Lydia Joy Launderville

@lydiajoyl | contributor
Lydia is a writer based in Virginia. She is a twin, sister, aunty, and a chronic pain and illness fighter, along with a supporter of loved ones with rare diseases that need more awareness. Her hobbies include traveling, being outdoors and lost in nature, collecting books she is determined to fully read one day, volunteering for causes dear to heart, and spending time being entertained by her rescue cat who never ceases to make her chuckle.

My Response to If It Was Easier to Get a Fibromyalgia Diagnosis Young

I’ve been “different” since the day I was born. I actually am not a fan of saying that. I would rather not focus on what I didn’t have growing up due to being raised in what I, and many other survivors, feel was an isolated religious cult. I didn’t go to school with other children (except one year in a religious school run by a “sister church” in my faith community). I didn’t have prom or boyfriends. I couldn’t wear jeans or celebrate Halloween. I never went to the beach like most people do during summer. I wore my first bikini at 27 years old. So, you get the point, I grew up kind of odd. I also was that kid who “complained” a lot and that made me feel very much like an anomaly among my peers. I always didn’t feel well, was tired or couldn’t play as much as other kids my age. I battled migraines, fatigue, digestion issues and so much more. The pain started showing up in my teen years, but only occasionally, and the flares (what I now know them to have been) would go away quicker. By my early 20s, the pain was there pretty much constantly. By 25 on, it was present in one form or another nearly every day. Now, I’m closer to 30 and trying to make up for all the things I missed. A cult stole my childhood, chronic illness controls my adulthood. And it really does. I currently can’t work. I have to depend on someone for one thing or another. I have limitations I never dreamt of. I was just recently asked by a physical therapist on my care team if somehow it was “easier” to get my diagnosis of fibromyalgia during my teens instead of adulthood, that maybe it made my pain tolerance higher and my outlook different? This person asked this after noting I had a different outlook than a lot of other people he worked with, that my attitude about my illness was “pretty incredible.” I was honestly perplexed, because I wasn’t sure what vibe I was putting off. I mean, my workouts in physical therapy are times each week where I concentrate solely on me. I lock my phone up in my locker and try to not to worry about everyone who may “need” me. For one hour, I fight my illness head-on with no distractions. That gives me momentum toward my determination. Back in that moment, though, I am weighing my response, telling myself there are some things you just don’t share (like my upbringing, I’m not new to this rodeo, after all). So, I simply say, “I mean, I try to have a positive outlook about it as often as I can. I can’t change my diagnosis, so positivity goes further than negativity.” I pause, setting my jaw a bit tight for a moment and go on. “In some ways, I do think getting this diagnosis now would have been harder. To imagine having my whole life going great and this derails it? I can’t imagine that. On the other hand, I didn’t know I was sick when I was young. I just felt terrible all the time and weird. Everyone would just say, ‘That didn’t hurt,’ when it, in fact, really did hurt. I thought something was wrong with me. I just didn’t know I was sick. Because of that, it’s gotten in the way of me getting on my feet. But yeah, I think it would be worse to lose everything.” That question preluded a ton of difficult emotions. Emotions and feelings that can still sneak up and catch me out of the blue, causing me to feel suddenly depressed. I don’t really have the words to put how much I struggle not having the life I thought I could have. How upsetting it is my illness flared so badly right as I was getting on my feet. Or, how I once was controlled by a cult, but now chronic illness gets the honors. That trauma caused this sickness in me. I don’t think it’s fair anyone goes through this. I don’t think it’s awesome the majority of people I socialize with are medical staff or patients in waiting rooms. That I can’t physically handle being fully able to support myself. That my circumstances cause my pride to take a serious hit. My body doesn’t look sick to most people. My pain isn’t visible unless you know me very well and can see my struggles. And yet, I am sick and feel it every day. I almost feel having fibromyalgia for so long and so young translated into my ability to mask what I’m actually feeling. I grew up with people saying I wanted attention whenever I was feeling particularly poorly and nothing could be further from the truth. Their “attention” only made my symptoms worse. I wanted to hide. I wanted to feel better, and if I couldn’t, I wanted the privacy I needed to battle it in my own way. Now, hiding my symptoms is done unconsciously on my part. It’s normal for me to inwardly be overwhelmed at all the information my body is giving me at once, to feel pain in so many different areas, it’s hard to say where it is. I keep it inside or grimace or groan quietly while doing a task, but it’s often barely noticeable. In spite of that, though, it does exist. My pain is real. I have invisible illnesses that try to pummel me each and every day. I feel like we fight each other often. I fight back with things like physical therapy, giving it all I got as I hurl a punch in chronic illness’ direction. I celebrate when I know I did a good job and feel less fatigued or a bit less pain in the days afterward. But, I’m not the only one in this ring and chronic illness still gets to make its shot count. I celebrate maybe too much and do too many tasks to make up for what I’ve been missing, and the next thing I know, I’m down for the count. I win a round, chronic illness wins one. It’s back and forth, on and on. A day-to-day fight. That day-to-day fight is what I’ve known for so long. Even when I didn’t have a diagnosis, even when my illness wasn’t validated — this fight is what I know, and yet don’t know, at the same time. I feel I balance being logical and emotional about my reality of being sick as best as I can. If that appears as positive to others, then I’ll take it. What I do know is I fight for me. I fight for me. My future. My relationships and the people I love and love me in return. I keep moving in spite of the pain and rest within the pain. I’m learning how to be sick, but most of all how to be healthy in spite of that sickness. I couldn’t tell you what would have been easier. I can’t say there’s anything “easy” about being sick. What I know is it takes tough people to live the chronically ill life every, single day.

