What It Is Really Like To Have PTSD

Six months ago I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and my husband attempted to use the threat of suicide as a manipulation tactic. There had been many other events leading up to this grand finale, as well as other toxic relationships in my life at the time that added to the stress. It wasn’t until two or three months after that long, torturous night that I finally realized that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

With as much media attention as PTSD has gotten in the last few years, I’ve met a few people that somewhat seem to glamorize it. They talk about as though it were a badge of honor, most likely because it is most notoriously known to impact soldiers. There were even tons of articles like this one about Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, evaluating whether or not Katniss suffered from PTSD. While the articles themselves might not have been trying to glamorize it at all, I don’t think they reduced the number of people that don’t completely understand the full severity of it.

PTSD is not something to be glamorized. It is not a badge of honor. It is more horrific than whatever event(s) caused it in the first place, because you either get to relive that event perpetually with no end in sight or, in my case, imagine even worse events continuing to occur for the foreseeable future, the next worse than the last, until you are so far buried beneath the fear that you forget that good people and beautiful things even exist.

PTSD presents differently in every person that suffers from it. For me, I could not sleep. I would maybe get 2-3 hours each night at the most, and it was rarely the full REM cycle. The few times that I was able to sleep deep enough to dream, I woke from nightmares. Once I even had a panic attack in my sleep because of a nightmare and caused myself to wake up, still in mid-panic attack. That was the last night that I spent in his house.

For a few months, I was mostly kept awake by noises in the neighborhood and the mental downward spiral that they caused. Every car door that closed, I feared that it was him and that he had found me and had come to kill me or to kill himself in front of me. When I walked the 500 feet or less between my garage and work building, I was hyper-aware of my surroundings, to the extent that my own shadow on the sidewalk or reflection in a window scared me. Every time I saw a car like his on the road, I either slowed down if it was in front of me or sped up as though I were running from him.

Human interaction was the hardest of all. If, while in a store or gas station, there were a male that I did not know, I would start to panic. I would keep as much distance as possible between them and myself, keeping the discreet self-defense stature that I learned from a self-defense workshop months ago. At work, I made every attempt to keep as quiet as I possibly could and only speak when absolutely necessary. Being surrounded by people every day helped me to keep from breaking down, but a smile was the heaviest thing for me to try to lift to my face.

Watching Mockingjay was also very difficult for me. By then I had realized that I had PTSD and had read multiple articles about it. I had read the books, and I knew exactly what to expect. Constant panic for the entire length of the movie, with the faintest feeling that I wasn’t alone.

I knew that I was broken. I knew that none of the things that were causing me the fear that I felt were real. But reality did not matter. I was in constant fight-or-flight mode. PTSD can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time. They can be serving our country or trying to save their marriage. It can be caused by a car accident or the death of a loved one. It doesn’t discriminate, and no one is immune to it.

I have spent the last six months trying to rebuild my life from the ground up. I’ve been seeing a psychologist the entire time and was “graduated to monthly maintenance” in November. In September I met the first male stranger that I was able to get within 10 feet of without panicking. I’ve slowly started to come back to being my fun-loving, laughing, smiling, joking self. I’ve started to remember how to have relationships, though I still have a long way to go (I was never very great at it in the first place). My closest friends and family have helped to remind me how all along, and I’m starting to be less afraid during casual conversations with coworkers and acquaintances. I don’t think that there is a solid line to be drawn in the PTSD/No PTSD sand here, but I am at least finally heading in the right direction.

It took a village to keep me from completely losing my mind forever and to remind me of who I am and what I am worth. Had it not been for a mass of friends, family, coworkers, and even a few strangers, I would not be here today. I would not have made it through without them, and I am constantly overwhelmed by gratitude for each and every one of the amazing people in my life.

I will never stop wishing that there had been something that I could have done to help him or to change any of this. But I do know that it was not at all my fault, there was nothing else that I could have done, and I deserve to only be built up by the people in my life and not torn apart by them.

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Ann Edwards