It’s PTSD awareness day, so I decided I’d reflect on my history with PTSD today, and how it affects my life.
PTSD can be caused by any sort of traumatic or scary experience. For example, when I was young I was almost hit by a car while riding my bike, and so now I get anxious whenever I’m riding my bike on the street where there’s a lot of cars. I’ve experienced a fair amount of traumatic things in my life that have had a profound impact on who I am today.
Trauma effects pretty much every day of my life. I have chronic nightmares where I vividly relive traumatic moments, like when I was rushed to the hospital after collapsing while dancing in a parade, or my dreams will play out my deepest fears, like someone who’s threatened to hurt me will actually find me and attack me. On an almost nightly basis, I wake up drenched in sweat and shaking, and often cannot fall back asleep. I usually listen to something to help me fall asleep, like an audiobook or favorite movie, to drown out all the little noises from inside or outside the house. Because whenever I hear a noise, my mind jumps to the worst conclusions like: someone broke into the house and is going to hurt me, a pipe burst and it’s going to ruin all my stuff while I sleep, the drywall is falling apart because it’s being burned by fire, etc. The reason I use audiobooks or movies instead of white noise or relaxing music is that the audio doubles as a distraction so I can’t lay in bed and ruminate on trauma from my past. It gives my brain something to do until I fall asleep.
I’ve suffered a lot of abuse in my life, and there are people I’m always stressed that I’m going to run into when I’m out in public. My eyes are constantly playing tricks on me because I see these people everywhere I look. I see someone with similar hair and immediately freeze, praying it isn’t them. I’ll think I hear them yelling my name in a crowded room. Every time I’m approached from behind, I fear the worst. When I actually see someone from back when I was in high school, I always freak out before I remember that I’m 100lbs heavier, completely different hair, wardrobe style, glasses, AND I usually have a walker or cane with me, so I try to rely on being unrecognizable. I even have a different name if I were to see them at the mall while I’m working and have my nametag on. Every time I have run into someone unhealthy from my past, I’ve had a panic attack… every time. I am always on edge in public, especially if I’m alone.
TRIGGER WARNING: this next paragraph contains references to suicide.
PTSD has taken away a myriad of movies and TV shows I’d otherwise thoroughly enjoy watching, because the plot line, visuals or audio can contain triggering content. Let’s take a movie I was watching last night as an example. I was looking for something to watch on Netflix before bed and watched the trailer for this teen romance movie. It was about a guy who breaks up with his girlfriend, has a one night stand, gets back together with his girlfriend the next day, and the one-night stand girl is obsessed with getting him to be her boyfriend instead. A standard plotline, yes? Sounds like a relatively bad teen romance movie to groan at (which I enjoy doing from time to time). Well, turns out the one-night stand girl is actually dangerous and tries to kill basically all the main characters at some point in the movie. One of the characters she hung from the ceiling by her hips. A MAJOR trigger for me. I ended up not getting to sleep until almost 6am because I emotionally felt the same feelings I experienced after hanging myself as an attempted suicide. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the last images I saw before I passed out during that attempt. Netflix content like Marvel movies, medical shows, Supernatural, Pretty Little Liars, even certain kids shows, contains content that forces me to relive traumatic events from my past, and it’s a big challenge to know I can safely watch something without it becoming an unpleasant experience.
I’ve even had to quit my job because of PTSD. As I’ve spoken before, last summer I was sexually assaulted at a local spa. At the time, I worked at a different spa across town. Despite twice weekly therapy for months, I was unable to return to work at the spa. I went back for one shift and had a major panic attack that started in front of customers because I went back by the massage tables. I haven’t been able to step foot in the spa since then. I worked there for 3 years and it was one of the best jobs, I loved every minute of it. I lost that huge part of my life because of PTSD and being unable to will myself into being past the trauma.
These are just some of the ways PTSD affects my everyday life. There is a common misperception that you can’t have PTSD, especially severe PTSD unless you are a veteran and have been in a war. Notice all of my stories indicate PTSD, and none of them are because I served overseas. I am not invalidating veterans’ PTSD, I am simply expressing that anyone can suffer from PTSD.