of the situation as if you’re constantly in the midst of it forever, but it isn’t like that. Recovery is possible. Healing is possible. Hope is real. I promise. I couldn’t function when I was diagnosed, but in the few years since then, I’ve moved out, finished my GED, published a book, started my first job (along with a few others later on), started college and so much more. All of this from someone who couldn’t even watch a dodgeball game or look at a math worksheet a few years ago. And I know your mind is telling you that you’re the exception, but your mind is a rotten liar. You are not an exception. If anyone would be an exception, it really should’ve been me. Heck, statistically I shouldn’t even exist at this point, after everything I’ve been through. But I have beat the odds when they were stacked against me, so I promise you can meet them when they’re stacked in your favor. And they are in your favor – even though it doesn’t feel like it right now.

That brings me to one last point: feelings aren’t always the best indicator of reality, especially with PTSD. It will try to pull you back constantly. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to remember that you’re safe now. You’re not in the situation that hurt you anymore. Things are different now. Remembering that, however, requires not letting your feelings take over, which is far easier said than done. It’s easy to fall backward and let your mind convince you that every slight inconvenience warrants the emotional equivalence of the trauma you experienced. Even the slightest similarities have the ability to set off all sorts of alarm bells, and it’s scary as heck sometimes. Ground yourself. Breathe. Pet a dog. Take a walk. Listen to music. You’ll learn what works for you. Know that whatever you’re feeling is OK. The way you feel isn’t right or wrong, but that doesn’t mean that you should allow your mind to use your feelings as a compass, either. I know it’s hard right now, but this level of intensity is temporary. PTSD does not define you. You are so much more than any diagnosis. You are beautiful, kind, strong, fun, encouraging, generous, thoughtful and so much more. You’ve already started pushing this mountain out of your way, and you’ll see it moving soon enough.

I love you so much, sweet friend. Keep fighting the good fight.

Photo credit: DragonImages/Getty Images

Originally published: July 21, 2019
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