Monday, March 9, 2015

A Day in the Life of Someone with PTSD

I live with PTSD.  I live with everything that comes with that diagnosis which sometimes includes insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, depression, and intrusive memories, to name just a few of my symptoms.  I also live with triggers associated with my trauma.  On Wednesday of last week, I was triggered, on my way to do a taping for CTV Atlantic’s Mental Health Minute segment at the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) of NS. 

I really want to share with you what happened that day and how PTSD impacts my life.  I can’t speak for how PTSD affects those also living with the diagnosis because the symptoms and triggers and impact is so individual to each person, but I do want to give you a window into my own world.  Throughout my journey of being diagnosed with PTSD, going to Ontario for intensive treatment and spending the past couple of years implementing what I learned into my daily life, I have become pretty adept to riding the waves that trauma brought into my life.  However, there are still moments where I get thrown off my feet, sucked under by the current and tossed into the rocks. 

Wednesday was one of those moments and – if I’m honest – I’m still feeling the effects. 

I was about 10 minutes away from arriving at the MHF for the taping and I had a flashback.  If you know what a flashback is, I’m sorry.  If you don’t know what a flashback is, it is an involuntary, sudden and disturbing memory of an event in the past.  Flashbacks are sudden and are like re-living and re-experiencing the traumatic event you survived.  It’s basically like going through the traumatic event again.  And, it’s not that I’m just seeing it play over again, but I also feel it. 

My body tenses, my anxiety level shoots up, my head begins to hurt, my breathing quickens and it feels like I can’t get enough air, I get shaky, my hands begin to sweat profusely, my stomach cramps and I feel like I am going to vomit.  I see the events, step by step, leading up to this trauma…the actions I made, what I purchased from the Dollarama that day and then I’m there, in it.  I can smell the event, literally, and see every single detail.  I can hear my pulse in my ears, I know my face is red and I start to feel dizzy. 

I pull into a parking spot and know that I have two minutes before my time slot and fumble with change to put into the parking metre.  My head feels like it’s under pressure and I ask myself why I didn’t do something different that day and my anxiety rises.  I walk into the building, take a quick look in the mirror and make sure I don’t have lipstick on my teeth while also checking to see where the nearest washroom is in case I do get sick. 

I walk into the MHF and am greeted, as always, by the awesome crew there.  A CTV producer introduces herself to me and I can see people smiling and saying hello, but I can’t really hear what they are saying to me.  I nod and smile and when asked how I’m doing reply that I’ve never been better.  I know I’m shaky.  I also know I’m supposed to be interviewed about Bit by Bit Trauma Training and the educational program we offer called TASC (Trauma Awareness Skills Courses).  I know Bit by Bit and TASC inside and out, but not today. 

I am seated with a camera and light on me and I can feel myself sweating and again my mind shoves me back to that day and I remember, specifically, the items I purchased for the gift bag for my friend.  I remember the look on her face the day I gave this gift to her at one of the lowest points in her life.

Someone is talking to me.

“So, tell me about TASC and Bit by Bit Trauma Training,” says the producer and smiles kindly at me.  We are taping.  The light from the camera is bright and the camera-man adjusts it.  I remind myself why I am here and say what TASC stands for and something about how Bit by Bit began.  I can still hear my pulse in my ears and I’m certain I might need that washroom that is sitting open behind the producer I’m speaking with. 

“Who should take TASC?” asks the producer.  I think hard about the answer and then am back at the scene of the traumatic event and I can vividly see it all.  The room I was in that day - I could re-create in one minute…even though it was a complete mess, I know where all of the mess belongs.  “Can you ask me that question again, sorry, I’m not sure what’s wrong with me,” I answer and the sweet producer says not to worry and asks me the question again. 

Thinking about it, today, I know that I should have just stated what I needed at that moment, which would have been to go to a quiet place, go outside for some air and remove myself from this situation.  What I instead chose to do was to push through and pretend like everything was fine when in actuality, my mind and body were re-experiencing one of the most horrific days of my life. 

As someone trained in media and knowing how to speak in succinct clips that are usable by the media, I felt like an amateur when the interview was over.  The producer said she had enough to use for the brief segment, but I knew that I did not represent myself or TASC very well.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t even answer, “What is trauma?” coherently.  I just needed to get out of there and by the time I made it to the door, silent tears started to roll down my cheeks and by the time I made it to my vehicle and got into the driver’s seat, my body was sobbing.  I sat and sobbed and tried to ground myself. 

After 10 minutes, I called my mother and, as usual, she talked me through most of my hysterical-ness and reminded me who I am.  I texted with my bestie, Court, and she also reminded me who I am.  I breathed.  I remembered that I survived the trauma.  I looked around and noted the people walking by and the snow and ice covering mostly everything in sight.  I remembered the trauma and that it was in the past and wasn’t happening again.  I wiped away the mascara dripping down my face with a tissue and decided that the interview I just did could not be used and that what happened is an example of a day in the life of someone living with PTSD.  I also knew that my contact at the MHF would understand and would have compassion.  I could breathe and rest. 

Like many people on this earth, I live with PTSD.  I have PTSD. 

But, I, myself, am NOT PTSD.  I am not what happened to me and the traumas I experienced and survived.  My life has certainly been impacted by trauma and PTSD and I live with the effects one day at a time.  Some days are smooth and bright and others…well, are more like what I just shared with you. 

I was completely drained and exhausted after this day and the entire event really shook me up, made me question the work I do and whether I should be doing it and I felt a great sense of loss.  Loss for the life I lived before trauma.  I felt embarrassed, ashamed, broken and dirty.  My flashback was like re-experiencing my trauma and my body physically felt the effects. 

PTSD is painful and life-stealing.  But, again, I am not PTSD and I remind myself of that and fight the stigma of it every day. Yes, I have PTSD and my life is impacted by that every day but it doesn’t change my ability to live a full life and achieve my dreams and goals.  Who better to talk, teach and share about PTSD than someone who lives with it every day?  Who better to give hope that recovery and healing from trauma is possible than someone who knows this? 

There is purpose to the pain we experience in life, if we are willing to look close enough and search for it.  Hope is very real and recovery and healing is possible.  I am living proof of this. 

1 comment:

Fran Morrison said...

WOW Laurel, the way you described PTSD is exactly what I feel when I am hit with the memory of being told Eric was gone.

And you are PERFECT for this work my dear. Chin up :) Love you.