My path to being diagnosed with PTSD is not what most people imagine as a typical PTSD case. I did not go through a war. I did not have a horrible accident or experience a horrific crime. However, what I learned about PTSD is that the body doesn’t really know the difference between the types of “horrors” and stress that one experiences. It’s related to that whole “fight or flight” mechanism. Once it’s turned on and activated it can be very hard to calm it down.
The truth is that any high-stress situation that causes you extreme anguish can be a catalyst for PTSD. Dealing with a work bully, finding your spouse with another person, a severe injury – these can all be situations that you deal with that can actually lead to PTSD. Typically the symptoms of PTSD start shortly after the incident occurs, but sometimes they may not show themselves until many years later, after a trigger event.
My diagnosis came after I began having unprovoked panic attacks in my late twenties, coupled with what felt like a complete nervous breakdown. Those attacks and what followed were not the cause of the PTSD. The cause was traced back to a number of incidents that happened during my childhood. Those incidents coupled with some events going on at that time created a “perfect storm” type setup for my body.
The panic attacks were severe. I couldn’t find rhyme or reason as to what triggered them, but like many people with panic disorder I began to become very anxious just expecting a panic attack to happen. It wasn’t until one day in a therapy session with a great counselor that, as I was retelling the story of one of these particular incidents from my childhood, I began to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I then got up and said, “I have to leave.” All I knew in that moment was that something bad was about to happen and I had to get out of there.
Fortunately, this therapist fully recognized what was happening to me. She talked me through it and pointed out that THIS, this thing I was sharing, though I’d dismissed it so often as “really not a big deal” was indeed a huge deal to me. And more than a big deal – it was something that I was haunted by.
Discussing this particular issue with anyone sent my nervous system into a tailspin. My face would flush, my heart would start beating so hard I thought it might just come out of my chest. I became so weak that I could barely move, let alone speak. I knew that it was a panic attack because I’d had those in the past. But I had no idea that it could actually be considered PTSD and did not see the connection at first to the trigger event. Once it was pointed out to me it made perfect and complete sense. And, for the few people I did share the story with, I got the typical “Of course it’s PTSD! That’s a terrible thing to live through.”
The origin of my own PTSD is not important. I went through years of therapy and learned to stop blaming myself for things that happened that were out of my control. If you are dealing with PTSD, regardless of the origin, do yourself a favor and get to a therapist. PTSD symptoms can be managed and controlled through cognitive behavioral therapy and some medications. You will get your life back!
Christy Mossburg is a writer from Maryland that loves spending time with family, volunteering, and creating art. You can follow her blog at www.simplychristy.com