As I was listening to the father of the co-pilot who assisted in the safe landing of US Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River discussing his son's condition on the news I heard him say, "Physically he is okay and he got pretty cold out there but emotionally I know he will be thinking of the incident over and over again in his mind for a long time." It dawned on me that he was describing a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A onetime traumatic event can cause sudden onset of PTSD. With that comes reliving the traumatic event, sleep disturbance such as nightmares, and triggers that may cause anxiety and the inability to concentrate. PTSD can hold you hostage emotionally until you get the help you need to identify symptoms and triggers, learn the skills needed to work through the aftermath of trauma and experience a successful recovery.
I know all too well what the sudden onset of PTSD is like. It is scary. It is debilitating. It is real. After surviving the fourteen hours my daughter and I were kidnapped and held hostage at gunpoint it was impossible for me to make it five minutes without feeling as though I was back in that house, was scratching at my wrists as though the duct tape was still there and having hellish nightmares for months. My family members too were describing my symptoms without knowing anything about PTSD and wondering, as I was, if my daughter and I would ever be "normal" again. Well, that depends on ones definition of normal.
As detailed in my book Held Hostage, to ever imagine us not paralyzed by fear and flashbacks, headaches and stomach aches and jumping out of our skin at every little noise or feeling panic strike me in my chest and shoot down my arm without warning; the hyper vigilance, anxiety, and being "on guard" all the time took time and the help of a qualified trauma therapist. But educating my friends and family was up to me. And I have taken that one step further and educate others around the country about this very real and also very treatable disorder.
In my presentations I discuss my Top Ten "Beyond PTSD" Life Tips:
1. Don't be embarrassed about your symptoms
2. Never give up
3. Talk candidly with others you trust
4. Love yourself through it all
5. Get rid of internal clutter
6. Develop healthy new relationships
7. Reconnect with childhood passions
8. Embrace your new reality
9. Develop your spiritual life
10. Don't just survive. Be Alive!
People naturally adopt survival skills that work to protect the psyche during and immediately following the trauma. Some of these skills that are adopted have helped me to live life more safely and more aware of my surroundings since not being aware that I was stalked for several weeks before the kidnapping. Incorporating safety measures into our new life and that being part of our new reality has helped us. But the majority of the coping mechanisms acquired during our night of terror and those I acquired in order to rob the bank at gunpoint in the morning to save our lives, (i.e. complete detachment from everything, going numb) were not useful or healthy for me later. I had to re-learn how to go back out into the world again outside of my protective bubble that kept me detached from everyone. ventually many of these coping mechanisms work against healthy emotional behaviors such as the ability to experience intimacy and trust, which I also had to work hard to reclaim in my life.
Today we live a life filled with joy and peace and gratitude but in the midst of all the good stuff we still have symptoms of PTSD. We are living a very normal life again, not as it was before yet in so many ways it is better than ever. Choosing to take positive action on your own behalf and choosing positive recovery is key. Picking three people in your life that you can be completely honest with and even take with you to therapy to learn about PTSD so that they can support you in the best way girded with education and information is also a fantastic way to begin on the yellow brick road back to positive mental health.
I want to urge family and friends of those who survived flight 1549 to read all they can about the symptoms of PTSD and the best practices for positive recovery. Visit www.Michelle-Renee.com for more information about my PTSD is REAL, Beyond PTSD and Hostage No More workshops and presentations.
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