Confessions Of A PTSD Sufferer

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“Mum… mum… MUM!”

My daughter looks at me impatiently. She has said something that requires a response of some kind. I should know what the right response is, but I don’t. I don’t even know what she has said, or how many times she has said it. Long gone are the days when she babbled at me in toddler language and all I needed to do was smile and nod to appease her. Back then I could fake it. I can’t any more. She requires more of me now, as do all of my children. I try to focus on her words. Around me, there is too much noise. There is too much clutter. There is too much chaos. I am overwhelmed and I feel out of control and it triggers a panic in me. I fight to remain present but I feel the numbness take over. I’m too tired, and I have no fight left in me. It’s too late. Emotionally, I check out. I’m gone.

My daughter sees this. She gives up on trying to talk to me, and walks away. If I had the ability to feel anything at this point, I would be drowning in the guilt of what a failure of a parent I am. But that will come later, when I’ve found my way back from this black void of nothing. Then I will cry tears of sadness for the pieces of me that are missing, and the way that affects the people I love. But for now, I have disconnected. Physically I am present. Emotionally I am no longer there. How long I will be gone for is anybody’s guess. Maybe only moments, often days, sometimes weeks. There’s no telling. However long it takes for me to feel safe enough to surface and be a part of life again.

This is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

And this is my life.

I can’t tell you exactly when I began to realise I suffer from PTSD. Was it the insomnia? The nightmares? The flashbacks? Was it the bouts of rage followed by the chasm of nothingness? Was it the constant numbness and detachment I felt, like I was on the sideline of my life watching but never fully able to participate? The hyper-vigilance? The physical symptoms? Or the crippling anxiety over things that weren’t even real?

I can tell you that has taken me years to piece together, years to understand, and even longer to own. It’s not easy to admit, and it’s even harder to talk about. But the thing is, it needs to be talked about. Because I’m tired of feeling so alone in this. And I know there are others out there who feel the same.

It’s difficult to be a wife, mother of four, daughter, sister and friend, and suffer with PTSD. Because one minute I am here. And the next, I am not. Of all the symptoms of PTSD, this is the one I suffer the most with – what is known as disassociation. Where life simply gets too much for me. Where I feel like there is too much going on, I am too busy, I am too tired, I am too overwhelmed. I feel out of control. It paralyzes me to feel overwhelmed and out of control, to feel there is no clear escape route from the chaos in my mind. It reawakens the traumas of my childhood, when I could not control the things that happened to me, where there was no escape route. And so in order to cope, I disconnect. It is like a switch flicks in my mind, and I am no longer there. I go to where I know it is safe. Because I know that no one can hurt me there.

During those times I slip away from everyone and everything. I lose interest and motivation. The fire inside of me dies away. I stay at home too much and I avoid social events. I do not answer my phone when it rings, nor do I reply to messages. I function on autopilot, meeting the obligatory physical needs of my family, but emotionally I have ceased to exist. I see the confusion it causes in those around me. They do not understand where I have gone, or what they have done wrong. I see the pain it causes to those nearest to me, how they feel pushed away by me. They long to love me, and I am unable to let them in. I can’t. The walls around me are a fortress and they are made to keep people out, to keep people away from the dark places inside of me that reek of shame and are stained with blemish. They were made for solitary confinement, and I find comfort in this penitentiary where I feel such bleak, satiating, nothing.

I want to stay here forever. I want the world to leave me alone. The darkness wraps around me like a heavy blanket and I want to succumb to the weight of it. I cannot be coaxed out, and those that try suffer my wrath. I’m on my time, and I will do this my way.

Eventually, some time later, I begin to feel warmth from the ashes of the fire that never quite went out. I am numb, but I am no longer cold. I look up, and I begin to notice the world again. I see beauty, and I am moved by it. The walls of my fortress begin to crumble. Love and light flood the darkness, and they feel like resuscitation to my heart. The numbness falters, and I begin to feel again. I’m on the road that will lead me back to life. Until the next trigger. But for now, I am back.

PTSD has taken so much from me, but what I grieve most is the inability to be the parent I long to be. Most days we do well. But there are days I cannot connect, days where I am so absent and unaware of what is going on in the lives of my children. I can’t be the fun, energetic, creative, playful parent that they see in other mothers. They ask me to come into their classroom and help – they don’t yet know that that I can get so overwhelmed with anxiety that I can’t leave the house. They don’t yet know what it takes for me to make it to their assemblies, their basketball games and their music lessons. That on those days I am fighting a silent and invisible battle that they can’t see or understand. I am often wrought with feelings of guilt and failure, but I am slowly understanding that if the best you can do is crawl, then that is the best you can do.

