In the post about trigger warnings, I talked about different kinds of trauma. Things that can cause PTSD in someone. I mentioned things like the death of a loved one - person or pet, divorce, a serious illness, domestic violence, and war or combat. Lots of things can be considered traumatic and we've all been through something traumatic at some point in our lives. Usually, we are able to process what happened, use what coping methods we've learned along the way, and we are able to move past the event and continue to live life as we always have. The problem comes when we are unable to properly process the trauma and we don't have healthy coping skills.
Obviously everyone with PTSD has different experiences so please, no hate mail for this. But... Oftentimes things escalate like this: The bad thing happens. We have some negative feelings about it. We think we'll be okay so we don't get help. We don't even really talk about it, but we keep thinking about it. Anxiety jumps in and most of the time depression jumps in too. We start feeling really shitty, but we still think we have it under control. Before we know it though, we are in a place where we cannot cope with what happened. We ruminate on the bad thing, we obsess over it, and it makes us feel even shittier. Sometimes we start trying to use what coping mechanisms we do have, but by this point we might not have anything healthy in our set of coping skills. This can lead to bad behavior like withdrawing from others and isolating ourselves, excessive alcohol and / or drug use, reckless and sometimes dangerous behavior. The negative coping skills may seem to be working at first, but the behavior does more harm than good and can actually makes the PTSD from the original bad thing even worse. All of it compiles and make the shitty feelings even worse. Eventually, we stop being able to take care of ourselves and our daily lives come to a halt. We become so unhealthy mentally that it bleeds over to affect our physical health also. We shut down and cannot cope with anything. We live in a state of fear and hypervigilance just waiting for the next bad thing to happen. We feel panicked all the time. Feelings of anxiety and depression start feeling normal because that's all we feel. We forget that there is a way to feel better. We forget we can feel better. Now we are in a full blown psychological crisis. It can happen really quickly or take years to develop. But it all stems back to that trauma, that original bad thing that we thought we could handle. So now what?
When I went back to therapy a little over a year ago, I realized I have lived through a lot of trauma in my life. Things I thought I had dealt with, but clearly never really did. I still felt really shitty about a lot of things in my life that I thought I was over. I had put these traumatic events in little boxes on a shelf somewhere inside my brain and tried my best to ignore them. I reasoned that if I was able to file them away like that, not talk about them, not think about them, that meant I was okay with them. Because those events were long over, I figured I needed to be over them too. Except I wasn't.
Those terrible memories, my trauma if you will, were only in those boxes filed away in my brain somewhere because I hadn't properly dealt with them. And the feelings that I had about those traumas were finding their way into my everyday life. Trauma kept compiling and I kept thinking I was handling it all. I kept shoving my feelings into little boxes and filing them away and not dealing with them and before you know it, I was totally unable to cope with anything that was happening in my life.
As I was in therapy mindlessly recounting events in my past to try and help my therapist catch up to what was currently happening, tears started to stream down my face. She asked me where the emotion was coming from. I said, "Oh, I'm fine. I'm not emotional really. I have no idea why I'm crying." But I thought about it and I knew exactly why I was crying - I was in pain. Deep emotional pain that I couldn't ignore anymore if I wanted to get healthy mentally. So I said, "Maybe we can address those things another day." She agreed and we made a plan.
I'm still working on it. It's a process. Everything didn't get tangled up in my brain overnight so it stands to reason it isn't going to get untangled after one or two therapy session. It took a while for me to realize that there was no shame in seeking help for my mental health. Even though I am a patient advocate and talked about the importance of good mental health and I've even been to therapy on and off for the majority of my life, I never really dealt with anything - not completely anyway. Things would get to a certain point in therapy and I would start to feel better and then I would be done. I would stop therapy and consume myself with other things and decide I was done working on myself. Until more bad things would happen and the terrible coping methods would come back and I would sink further down than I had even originally been. And the process started all over again in a never ending vicious cycle of unhealthiness. I'm trying very hard to break that cycle once and for all. My therapist and I are using a technique called EMDR and I'll be writing about that very soon. You should probably check that out. Stay tuned.