I’ve posted quite a lot about the impact of my visual impairment and my physical health conditions. What I haven’t yet spoken openly about is my mental health.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Four little words.
One life in pieces.
There is this misconception that PTSD is a military-only illness, and although I want to give a hug of solidarity to any serving and veteran PTSD sufferers, that certainly isn’t the case. Whilst the statistics are not completely certain, it is estimated that 3 in 100 people screen positive for PTSD.
I must pause here to say that it is normal to struggle processing and recovering from a traumatic event. Any traumatic event can leave struggles, but the difference is that non PTSD individuals will recover with time. Thinking about the event, or coming across things that relate to the event, will gradually become less painful and upsetting. This is not to belittle any trauma that anyone has ever been though, and as above – hugs all around!
PTSD however, doesn’t get easier.
You live in a state of hyperarousal, ready to fight, flight or freeze at any given moment, waiting to go into that mode, ready to protect yourself through any means, because something is GOING TO HAPPEN, you ARE NOT SAFE, there is DANGER EVERYWHERE. That noise you just heard? Someone is waiting to hurt you. That person with their hand in their bag? They’re going to pull out a knife. That man looking at you? He wants to attack you GET OFF THE BUS NOW.
I sleep with my light on, because I cannot sleep properly at all. I wake up multiple times a night (aside from my pain) because of nightmares. Worse, I have flashbacks in my sleep and wake up screaming. Worse again, I have sleep paralysis, which added in to some of my traumas, is enough to make me want to vomit just thinking about it now.
Flashbacks are hard to describe. I think maybe people who have never had them picture them as like a cutscene in a movie, but it’s not that simple. With a cutscene, you know the main film has paused for it, where as with a flashback life doesn’t pause. Something triggers you (we’ll come back to triggers in a bit….), whether it’s something obvious to everyone, or something even you haven’t noticed but your PTSD has, be it a word, a location, a sight, smell, or anything else, and BANG – suddenly the world is upside down. You can’t breathe properly. Your head is pounding. Your mouth is dry. Your stomach has turned over. Your mind is so high pitched, it’s screaming. You want to curl up in a ball and hide, but at the same time you want to run, run, run, anywhere, anywhere that isn’t here, in this unsafe moment. You can’t think clearly. Your brain is throwing all those horrible thoughts, memories, traumas at you without pause. You can see the people who hurt you. You can hear the words, you can smell that moment, you can taste it, it’s under your skin, you are not clean. Keep looking around you because you need to see everything to make sure you’re safe, and you need to keep looking because your vision has decreased to tunnel vision with the stress on your body. You’re shaking. You can’t distract yourself from it. It sits there on top of you, pressing you down, heavy, as you try and try to function normally, to pretend that your brain isn’t trying to sabotage you. You are functioning through a fog, a mist that you have you push through to even move your limbs. You are numb, because your trauma has stripped you of feeling, and has left you instead with the inability to feel anything except terror, and fear or feelings at all, because that means being unsafe, and you are already unsafe, so how on earth could you open yourself up to anything more dangerous? You can’t concentrate. Places, people, objects, activities, smells, tastes and memories become out of bounds to keep yourself safe because there is no way you can keep yourself sane dealing with all of those dangerous things. Each time you come even close to them, your brain explodes. Your brain just can’t stay focused. With all of this going on, you become more irritable and snappy – fight or flight, flight or flight, fight or flight.
This isn’t the most articulate thing I’ve ever written, but I’m trying to explain why I’m sometimes so fuzzy.
PTSD is soul destroying. To even live with this condition is an achievement.
Now I need to hide for a bit.