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Emotional “toughness” makes PTSD worse?


No one is “tough enough” for this nightmare.

I’ve learned – through my minefield of a life – to be a mentally and emotionally TOUGH person with a super strong will, but thing is like NOTHING I have ever experienced. It is NOT depression, or anxiety, or even edginess. It is NOT just a panic attack. It is not just the occasional burst of symptoms.

It is also not a “thought” dysfunction that can be “positive’d away”.

It is a physical manifestation of your self-preservation instinct. It feels like having both your body AND brain turn on you at the same time. It is really an inexplicably out of control condition… Unless and until you have been there. And ANYONE can end up there. ANYONE. In fact the stronger and smarter you think you are, the more susceptible you may be to being blindsided by it.

I’ve been depressed by certain situations in my life in the past. Even though I recognized my emotions and mentality were subdued by the depression at the time, in my heart I always had a ton of hope that I would work my way out of it, and ultimately I did over a period of weeks usually, a few months at the most.

This PTSD is different.

Because it takes both your physical and mental strength away at the same time, a case of COMPLEX PTSD – created by repeated traumas, over and over, chipping away at your innate strength and piled on through out the years – is one nasty imploding nightmare.

It literally turns you into a shell of your former self.

It takes your coping mechanisms and turns them against you.

That adrenaline that you counted on to save your life – literally or figuratively, or both – is now being used by your body to create a nearly constant state of readiness for what your body thinks is the continual need for readiness to FIGHT or RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

At it’s worst… I can vaguely remember what it feels like to be me, and I can attempt to act like me, but I totally lack my personal strength and belief systems. It is ALL GONE.

I try to draw upon it, and I can only remember the THEORY of it.  It is just not there anymore.

EVERYTHING I think seems to make my symptoms worse.

My hands shake.  My thoughts are jumpy.  My eyes don’t even want to land on something long enough to completely focus.

Loud, sharp noises make me INSTANTLY freaked out, and I can’t calm down even a little bit for HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS.

The simplest incidents in life become cause for total paranoia.

Case in point:

We had two dogs, one of which had a particularly sharp, shrill bark.  It isn’t something I noticed until our morning routine changed, and when my partner got out of bed the dog decided it was an exciting event worth barking about right when she got to the head of the bed.

Now, never in my life have I been afraid of dogs.  I don’t like pesky barking, but it’s never something that ALARMED ME.

So suddenly, when this morning “bark at my head” routine started, I realized that I was being startled not only awake, but into a complete heart-pounding, head-pounding, hands-shaking, thoughts-jumping, grouchy, freaked-out state.

I tried to talk myself out of it as soon as it happened a second day, thinking, “Now this is ridiculous.  I am NOT going to let a danged little dog bark bother me.”  I am a total animal lover, so the thought that I would have to seclude myself from a bark was just unacceptable.

I struggled with this problem for months.

After I failed at getting past it, I started purposely waking up and moving to the couch so that I wasn’t in the bed in the morning.  The bark still had the same effect even though I could barely hear it.

After asking my partner to switch the routine, I realized the bark had taken on a life of it’s own in my brain and even if the dog did it in the back yard my nerves heard it and jangled me!  So I tried to head off the barking by running outside if I realized someone was driving up, or ANYTHING was likely to start it.

I no longer could take the dog for a walk because it had really bad “trail manners”, and even one single bark at another walker in the distance would completely WRECK the walk, and hours afterward.

Finally, after all sorts of what seemed like ridiculous analysis to deal with it, my partner said, “Just find her a home if you want.  It’s up to you.”

Fortunately this wasn’t the pampered special dog; it was a rescue that never completely socialized within the household.  In fact, the dog’s own insecure, jumpy, jerky nature was probably one of the things that set me off about it.

All is well now.  The dog has a quiet “only dog” home with a retired couple that gives it all of their attention.  And a huge bit of stress is relieved from our household.

Having said that, I just kept thinking the whole time… what if this was a really important thing that I sincerely wanted to learn to deal with?  Is it even possible.

I think, perhaps it is not possible.  Not without HEAVY medication or LONG TERM therapy.  And when you are continually triggered by something, it can have a counter-productive effect on whatever progress you are making in other areas.

The moral to this story is:  Do what you can to calm your life and remove triggers.

It’s just not worth the battle most of the time, while PTSD is at it’s worst.  And triggers built into your schedule may actually prevent you from getting better by constantly keeping you in a bad state.


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