My Chronic Pain Diagnosis Helped Me Be More Present

This time last year while the world fell apart, I pulled myself together. As odd as it may seem, I thrived during the pandemic. I knew what it was like to shut down and isolate myself, so things shutting down and quarantining were, in many ways, familiar to me. I knew because I had experienced lows so low you withdraw from people, I would survive being away from people, even though it would be hard. It comforted me to know I would be OK. It also motivated me to be better than OK. I started by clicking off the TV, tuning out the news and instead, getting up off the couch and putting myself into nature. I hiked everywhere without ever hopping into the car, exploring new places around my very home. I biked back roads and walked blocks around my small town. I went to the park, and yes, even enjoyed the swings there. I immersed myself in nature, music and exercise. I gradually built my stamina up to where I could run. I was on top of the world as best as I could be, concerning the circumstances for about three months, and then I crashed. I’ve never fully recovered. That thought and those memories of how healthy I felt keep catching me one year later. As I’m lying in bed, in pain and battling fatigue I just can’t believe, I’m reminded of when I felt better. It’s bittersweet to think on it. I am still proud of how I took my health into my own hands and thrived, but I know now how that turned out. Sometimes, I naively think, “What if I try to do the same? Would I get another three months on top of the world, 90 days of feeling good, like the better version of myself? Would it be worth the gamble? Would I risk it?” I ask myself all these things and more as I reach that one-year mark, that anniversary of being on the top of world only to crash down and hit a real health low I’ve never seen. I am working on myself. I have a treatment plan and am actively following it. I see my doctors, log my progress, and there is some, even if “progress” doesn’t translate into the things I could do even last year. It’s so hard to keep myself from breaking out in a full sprint like I used to. I tell myself walking is smarter and it’s fun, which I have always enjoyed. That’s true, but it’s hard to be in a body that won’t allow spontaneity without throwing a tantrum. It’s difficult to have limitations. It can feel like my body keeps my spirit in a prison of sorts. I believed I would get better if I just went to a doctor. After all, I had crashed in the past and physically came back, I thought. What I did not know then was I wasn’t fully recovering. I was flaring. I was always in pain. But my tolerance is different from others because I have felt sick and in pain for years. Growing up, I was different; I just had no real clue I was or why. My expectations had to adjust with an official diagnosis. I would have to learn better ways to adapt to take care of my body. I’m still learning how to listen to my pain and interpret it to best help myself. Although it’s still a process for me, I’m on the road of trying to change my mindset when it comes to my health. Like my physical therapist told me last week, “We know we can’t take the pain away. It’s just not going to disappear. This is pain management now.” I’m on a journey of just managing as best as I can, but also enjoying myself when when enjoyment is offered. This past weekend I enjoyed a short road trip and weekend away. The pain wasn’t my best friend, but in spite of it, I made wonderful memories and truly enjoyed myself. I listened to my body and it paid off. I rested when I could and because of that, I was able to be present. Understanding my limitations is huge for me. To enjoy my weekend, I couldn’t just go outside and go for a run, but I did move and exercise and took it easy and the payoff was a wonderful time with some of the amazing people in my life. Try not to look at your limitations as limits, but rather guidelines. By following the guidelines, you help yourself reach your full potential in the moment. This is what I’m starting to understand. Our bodies are complicated. It’s not always simple and easy to take care of them, but we try because it’s these bodies of ours that are our companions while we make memories, while we have fun and experience joy. Even in pain, I was able to look up at a night sky full of stars and get lost in its beauty. Maybe I needed someone there to block the cold wind with a huge hug or a chair to sit out by a fire to take it all in, but my goal was to be present and I was. This year is different. It’s difficult to say I like it better when more constant pain comes with it. In many, many ways, it is though. I have had more joy already. I’m lucky and I’m learning life with pain isn’t the only thing I can feel.

