For much of my life I believed that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was only found in soldiers as a result of their time at war. Never did I think that one day my therapist would look at me and say “you have PTSD”. In that moment, all my preconceived ideas of what this condition was, flew out the window. I was made to see that every day I walk by people—normal looking people, not wearing uniforms—who are living and reliving their worst nightmare.
I wanted to give you a glimpse of what it is like living with PTSD, so that those of you who live with this, know that you’re not alone, or that those of you who don’t know the reality of it, can more fully understand.
PTSD and Groceries
Imagine this with me, if you would:
You’re walking down the aisle of the grocery store, pushing a cart in front of you. A man turns down the aisle and starts walking towards you…
If you’re lucky, your mind does not spit images from your past into your vision, making you forget where and when you are. If you manage to stay in the present, you are assaulted with a flood of adrenaline (the fight or flight response) causing your heart to pound in your chest, your breathing to become shallow and unsteady and your hands to shake. Everything in you wants to turn and run. You try to remind yourself that you’re in a supermarket, no-one is going to hurt you. Your body ignores your rationale and shivers begin to race up and down your spine. You are now convinced that it’s going to happen again. This man in front of you is going to pin you down and rape you here and now. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to go. Yielding yourself to what you deem as the inevitable, you force your mind and body to detach—a method you learned long ago to keep yourself safe from the horror of the reality…
Someone touches your arm and you snap back into the grocery aisle. “Ma’am, are you okay?” The woman next to you has a crease of concern between her eyebrows. You realize you’ve been staring blankly at a box of cereal for who knows how long. The man is long gone but your fear continues to paralyze you. “Yes,” you manage to squeak out, desiring to hide away from everyone. Self-hatred and frustration begin to build inside you since you can’t even walk around a grocery store without your past getting in the way.
From the Outside Looking In
My husband has seen me in this state many times. He describes it as such,
“She starts to have difficulty focusing on reality. Sometimes, I was able to distract her enough to keep her from going into a full blown flashback, but many times she would become dead to the world, staring off into space, her body looking uneasy and her lips shaking. I would say her name and her eyes might look at me for a split second, but she wouldn’t really see me there and would continue to stare in a panicked manner. Other times she would interact with me, but she was still reliving a past traumatic memory. I just happened to be in the room with her. Even though I would tell her she is safe and it was only me there, she would still be terrified and panicking and would hear or see her abuser. These states could be as short as a few minutes or as long as an hour. The worst part was that once the flashback took over, I was often helpless to stop it or to bring her back to reality. I could only do my best to comfort her until she was back.”
PTSD affects all aspects of your life. It makes you more prone to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addictions. It gets in the way of relationships and aspirations. It is not something that will simply disappear over time. It is a daily battle.
There is hope. There is always hope.
I have been living with PTSD for over 8 years now. I cannot say it has always been getting better. Some days are worse than others. But through the grace of God and the support of many friends, I have been able to move from surviving to thriving. I continue the climb onward, encouraging and helping other survivors along the way, one step at a time.
For more information on PTSD see: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/post-traumatic-stress-disorder.htm