I don’t remember the exact moment when I lost the ability to handle everything emotionally; that instant when the invisible threads holding all of my emotions in place, like an intricate web snapped. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder caused by a traumatic event, and it never completely goes away. PTSD is the panther crouching in the shadows, waiting for the exact instant you are at your weakest to pounce. 6 of every 10 men and 5 of 10 women experience at least one trauma in their lives.

Anything traumatic can cause PTSD; sexual assault, child abuse, physical assault, combat, injury, accidents, divorce, witness to death or injury. For me, the initial cause was childhood trauma, compounded with early adulthood traumas, and then as I got older and other events occurred, my threshold for coping became smaller with each experience. Once I went through my divorce, my emotional web started untangling one cord at a time.

When my symptoms are at their worst: I wait too long to use the restroom at work, (I am not allowed to lock my front door until lunchtime). I become so anxious about closing the bathroom door, walking out and finding someone waiting for me, I would rather wait. At home, I lock the bathroom door, and shower with the curtain open, with my back against the wall. I need to be able to see what is happening.

As I walk a new place, I make a mental note of all exits, every seat option against a wall (so I can feel something solid behind me, and can see people come and go). If walking or standing alone in a line, I am extremely uncomfortable with people standing directly close behind me, especially men. There are certain movements, and touches that also trigger symptoms as well, and I have specifics (I believe all of us do) of a different variety, depending on my environment. Many of us are also triggered by certain types of sounds, language, and smells as well. I can go months without many symptoms, then I can suddenly have them all the time. I have recently had one of the worst flare-ups in years.

When I am already stressed to the maximum level or having other minor PTSD symptoms, something minor might be the thing that triggers some of the major symptoms. Maybe someone yells at me (and it could even be in traffic), which is something I really don’t respond well to, and my body sends my mind the fight or flight signal. My stomach ties itself into knots, my heart thuds wildly, and my clothes become damp with sweat. Every movement around me feels hostile, and I feel like I need to get away. Now! Each little noise, every branch that scrapes against a house, and every footfall is coming toward me. Nothing is logical anymore. That part of my brain has gone to sleep, so telling me to calm down will not be heard. There are other times when I am unable to deal with reality at all, so I detach completely—my brain just shuts itself off, similar to a computer rebooting itself. I want it to work, but I have to wait for it to restart again. If things are really bad, the insomnia, nightmares, and flashbacks return.

As I stand in the grocery store, feeling the breath of the stranger behind me on my neck, every hair on my body rises, like antennae. The cashier smiles at me, oblivious. The man behind me takes a step closer. I feel the heat from his body, and the graze of his jeans on my bare leg. As I swipe my card through the machine, my hand trembles so violently, it almost tumbles to the floor. Flashes careen through my mind. Ripping. Tearing. Being held down. Hot tears. The cashier asks another question, but I don’t hear it because the stranger’s leg keeps brushing against mine. The rancid alcohol on his breath envelopes me, and bile rises in my throat. The second my receipt is printed, my legs are moving toward the door, and my shaking hands are tightly gripping my plastic grocery bags at my sides. I don’t remember if I grabbed my debit card or if I even have my purse, nor do I care. I no longer see the other customers sailing past with their full carts. The only thing I know is I have to get to my vehicle right now before I am hurt again.

The next time you come across a man or woman who appears to be agitated, irritable, panicked, terrified, angry, or detached, remember we can never assume to know another person’s situation by appearance. Just beneath the surface is a woman feeling her attacker’s hands on her; a man hearing bullets whistle past his head; a woman screaming for help as her child takes his last breath in the back seat of a crumpled car on the side of a highway; or a child who has been tormented day after day by bullies. As survivors of trauma, we are not always in control over our own bodies or brains, but it does not make us weak. It makes us human.

Trauma strips away your life one piece at a time, leaving you ragged and scarred. When the webbing snaps, it can be weaved back together. It might never quite look the same, with more knots than sparkle, but it will be whole again. My scars are a daily reminder of how lucky I am for everything I have, and of how quickly they can be ripped away.

Remember always, you are more than what happened to you in your past. You are worth cherishing, no matter what anyone says or thinks about you.

Helpful Links Below:

PTSD Symptoms and Help-for more information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and information about finding help.

PTSD in Teens-After the Injury-Every year millions of children are injured or are subjected to a trauma. This site is for children and teens who need help recovering from the emotional trauma.

How to Help Someone You Love with PTSD– This website is a wonderful resource for anyone who loves someone with PTSD, and is looking for more information, and support.

The Positivity Blog– this is the best site when you need anything positive and inspirational.

PTSD for Veterans in Your Community-This website is primarily for veterans suffering for PTSD, and is a fantastic toolkit to find help all over the country.

PTSD Crisis Help-This link can offer some additional resources.

If you are ever thinking about suicide and feel unsafe: Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

 

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available for pre-order now!

Pre-Order Now

Trish Eklund

Trish Eklund is a 40-something mom of two, a lover of words, a photographer of the abandoned, and a co-parent with her blended family. She has been a Nebraska transplant for the last 17 years. Learn more about Trish at her blended family website, http://familyfusioncommunity.com/ and her photography website, http://abandonedforgottendecayed.com/, and the Huffington Post Divorce Page. Her abandoned photography has been featured on Only in Your State-Nebraska. Trish Eklund has an essay, Happy Endings, in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz.

