I have lived with PTSD, as a result of traumatic events in my life, for decades. The journey continues here. This is what it is like to have PTSD and fight for a healthy, fulfilling - and long - life! I will add articles chronicling my thoughts on this page.
I have lived with PTSD, as a result of traumatic events in my life, for decades. The journey continues here.
Live your life
March 18, 2023
My husband and I were out shopping and at our last stop I decided to wait in the car. He was just going to run in and get a couple of things. It was dark at this time. A big truck pulled in front of our car and left the headlights on shining into our car. I immediately felt threatened. Were they trying to intimidate me? Were they seeing if they could start an altercation? Was this a random and unpredicted act of violence where my husband would come back out to the car after only being gone for a few minutes and find me dead having been shot in the head and the murderer having already left the scene?
These are irrational thoughts but not unusual for those that suffer from PTSD. I have them often and most typically are associated with a gun. I was raped several times as a teen and a gun was frequently involved to coerce me to relent. I have never been shot but when I am in a situation where I begin to feel fearful it is a gun that most frequently enters my mind.
Perhaps having survived so many of these attacks, I have realized how fortunate I was and that at some point that fortune will take back what it is owed. My life. I know this is PTSD talking to me – not reality.
I have lived several decades since those events, but this is how PTSD works. I know enough through the work that I have done on this that I am not in danger. We hear about many acts of random violence with guns – which does not help my PTSD flair-ups – so I am always aware of my surroundings; but, generally speaking do not have cause for these thoughts to so frequently be with me other than PTSD.
I remind myself that it is good to be cautious of unknown situations but that it is more unrealistic than realistic that I would be purposefully targeted for a violent act. I remind myself that I have had many successes and accomplishments since those tangled and desperate years of my youth. I remind myself that I am alive.
I also remind myself that to live with unreasonable fear every day diminishes my rights to a good life and empowers abusers and violators everywhere. I fought hard to stay alive and gave up a lot at that time. I deserve the good things I have now. They were not given to me. I have pushed myself to let go of the PTSD symptoms that are as much a part of my makeup now as any organic part of my body and soul with which I was born. It is a daily practice. I recognize that they will always be part of my life, but I do not have to let them control me or hold me back from the moments of pure joy that await me with my family and friends.
If you have PTSD, the most important thing to remember is to live your life and live it fully. Death is the most final ending of a life but holding yourself back from opportunities and relationships, whether family or friend, is a sacrifice that does not have to be made.
Live your life.
March 25, 2023
Hiding. I just want to hide. Maybe I could just fade into the wall and be unnoticed by anyone walking by. Or maybe I could sink into my own mind and find some semblance of peace from the raging noise in my brain. Just find that place that is quiet, serene, and filled with nothingness.
Maybe that was some of the motivation that pushed me when I was a teen to runaway so often. Is running away a form of hiding? Possibly in a different sense of the word. I hid myself from those around me that knew me perhaps better than I wanted. Certainly they knew more about me than I cared for them to ever know.
No. This desire is for a different type of hiding. I want to hide not just from those around me but also from myself. Someplace safe where I won’t say the wrong thing, give myself away, or be confused by social stigmas and mores. Somewhere I don’t have to meet expectations of others just so I can peaceably exist without angst.
In the end, the scariest thing is that you cannot runaway from yourself. You can try but deep within your conscientiousness is still there – waiting to resurface. What to do then? Facing yourself, after everything then, is the only place that peace will exist. It is not their expectancies – it is your own.
The hardest task of all but the only path to peace. I will still have the urge to hide. I can allow myself those reprieves. And then begin the task again.
Accept, i must
April 2, 2023
The first time I was raped, everyone wanted to pretend it had never happened. I was placed in a psychiatric ward at a well-known university hospital. I saw a therapist weekly afterward. But outside of that, I was told not to speak of what had happened. The most traumatic incident of my young life – being 14 at the time – and I was not to speak of it. Not to my family and not to anyone outside of my family. And that was very comfortable for everyone. Except me.
I did speak of it. It felt like boiling lava inside of me that had to erupt or I would die. It was a mistake. There was no one that really wanted to hear about it and either I was made fun of or people took what I said, put it in a little box, and shoved it to the back of the shelf. Never to be discussed again. So I stopped.
Others in my grade – whether friends or not – were told not to speak to me or to stay away from me. Not everyone. But enough that I knew about it. Including my boyfriend at the time.
This became the foundation for my inability to understand what had happened and to accept it. I don’t mean that I was to accept it as in it was “okay”. I mean that it was not okay to pretend that nothing had happened. And I did not have the tools to deal with it on my own nor to internalize the trauma in a healthy way. As I mentioned elsewhere, PTSD was not recognized at that time as a consequence of sexual violation so other than speaking with a therapist – equally unequipped to help me – there was a complete absence of support.
