I’ve written several times about PTSD, especially in the post Four Little Words with which I tried to go into as much detail as I could with the objective of my post. One of the things I tried to touch on, but am now going to share more information about, is how PTSD impacts me on a daily basis.
Every morning, I wake up almost more exhausted than the night before, having had nightmares that kept me awake or paralyzed all night. Because of might nightmares being so awful, I taught myself to do lucid dreaming, in the hope of having some control over what goes on in my mind. Sometimes, this is of use. The other night I had a dream where I was going to be killed and managed to stop that from happening; however this situation then repeated itself in the dream numerous times, along with other dark moments, and when I woke up I was so tired from trying to stop myself being traumatized in my sleep, that being in sleep had been pointless. Whether I am genuinely tired out or it just feels as much, I don’t know – but because it feels as though you have been using a part of your consciousness all night, it feels as if there has been no rest.
The other thing for me about sleeping is that being in bed at all is an achievement. Both of my rapes have taken place in a bed, so that even though I know I’m safe now, getting into bed is something to be proud of. Sometimes just the fact of sitting on the bed is enough to send my head spiraling, and I have to occupy myself with some little thing before trying again, else have my brain exploding everywhere before bedtime has even started. So again, the effort of battling this all night means that by the morning, having woken up several times a day, I am beyond wiped out.
It is hard work, then, just existing at times, and that is not said in a dramatic way, but a factual one; I am constantly running on less energy than I need to process everything that is happening. And that’s before I’ve even interacted with the day ahead.
One of the largest issues in my battle for my recovery is that I have multiple traumas in my past. This means that in the long term there is far more to become desensitized to, and on a daily basis there are far more potential triggers out there, seeing as there is such a variation of damage throughout my life. On an average day I will (having tallied this up, out of interest) come across triggers for five different traumas. Considering that even one moment of interacting with triggers can leave an impact for the whole day, it is easy to see how, by the end of the day, I am wiped out.
The things that trigger PTSD are varied and personal. I have a long detailed list of different triggers, which I add to regularly, the more I become in tune with my condition. I’m a big believer in knowledge being power, but this doesn’t remove the power – by itself – of being triggered. “Triggered” has been taken over by the media as a mocking word, laughing at those who become upset by something, and whilst it’s sad that anyone being upset is mocked, a genuine trigger is so much more than just becoming a bit emotional. PTSD being triggered is a serious thing, which can have consequences for days afterwards, at times longer, and that is not including any trigger-reactive behaviours which may have taken place.
Existing in the world is an obstacle course around triggers, and finding ways to dodge them is a life long process. Whilst therapies can help, PTSD is a lifelong condition, and it is only aiming to muffle, not mute, we can hope for. In time, hopefully, there will be some things which become less painful to interact with, but again on a day to day basis, this can vary, depending on numerous things. For me, how well I slept, how the previous day was, what nightmares I had, how much physical pain, how I was feeling prior to being triggered, and what the trigger was, are all variation factors as to how I will react when dealing with something.
In person, I can come across as far more composed than I am feeling. Whilst my head is bombarding me with all sorts of DANGER signs, I can have a relatively calm conversation, even if it is only a few seconds to excuse myself from the situation. My psychologist said in our latest session that the trigger diary I had been asked to keep had surprised him to a degree, as it wasn’t obvious how much I was suffering from the surface. When face to face with a trigger, the first thing that happens for anyone is fight or flight. Sometimes now, this is referred to as fight, flight, freeze, or fawn – although this could be argued that “freeze” and “fawn” are both versions of flight. Regardless of this, the way the brain reacts to any trigger can have a more common reactions, or be set at one point always, or range between the two evenly. The brain has learned that certain things are dangerous, and so it needs to react in a way to protect itself, by either fighting the treat, or running away from it. This is not an isolated PTSD thing – it occurs in all human beings, and comes from back when human beings first existed. As our brains were forming thousands of years ago, there were numerous threats around us, that we needed to work out if we should attack or run away from. This instinct we retain to this day, and in PTSD this has come too heightened, so is reacted too easily and frequently.
So, as an example, if I hear a loud sudden noise, I freeze. My heart suddenly pumps faster, I go cold with fear, I sweat, I shake, I feel sick, I want to run away and find somewhere safe. Despite knowing there will be, in all likelihood, a rational explanation for what I heard, my mind starts replaying back all the ‘bad’ loud noises I have ever experienced, and suggesting them as cause for the noise. I look around myself rapidly, almost making myself dizzy with how much I need to find a source of the noise. My vision goes blurry because I’m hyperventilating. It gets worse because I know I NEED to calm down, and that people will soon to staring at me if they’re not already. I want to curl up in a ball and hide from the world, with my hands over my ears so I never hear any noise again, and just stay in safe safe silence forever. The flashbacks have started and they run and run, leaving me frozen and unable to move.
Eventually this calms down, but there is no predicting how long it will take. It sounds exhausting doesn’t it? And it is. And this happens multiple times a day. Sometimes by 9am I’m already so tired I could sleep for a week.
This isn’t a post looking for sympathy; I accept my lot. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments where it infuriates me so much I want to scream IT’S NOT FAIR into the abyss. But if I can educate some and support others, that will make up for what goes on in my brain.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, writing about my triggers has, ironically, triggered me, so I am going to hide from the world with a cup of tea. If there’s someone you think could be helped by this post, please share it with them. I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments! (After my tea.)