My Trauma Experience After Surviving a Fundamentalist Christian Cult

I grew up as a peculiar child. I wore long dresses and skirts that would often swish when I walked or tangle around my skinny legs as I did everything from climbing trees to singing in the church’s choir. I had to always “look and act like a lady” from childhood into my early adult years, knowing my only calling in life was to be a wife and a mother and nothing more. I was always to be overseen by a man and had to submit in all things. A hallmark aspect of the Christian Fundamentalist and patriarchy movement is that men were the bosses in the church and at home, and women were to serve them. To have a “servant’s heart” was preached and I feel that if anyone had that kind of “heart,” it was us, women. You served the church, its pastor, your parents, your husband, your children and it was considered selfish to look after yourself, let alone complain. There were so many restrictions and things we couldn’t do. I didn’t go to public school, to college, let alone have “normal” high school experiences. There was no prom or a dance partner to take you since boyfriends were not allowed. In the “purity culture” movement, you wouldn’t date, you’d court. Never sharing a kiss until your wedding day. If you broke the rules, you didn’t wear white, period. Since girlhood, what little I knew about sex was terrifying. I had survived abuse from childhood and “wifely duties” sounded to me like just more of the same. You had no voice, no choice. If you dared to breathe a word of defiance you were met with condemnation, shame and rebuke. Sometimes, even physical and sexual violence. What if sex is scary? “Wives, submit yourselves…” What if sex hurts? “Wives submit yourselves…” What if I don’t want to have sex? “Wives submit yourselves…” What if my husband treats me badly? “Wives submit yourselves…” What if my husband raped me? “As a wife, you should have submitted yourself…” I was taught to take care of my future husband’s “needs,” to lay there and give my body, my health, my womb to him and by doing this I would be serving God. To say “no” could result in judgment, even from that same god. I grew up in this deeply harmful environment, but I didn’t stay in it. At 21, I left due to years of abuse , trauma and a lack of safety — things that wreaked havoc on my body and brain. I didn’t want to stay anymore, I couldn’t. I stumbled alone and confused and risked damnation and sustained shunning. I left it all: lots of family, friends and people I knew for most of my life, not to mention my only communication line to an all-powerful being. In those first devastating years, I had no idea what I would gain in the future, only what I had lost. Online support groups likely saved my life. I was able to safely connect and find support from those who survived what I had also experienced. Sharing and listening to others created that community I had lost, but a much healthier version of it. Each of us were trying to just keep our heads above water, but some were seasoned swimmers who lent their strength to those of us who were just transitioning into the “real” world post-cult. Some people would say we were “crazy” if we shared our stories, but survivors knew we were far from having lost our minds, even though years and years of religious abuse and narcissistic pastors behind wooden pulpits had damaged them greatly. It took me six long years to finally make the leap that I so desperately needed. Reaching out for support for my mental health , I feel, was the biggest deal changer and most courageous step I’ve taken. Psychology was taught to be evil, manipulative and a sin. Medications for depression and anxiety utterly wicked. Mental health was seen as a spiritual weakness on a believer’s part. Although I was far enough removed from those harmful teachings when I decided to start therapy, those things were still deeply ingrained in me in emotions like guilt, shame and even fear. Those teachings appeared in my lack of boundaries with relatives, sacrificing myself over and over for the people in my life because I had been taught to give my all to the point of depletion. If I didn’t collapse after helping, surely, I felt I hadn’t done my best. A cult survives by feeding off a member’s inability to make boundaries, manipulating them into believing that they must serve and sacrifice themselves to their beliefs, their leader, fellow members and family, and let’s not forget the cult’s cause. They plant guilt for simply being a human with human limitations. Service was really more like a form of slavery. Slavery to an abusive religion, slavery to an authoritarian pastor, slavery to being my Christian parents’ perfect child, and slavery to my future husband if I had stayed. I was a slave to everyone but my own needs. I developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I never went to war, only to church. In the end, what that translated to was very real and vivid