I just came out of a major depressive episode. It turns out it was medication-related. I have lived with, fought with, railed against my PTSD for eight years now, with very little medication intervention. The spring and fall are terrible anniversary triggers for me, and this past autumn was particularly trying. I was having up to seven panic attacks a day and knew that I needed something besides therapy, acupuncture, yoga and family/friend support to help me.
I sought help and was put on anti-anxiety meds. They helped immediately! My body relaxed, and my panic attacks ceased. When the fall triggers ended, I stayed on the medication, and little by little I fell into a deep depression. My therapist and doctor communicated and wondered if it could be medication-related. We would know by weaning me off the meds, to see if it lifted. It did! I’m grateful that I kept communicating with my therapist, showing him my mood journal, telling him how I was feeling and that he kept a vigilant eye on the changes that were occurring the past few months and communicated with my doctor.
So why am I sharing this? I’m sharing this because the nagging self-esteem issues I deal with from having complex PTSD were magnified ten-fold during this episode. I fight feeling like a burden to my family, feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness because my PTSD has rendered me unable to do many things that I used to love to do. I wrestle with feeling like I’m lazy because I haven’t cured myself of this illness. My family, friends, and professional support system never, ever indicate I’m a burden, worthless or lazy. That’s my own thought pattern, old tapes, and mental gymnastics as I cope with my illness.
The other day I asked my therapist, what’s wrong with me? He replied, “You have PTSD. You are doing the best you can, you are working as hard as you can, and you are okay.” He tells me that often as I find a way to live with this illness. People say that my trauma nor my illness defines me. That I’m more than my past trauma. I agree. When I describe myself I don’t use adjectives that bring in my past, that I’m a survivor of trauma or that I’m dealing with this unrelenting illness. I describe myself as a kind, compassionate, person with a wicked (sometimes dark) sense of humor who tries to live an authentic life. I have strong friendships and solid family support from my husband and children. That’s how I would define myself. My PTSD doesn’t define me, but it does impact me.
The effects of my trauma and the resulting PTSD has changed my life. It prevents me from working more than two hours a day, hopping in the car to run errands, enjoying restaurants, travel, and I have to consciously work with the triggers that cause flashbacks, and other assorted symptoms. While that doesn’t define who I am, it does have an effect my life.
I’m in a position, as perhaps most people who deal with a chronic or debilitating illness to find a way to live with my symptoms and try to have an illness-free identity. It’s hard. I spent years minimizing my feelings, being angry at my PTSD, thinking that I’m weak; after all, I survived unimaginable circumstances, why can’t I get my shit together and just get over this thing. That thinking wasn’t helping my trajectory of healing and it certainly didn’t honor my past, my feelings, or the fact that I did survive.
While PTSD doesn’t define me, it certainly impacts my life. I am more than my past, more than my trauma, more than my illness. And my terrible past includes significant trauma resulting in an illness. Sometimes, when people hear about it, read about, and understand that there are some really awful people in the world, it makes them uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable information, and it should be. We shouldn’t feel comfortable, complacent and unfazed when hearing about abuse. It’s something that can be stopped, abuse is something that is done by one person to another. This illness has changed what I choose to be passionate about, speak about, write about.
To understand what and who we are at our core, our intentions, and how we want to connect to others can define us. We aren’t defined by our circumstances, illness, or professions, but they often dictate how we have to live day-to-day. It’s been a struggle to accept this in my life, especially the last six weeks as I dealt with the major depression and the bottomed out self-esteem. I imagine it’s something I will have to wrestle with as long as I have PTSD. Perhaps, even if I didn’t have an illness, I would be checking myself, making sure I have a larger view, a compassionate perspective, and hope... always hope.