PTSD sucks! There, I said it! It totally and completely sucks. And yet, here it is. In my life, in my brain, every moment of every day. And so, like any diagnosis, be it physical or mental, I deal with it. Had my diagnosis been cancer or diabetes I can imagine that would suck too. But, at the risk of sounds cliche, “it is what it is” and I have to learn to deal with it.
I am 41 years old and was formally diagnosed with PTSD 5 years ago, although now that I know the signs and symptoms, I was likely suffering with this challenging disorder for at least 8 years prior to diagnosis.
I had exhibited signs of severe Anxiety for as long as I can remember, although “back in the day” people didn’t take their kids for mental health assessments and I was simply labelled a Drama Queen (that’s another post entirely!). And I can look back and see the signs of Depression starting in my early 20s. These were things I just learned to live with, to be honest. I kept myself out of situations that might make me feel anxious, and I pressed on during the times when I felt lethargic and unmotivated, hearing the voices of my parents in my head saying that I was being overly dramatic and to just get on with it.
I didn’t really know I was dealing with Anxiety and Depression at the time. I just thought this was the way I was wired and so I altered my life and my experiences to work around my “wiring”. It was not until the traumatic events of my marriage began to occur that the beast I call PTSD was unleashed. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the details of my trauma are relevant here. Although I have never been afraid to share my experiences, the details of the trauma will likely overshadow the point of this post, so let’s just suffice it to say that my 8 year marriage was described by my therapist as “ongoing, inescapable trauma”. I would, in hindsight, disagree with the “inescapable” part, but at the time, yes, I believed this was a situation I could not escape.
From the outside we were the picture of perfection. Young, good looking couple, new baby, new home, good jobs, 2 cars in the driveway, yearly trips to Disney. Perfection. From the outside. Inside those perfect walls was an entirely different story. To this day there are people who are unable to believe what I tell them about my marriage because the picture we had painted was so perfect.
The trauma and emotional abuse I suffered during those 8 years changed me. They changed my brain. Literally! The 8 years I was in that marriage and the 7 years of legal battles that ensued afterwards actually CHANGED MY BRAIN! I am not the same person I was before the trauma.
Lots of people throw around the phrase ,”I’m a different person now,” and I believe that to be true. None of us are the same person in our 40s that we were in our 20s (hopefully!). We’ve grown up, we’ve had life experiences both positive and negative, and we’re on a path of figuring out who we are and what our purpose in life is. But when I say I’m a different person now, I mean that yes, my life experiences have taught me things, and I’ve learned who I am and where I’m going, but I also mean that I am physically and psychologically a different person because my brain has actually CHANGED due to my experiences. I am literally not the same person I was even 5 years ago.
The person you saw leading your Zumba class with all the enthusiasm in the world. The person who taught your ballroom class and had you in stitches with her dry, sarcastic and sometimes off-colour sense of humour. The girl who could step out on a stage to speak, or act, or dance, or compete without giving it a second thought. The girl that was always planning a party, or a BBQ, or a get-together of some sort. Remember that girl? I do too. But she has lost those things. She has lost her enthusiasm for dancing, the thing that has been her passion for more than 25 years. She has lost her sense of humour and takes everything way too personally these days. She has lost the confidence it takes to act, or dance, or even speak, in front of a group. And she has no desire to plan a party or a BBQ because maintaining one-way friendships has become far too draining.
This is what PTSD has done to my brain. And to my life. It has changed my brain and it has changed my life. And yet, I see flashes of “that girl” every now and then. I look forward every week to the hour I get to spend teaching dance to my son’s class and that gives me hope. It gives me hope that the old me is still in there. I know she’s still in there. And I hope to see her again sometime. Sooner rather than later. She’s a pretty cool chick!
And so I don’t necessarily offer you any advice or any tricks I’ve learned along the way for dealing with PTSD. I just offer my experiences. So that if you know someone with PTSD, maybe you will understand a bit better. And if you are someone with PTSD, know that I get it. It sucks. But we can move forward and find ourselves again.
Like my friend C.S. Lewis says, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
LazyGourmetBlog is a Grimsby, Ontario mom, navigating the daily struggles of a personal PTSD diagnosis, and the challenges of raising an almost-teenager with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. As a former professional ballroom dancer, her personal struggles with anxiety and PTSD have very often been hidden in plain sight, presenting their own unique challenges in this very public former profession. One of her favourite quotes is, "The journey is the goal," and that motto carries her through each day, learning, supporting, and carrying on.