As a result, I was unable to integrate the trauma, and work toward developing a new sense-of-self or personal agency. I tried to figure out how to return to who I had been and failed miserably. It left me with a tremendous amount of pain and anger. For years, I thought if I could just find the right therapy I could somehow be who I had been meant to be.
Decades later, I finally had the education through multiple therapies and soul-searching to accept that I would never be who I was and that had been an endeavor never meant to succeed. I was finally able to write about all of my experiences openly and share them through this website (imnotgoodatholdinghands.com), through my book (“I’m Not Good at Holding Hands”), and with those that were interested in hearing my life stories.
One of the most useful exercises that helped me was to characterize my personality traits and to describe them before and after. And how I would describe them now decades later. I took inventory of my personality and owned it. I would never be that innocent and trusting girl again, I would never see the world in that same way, and I was different. I accepted that I had been sexually violated and couldn’t “not talk it” away. I accepted that the first sexual violation followed by several more within a few years had happened and was the catalyst for a jarring internal change. I accepted that I am who I am today because of all my experiences including – not excluding – those sexual violations.
I accepted myself.
April 9, 2023
I don’t have a lot of friends. I want them and am afraid of them at the same time. Long ago, friends – or those I thought were friends – alternately supported me and failed me. The pain from those failures left me with a deep distrust in others to accept me as the person I am – all of me.
PTSD magnifies everything. When I am afraid, I am terrified. I withdraw, even from those that I love, and I know that love me in return. It then takes time for the PTSD shadow to fade away so that I can see reality. That time can be confusing for those in my life.
Some of the failures in my earlier friendships were my inability at a younger age to filter out those that were acquaintances from real and valued friendships. I wasn’t yet strong enough to have built the self-confidence that I have today in the person I have grown into over the years. Their opinions and their values was the lens that I viewed myself and it hurt when it was less than favorable – or completely damning.
Today, I am happy with who I am and have faith in my ability to grow and evolve throughout the remainder of my life. But my earlier experiences took a toll over decades of my life and though I didn’t isolate completely, I forgot how to connect. Society’s opinions of me for a long time became my reflection and it took those decades to see myself clearly without those views.
Perhaps this is why I have created this website and written my book, “I’m Not Good at Holding Hands”. I can be who I am and travel that road of discovery without having to see the faces of those reading. If there is condemnation, I can avoid it. Though, I am strong enough now not to give it the attention it deserves. Alternatively, it denies me the connection and friendship with those that might applaud my journey and offer friendship and support.
The journey continues.
April 29, 2023
There are moments when I feel a source of amazing goodness and kindness at the very core of my being that I am inspired to do whatever is possible by pushing it out into the universe, even if it be by one person at a time. I have felt that from others when in conversation there are words and feelings that are shared that absolutely impact my life. Once experienced it becomes a craving for more and I look for those opportunities to further those moments in whatever way possible. They are almost accidental in nature which seems to make them all that more powerful.
Then there are other moments. There are times when I feel myself transform into something feral in nature. It happens quickly. It is also triggered by words, a look, a feeling that transpires whether during an event or in a conversation. And then I know that there is a dichotomy within me that is deep, dark, and vengeful. I am not violent – I’m happy to say. I have never been capable of that perhaps due to some oversight by my kinder nature and hope to never be capable of it. But that does not keep me from using words that can cut more deeply than any act.
It is at those times that I have to acknowledge my absolute uncivility. Even saying that is appalling to me but there nonetheless and I won’t ignore it. So I delve into it. At its base, it is likely my survival instinct. I learned early I didn’t have the physical strength to fight off my aggressors. With strength of emotion and mental stamina alone, I pushed myself to live even when the most hopeless. So my feral nature then is my attempt to protect myself when I have no other means. It is my reaction to how cruel I know the world can be towards me and, at times, I can only rely on myself for protection. It is the hard shell that spares me from the deep pain that has no end and the recognition of unjust behavior toward me that will never be recognized nor punishable.
It is in recognition of this nature that enables greater self-awareness and the ability to grow. I may never want to rid myself of it entirely – self-preservation is not a bad thing – but harness it so that I don’t further damage myself or cause undue harm to others whose behavior may be entirely unintended. They didn’t know they were dealing with someone with severe PTSD – no matter how well managed – and, perhaps meant no harm either.
