Dampening the pain of trauma


Today was a rough one on social media. A lot of topics were being discussed, shared, analyzed and deconstructed. I admit, there are days when social media is completely demoralizing even with the plethora of cute kitten videos.

I have a medical condition that is not easy to explain and definitely difficult to talk about. This condition is so overpowering at times that I feel like every day is a battle. And social media often triggers it in disturbing ways.

I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I went undiagnosed for most of my life due to misconceptions about PTSD itself. Many professionals felt that the condition was simply an excuse, while others believed only those who witnessed tragedy on a battlefield or in war-torn nations uniquely had it. Many medical professionals thought individual symptoms did not equate to one single condition, so they felt the appropriate course of action was to treat each symptom on its own. Even more tried to explain and ‘fit’ those symptoms into a completely different, previously identified condition; often simply labeling them as mental or physical disorders or ailments. And a lot of blame for my misdiagnosis fell squarely on me because I did not know how to explain my pain, my emotions or what happened to me that led up to the “development” or condition itself.

I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to see me as weak. I didn’t want family or friends (or medical professionals) to think I was making it all up. I didn’t want to talk about the things I had experienced, witnessed and/or survived that broke me. I didn’t want to destroy my family with the truth. I didn’t want to lose friends.

In all the wanting not to do – I ended doing a lot worse in some ways.

I didn’t always tell the whole truth. I hid things, thinking I was protecting others, protecting myself. I got angry. I felt resentment. I didn’t trust other people. I didn’t get my hopes up that I would get close to anyone because I was afraid they’d abandon me, hurt me, turn on me. I was plagued by fear and punished myself. I let myself get out of control, taking risks and inviting danger. I hurt myself. I felt abandoned. Above all, I was beguiled by an overwhelming sense of guilt over things that were not my fault, things I had not done ‘wrong’ in life – my life – in general. I was consumed. I burned with shame, grief and unrelenting hidden pain.

This led to a perpetual cycle of ups and downs. Trying to be happy and put the bad behind me only to be confronted with something that would trigger negatives and send me spiraling back down to rock bottom. Then, I’d get that sense of righteous indignation and claw my way back up, often hiding behind humor.

In an attempt to correct the wrongs I had experienced, I told myself that I was going to spend my life helping others (if I couldn’t help myself) – that when I felt self-centered, I should give, give, give. Right the evils of the world with justice, mercy and love. Sacrifice to give people hope and something to smile about so they could escape their pain.

I worked for a veterinarian, helping animals. I went to college, switched from an art major to sports medicine. Left that school and went to another college to graduate at the top of my class and become an EMT/Medic – a first responder who could be brave for those unable to find bravery. I saved lives. I went on to work in an emergency room, an intensive care unit, a critical care unit and a burn unit. I worked at a youth shelter with troubled teens. I spent just under two years on a volunteer mission to serve people and talk to them about religion, God, hope.

During all those times, I buried my pain so I could help others. I wasn’t a hero – I had no such illusions – I just wanted to help.

When my health got so poor I could no longer participate in those duties, I turned to writing. I started covering sports I loved while my body forced me to have to give up the sports I’d played (the only things that had effectively allowed me to cope and process). Then, I decided to write a fictional story about good vs. evil and human nature hoping it would be inspiring.

The realization that none of what I had been pouring myself into was making a dent in the Godzilla-sized battle of human suffering was like a stick of dynamite going off between my teeth. It was shattering – rocking my world and shred of reality. It was heartbreaking. And, it was relentless in how it slowly ate away at me piece by piece by piece. Until I felt swallowed. Consumed. Irrelevant. Non-existant. Invisible except to PAIN and AGONY who paired up like a WWE tag team – and even if no human being could see me, THEY could. They became sniper, ninja assassins who could evade detection until they’d slithered in and blown every part of me to hell and back.

I re-experience my trauma through intrusive thoughts and memories, recollections, flashbacks and nightmares. This happens several times a week. I range from emotional numbness to excruciating pain that feels like my blood may just flood through my pores or cause my brain to burst. I often avoid places, people and activities that may even remotely remind me of trauma. I am hypervigillant, concerned there may be danger, even if I rationally know I am safe. I have trouble sleeping – it’s feast or famine. I find myself getting irritable over things I normally would just laugh off.

Sometimes negative beliefs become persistent to the point that what I believe and feel about myself are distorted to the point I feel fear, horror, guilt and outright shame. Self-confidence becomes elusive. It becomes troubling when I begin losing interest in participating in even simple activities. And my inability to experience and/or enjoy positive emotions slams the door in my face when what I’d really like to do is throw it wide and be free and happy.

And in my journey to understand myself – desperately hoping anyone might give me a chance and try to understand me – I find I alienate others with zero intention of doing so. And the grief of that realization is almost too much.

I know I am not alone. Millions of peoole suffer in silence every day due to PTSD. It does not discriminate. It affects kids, teens, adults. It haunts people from all walks of life. And I can guarantee that those who face it daily wish it would get lost, never come back.

I didn’t write this because I want sympathy. I wrote this because I realize that, by not acknowledging it, people who know me or want to know me may very well misunderstand why certain statements appear as chastisement. Why an honest compliment may be difficult for me to accept. Why certain topics on social media – death, pain, sorrow, anger, irritation, rudeness, hateful behavior, discrimination, power struggles, controlling statements, abusive comments, self-agrandizement, bragging, tit-for-tats, competition over who has “more” or is “better off” or more “righteous” – trigger those hidden sensors in my PTSD life. When triggered, those sensors send ripples of emotional and physiological pain through me that can last for a long time.

I am not “just oversensitive”.
I am not “just too needy”.

I am damaged, but I think I may have a little bit of worth. Maybe the only worth I really have is just to tell this truth and hope someone can gain something positive from it.

And all I can really ask is that anyone who reads this might be kind when interacting with me and forgive me if my responses are not always funny, warm and fuzzy. In my heart, I only want the best for humanity. It’s what I have always believed would heal – LOVE.