Though often stigmatized, the terror of it is real. Many people do not understand what PTSD means for those it affects.
At least four days a week the anxiety rolls in like a rogue thief, an uninvited guest in my mind. Some nights it makes me physically ill with unwanted thoughts, worries, and emotions. Paranoia and guilt fill my mind and torment me. Much of the time I simply work through it -- the thoughts that I am in danger -- and other times I simply lie down and suffer for hours before the thoughts go away.
My only solace, my kryptonite, is to call my close friends or my adopted mother and they help reassure me that the sky is not falling. Although my brain is playing tricks with me, they ground me in the kind of positive reality I need to survive this disorder.
Going out into the world, where I must interact with humans, can at times be very burdensome. More often than not, it is easier to retreat to my own private space to have room to breathe. Instead of closing a conversation and walking away feeling gratified, I tend to experience the kind of feelings that signal something dangerous is imminent. My body begins to arm itself for battle, but when I look to my left and my right, the coast is always clear.
I am not a fan of using excuses to justify the days I stay in bed instead of going out or the moments I would rather be alone than communicate with others. Regardless of what might set it off, when it becomes full blown, it makes me a prisoner in my own mind.
And then there are the days when the anxiety disappears.
I am usually pretty jovial about those moments: a small break from whatever triggers my mind to react the ways it does. I cherish those days in the way someone might a delicacy.
The fact that I experience these symptoms does not come as much of a surprise. I am only astonished it did not set in earlier in my life. Since I was a fetus, it seems as if my mind was prepped for a mental disorder, and I am lucky that I don't have to deal with far worse problems. My birth mother met my biological father in a mental institution, where I was ultimately conceived. My journey through 40 foster homes, being a homeless runaway and the situations I found myself in when I was younger could have taken a far worse toll. One time a foster brother held me down while another urinated on me. In another instance I was handcuffed and beaten to the point that I had to be hospitalized. These events were traumatic in my childhood and yet I do not recall pausing once to lick my wounds.
I am one of the nearly 7.7 million Americans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Most closely associated with military veterans who return from war zones, the disorder sometimes transcends international conflict to be found in the mini-wars we fight in our own backyards. For myself, that meant encountering life-long abuses at the hands of others and finding myself in precarious positions as a result. Others may experience PTSD from having an automobile accident or a sexual assault. Its timing is still a mystery and some researchers believe that it changes the genes of those who are afflicted.
For those who have PTSD that goes untreated, they sometimes pay with their lives. Destigmatizing and understanding this disorder is the first step in helping its sufferers find treatment. As anyone who is tormented would say, PTSD is anything but benign. It is essential that the public understand the need for those affected to have access to treatment. Anything less is re-victimizing those who have already experienced detrimental pain.
Need help with mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.