What does PTSD feel like?
I can’t speak for everyone. I can only tell you what it’s like for me and how it affects my family. This is what PTSD feel like living with it. For starters, all of a sudden you have absolutely no control over anything. Your body, your emotions, your reactions, your thoughts, your dreams, and your will all do their own thing without any input from the logical part of your brain, just like being on autopilot. Picture this: you’re in your living room watching TV and the kids are nearby playing with a Nerf gun. Suddenly, a shot goes wild, and you have a perfectly harmless Nerf dart flying at your face. Because of your body’s natural survival instincts, you can react in a split second jumping out of the way without even thinking about it.
But with PTSD, every single aspect of my life is now wired into that survival instinct and ALWAYS reacts that way without giving me a chance to think about it. Logically, I know it’s not right to punch things as a way of expressing my emotions, but the other day, I was dealing with a ton of stress, and I hit a picture frame and broke it without even realizing I had done it. My anger took over when the stress hit and just bypassed the rational part of my brain. For those of us with PTSD, knowing the difference between right and wrong is temporarily shut down while we are reacting.
After the traumatic events I experienced, we shrugged off a lot of things as a normal reaction and thought after the initial shock wore off and I started to deal with what had happened, those things would improve. For starters, I couldn’t sleep due to the nightmares. I kept relieving the trauma over and over again. In my dreams, I kept trying to change the outcome of what had happened to me, but I kept failing miserably. The dreams compounded my feelings of helplessness over what had happened to me, but they also made it so I was a prisoner to my trauma. I couldn’t escape it even in sleep. I got so I was always afraid to sleep. I’d sit up all night until I couldn’t stay awake, then finally fall asleep only to be woken up too soon due to a really bad dream. I slipped into a state of constant exhaustion. I couldn’t get out of bed, and if I did, I couldn’t do anything no matter how much I tried to will myself to do it. I wanted to take care of the kids, be a good spouse, and work on my writing, but all I could do was just sit there and cry. Even basic care tasks like taking showers or eating were almost impossible feats. One day I sat there and had a pep talk with myself. I told myself today I was going to pull myself together. I was going to take a shower, go out, and get some stuff done. You know how far I made it? I got my robe and my slippers on, and then I fell apart crying again.
I also couldn’t shut down being on alert. I watched everything like a hawk, always on the lookout for dangers. To the point of obsessiveness. If my spouse left, the cell phone had to be on so I always knew exactly where my spouse was using the phone’s GPS. If my spouse was 5 minutes late, my mind always–without fail–assumed the worst sending me into panic attacks and rage. Logic should have came into play, but it never did until well after my initial–but always–over-reaction. Sometimes the rage would come on for even less of a reason. I would be having what for me was a pretty good day, then I would smell or hear something that reminded me of what had happened, and I went from zero to Hulk in a nanosecond. But in general, it always came back to me being on alert. In any situation at all–from my spouse to the kids to the idiot on the road–the more I felt like I was losing control, the angrier I became. I alternated between angry and numb as a way of not dealing with the pain. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it, and my give-a-damn was busted. Between the numbness and outbursts, I kind of lost empathy, and there went the filter for my mouth I had that stopped me from saying whatever popped into my head. I don’t cuss people. I don’t call them stupid. I don’t call them names. And I never, until this happened, talked down to people. But I did all that and more, and when the stress hits bad now, I still can’t control it. I don’t even realize what I’m doing and saying until it’s over. It may take me 30-40 minutes to realize what I’ve done or said, and sometimes I need to have it pointed out to me.
I logically know my hyper-vigilance is an expression of my desperate need to regain control of my life, but it always comes out as trying to control my spouse. I need my space to deal and heal, but I don’t want to let my family out of my sight. I want them to be by me. I need them to be by me. But I don’t want them near me. And it’s at its worst when it comes to intimacy. I want my spouse and still have that desire, but I don’t want anyone to get too close to me. I love my spouse and want to be with, but I can’t stand to be near anyone at the same time. It’s a catch-22. I’m emotionally needy but emotionally detached at the same time. It’s a constant battle.
It’s been almost a year since my trauma, and even going to therapy and getting help for all my symptoms it is a long road. I’m basically having to re-learn how to control my emotions, my mouth, my anger, my everything. It’s made it so I don’t even really know who I am or how I feel. Someone will just say, “How are you?” and I feel dumb for having to answer, “I don’t know.” Things run through my head like: I feel like a piece of shit for not being able to move on. Or I feel like it’s basically like being an adult with the brain of a two-year-old with all the adult fears that drive everything. But finding the words to express this is so difficult for me now. I long for normalcy, for the person I used to be. Where I once saw myself as a confident, intelligent, out-going, all-together person, it now feels like a circus in my head. I don’t understand myself any longer. Everything can overwhelm me. Thankfully I am learning now how to cope and control it but honestly, I just am looking forward for this nightmare to end.
Please if you are experiencing any of these symptoms seek help. It can get better and can be managed