Grief is a Wild Horse

In: Grief
Woman in water at sunset

I burst into tears the other day at the nail salon. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” came on over the speakers, and though it was muffled by people’s chatter, the line, “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow,” cut through the scars of my heart like a hot knife. Tears poured out of me and into the pedicure basin. I don’t apologize anymore, though. It used to scare me that grief was non-linear. That it can creep up without warning and strike. I would rush to hide and chide myself to pull it together....

Keep Reading

Please Don’t Let My Baby Die

In: Cancer, Motherhood
Toddler boy lying in hospital bed, color photo

I wasn’t made for this.  I am not strong enough. Lord, where are you taking me? Why does this joyful time, filled with our last baby’s firsts, have to be this way? Why did the doctors look at me that way? They know what’s coming, and deep down inside, so do I. The inevitable word that is about to come out of their mouths.  The C-word.  Cancer. It’s life-changing.  Almost as if it were a car accident. Believe me, I know about that. To be the reason behind a grown man hanging onto a thread. Completely unintentional. I just needed...

Keep Reading

Hug My Babies In Heaven For Me, God

In: Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Woman looking up at sunset sky

To my babies in Heaven,  I still miss you.  Sometimes I wonder if you can see us from Heaven. Do you get to watch us raise your siblings? Do you know us, like we long to know you? Are you proud to be our child? Does God ever pass on the messages I give to you in my prayers?  I hope so. I miss you. I miss you in the car rides when I look back and see two car seats where there should be more. I miss you when your siblings are laughing together, and I wish you were...

Keep Reading

I Should Have Taken More Photos of My Mom

In: Grief, Loss
Grandmother holding newborn, color photo

What’s the one thing I wish I did before my mom died? Take more photos. But no, I assumed I’d have more time. We always have more time, right? Until we don’t. My baby was born, and I was frazzled. Lost in a sea of having a third child and postpartum anxiety. My mom asked for photos. I was nursing, I hadn’t showered. I felt gross. I didn’t want to let my last baby go from my arms. I had time, right? Until you don’t. She asked for photos. And now. We only have one. We only have one.  I...

Keep Reading

I Carry the Baby I Lost In My Heart

In: Baby, Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Early sonogram image of baby

I ignored it at first, the pink on the tissue. It wasn’t anything to worry about. I’d known for three weeks at this point that I was expecting baby number three, and I was still giddy about it. In fact, I had just shared my news with people at work and told them when I was due.  I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.  So, when I visited the bathroom, I ignored it.  Two healthy textbook pregnancies and births, why would this be any different?  But, looking back, there was a little nagging voice at the back of my...

Keep Reading

The First Christmas Without My Parents Cuts Deep

In: Faith, Grief, Loss
Sad woman with Christmas tree lit up in background

“This is going to be the first time we go through the holidays without mom.” How many times have I heard these words spoken by others? How am I just now understanding how full of meaning this statement really is? Nearly 60 years old, this will be my first Christmas as an orphan. My sister and I lost my father over 10 years ago, my mother just last summer. It will be up to us to create memories for the younger generation, and I have faith that we are up to the task.  It isn’t that my parents made a...

Keep Reading

Dear Grieving Heart, Be Still and Know

In: Faith, Grief, Loss
Little girl with flowers standing next to casket, color photo

It is said that grief has stages. Five to be exact. Not sure where I am on that scale, but I can tell you I have reached acceptance and then floated right back down to denial, all in a matter of days. What I am beginning to realize is that grief isn’t linear. It goes through waves and has a rhythm all of its own. Anger and acceptance can (and do) co-exist. You can be happy and sad at the same moment. You can feel lost and confused, yet know exactly where you are or feel completely alone in a...

Keep Reading

Your Love Is Passed On

In: Grief, Loss
Woman smiling, black and white photo

For so much of my life, I never understood why people used the phrase “passed on” when someone died. I thought it was an oblique turn of phrase. A weak way to express the truth of the matter. The person died. No reason to soften the truth, no need to cushion the blow. It wasn’t until my mother left this earthly plane a year ago that I started to understand the difference between the words “died” and “passed on.” I haven’t measured the time that my mom has been gone in days or months, but rather I have marked her...

Keep Reading

I’ll Miss Your Holiday Spirit the Most

In: Grief
Little girls in Christmas dresses sitting in white chair

Being in a stepfamily means a lot of Christmases, we had one for each household plus each side of the family: Mom’s, Dad’s, Stepmom’s, and Stepdad’s. That was a lot of “Christmas mornings” growing up, and every single one of them was with you, my sister. It gave us a ton of opportunities to share in the gift-giving process too, with each package labeled From C&C.  When I got married, I vividly recall the eye roll and dramatic “ugh” when you came to realize I would now be gift-giving with my spouse, not you. Believe me, it was strange. I’m...

Keep Reading

When It Just Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas, Look for the Baby In the Manger

In: Faith, Grief
Nativity scene lit up

I don’t know about you, but each Christmas season I find myself trying to catch the “feeling.”  It seems like every year I hear myself say as December 25th looms around the corner, “It just doesn’t FEEL like Christmas.”  Part of that is living in Florida. I have never felt like I belonged here. I’ve always longed for cooler weather and the changing of seasons. Oh how my heart aches for a “white Christmas” that I fear I’ll never get.  I’ve heard others echo something similar. But it seems like we’ve become obsessed with chasing this evasive feeling that is...

Keep Reading