flashbacks that still can appear out of nowhere. I struggle with things like depression , feeling like a complete outsider among my peers due to being born and raised in a cult, and not fully being able to relate with others. I learned to socialize by mimicking the banned movies I watched and studying the room around me. Connecting on a deeper level with a person who hasn’t survived a traumatic event or left a religiously abusive group is challenging and takes a lot of determination on my part, and I treasure those connections more for it. Freely enjoying sex can be a constant state of mental gymnastics, giving and taking equally, allowing myself to experience the pleasure that, as a woman, I was never supposed to feel. Having choices and a voice, free will and the ability to explore who I am as a person and what I want out of life is still very foreign to me after decades of being controlled. I was taught to be owned, not to own my own life. If I’m honest, all of this can be incredibly overwhelming. Religious abuse is its own form of complicated and complex trauma . It wounds a human being deep within their core. It steals an innocence that can’t be returned and healing is made that much more difficult because of it. It took me a bit before I openly said the word “cult” with my therapist. I didn’t want to come off as anti-religious because I am not. I’ve seen the very worst religion can do, but I know there is a difference between religion and a cult claiming to be religious. I was afraid to be misunderstood, dismissed, invalidated and hurt all over again. To put it bluntly as a cult survivor: why would I ever want to experience the hell of being shunned, again? I, instead, explained the environment I grew up in, listing the very things that give a cult its definition (behavior control, information control, thought control and emotional control). Then, I bravely said, “I believe, after talking to thousands of survivors from my group, the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, that I was in a cult.” My therapist went silent but never argued. I waited for the dismissal of what I said, for her to reconsider diagnosing me with more than PTSD. But, in fact, what I received next was not disbelief or judgment, not even skepticism — I received support. Escaping and surviving a cult is much like escaping and surviving domestic violence, I was told, and the analogy was one I had already found in processing my experiences. Therapy offers me the resources to help me heal and learn important tools to navigate life not only post-cult but life as a human being with free will. I’d dare say seeking secular help could still be seen as an act of rebellion on my part as a former fundamentalist and even as a female. My experience was positive with a mental health professional, but unfortunately, not all religious abuse survivors’ experiences are. I knew to edge into revealing about my time in an abusive high control group after hearing the horror stories of therapists who wouldn’t support their clients once they shared with them their experiences. Revealing you have been a victim of religious trauma is like sharing any other form of trauma : it’s utterly terrifying. Validation during what can be the most vulnerable moment of a survivor’s life is vital. Validation from professionals should be around every corner on a survivor’s journey. Help should be easily accessible and include religious abuse recovery. So often, it feels to request that alone is asking for a miracle to occur out of thin air. My challenge for the mental health community — and the greater public as well — is to first start recognizing what religious abuse looks like. It may look like little girls wearing long dresses and having no voice and no choice, who grow up into wives who are nothing more than sex slaves to patriarchal husbands. Or, it can look like a young man in a suit who’s secretly battling debilitating depression . Looks can be deceiving, but I promise you that listening to a survivor of religious trauma will paint a more accurate and heartbreaking picture than Hollywood ever could. This leads me to my second challenge: take a moment and get informed on the harm religious abuse does to people everywhere. Those leaving an abusive religion may struggle with drug and alcohol abuse , sexual abuse , domestic violence and suicide. And because they’ve been taught to avoid help for their mental health , they’re more likely to not seek it at all or even know it’s safe to do so. Part of me sharing my story is to smash that stigma once and for all. Not only is it safe to seek help, but it’s also essential. Therapy has saved my relationships , my mental health and is helping me secure a better and healthier future, one bright with possibilities and self-love after a cult taught me there was nothing to love about myself. It’s giving me back an innocence stolen from me many years ago at birth and that’s to own my own life, not be owned.