But for those that do – beware of my feral-ocity. It turns on quickly and, though not physically, carries its own level of directed pain. The adage is to “Be careful what you say” – you cannot take back words once said. That was in reference to words spoken in anger. I would say from experience that words spoken from deep pain are laced with an unexpected power to avoid at all costs.
the power of a voice
May 7, 2023
The most powerful tool in the world is a voice. A voice can be expressed in many ways. It can be out loud or silent. It can be in speech, song, or stories. It can be in signals, images, or works of art. It can be in books, papers, photos, or film. It can be silent or out loud. It can be in words or expressions. It can be in many different languages.
I have been both encouraged and discouraged throughout my life to use my voice. When the most horrible thing in the world happened to me, I was told to be silent. And I’m not alone. In the horrible thing that happened or being told to be silent.
Once you are told to be silent, it takes time to find your voice again and there are those that never do. Or have been silenced forever either by someone else’s hand or by their own.
It took me a very long time. I tried a few times with mixed results. I just wasn’t yet strong enough. I also didn’t have any support for it.
Eventually, I have become strong enough to speak out on my own. I have had years though to deal with my inner thoughts and many years and types of therapeutic healing.
I finally found my voice again and with that has come a level of personal agency and empowerment that I had not anticipated. It was not easy. But I am grateful that the time has come and now I feel as though I will never be silent again. It has been the greatest freedom.
Find your voice. Even if you begin by just sharing your story with yourself – looking in the mirror and hearing and see yourself through the lens of your story is liberating beyond your imagination.
And then be proud.
May 22, 2023
It was hard to look at them. It was hard for them to look at me. Why?
I couldn’t look at them because I saw the image of what I could no longer be. I had changed too much and there was not a bridge that I could find to get me across to them. Not the way I was and the way they were.
They couldn’t look at me because they no longer recognized me. I was still there but so different. They couldn’t see me without seeing what had happened to me.
Neither of us could bear it. So I ran away. They viscerally knew that they had to keep dragging me back even when they hated doing it. They just wanted to pretend that they were whole and to do that they had to cut me out. So they did.
The value of value
June 17, 2023
This week has been a very good week. I’m getting great feedback from the work I’m doing, and it has given me another insight into my own behavior. It has emphasized to me how important it is to me to be acknowledged in a positive way. This took me right back to when I was first violated, and I received many negatives whether it was socially or within my own family. I was a child then, so I didn’t have the tools I have today. Now, being in receipt of appreciation and recognition of my value feels good. And though I had some of this throughout the years perhaps I was not yet in a place where I could “feel” it like I do today and see my own value.
It’s been decades but I have to say it was worth the wait. I only hope that others that find themselves in similar straits as I once did can get the community – no matter where it comes from – to support them long enough so they can also find their value.
The other outcome of this has been the realization that when I get positive feedback, I soar. I want to allow myself to soar, but I know from dealing with PTSD for so many years that I need to watch for extremes. They do not serve me. I can have those highs, but I need to temper them with my own ability to move forward intentionally and with purpose. I’m open to that this can take me places that I may never have imagined – good ones – and I want that in my life.
What PTSD has done for me is allowed me – maybe more than others? – to transform more readily. When I was first violated, I didn’t have that choice of do I or don’t I want to change. It was an imperative. Now, in recognition of that we all change whether within or without our own volition, I am good at it and embrace it. It’s the secret in my sauce.
January 21, 2024
I have decided that I do not like the word “disorder”. Why does it have to be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? In fact, it does not. In 1980, a group of physicians decided that was once know by several names, such as shell shock, combat fatigue, etc. needed a label. And Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was named in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-lll) published by the American Psychiatric Association.
The issue for me is that having had Post-Traumatic Stress for decades it has become – through much and varied therapy and hard work – an integrated part of my being. In fact, it integrated itself without my consent when I experienced traumas but neither here-nor-there, integrated it was. Similar to any other change that happens in life. The major difference is the severity and unexpectedness of the change.
Disorder, however, relates to dysfunction. I think there is a division between those that accept that they have changed and those that inherently struggle to deny and / or refute that there has been a change. My personal view is that this is caused by societal constructs surrounding events triggering Post-Traumatic Stress.
Attaching the word “disorder” to those that are already in the throes of understanding what may be a different-than-before set of behaviors, responses, and ultimately an adjusted persona is adding fuel to the fire. People certainly want to understand what they are going through and understanding Post-Traumatic Stress is helpful within the context of working toward relief of the symptoms now present. Associating this with dysfunction infers something that is no longer working as it should and something that has to be corrected to fit into society.
What would be helpful? Having a society where those that are struggling, and I am including veterans in this, get the help and support that they need. It seems there are plenty of band-aids around that give the stamp of a quick fix and “all good” signals. For those that are lucky enough to get immediate and appropriate support it may minimize any disruption or confusion of the now-present symptoms. There is no cure – but there is plenty of relief if you are able to find it.
Let’s get rid of the word “disorder”.