What Happens When PTSD Is Triggered?
It was over a year ago, but it still feels like yesterday. My whole world came crashing down. I thought I had already hit rock bottom 3 years before, so how could things get worse?
This was such an unexpected curveball...my husband announced he wanted a divorce!
I cannot describe the intense pain of being abandoned by the person I loved and who vowed to be by my side for better or worse, in sickness and health... My hopes, my dreams, and my plans for the future — everything changed in a moment.
I was already in crisis mode, still reeling from the consequences of the abuse I suffered as a child. Now, going through a divorce brought back a flood of memories I thought I had forgotten.
Abuse and Abandoned as a Child
I am very familiar with the grief that comes with betrayal, rejection, and loss. As a child, I had to deal with extreme violence, poverty, drugs, and the unpredictable, inappropriate, and crazy behaviors of the intoxicated “responsible” adults in my life. I was abandoned by my mother, beaten and neglected by my father, deprived of basic needs, and I suffered all kinds of abuse at the hands of my stepmother. Moving two to three times a year, I grew up longing for a “home”, a family, and at least one person who truly cared about me. Stability and security were foreign concepts to me. Yet, I beat the odds and survived. Unfortunately, the cost of that survival was high, and only truly revealed itself to me later in life.
I built a fortress, never allowing anyone in … or letting anything out.
Diagnosed with PTSD
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I went on medical leave because anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks were interfering with my daily activities. I was throwing up several times a day and having panic attacks. My hyperactive mind kept racing all the time. My anger was sometimes out of control and would turn into rage, impulsivity and self-destructive behaviors. I also thought that being strong meant avoiding the need to express my emotions! And so, I ignored my feelings and pretended to be okay. I isolated myself and lived inside my head. I built a fortress, never allowing anyone in ... or letting anything out.
Disconnected from reality, I thought nobody cared about me...so I didn't care about myself either. Loneliness, despair, and hopelessness became my closest friends. Suicidal thoughts filled my mind. And yet, I didn't want to die! I just needed a break from the pain, from the crazy, never-ending roller coaster ride of life.
How I choose to deal with it matters.
Fortunately, my doctor put me on medication and strongly suggested I see a therapist. With my trust issues, reaching out to someone seemed impossible. Yet, I took a risk. Disregarding my feelings, I reluctantly complied with the doctor's suggestion, not knowing that this decision would be a major positive turning point in my life.
It took me a little while to establish trust and open up to my therapist. But when I did, I started seeing some positive change in my life. I finally gave myself permission to feel, process, and express my thoughts and emotions.
Obviously, it didn't happen overnight. I had to be willing to receive help, take some risks, work hard, and do my “homework”. It was the beginning of a transformative healing journey.
Mental Illness Is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of
I have realized that living with a mental illness is not something I should be ashamed of. PTSD doesn't define who I am. It's how I choose to deal with it that matters. It took a few decades and a couple of years of therapy to understand that I am not alone and that it's okay to ask for help.
Therapy was significant and beneficial. Nevertheless, it is a limited relationship. What really made a huge difference for me was opening up to a friend...someone who had a bit more life experience and wisdom than I did. And I am so privileged to have such a friend.
Shortly after hearing about the divorce, this compassionate friend kindly reached out to me. I immediately broke down and shared what was happening. This amazing lady has always been such a positive influence in my life, a wonderful role model, a mentor, a caring, reliable friend. So talking to her encouraged and comforted me a lot. To this day, I am still overwhelmed by her generosity, kindness, and willingness to spend time with me.
We still speak over the phone several times a week — and it makes a difference! Just knowing someone cares enough about me to do this gives me hope and reminds me that I matter. My friend helps me see things from a different perspective. I would not be where I am today without her support or the support of my therapist, friends, and community.
How To Manage PTSD
I am constantly learning new ways to manage my PTSD and not let it control me. It is a daily battle. The scars will always be there, but they also remind me how strong I am and how far I've come. I have been through so much, yet I have gained so much in the process.
My life has been filled with family drama, horror stories, and painful memories, but I have developed resourcefulness, strength, character, resilience, confidence, perseverance, courage, determination, and other life skills. I still have a long way to go, but one thing I know for sure is that I am not alone. I have resources and my life matters.
Can you relate to Julie's story? If you are suffering from PTSD, know you do not have to go through it alone. It really helps to talk about what you're going through. Chat with a Hope Coach to talk about what is going on in your life. A HopeCoach will listen and help you cope with your feelings of anxiety and PTSD flashbacks.
If you or a friend need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, for free confidential, 24/7 help. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. For additional help, please visit the suicide prevention resource page.