I can tell you the exact moment my life changed forever. I can tell you the exact moment that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) over took my life. The nightmares started that night and the irritability dug in deep to my soul. I would never be the same. It’s been 13 years and I still struggle. It not only affects me but also my kids, my husband, my friends and the rest of my family. I can’t approach life the same as those close to me. I struggle daily and fight battles against my own mind throughout the day. This struggle is tiring. The thoughts, fears and anxiety start the minute I open my eyes. Of course that’s if I actually got a nightmare free, full night of sleep.
Imagine spending your entire day on alert. Watching every little thing and every person. Scared that the next minute something could go wrong and you could be hurt…or worse. The only comfort you can find is within the confines of your own home. You know that things are safe there. You can find a sense of peace in the walls around you. The evil and scary things are outside and you are safe inside. Except, those you love aren’t inside those walls with you all the time. So then the anxiety kicks in. Are they safe? How much longer until you can have them home? You call and check on them often throughout the day. You countdown the hours and the minutes until your kids and husband are safe within your home again. Everything will be fine once we are all home, safely together.
That’s my daily life, a day full of anxiety and fear. I don’t do well with crowds at all and I often become irritable when I am in them. Many times people mistake that irritability for “my personality”. I think that’s the hardest part for me. I don’t want to walk around with a sign on me saying “I have PTSD so please excuse my irritability”. Sometimes I can prepare myself for a big crowd which allows me to have a better attitude but in order to prepare myself I need to spend the day prior doing self-care and keeping things as calm and peaceful as possible. Yep, I literally have to prepare myself for going out in public!
The other day we had to run an unexpected errand and it was in a big city. I didn’t want to be there but I wanted to be with my kids and husband so I went. The person picking the stuff up ran late and then the kids got hungry so we had to feed them. We were stuck in a super busy and crowded McDonald’s. My anxiety was through the roof! The kids were begging to play in the playground but all I wanted to do was get the heck out of there. I needed the safety of my car…away from people. When I told them they couldn’t play, they began to cry. They were so upset! At that moment, it really sunk in that my PTSD was affecting them and their childhood. It was the worst feeling I had ever had. I spent the drive home quietly crying to myself. I never wanted my PTSD to affect them in such a way but I it did. Of course, a few days later we made it up to them and their daddy took them to play at McDonald’s while mommy stayed home…away from the crowd. I didn’t get to partake in watching my kids play and laugh because I can’t handle the crowds. I have to miss out on important moments because of my struggles. However, I am beyond grateful they have a father that understands and makes these moments into “daddy daughter memories”.
That’s the biggest requirement when living with PTSD. You have to know your limits! Yes, it did affect my kids and their fun but it would have been detrimental to my recovery if I had stayed at that crowded restaurant. Self-care is a MUST when living with PTSD! I have come a long way since 2004 but I still have a ways to go. I still go to counseling which previously was weekly (sometimes multiple times a week) to now being able to utilize coping mechanisms and self-care that has allowed me to only need counseling appointments once a month. But I know that if my life gets hectic or my struggle gets worse then there is no shame in needing more counseling appointments.
My biggest lesson learned through this journey is that it’s just that, a journey. I will have good days and bad days. I am still learning to handle spur of the moment situations that don’t allow for me to prepare myself. Most of all, I am learning to forgive myself. I didn’t ask to come home from war with PTSD nor did I ever imagine that I would. I never thought that after 13 years I would still be struggling with PTSD but here I am. One thing is for sure though; I am stronger because of the obstacles I have faced. I face them daily and I always come out on the other side. I have learned to listen to myself. If I feel overwhelmed, stressed or triggered then it’s time to get out of there. I find a quiet place that I feel safe and take some time to myself.
Meditation, yoga, running, reading, hot baths and naps are all things that help to bring me back from the wild ride that PTSD takes me on sometimes. Granted, finding time for self-care isn’t always easy. I am a busy military spouse and mom. It is however, imperative that I find the time to do so! It’s better to take an hour to myself and come back to my family fully charged and in a better mood than to not take that time and my family gets the irritable, anxiety filled, half-there person.
I am not ignorant; I know that PTSD carries a stigma with it. We are often viewed as crazy, irrational people. Some even label us as dangerous. Well I am here to tell you that if you believe that then you are part of the problem. Instead of labeling those of us with PTSD, start learning how to help us. Start understanding our struggles and most of all, just be our friend!
My PTSD doesn’t define me as a person. It’s a struggle that I cope with each and every day but that isn’t WHO I am…it’s what I HAVE. Do you want to know who I am?
If you struggle with PTSD and/or anxiety then please know that I am here for you. I have personally used Military OneSource and received free counseling to help me cope. Please know that there is NO SHAME in needing help! Most of all, please know that you are NOT ALONE!!!