This is the more difficult post for me to write.
It's not easy to be such an open book.
But it needs shared.
So HOW did we get PTSD?
We experienced a shocking, scary and dangerous event. That event could have been the death of a loved one, war, tornado, fire, child abuse, sexual assault, life threatening illness or injury, surgery that was complicated or long.
Everyone experiences these with a wide range of reactions. Most recover naturally & more quickly. With few if any complications or lingering effects. However, if we continue to experience the reactions there is a possibility that we have PTSD and/or anxiety disorder.
PTSD can strike anyone at any age, no matter the traumatic event.
*Please remember not to self-diagnosis. Yes! Educate yourself. If you suspect PTSD? See your doctor. Discuss your concerns with him. Visit a counselor who specializes in PTSD. Get a medical diagnosis before this consumes you! YOU ARE LOVED!
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
1. Flashbacks to the event. *One of mine was every time I tried to lay down in the bed, the flashback was to being on the stretcher into the surgery room. Or seeing Rick laying on the stretcher at the back of the hearse that came to take him away.
2. Nightmares that somehow involve pieces of the event. *For me, this was (and continues to be, but not as often) a dream of being in total darkness. Feeling immense pressure on my body, as though tied down. Hearing an urgency in the voices around me. Knowing my son was calling to me as though he were hurting and I could not get to him.
3. Frightening and/or fearful thoughts. *Feeling like I was waiting for "the other shoe to drop". Knowing something bad was going to happen, waiting for it.
4. Intense drive to stay away from the places & people that remind you of that event. *I still never want to go to Houston, TX again. Nor do I even want to get close! It took me 4 years before I could step inside the funeral home where Rick was.
5. Strong guilt (as in survivor guilt), or depression. *Why did I survive uterine cancer and he died from kidney disease? Why did I survive cancer when so many others did not? How did I have my hand on his chest and not feel him leave that morning? Why did I turn my eyes away for those 3 seconds?
6. Losing interest in things that you previously enjoyed. *Reading. I used to devour books. For 7 years now, I have struggled to focus and finish a book.
7. Trouble remembering details of your life, except for that event. *It's like living in a fog, a thick pea-soup type fog.
8. Being easily startled. *I have always been jumpy. Rick used to love it, cause I would be so focused on what I was doing that he could sneak upon me, say something and I would scream. Lol. This is not that. I have found myself literally jumping at every noise, no matter how small or great.
9. Feeling constantly tense or on edge. *Listening intently to hear anything, or everything. Or when cross words are spoken between those I am with. I think that is still the worst. Takes everything out of me to control the emotions at that point.
10. Difficulty sleeping, insomnia. *For me, the best sleep has been when I can hear others talking, or when the TV is on. I sleep 2-4 hours, then wake up. Often finding myself awake around 2 a.m. and not going back to sleep until night time.
11. Angry out bursts because you can't find the one point of blame. *No one has heard my outbursts. I've kept those to myself. But oh. Yes.
12. Extreme quietness. *I have hours that I don't say a word to anyone. Not mad. Just do not feel like talking. More times than not, or so it seems to me, I would rather just be quiet - because my tolerance for bullshit is so low these days.
13. Distress at anniversary dates. *I never have to think about the day, nor the hour. I don't have to look at a clock or calendar. I just know the day, and the hour. I can tell you how long it has been since my surgery, and how long it has been since Rick died. I don't try ... it's just there. There is a "countdown clock" that lives in my head.
14. Showing affection too much, or not enough. *I tend to be the "too much" kind of person. Skin hunger. Fear of more loss. Loneliness. Emptiness. As well as a type of grounding myself.
15. Excessive irritability. *I find the irritability the worst when I am really tired. When my mind and my body are on overload.
16. Extreme difficulty in concentrating. *It is difficult for me to concentrate to read, or to watch a movie. I do good at watching a 30 minute or hour long show. But still struggling with a movie.
17. Beginning or increase in physical ailments: high blood pressure, rapid breathing, muscle tensions, nausea, bowel changes, body aches, allergies, headaches, vision changes. *This is what took me to see Dr. Pierce in the first place. It was as a result of the tests and all his questions that PTSD was diagnosed.
Remember, PTSD lasts longer than a few days, or even a few weeks. We are talking months and years here.
Also, PTSD can fade away, lie dormant within us, and then a trigger can make it rise again.
What are those triggers?
They are different for everyone who has PTSD.
A smell that is associated with that event. A noise. A news article. A conversation about the event. A reference to that event in any medium. A song. There are literally thousands of triggers. That's why it is so important that you find Yours.
What are mine?
*Seeing MD Anderson mentioned anywhere - in the news, on Facebook, etc...
*Hearing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" - that was just one of the many songs that Rick would wrap his arms around me and sing.
*Smelling Black Suede cologne (Avon product).
*I was in Barnes & Noble not long ago, and it was all I could do to stand upright, to not collapse on the floor in a crying heap. I was walking down an aisle, looked up to the top shelf and there was Rick's Bible cover. It was the EXACT one that he had last. Same color, same size, same wording on the front. I stood there, forcing myself to breath in and breath out. Then, I took a picture of it. Just so that I could force myself to look at it again when I got to the house and tell myself all those positive words.
