PTSD 101

PTSD is most often associated with those who have seen battle and war. But it’s a very real condition that anyone can experience after a traumatic event.

My PTSD started almost immediately after Michael passed away. My mind was flooded with images of my father and Michael in their worst dying times. My heart was overflowing with what if’s and omg when I rolled him over did I kill him and wondering if I did a good enough job caring for them. My mind raced all over the place, searching for things I didn’t say or didn’t do. Wondering if our last goodbyes were what they should have been (yes). Wondering if I helped them leave this life peacefully (I hope so). Wondering where they are. And when I would close my eyes, the haunting images and memories of very painful and difficult times overtook me. Then, the panic attacks started (first time in my life I’ve had panic attacks or anxiety). The middle of the night wake-ups to Michael screaming, even though he wasn’t there. Jolting up in bed because I think I hear him calling me. Reliving the horrific hell that was the last few weeks of Michael’s life. Images of my dad thrown into the mental slide show just for fun.

This ticker-tape slideshow runs constantly in my brain. Every time I close my eyes, the movie is playing. Even if I blink too long. The horror movie is always playing if I just pay attention.

My crazy energy is back, for now. I’m painting in the middle of the night again. PTSD. I have a hard time falling asleep unless I’m pretty medicated. I wake to horrific sounds, and then can’t sleep. Get up. Make coffee because why not. Paint. My hands can’t hold the paint brush for more than a few minutes, so I’m switching hands a lot. This woodwork is going to take me forever!

Here’s the bitch. Studies have shown that therapy and medications are the best treatments for PTSD, but nothing cures it. PTSD CHANGES your brain. First, the area of your brain that helps you make decisions, the pre-frontal cortex, is altered in people with PTSD. It’s the part of your brain that calms you down when you realize you aren’t in danger.  Cognitive therapy can teach me how to put those memories away and find a mental place for them, but I personally believe I need to experience this in order to move past it. I know I’ll never forget, nor do I want to. But I DO want to get to the happy memories and move past the pain that we all endured.

Secondly, the part of your brain that alerts you to danger, the amygdala, triggers the “fight or flight” response and is there to ensure survival.  Those with PTSD tend to have an overactive response, making it hard to think rationally.

And finally, the part of your brain that regulates memories, the hippocampus, is working to remember the event accurately and make sense of it. People with PTSD often times find they cannot stop thinking about the traumatic event because they cannot make it make sense. It’s an involuntary obsession that you can’t stop.

I think it’s important to acknowledge this component during my journey. I think people use the term PTSD too lightly. It REALLY is a real condition. It’s MORE than having bad memories of an event or struggling with understanding something tragic. It’s more than “just” an emotional condition. It’s a mental AND physical manifestation of pain and trauma that’s so unbearable, that your brain changes to help you accommodate it all. And it’s lasting. It’s not the sadness that comes after any loss. It has very little to do with Michael being gone, and everything to do with watching him and caring for him while he died. It’s deeper than grief. It’s the real deal.

And along with everything else, I take this one moment at a time. I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all I can do. I tell myself this every single day. ❤

Peace,

~ Lisa