I’ve come to accept that PTSD will always be the Achilles heel of my life. I’ve stopped trying to fix myself, cure myself, heal myself, and most importantly, lie to myself that this isn’t a real thing in my life. The research has been done, and shows the long term effects caused by early childhood trauma, especially that which was sustained over long periods of time. Some of these effects include drastic changes to the brain – changes to the hippocampus (learning, memory and the part of the limbic system which controls emotions), the medial prefrontal cortex (long term memory and decision making) and the amygdala (emotions – especially fear detection, emotional behavior and motivation), as well as a complete rewiring of the neural circuits.

The increased levels of cortisol in the body, due to prolonged stress, also impact the brain’s response to inflammation and impair the immune system and the body’s ability to heal. As Debra Wilson, a researcher on PTSD, writes, “Trauma in early childhood predisposes the individual to autoimmune disease later in life.”

Some of you may be cynical of this research, but it’s impossible for me to deny any of these things. They are my reality. I know them to be true.

And whilst there may be no cure, there is awareness and there is understanding. There is healing in coming out from the shadow of our shame and bringing our stories into the light. As we begin to mend ourselves, we begin to mend each other. There is hope in simply knowing we are not alone.

Yes, this is hard for me to write. But I know it is harder to suffer alone and in silence.

And sometimes, all it takes is for one voice to break through the silence to cast light into our darkest places.

May my voice be heard. You are not alone.

34 thoughts on “Confessions Of A PTSD Sufferer

  1. “But that will come later, when I’ve found my way back from this black void of nothing. Then I will cry tears of sadness for the pieces of me that are missing, and the way that affects the people I love.”

    I feel like this must have been written about me and my life with PTSD because this is exactly how I feel, especially regarding how PTSD impacts my marriage. You are not alone, either. We’re not alone.

  2. Your article will be very helpful to others.

    I came across people who were at the end of their ropes, which then broke. I had the intense feeling that someone should do something about it. Eventually, I turned out to be that someone because it was the right thing to do. I was inspired by the motto, “When we have been to dark caves and survived, we have to go back to help those still stuck in the caves.”

  3. I’ve just discovered your writing via Huffington Post Australia and you write so honestly and eloquently in this particular post about an emotional side of life which deeply resonates with me, and, I’m sure thousands of others. Being a mother takes so much out of us, and having lived in a chaotic, unpredictable ‘home’ during my teenage years, I can identify so much with what you have written in this particular post – it has taken me 3 years to feel ‘healed’ from bad memories which kept resurfacing – as since becoming at mother at 28 brought so much of my past to the surface. It has not been an easy emotional journey, as a noisy, intense domestic life as a mum of 3 young children too often presented triggers to unhappy, violent incidents I saw growing up. But as you said, my kids have taken me out of that, and are bringing new, happy blessings every day that I have enjoyed and still have to enjoy. But I hadn’t realised any of that until I read your perspective on it today! So thank you Kathy. Please keep writing x

    1. Hi Vic, thank you so much for taking the time to comment.
      I can absolutely relate to all that you have said. I’d have never have even thought I had PTSD until I had a family, and then SO many triggers came from that. I kept ignoring them, just wondering what the hell was wrong with me, and why couldn’t I cope like the “other” mums, or even as well as my husband. I began to feel inadequate and that just exacerbated the feelings. It was only the other day my 9 year old daughter had just pushed us to our limit for too long, and my husband had to threaten consequences if the behaviour didn’t stop. She is rather dramatic at the best of times, and cried out “No daddy! No daddy! Stop! Please!”, and oh my gosh, it wasn’t like he was going to hurt her in ANY way, but that was how she acted. But the way she screamed set off such a trigger in me, I just sat on the couch and cried. I couldn’t do anything else, I was just so haunted by my own memories. Thankfully now I can see the trigger for what it was, and I could work through it better, but it still causes such pain.
      It took me years to finally begin to piece it together, and a bit longer again to accept it and own it. It’s a tough journey, and I am simply tired of walking it alone, and so I guess that’s why I’ve been brave enough to finally talk about it – because I know there must be others who are tired of walking it alone too.
      I wish you all the best on your journey Vic, and I hope reading this has helped you to know that you’re not alone x

  4. WOW. You have put my struggles into words that l can show to people how l feel. I, too, had triggers starting off when l had children of my own. All the horrible punishments my narcissistic mother metered out came back to haunt me.