*Smelling a cherry cigar.
*For a while, hearing the word "cancer" was a massive trigger.
*Standing in the room where Rick died.
*I was in Walmart one day and walked past the aisle that has all the feminine products. I stopped. I couldn't breathe. I instantly felt dizzy. Since I had had uterine cancer, and the surgery was a radical hysterectomy, I no longer needed those items - however, they were a reminder to me of what had happened.
What makes you a Survivor of PTSD?
1. You have an optimistic yet realistic outlook.
*I know what happened. I know when it happened. And I know that I survived both. Not sure why yet. But I believe there is a purpose for my life yet. Being optimistic doesn't mean seeing life thru rose-colored glasses. It does mean that even on bad days, or in the darkest of moments, you know "this too shall pass". Good always follows bad. Always.
2. You face your fears.
*The greatest fear of my 58 years has been the thought of losing my husband. That happened. April 23, 2015. I faced it. I survived it. What else is there to really be afraid of? Death is a part of life. A real sucky part!
3. You have an inner moral compass.
*I know right from wrong. I have always had a code that I lived by. And as Woodrow says in Lonesome Dove: "I can't tolerate rude behavior." So, I refuse to be rude myself - to others, or to myself.
4. You are a spiritual person.
*I don't consider myself religious. Rick always said, "Religion is man reaching up to God. Relationship is God reaching down to man." I do have a relationship with God. I can't imagine navigating these waters of grief and PTSD without that Anchor. But I am also a very spiritual woman. As an empathetic I can be no less.
5. You have social support.
*I didn't have support after my cancer surgery. It was a difficult time in our lives with Rick, so all the focus was on him and me being his 24/7 caregiver. I was told repeatedly by others that they did not believe I had had cancer. When questioned as to why they believed that, each time their answer was: "Because you didn't have to have any treatments." Well, according to the path report and the oncologist? It was caught early, which was a blessing considering it was the most aggressive form and he said I had at the most 6 months to live! But I guess what does an oncologist know, right?
*I did have social support after Rick died. Because I sought it out online in widow/widower support groups. Having been told time after time that "it is high time that you let him go and move on with your life" (and this started at month 2!), or "it's your fault he is dead! You didn't love him enough! You didn't give him proper care!" I did not seek out support face to face, nor from any of those near me.
6. You have role models.
*This was a difficult one for me. Thankfully, one of my dearest friends was a couple of years ahead of me on this road. And SHE called me. She walked me thru that first year, the thoughts, the emotions. She held me when I cried. She was there when I reached out, but thankfully, she didn't wait for me to reach out - she did a LOT of reaching in to me.
*The role model I chose for the uterine cancer was my momma. She had had uterine cancer in 1996. She faced it bravely, even with the treatments. Her's was the less aggressive kind. But she never complained. She endured. And I was determined to face it head on. I would have cancer, but no way in hell was cancer going to have ME!
7. You are more physically fit.
*I wasn't very fit when cancer hit me, we had been on the truck (long-haul) for a couple of years. So I was probably in the worst shape of my life. Then as I became full time caregiver to Rick, any taking care of me beyond the absolute necessity of just surviving, went on the back burner - the way, way, way back burner.
*After Rick died, in the first 2 years I lost about 150 pounds. I wouldn't recommend the widow-diet to anyone, just saying. Then in the next 2 years I gained about 50 pounds back. But just before Thanksgiving 2019 I made ME a promise - to lose the weight and KEEP it off. I want to be the best I can be for ME @ 59 years old.
8. You find a way to accept what cannot be changed.
*What else can you do? Louis L'Amour said in one of his books (I can't remember which one right now): "If you fight against the desert, you will surely die. If you learn to live with it, you will!" I read that years & years before all this happened, but it made an impression on me, and I have taken that and made it a mantra of sorts for my life.
*The song "Let It Be" by the Beatles. That song plays in my head and in my heart all the time. A lot of the time it is playing on my phone, too! :) There is so much truth and wisdom in the lyrics of the song. And the music, it is peaceful and calming. I love it!
9. You look for meaning and opportunities.
*My website has taken on new meaning to me. If no one ever reads it, it is my therapy. Hopefully someone will read it and be helped - that was Rick's desire, and my prayer to honor him.
*I'm still looking for something to do with my life. Still feel much like a fish out of water no matter where I am. But, I keep going - moment by moment, breath by breath.
10.You keep mentally sharp.
*I have a game on my phone that I use daily. Wood Block Puzzle. It is a bit like Tetris. I try to get the highest score, and there is always a game running. Lol. I may not play but 5 minutes at a time. But it is my go-to for focus and concentration exercising.
11. And as Rick would say: "Honey, you are too damn stubborn to give up or quit!" Lol
*He was right. LOL Just don't let him hear me admit it!
It's not easy to be so open about my trials and struggles with PTSD.
I haven't arrived anywhere. I am still on the journey - and I accept that it will be a lifelong journey.
Will I ever fully recover? Perhaps.
But even if I don't - God is still God. And He is still good.
I don't have all the answers - for my cancer survival, for being a widow, for living this life.
But I know it's ok to have questions without answers.
And really cool when an answer finds me!