When You Fear Developing New Symptoms With Your Chronic Illness

I hate feeling sick. I feel that chronic illness will inevitably rob me of so much joy and change my dreams to make them accommodate my chronic illness reality. I’ve been on this journey for a few years now without truly knowing it. I was just the “dramatic” and “weak” person in my past community. I never knew I was ill, I just felt so bad, so often. Now that I’m further into this journey, I’ve been finding myself hyper-aware and inevitably nervous about when the next symptom will show up and what it will be. I’ve started noticing these gradual changes… More pain in my hips and difficulty climbing stairs. I woke up one night recently to the clothing I wore searing my skin and making me feel like I was literally on fire. I’ve suddenly felt myself about to faint in the middle of a walk outdoors, terrified I would fall and no one would know. And, my shoulders are starting to cramp while I drive and brain fog is setting in behind the wheel, causing me to focus extra hard and struggling to do so in the process. I’m scared of what this illness will take from me, especially things that are part of my self-identity. My ability to play the piano; what if I can’t do that when my arms and hands are in too much pain? And then, the brain fog threatening my concentration and the task of putting together sentences as a writer. There’s the frustrating fatigue that puts a damper on my creativity. Sometimes, I get a great idea to strike me, but then fatigue strikes back and I’m suddenly too tired and need to nap. And as a nature lover, I need the outdoors, but sometimes I’m in too much pain to explore it. Then there are the good days when the pain isn’t too bad and the brain fog not present. I push myself and then I pay for it for days afterward. I’ve always pushed through a challenge; I don’t like to take the “easy” route. But I’m learning I need to listen to my body, which is difficult because I’m learning I’ve always been in pain. What does a pain-free body feel like, anyway? What is it like not to feel some ailment? Being hyper-aware of potentially new symptoms isn’t fun. If I’m quite honest, it’s downright exhausting. It’s a different kind of exhausting though. It’s the kind of exhaustion of the body and mind. It’s an additional weight on my shoulders and I’ll tell you, it can be heavy to carry. That weight is heavy and bearing it alone is hard. I’m finding I can’t bottle up this fear or it will swallow me up in the end. I’ve had to share it with those I trust. I’ve had to try and not let that fear of the next new symptom be my grown-up boogyman. It’s not easy, but it’s something I’m determined to conquer.

When Trauma and Chronic Illness Make You Hate Your Body

I often hate my body. Hate it for its limitations, the torturing pain, debilitating fatigue and constant weakness. I’m 28, feeling more like 82. But my soul, my spirit, is young at heart, even if it’s been matured through tough times and difficult truths. This body of mine has survived years of abuse, fear and control. It’s been the means I had to survive, and it’s now paying the price. It’s not its fault, nor is it mine. It’s an unfair reality, but it’s up to me to make it my best reality in spite of the damage. I grew up isolated and hurt. I was never nurtured; I was never seen. I was neglected and I had to fend so often for myself and others I loved. I was never protected, but I kept trying to protect others. I was brought up in a battlefield made by a religious cult, and as a child, was left as prey to vile excuses of human beings who claimed to be God’s People. I now bear the scars of that constant battle. Because I left and deserted such a filthy army (the cult), I consider that battle a win. Even if it stole 21 years from me and many more trying to recuperate, I was made a warrior out of the ashes. I would never choose to be a warrior, never wanted to be one, but children don’t get the choice to what happens to them. Luckily, as an adult, I realized I could, for once, fight for me and choose to walk away. My body limped away from that destruction with fibromyalgia and my brain with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s the price of war sometimes, even the wars we never signed up to fight in. I’m thankful for my body, even on the days I hate it. It took so much strength and pain to climb up on these rocks and look out over water, up at sky, feel the soft wind breathe through my fingers as my arms reached out wide for the moment. I didn’t think about it; just did it. It came so naturally to me. To breathe life in.Be in the moment.Ponder how far I have come.To feel free.To be happy. Thank you, body. Thank you, brain. Thank you for doing your best to protect me as a child when adults wouldn’t. Thank you for trying so darn hard on my behalf. We’re sick now, but you did your best and I’m thankful.