    1. Hi Jenni,
      Thank you so much for commenting. I was the same – thought I was fine until I had kids of my own and then everything began to fall apart. It’s a tough journey to face it and work through it. All the best with your journey x

  5. Hi Kathy

    Thank you for your wonderful post on the Huff. As someone that has only confronted his own childhood trauma in the last few years, I feel for you and your condition.
    No doubt you have consulted professional help, which can only take people so far but my therapist is practising a new and highly accredited method to treat PTSP.
    This treatment is called EMDR, is non chemical and has been used a lot on war veterans suffering PTSD.
    No doubt the flashbacks and memories will always be there, but with using EMDR the reaction your mind has is diffused and the bad attacks will not be as debilitating as you experience right now.
    Do some research on the net about EMDR, including how this method was discovered and the various associations who had lots of success with it. This is not some new age treatment and has a proven success rate. But, as always, do find a true professional who is well informed and trained in this type of treatment.
    Anyway, all the best to you and thank you for your courage to write about your life to help others. That’s commendable and I hope you will get better.

  6. I never knew what they meant by disassociation until you described it. I’ve recently figured out I have PTSD from childhood and past domestic violence relationships with men. Your writing describes me exactly. I feel such a relief to know what is happening when I disassociate. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much Carla. It took me a while to work out the disassociation as well, I just knew I always felt disconnected, like I was watching from the sidelines but never fully present. It’s a long, hard journey to walk through but worth it. All the best x

  7. I’ve never been able to fully articulate what it feels like as a mother with ptsd, in fact when I tell my therapist how I feel like a failure as a parent, this is what I mean exactly. That inability to connect for periods of time, as if I’m in a fog going through the motions. These are the times I want to hole up somewhere alone. Thank you for writing this piece!

    1. I’m so glad to hear this has helped you Misty. It’s hard not to feel like a failure, but I hope that one day my children know I did the best I could do.

  8. My PTSD symptoms/manifestations have been becoming more pronounced the last 2 years. I want to take my life back and sever the ties to my trauma but it is such grueling work. It gets so much worse before it gets better and you wonder if it’s even worth it. Can I live half a life, barely present, detached, and anxious for the rest of my years? Sometimes I’d like to. But I have a husband, a special-needs daughter with her own anxiety, a calling to share my story to help others find hope. Your words remind me how profound our suffering is, I tend to forget sometimes when I’m too close to it. Thank you for sharing this with us, I appreciate it immensely. Please write more about it.

    1. I feel your heart Tammy, I know exactly what you are saying. I’m not sure what’s worse – to live a half life because it hurts less to remain detached, or to do the gruelling work of dealing completely, finally, with the past, knowing how that will make life impossible in the short term, but maybe better in the long term?? It seems such a selfish thing, doesn’t it?? Because to do the work required, you HAVE to be selfish. But when you have a husband, children, work, obligations, responsibilities… you don’t have the time to just unravel. The world still goes on around you, and demands you be a part of it whether you like it or not.
      And so I think for now I’ve realised how I am is how my reality must be, and I simply accept the bad days for what they are, get through them, and be brave enough to face tomorrow.
      Maybe one day I’ll dig deeper, when I can afford to be that selfish. But not today.
      But to know there are others who understand and who are walking the same journey – we’re in this together, and therefore none of us are alone in this journey. And that is what I cling to.

