The Many Faces of PTSD

Frazzled nerves

Tortured Dreams

Choking tightness

Stifled Screams.

Mask On

Makeup Did

My Mind’s a Blur

I’m gonna pop my lid!

Frantic; racing heart

React to every fright.

Deep Breaths to calm my nerves,

When will I be alright?

Near, Far,

High, Low,

I don’t know how far I’ll go.

Cold sweats,

Nightmares,

Flash backs

Who cares?

Not myself,

Treading water

Foggy brain

What does it matter?

Trying desperately to stay afloat

I have nothing left to offer.

Sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Pull me to shore,

My strength gives out,

I fear I will surrender to the waves.

Give me your hope,

Give me your strength,

The Shepherd of a thousand hills,

Come carry me on your shoulders,

Until I can breathe again.

This is the first poem I have written since I was in high school. I used to write a lot of poetry as a child. There is something about the poetic form of expression that rings so much more true than simply writing in prose.

So, when I was trying to figure out how to describe what PTSD feels like in MY body (I can’t speak for others’ experiences), the Holy Spirit prompted me to try my hand at writing it in verse. Since this healing journey has lately brought to light my little girl self, I thought, heck, why not! I’m learning to embrace the absurd and trust the organic process of healing.

I wanted to write this poem and blog to help paint a picture of what it might feel like to live in my skin for a day. When you see someone suffering with mental illness, or recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (because you can recover from it) it’s very difficult to identify and also to know how they are suffering.

So, as always, let me start with a definition. I thought I would reference my workbook that I used 3 years ago when I first started this healing journey. I thought that I would use this time to work through it a second time, now that I’m in a different place, mentally and emotionally speaking.

This is a fabulous resource for anyone recovering from domestic abuse. Remember, abuse is not always physical! There is emotional, financial, mental, verbal, psychological, and sexual abuse as well. You can find this on Amazon.

According to the American Psychiatric Association 1994, “To be traumatized means that a person has experienced an intensely negative emotional reaction during a stressful event. Hence, a woman is a battered woman if she experienced intense fear, helplessness, or horror during violence or abuse by an intimate partner. The intensity of the reaction to the violence is very important because only stressful events that evoke extremely strong negative reactions are likely to produce chronic depression and long-term stress reactions, as in PTSD (American Psychiatric Association 1994).

The book goes on to document what the term “battered” entails. “Most battered women with partner abuse-related PTSD have been traumatized by repeated acts of physical violence. Many of these women have also been traumatized by acts of psychological abuse, including death threats; stalking; sex abuse or coercion to have unwanted types of sex; kidnappings; physical restraint; badgering; harassment or repeated pressure to engage in a variety of unwanted behaviours; verbal cruelty; mistreatment of pets; financial control; property damage; and social isolation. In fact, some women are traumatized and develop PTSD in response to psychological abuse even if there has been no physical violence in the relationship.” (emphasis mine)

A woman doesn’t have to be hit to be abused. It comes in many forms.

I know this is a lot of information, but I want to bring awareness to those reading this of what the term “battered” means as well as what PTSD means so that I can share what it feels like in hopes that if you come into contact with a woman who has endured ANY form of abuse….and you will. The statistics show us that 1 in 4 women have been/are being abused. I also know that men can be abused as well, I’m not negating that fact, but I can only speak to my own experiences as a women struggling with abuse-induced PTSD.

I want to bring hope to women that PTSD is a learned behaviour and therefore can be unlearned. “PTSD symptoms are normal reactions to extreme stress. You are having these problems because of what happened to you – not because of anything about you.”

Healing from this feels like an up and down rollercoaster. I took a couple of pictures to try to capture a visual representation of how I can go from feeling joy and happiness, to a state of numbness, and into despair. This can occur in a matter of minutes sometimes or throughout the course of a single day or over a week. Sometimes my nerves feel like ants crawling under my skin, and my head is so thick that thinking about more than one thing at a time feels like I’m trudging through mud. Sometimes, when I know I have to go out for something, I have to conserve energy to prepare for that errand, knowing that it will take all of my strength to go to the grocery store or drop my child off at school.

FACE #1: A State of Numbness

During this state of numbness, I don’t feel anything. I don’t know what I like, what I don’t like. I can’t make simple decisions, like what I want to listen to. I had to ask my 14 year old daughter for help with music ideas when I was creating a running playlist, because if you ask me what my favourite song or artist is, I couldn’t tell you. I would ask you what yours is and base my answer off of your ideas.

In a numb state, my body feels lethargic, tired, exhausted, unmotivated and I don’t care about myself. In this state, I can live off of coffee, chai tea and Shakeology, along with a few of my Young Living Supplements. But to make actual food is too much work. I don’t care enough about my own health to make myself anything to eat when I am in the numb state. And everything irritates me. I can’t handle any stress and find myself yelling at my children for minor infractions. I don’t want to make my children meals, I don’t want to clean my house, I don’t want to run errands, nothing! I just want to sleep.

FACE #2: Sorrow

In this state, I feel the weight of my losses. After looking at myself in the mirror and not knowing who I am, I feel a great lament rise up and I begin to cry. How, at 37, am I here, standing in front of this mirror and not recognizing the woman staring back at me? How have I lived a lifetime keeping everyone else happy and not once thinking about what I might need? Then, the hot tears roll down because I don’t really even know what I need!

In my body, at this stage, my nerves feel frayed and jagged. I feel like I could snap, like one more loss or trauma or stress and I will completely implode and fall apart. My skin feels like it crawls and my neck/shoulders are so tight, I can’t take a deep breath.

FACE #3: Dust Myself Off

In this phase, I’ve had a good cry, I’ve grabbed something to eat, and I surround myself with the help and support of my loved ones and friends who have so bravely kept holding me up when I couldn’t stand upright.

I dust myself off, thank Jesus for holding me in my sorrow, and take His hand to take a step forward. I am reminded of all that I have been learning through my councilor, and research, that feelings are meant to be felt and that they don’t last forever. The sorrow and lament comes and goes, the joy comes and goes, and the journey on this winding road to healing continues on.

There are days on this journey when I feel good, like I can handle anything, and there are days when I have to sleep all afternoon to recover or go to bed early to sleep off the depressive mood.

This journey is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do! It’s much easier to just stay busy, pack my days full of activities, even good activities! But it’s in the resting that we find ourselves. When I rest, I get to see who I really am. The labels fall away and I am no longer mom, daughter, teacher, friend, colleague, or sister….I am just me; Kathleen! And when I face that little girl inside me, she makes me weep because I have let her down most of all. My councilor was so right when she told me that my anger and frustration don’t come from letting my children down….it comes from letting MYSELF down. I didn’t listen to my own gut, I pushed it down and ignored it for years and years because I thought it was the “right” thing to do. Well, I’m not going to do the “proper” thing anymore, I’m going to face my own demons and re-discover the Kathleen that God has made me to be!

Thanks for joining me on this journey to find out what it feels like to come home to yourself!

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