When Trauma and Chronic Illness Make You Hate Your Body

I often hate my body. Hate it for its limitations, the torturing pain, debilitating fatigue and constant weakness. I’m 28, feeling more like 82. But my soul, my spirit, is young at heart, even if it’s been matured through tough times and difficult truths. This body of mine has survived years of abuse, fear and control. It’s been the means I had to survive, and it’s now paying the price. It’s not its fault, nor is it mine. It’s an unfair reality, but it’s up to me to make it my best reality in spite of the damage. I grew up isolated and hurt. I was never nurtured; I was never seen. I was neglected and I had to fend so often for myself and others I loved. I was never protected, but I kept trying to protect others. I was brought up in a battlefield made by a religious cult, and as a child, was left as prey to vile excuses of human beings who claimed to be God’s People. I now bear the scars of that constant battle. Because I left and deserted such a filthy army (the cult), I consider that battle a win. Even if it stole 21 years from me and many more trying to recuperate, I was made a warrior out of the ashes. I would never choose to be a warrior, never wanted to be one, but children don’t get the choice to what happens to them. Luckily, as an adult, I realized I could, for once, fight for me and choose to walk away. My body limped away from that destruction with fibromyalgia and my brain with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s the price of war sometimes, even the wars we never signed up to fight in. I’m thankful for my body, even on the days I hate it. It took so much strength and pain to climb up on these rocks and look out over water, up at sky, feel the soft wind breathe through my fingers as my arms reached out wide for the moment. I didn’t think about it; just did it. It came so naturally to me. To breathe life in.Be in the moment.Ponder how far I have come.To feel free.To be happy. Thank you, body. Thank you, brain. Thank you for doing your best to protect me as a child when adults wouldn’t. Thank you for trying so darn hard on my behalf. We’re sick now, but you did your best and I’m thankful.

When Trauma and Chronic Illness Make You Hate Your Body

I often hate my body. Hate it for its limitations, the torturing pain, debilitating fatigue and constant weakness. I’m 28, feeling more like 82. But my soul, my spirit, is young at heart, even if it’s been matured through tough times and difficult truths. This body of mine has survived years of abuse, fear and control. It’s been the means I had to survive, and it’s now paying the price. It’s not its fault, nor is it mine. It’s an unfair reality, but it’s up to me to make it my best reality in spite of the damage. I grew up isolated and hurt. I was never nurtured; I was never seen. I was neglected and I had to fend so often for myself and others I loved. I was never protected, but I kept trying to protect others. I was brought up in a battlefield made by a religious cult, and as a child, was left as prey to vile excuses of human beings who claimed to be God’s People. I now bear the scars of that constant battle. Because I left and deserted such a filthy army (the cult), I consider that battle a win. Even if it stole 21 years from me and many more trying to recuperate, I was made a warrior out of the ashes. I would never choose to be a warrior, never wanted to be one, but children don’t get the choice to what happens to them. Luckily, as an adult, I realized I could, for once, fight for me and choose to walk away. My body limped away from that destruction with fibromyalgia and my brain with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s the price of war sometimes, even the wars we never signed up to fight in. I’m thankful for my body, even on the days I hate it. It took so much strength and pain to climb up on these rocks and look out over water, up at sky, feel the soft wind breathe through my fingers as my arms reached out wide for the moment. I didn’t think about it; just did it. It came so naturally to me. To breathe life in.Be in the moment.Ponder how far I have come.To feel free.To be happy. Thank you, body. Thank you, brain. Thank you for doing your best to protect me as a child when adults wouldn’t. Thank you for trying so darn hard on my behalf. We’re sick now, but you did your best and I’m thankful.

When Trauma and Chronic Illness Make You Hate Your Body

I often hate my body. Hate it for its limitations, the torturing pain, debilitating fatigue and constant weakness. I’m 28, feeling more like 82. But my soul, my spirit, is young at heart, even if it’s been matured through tough times and difficult truths. This body of mine has survived years of abuse, fear and control. It’s been the means I had to survive, and it’s now paying the price. It’s not its fault, nor is it mine. It’s an unfair reality, but it’s up to me to make it my best reality in spite of the damage. I grew up isolated and hurt. I was never nurtured; I was never seen. I was neglected and I had to fend so often for myself and others I loved. I was never protected, but I kept trying to protect others. I was brought up in a battlefield made by a religious cult, and as a child, was left as prey to vile excuses of human beings who claimed to be God’s People. I now bear the scars of that constant battle. Because I left and deserted such a filthy army (the cult), I consider that battle a win. Even if it stole 21 years from me and many more trying to recuperate, I was made a warrior out of the ashes. I would never choose to be a warrior, never wanted to be one, but children don’t get the choice to what happens to them. Luckily, as an adult, I realized I could, for once, fight for me and choose to walk away. My body limped away from that destruction with fibromyalgia and my brain with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s the price of war sometimes, even the wars we never signed up to fight in. I’m thankful for my body, even on the days I hate it. It took so much strength and pain to climb up on these rocks and look out over water, up at sky, feel the soft wind breathe through my fingers as my arms reached out wide for the moment. I didn’t think about it; just did it. It came so naturally to me. To breathe life in.Be in the moment.Ponder how far I have come.To feel free.To be happy. Thank you, body. Thank you, brain. Thank you for doing your best to protect me as a child when adults wouldn’t. Thank you for trying so darn hard on my behalf. We’re sick now, but you did your best and I’m thankful.

