I think I'm going crazy: The Day I Faced PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD, is a widely misunderstood, rarely discussed disorder that an estimated 7.8% of Americans suffer with. Society came to know PTSD as a combat disorder, something that our military men and women suffered with upon return from Active Duty. It is defined as "a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world". Upon recognition of the disorder, psychologists and researchers began to discover that PTSD can be caused by almost any event in which an individual feels that their life is truly in danger. Experiences range from C-sections gone wrong, a family member flat lining in the hospital, a car accident, a robbery, and of course, an abusive relationship. The latter is what caused my PTSD.

I knew from my extensive schooling that I likely suffer from PTSD. I have the occasional nightmares, certain places and smells that make my hair stand on end, the occasional feeling of being choked to death by a fear you cannot see. But I never truly understood it until I experienced my first "PTSD Episode".

My first encounter with a PTSD "episode" happened on what started as a normal Friday. It was my day off, thankfully, as work had been ungodly stressful and I was wore out from the pressure I was under each day. I had been experiencing depression and had spoken to my doctor 3 weeks earlier about not wanting to feel so sad all the time. She recommended Viibryd, a newer anti-depressant on the market with fewer side effects. Yay, a new drug on the market! Doctors always like to try new drugs. What I did not know was that Viibryd would decrease my depression but would send my anxiety through the roof. It takes weeks for any anti-depressant to incorporate into your system and therefore, the side affect was not anticipated.

I had spent the day in and out of the bathroom as my "nervous gut" had reared its ugly head. It has been years since my stomach has been that bad. That should have been Red Flag #1. Flag #2 was I had trouble eating. The act of forcing food down my throat when it felt as if it were being squeezed by an invisible force was difficult. My chest felt heavy, like someone was sitting on it. I attempted to self medicate with the new trend: CBD oil. I would take a dose and the shakes would go away for about an hour and then return. I couldn't get the anxiety under control.

My husband was busy building a new bed. He's a phenomenal carpenter and had decided it was time that we build something for ourselves. For some odd reason that bed triggered a memory that was over 12 years old. It is a memory of my bedroom in the first house I lived in with my ex. The population of the town was about 200 and no one lived on my street or behind my house. I was completely isolated. I was also broke. My ex had never held  a real job for more than 11 months. To make matters worse he would go on manic trips where he would come up with an idea and would purchase materials to act on it. One time he was going to build a motorcycle from scratch, another time it was a "Wang chung dummy" (he was into martial arts, of course) and another time homemade knives. This particular night it had been a bed. He slapped together two MDF boards he had cut in half and made a box with flimsy brackets on the corners. He put two MDF boards on top, then his futon mattress and voila! A bed! It fell apart within days and he never fixed it.

I remember sitting on that bed, realizing how low my life had sunk. I was broke, pregnant, and living in a dump of a house in a ghost of a town. I was married to a thumb-sucking psycho whose behaviors became weirder and weirder as time went on. That bedroom smelled of old house and I hated it. The smell permeated everything, including my clothes. To this day that smell makes me want to vomit. For some reason on that Friday I stayed in this memory for most of the day. I walked around the house like a zombie, going about my tasks of cleaning and making lunch, but on the inside all I could see was that bedroom. And it was dark. So, so dark. I thought maybe I was tired so I attempted to nap but the "brain zaps" from the medication as well as dreams of that place kept jerking me awake. My 2 year old was being his usual self, running around the house screaming, and no one was stopping him.

I must interject here that this was Flag #3: nap time. My abuser would yell at me if he caught me napping. He would also keep me up until the early hours of the morning, arguing over something stupid like the details of my day at work and who I would be working with tomorrow. The abuse most often happened at night, in the bedroom or bathroom, where no one could hear me scream. Arguments were often followed by sexual assault of some kind. I don't know why, but that was his pattern.

