I spent three years in therapy without telling the most painful parts of my story.
Survivors of trauma often deal with pain by sending some memories to the subconscious. I have a padlocked box in my brain’s attic, from which nothing escapes. I willed myself to believe that some events had never happened. I believed that this is how my mind protected me. So I’d carefully steer conversation away from the proximity of those thoughts.
For a year after I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD), I fought the diagnosis. “I haven’t been through anything traumatic,” I insisted. Today, I still find myself struggling to explain the nightmares, the flashbacks, the avoidance, the aversion to physical human contact, and the fear of crossing roads at night. I have only begun to acknowledge that healing needs to be a priority for me.
Why has it been so difficult for me to accept my PTSD?
Here‘s what I’ve deduced. Perhaps my realizations can help you heal.
PTSD can develop from any intense painful or stressful experience. These include war, natural disasters, sexual assault, and childhood abuse, but can be many other things. The majority of the publicly-available information on PTSD is associated with war veterans and the psychological scars they receive. The lack of awareness about the myriad possible causes of PTSD is an impediment towards successful diagnosis and treatment. If memories or reminders elicit unwarranted fear, apprehension, or despair for a significant time after the event, you are dealing with post-traumatic stress.
There is inherent stigma to overcome before “coming out” about any mental health issues. In addition, you may feel that the experience which triggered your PTSD was not “traumatic enough.” There are a zillion reasons which will deter you from getting the help you need. The event was something which you should have had the strength to forget. Well-wishers tell you that “you could have had it so much worse.” Your friends say that you’re making it up. Other people with similar stories have gotten over it faster.
If it makes you feel uncomfortable to jump into certain thoughts or activities, don’t do them. Trauma does not come with a blueprint or a recovery-timeline. Only you can judge when you’re ready.
Talking about personal trauma can force you to revisit painful memories.
Forming coherent thoughts about traumatic experiences can trigger flashbacks, nightmares, and panic. Talking about it has got to be so much worse.
You can heal from PTSD. But, forced exposure to these thoughts might cause more harm than good. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental health professional.
Are you ready to tell your story? Make sure that you put your needs before anyone else’s.
Most importantly, trust your instincts. They are probably right.