The Challenge of Navigating PTSD Triggers While Dating

If you have a trauma history, dating can be complicated. It can be more difficult to build trust with a new person in your life and it can take time to feel comfortable in your own skin around them. A number of factors can cause dating to be complex if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to trauma. In my case, my PTSD stems from childhood trauma that included all forms of abuse. I need space and time to adjust to the presence of someone new in my life. I also can have moments where my reactions to triggers are more intense, especially in the beginning of getting to know someone. I find it most difficult to navigate triggers while in the moment, on a date. In those moments, I have to ground myself in a space that normally wouldn’t be my safe space. It can all be overwhelming, not to mention intimidating. For example, recently while out on a date with a nice person, I found myself feeling as if my PTSD was experiencing a sudden flare of symptoms. A movie theater can sometimes be an environment that can lead to potentially triggering stimuli for me. Because I also have chronic illnesses and am sensitive to things such as light, sounds and sudden movements, my body can feel pain without much conjuring and migraines may be triggered with a single flash of a light. Beyond my physical symptoms, my PTSD can come to the forefront and often more easily. Back in that theater, my date had no idea that while we were sitting, watching a movie that I was suddenly startled by his sudden move in the seat next to me. Or that when he stretched to put his arm around me, my PTSD decided to show up. We had done this before, but suddenly I was triggered and well aware where his hands were at all times. I wanted to sink into my body and get away even though moments ago I had wondered and wanted to cuddle while we enjoyed the movie. Then, the movie we were watching had references and scenes about childhood sexual abuse. I sat there and worked through my triggers, grounding myself and understanding that I have trauma from my own childhood sexual abuse and my date doesn’t know this fact. In that moment, I could envision myself bailing on my date and running to the bathroom to hide. Instead, I was able to work through that difficult moment and came back to the present. I even went on to rest my head on my date’s shoulder and hold their hand as we enjoyed the movie together. The end result though was that, although I was able to enjoy myself and relax in that moment, I was so physically weak after that PTSD attack, an attack my date didn’t even realize I was battling, that I needed to rest. It kicked in my fibromyalgia symptoms and my body had to relax the tension in my muscles. Through physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve learned tools to help me through these kinds of moments, but it’s difficult, nonetheless. What I know is that trust takes time. And because I have experienced abuse by trusted people in my life, I struggle to connect even with trustworthy people. Dating is supposed to be fun, relaxing and free of pressure. You’re supposed to enjoy yourself. With a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, you may have to ground yourself at times to truly find the enjoyment. But it’s worth it. It’s a part of thriving after abuse. Because abuse also stole our power during the trauma, remembering you have control of what you want or do not want where your body is concerned is incredibly important to remember. I may have wanted my date’s arm around me minutes before, but it was completely in my rights to pull away and gain space. I was allowed to communicate that I was uncomfortable. Being respected by what we do or do not want is how consent is practiced in return. Just because we’ve experienced trauma, just because we’ve had our power stolen, doesn’t mean we can’t experience the enrichment in our lives of enjoyable things like going out on a date. I know there will be more moments where I am triggered and go back into a trauma response. My brain has been wired to do this since childhood after all. Those pathways have been traveled far too often to just disappear. It takes work and therapy. It takes grounding myself and remembering I’m safe because I am my body’s protector, provider and best friend. I do have the power. I do deserve living a life that includes me thriving after abuse. I am worthy of love and connection and experiencing beautiful moments with others. Even with the ups and downs, the sometimes unexpected roller-coaster that PTSD is, I am continuously living my best life.

