Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Survivors
FMS, CFS, PTSD, and N-SAN-I-TE Part 2
If you haven't read part 1 of this series, you might want to catch up a little first. Life after Fibromyalgia
The last thing I ever wanted to be was one of those people with a bunch of letters defining who they are and what they can do. Though I did always think PhD had a nice ring to it.
Instead at the age of 32 I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (FMS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Then the N-SAN-I-TE began.
While having fibromyalgia means having a body that is constantly rewriting the rule book on you, having PTSD is being haunted by the ghosts of your past. No matter how safe you are, you are still listening for noises, always on alert, checking your surroundings.
The good news is, most of the symptoms of PTSD can be alleviated or at least controlled through counseling and sometimes medications. The reason this is a 2 part lens is because the two conditions are interlinked for me at least. It's hard to say which came first, but the coexisted for a long time before we began to figure out the connection.
PTSD is not just for soldiers...
Shell Shock, battle fatigue, post traumatic stress disorder.
When you say these words, most people automatically think of a soldier who has seen heavy battle.
In fact the criteria for diagnosing PTSD once required a single major life threatening event, and many studies were done focusing on survivors of these events, especially wars. It took a long time for researchers to realize that PTSD could affect people in what would not normally be considered a life threatening situation.
The events of September 11 affected an entire nation, though few of us were in direct danger it was later discovered that as many as 11% of New Yorkers, and 4% of the US population showed some signs of PTSD.
Those who were not there to witness the attacks personally, witnessed them secondhand through the round the clock news coverage, exposing themselves over and over again to the horrifying images.
But it doesn't always take something as shocking to the mind as September 11 was. People have been known to suffer PTSD after bankruptcy, divorce, and overcoming a major personal illness such as cancer. An accumulation of many small, non-life-threatening incidents can have a similar effect as one large incident.
PTSD is also common among abuse victims. Those who have suffered rape, bullying, stalking, or harassment are prone to PTSD. For some the effects are short lived and pass on in a few months, but when left untreated it becomes a way of life, for some it never really goes away.
It affects nearly every area of your life, and can be debilitating, but it doesn't have to be.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of PTSD include
* Avoidance of reminders
* Intense physical reactions to reminders
* Blanking out memories
* Loss of enjoyment in activities
* Emotional detachment
* Sleep disturbances
* Exaggerated startle response
* Suicidal feelings
* Feeling alone, alienated
Have you ever been in a near miss car accident, or something similar where your body goes into flight or fight mode? You feel the adrenaline flooding your body, your heart is racing, your muscles tensed and ready for action?
Most of the time that feeling goes away on its own and life returns to normal.
What happens in the body of someone with post-traumatic stress disorder is that feeling continues. A car drives by and backfires, a balloon pops, you hear a noise outside... your body goes into that flight or fight stage all over again.
Sometimes you will see something that reminds you of the event. It can be a television program, a book with a picture that looks like the person who harmed you. One of my triggers is a certain type of candy. The trigger causes you to remember the event as if it is happening all over again, and those memories place you back in fight or flight.
Untreated, your body goes into an almost permanent state of hyper arousal. It forgets how to relax, and eventually you can develop a chronic pain condition. The body is not designed to handle constant stress, it can and will break down.
The Personal Side
I was diagnosed with PTSD retroactively.
While being assessed for an illness which was later diagnosed as Fibromyalgia it was clear that stress was the cause. When I told the doctors what I had been through over the previous few years most of them just shook their heads. It was rather unbelievable.
Now, there is a possibility that I have had some form of PTSD my entire life. I was diagnosed with ADHD in 1995, but the symptoms are so similar it is hard to tell. The effects of childhood abuse, and domestic violence quite possibly predisposed me to develop chronic PTSD.
A few years ago, a combination of being raped, stalked, ongoing harassment and bullying built up over several years, beginning in 2002. Then I faced dozens of false allegations by one of the persons who was harassing me, culminating in the person running out in front of me while I was driving down the street and then insisting I tried to run them over.
The accusation was proven false, even the police knew it was faked, but for me that didn't matter.
I refused to drive my vehicle and it was sold. For two years I was unable to leave the house comfortably out of fear. I was convinced I had brought it on myself, that there was something so wrong with me that the rest of my life would be filled with people like this.
I lived in something pretty close to hell for the next few years. I live in an area with 1200 people, and I couldn't go anywhere without running into someone who reminded me of the events that had passed.
Afraid to leave my house, drive anywhere alone, or even go to the grocery store placed me in a self enforced isolation. I was afraid to go to sleep at night because someone might try to harm my family, so night after night I stayed up listening to every single noise, you'd be amazed at how many noises there are in the dark.
I can't really say I lived, because in all reality I stopped living. I stopped moving, I would have stopped breathing if it were possible. Eventually all of the stress broke something inside of me, and I became highly suicidal, especially after the fibromyalgia added chronic pain to my already long list of problems.
I finally sought help.
Seeking help was one of the best things I ever did, because by then, the only way out was up. I found a good counselor who helped me face my fears instead of avoid them. I had become adept at pushing memories away, and refusing to deal with them. He helped me deal with them in a safe way.
There are some parts of the PTSD that will probably never go away, the hypervigilance is minimized, but I still don't like having my curtains open, or sitting somewhere in public with my back exposed. Even being in public is hard sometimes, especially if I am alone. My kids can't have balloons in the house because of my exaggerated startle response, and the whole family has learned not to sneak up behind me or come into a room without making their presence known.
Yet I've learned to manage the worst of it, to trust my dogs to patrol the house at night for me. To trust my husband to protect us if someone does try to hurt us. Most of all I finally learned to stand up for myself, to stop being so afraid. I was finally able to take control of my life back from others and stand strong.
It was a long hard road, and there were times when I just wanted to curl up in a ball and give up. Those people still exist in my life, but I don't have to deal with them unless I choose to.
PTSD Recovery - Taking back control of your life
A large part of the power a bully holds over you lies not in the action, but in your reaction. It took me a long time to realize the rape wasn't really the reward for him, neither was the stalking. It was the fear in my eyes each time I saw him, the sheer control he held over me and my life.
He took a great deal of pleasure from my fear, all bullies do. Once I figured out if I stopped giving them a reaction when they pushed my buttons, they would stop pushing them things got a bit easier.
As long as the bullies had control of my life I couldn't live.
It took me a few years, but I finally took that control back. I begged the court for a restraining order and it was granted the fourth time I asked. Two weeks later I testified against him in open court and it was made permanent, he violated it five times that day before police would finally arrest him.
Once again I testified against him in open court, which means I told the story in front of a room full of local citizens... in a small town that isn't easy. I also had to do it with him sitting in front of me scowling and accusing me of lying, but I did it. He was sentenced to 90 days and served 45 of that.
I have rarely seen him since, but I'm not as afraid of him, or any bully as much as I once was. I no longer consider myself helpless or hopeless thanks to the path he drug me down, I am no longer a victim, and refuse to be one ever again.
I could not have done it alone, and neither can you.
There are many people out there willing to help you if you are facing a bully of any kind. I came to the resource center a victim, and now I am an advocate. Wherever you are there is a crisis center, they can help you obtain restraining orders and even safe housing.
100% of dealing with PTSD is making sure you feel safe and secure. For me that means spending most of my time in my home, for you it might mean other things. Whatever it takes, do it. Get yourself safe.
I also owe a big debt of gratitude to my counselor who helped me finally realize that someone can only take that power away from me if I allow it. I don't have to live in fear anymore, and neither do you.