By the time the bed was assembled I was tired and agitated. I was standing in my master bathroom when I snapped. I don't remember what I started arguing with my husband about but it was something trivial. He couldn't understand why I was getting so angry so fast and neither could I. The whole experience felt detached; out of body like. I was yelling and yelling and yet my mind was far far away. That night I did not sleep. I had dream after dream of being stuck in that house, being stuck with my abuser, not being able to get away from him. I awoke not knowing where I was or what year it was. I was drenched in sweat, but only from the neck up. In the early hours of the morning I experienced what I now know was sleep paralysis. I saw a demon/wicked witch looking woman in my doorway even though I was awake.

The experiences continued all weekend. I contemplated going to the ER but I knew in my heart I would not get help. They would change my medication but ultimately I would have to wait for the Viibryd to exit my system. They could offer to commit me for mental health treatment and I would be locked up with people who likely have deep psychosis and violent behavior. I knew too many stories of being held over in the psyche unit of a hospital and knew it would do more harm than good. So I dealt with it alone.

It took over a week before I began to reconnect with my physical body. For the shakes to stop. For the intrusive images and brain zaps to cease. I was a wreck. I couldn't go to work because my job depends on focus and information recollection. I would surely do more damage than good. On the inside I was falling apart and I didn't know how to help myself.

I felt bad for my husband during this time. He remained my rock. He took care of the kids, kept the house clean, worked his stressful day job and cooked meals in the evening. I mostly laid in bed. I didn't know what to tell my kids. When he asked what was wrong or what I was thinking all I could say was "I think I'm going crazy". 

I'm still haunted by the incident months later. I know that deep down I will never be the same. After years of suppressing my trauma it finally came to the surface and there was nothing I could do about it. There was no one to talk to, no one to spend time with. Family had cut themselves off during this time and the ones remaining were not any help. Even though I was often surrounded by people, I felt so alone. So isolated. Like I was on my own little island in the middle of a sea of happiness. Everyone else was living their life but me. It was most certainly the worst of times, even though I should have been experiencing the best of times.

Looking back, I understand why I finally went through my episode. I had not received consistent counseling for what happened to me. I had collaborated with other trauma victims but often times our trauma overlapped and it would do more harm that good. I had spent years locked in custody battle, reporting to lawyers and guardians. That had all ended. Now I had reach a "safe place" in my life: there were no expectations of me. No employees reporting to me. No lawyer to report behavior to. No show to put on at work. No one cared about how I looked or what I wore. 

I went to work, said "hi" to a few people, sat through brief meetings, and worked at my desk. I ate lunch alone. I commuted alone. 12 hours of my day, 4 days a week I was absolutely alone. Inside of me a war a war was waging between the "old" me and the "new" me. I had an opportunity to reinvent myself, to become someone else, to identify who I wanted to be. To be honest: I had no idea who I was. I married young and lived for 8 years in an abusive relationship. I was the sole provider. I never had the chance to have relationships. To explore myself. To explore my world. Quit a job. Tell a boss to go fuck themselves. Nothing. To make matters worse, many of the people I admired (Anthony Bourdain, for example) killed themselves during this time. It seemed as if the world outside of me was now falling apart. 

I am still picking up the pieces.

Every person wants meaning in their life. They want to understand why things happen to them. They want purpose. They want comfort. Victims of violence are often forced into situations that have no meaning. Irrational acts carried out by people with psychosis cannot be explained. Discovering the "why" of what happened to you does not help, but how you react to it does. PTSD is hard as hell to deal with and may not ever go away but it is a reminder that you are a survivor. You matter. You are important. You are loved.

If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD please reach out for help by a specially trained counselor or psychologist. They understand the disorder and they have tools to help you cope and overcome. Remember, the worst part is already over. Now you are on a road to recovery and it can be filled with meaning. You just have to find it.



References

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by the Nebraska Department of Veterans affairs: http://www.ptsd.ne.gov/what-is-ptsd.html

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