When PTSD Makes You Fear Healthy Romantic Relationships

Navigating healthy relationships are intimidating to me. I have always been on the lookout for red flags, trying to prevent one bad thing after another from occurring, that I didn’t realize there are a such thing as green flags in relationships, too. Unlike the red flags that point to the possible danger or toxicity in a relationship that have you knowing down deep it’s time to pack up and leave that partner, green flags point to the complete opposite. They signal that you should, in fact, stay. A healthy, safe, and happy relationship is a great thing, right? But when you have experienced trauma, especially childhood abuse, finding a person who is safe not only for your adult self, but your wounded inner child, too, can prompt a lot of doubts and worries that are unwarranted, but feel very real. Good things feel like they’re going to go bad and real fast. When you are only used to chaos, calm can feel terrifying. Your brain has been hardwired to survive one horrible event after another. With caregivers and trusted people in your life failing to meet your needs as a child and adolescent, sometimes healthy relationships feel intimidating and scarily unfamiliar. If you have a history of toxic relationships and friendships in adulthood as well, you can feel the odds are stacked up against you in finding a partner who is genuine. Healthy relationships begin to feel “too good to be true.” But here’s the thing… sometimes, they aren’t. Sometimes —actually a lot more than your post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would allow you to believe — good, safe, and healthy relationships are attainable. They take learning, making mistakes while you are doing that learning, and actively trying to heal your trauma, but they are out there. They’re possible. In my case, I am determined to have the healthiest relationships and friendships possible. I’ve worked very hard to get to this point in my life and have learned to not settle for “second best,” so I choose the best. This is a gift I give myself, but it’s still very new to me. I’m not used to being presented with the option and ability to enter healthy relationships. Because of this, I can face bouts of sudden anxiety that stem directly from negative experiences in past relationships and even trauma. I have a lot of insecurities that pop up when life is good, happy, and my relationships are strong. This is often because of old and unhealthy thought patterns that have accompanied me since childhood and experiencing prolonged emotional dysregulation due to an unstable childhood. Through therapy, I’ve learned this can manifest itself in ways that do not make sense to partners who do not have PTSD. I can go from being happy to having a moment of pure tears after experiencing a flashback that I didn’t realize was even on the horizon. Part of this is because my brain is used to dysfunction. I have anxiety and fears about things that are unwarranted in my relationships because having a healthy relationship is very new to me in many ways. The result can be having a solid foundation in a romantic relationship that trauma wants to come and poke holes in. Our bad experiences in the past often want to search for some reassurance, needing to test whether or not something good is actually too good to be true. But in reality, when we act on these trauma-induced fears, we can weaken an otherwise healthy relationship. The good news is we do not have to give into those old thought patterns. A lot of it is learning to follow that thought to its root cause. Often, that search ends in a traumatic experience or insecurities created from a tough time in our lives. For example, I have struggled feeling accepted for who I am as a person. I have been told I was “annoying” when I was being my authentic self. I felt rejected and alone. I wanted to be my authentic self, but it seemed that when I did, that became a bad thing. So now, I have a fear of becoming annoying to my partner, but in all actuality, I fear rejection of the person I am. I feel helpless. It’s my responsibility to break the old cycles that contribute to my anxiety, however. And that’s why I am in therapy and actively trying to do better. No, it’s not my fault I have a past full of trauma caused by abusive people in my life, that my power was stolen from me as a child. But as an adult, taking back my power and healing my trauma is doing what I need to become healthy and navigate healthy relationships. A lot it is also learning healthy communication. What do I need from myself and from my partner? How can I best communicate those needs and what does my partner need from me in return? Our relationship is solid, so what fears do I have that could contribute to weakening it for no other reason than my trauma? What are things I can do to get ahead of that fear and rationalize it, because so often, in healthy relationships those fears are really PTSD related? Asking these questions can be a good start. I also strongly recommend therapy as it can help a great deal in navigating life and relationships. Understanding I do not need to prevent bad things from happening is also key. No, instead, I need to be present for the good things occurring in this season of my life. I do not have to control every aspect of my life, I simply need to lean into it, relying on a courage I do know has existed in me from childhood survival to thriving as an adult. Being on the lookout for red flags in any relationship is always, always important. Entering and eventually leaving toxic relationships can be incredibly hard and will take time to heal from. But when you are in a safe and healthy relationship, it’s important not to ignore the green flags. Green flags in relationships can look like a partner who respects your boundaries, listens, encourages you to take care of your mental and physical health, respects your story and your strength, accepts you for who you are, and allows you the safety to continue healing. These green flags can also be kindness, gentleness, and understanding. Finding a genuine person in this world is possible. Navigating a healthy relationship with them as a survivor of abuse who lives with PTSD can be a reality. Don’t lose hope, survivor.