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Trying to Understand the Monster That Is PTSD

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“I’ve been having a lot of nightmares.”

“Do you feel like you’re having flashbacks?”

“Yeah, I’m scared.”

“Have you ever heard of PTSD? I think you might have it.”

• What is PTSD?

This is something like the conversation I had with my therapist the day she diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of course, it was more than nightmares. It was being scared constantly, even to the point of being afraid to leave my house. It was the fear of hearing the “ding” from my email, the vibration of a text message and the honk of any car horn. I couldn’t understand what was going on with me, and more importantly, why.

To be honest, I downplayed what happened to me. I was convinced on an unrealistic level that what happened did not happen, and if it did, it did not happen to me. I think this is a big part of the disorder — denial. It reminds me a lot of the five stages of grief, a process that begins with denial, and eventually ends in acceptance of the pain that has happened in our lives. I was in denial, and I was in for it big time.

After learning about my PTSD, I was ashamed for having it, and for why I had it. I was certain that what happened was my fault, and that another person couldn’t be held accountable. This was my earliest and longest standing distortion. You see, that’s what the monster that is PTSD will do to you. It will try to convince you that your abuser wasn’t at fault, that the one who manipulated you was only trying to help you and that for some reason, you are the one who should take the pain out on yourself.

I tried to understand what was going on with me. Why couldn’t I concentrate in school anymore? Why was it so hard to stay calm, and why did I look over my shoulder every single place I went? Truth be told, I know I was afraid, but that is really all I could understand. I didn’t know why I felt so disconnected from my friends, family and school community. I wasn’t the same person I used to be, that was for sure, and I was faced with learning how to cope with the monster in my head.

I wish I had an answer, or that there was a cure-all to make us forget the traumatic things that have happened to us. Speaking from experience, there really isn’t one. Therapy helps, medication can aide and finding a support system that loves you through your pain is key, but even methods of healing cannot delve into the complexity that is PTSD.

It’s been almost four years since my diagnosis, and from time to time, I have the flashbacks that return me to the fear I experienced on a daily basis. It’s a disorder that seems to sneak up on you, especially when you least expect it. I’ve been triggered by people who truly do have my best interest at heart, songs I used to love and places that I frequented in the past, and to this day. Sometimes the thoughts are too intense, and I resort to old habits to deal with what seems to be too much to handle. It’s a vicious cycle.

I have experienced blocks of time where I do not struggle with PTSD, and other times, it seems like it is the only thing that exists. I don’t like the idea of horrible things happening for a reason, but I firmly believe the things that we experience have to happen in order to shape us into the men and women we are meant to be. Of course, it does not make the struggle easier, but it is a way to look ahead into the life that is destined for us.

Originally published: June 21, 2016
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