  9. Hey Kathy,
    Strange to think I went to school with you & I always found you to be a sweet kind girl. Now as an adult I often look at your Facebook post & from now on your blog. Found myself looking in jealous in a way that your life seemed so perfect. But after I read this my heart skipped & a pressure seem to form in my chest. It’s like a lightbulb is being switched on. It’s only flickering but I get it. I too have often if not constantly felt a kind of disconnection to my children. I love them & if someone was to hurt them ill kill you. But when you said (I should know what the right response is, but I don’t. I don’t even know what she has said, or how many times she has said it. Long gone are the days when she babbled at me in toddler language and all I needed to do was smile and nod to appease her. Back then I could fake it. I can’t any more. She requires more of me now, as do all of my children. I try to focus on her words. Around me, there is too much noise. There is too much clutter. There is too much chaos.) I don’t go out very often, I’m not a big talker. I will avoid contact with people. Even worse is I can’t cry over real life issues, but I watch a feel good drama on tv & ball my eyes out. It’s not depression as the meds make me loopy. Yes I had a lot of trauma in my childhood. But in my mind I can’t justify it. There are kids out there that had a worse childhood than myself. (But then when i have opened up people think i had a really bad childhood) My mother always told me to build a bridge & get over it. And to this day that’s what I do. I’m also a blocker & tend to blank the bad experiences. I wonder if I have PTSD but then there’s this feeling inside that’s says stop it there’s nothing wrong with you your just attention seeking. I don’t know what it is, but I know I want more than this. I want drive, ambition & will to succeed. How did you do it? How do you accept the things you can not change & change the things you can? How do u keep pushing forward & find comfort in the fact that you can do it. I’m coming to live with you.

    1. Faye, thank you so much for your honesty and for sharing. It’s funny how no one really knows what’s going on in each other’s lives. During my school years my home life was hell and I was a very broken girl – but I just became good at hiding it. And yep, as an adult my life probably seems pretty perfect to those looking in from the outside. And don’t get me wrong – I have been so very blessed. But I’m still just a broken girl. Except now I don’t feel the need to hide it. I feel the need to be real and raw and honest and share my struggles with the world in the hope that it may help others who are struggling. We all need to find our own pathways to healing, but it becomes so much easier when we feel we are not alone in our pain and in our journey.
      I have felt the same – there are plenty of kids who had it worse than me, and therefore I’m not justified in feeling the way I do. But that’s just not right. There is no comparison to trauma – it wounds you, scars you, breaks you. It changes you. And you can’t disregard your own pain because you think it’s not “enough” pain compared to someone else’s. It’s real and it is your story and it affects who you are today.
      And you can’t build a bridge until you have a solid foundation or the bridge will just collapse, as it did for me. But it was the best thing, because from there I had to find my solid foundation. And part of that has been owning my story and working through the chapters of it I’ve wanted to pretend never happened. It’s been finding my heart, finding my dreams, finding my worth, finding my faith, and believing I am deserving of good things in my life.
      You are valuable, you are worthy, you are important, you are cherished, you have a role to play in this world and there is no one else in the world who is like you who can do what you’ve been placed on this earth to do. You just need to believe it xx

  10. Thank you for sharing this. As a husband of a survivor with PTSD, I have often felt her distance was something I caused. She and I have discussed this writing and it has opened my eyes. In the 16 years we have been together, I knew there was something deep down inside her that I couldn’t reach. Today she shared a piece of that with me. They way you described how the abuse can affect outside relationships really hit me and it stuck! It’s not my fault. And definitely not her fault. We are left with the remnants of a young life destroyed by someone who never had the right to do take that innocence. We can only rebuild this life to something stronger and more beautiful than what could have originally been. I grateful to be a part of that rebuilding, even if at times all I can do is stand to the side and just be present. She must deal with these things herself, but my hand will always be there to help hold her up!
    I am to happy to say that my wife, my best friend, is 7 1/2 months clean and sober! All the years of blurring the pain with alcohol and burying the hurt with prescription pills are now PAST. She chooses to live in the present with myself and our 2 children. There will be times of nightmares and flashbacks, but she is learning to deal with them in a more peaceful manner with recovery.
    Thank you again for helping me to see her side. It explains her quietness and “checking out” at times. The more we understand each other, the stronger we will make our relationship.

    1. Oh Jason, this absolutely means the world to me to read this. Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share your story.

      It can be SO HARD for the partners of those who suffer with PTSD, to sit and watch with confusion, to not understand, to feel pushed aside, to feel helpless and to often watch their loved ones spin out of control with self destruction at times. My husband will be the first to tell you he understands everything you have just said. Thankfully I married a man who has been my rock and anchor, and I can tell that your wife has also married such a man.

      The support you show her in just being there to hold her hand is worth so much. Im sure at times she doesn’t even understand herself how to explain the chaos that is going on under the surface, as I have felt too. And to have to BE there for others, to SHOW UP when you feel like you are going to drown, can be so, so exhausting. It takes so much strength to even face the day sometimes, and your wife is stronger than she knows. She is a warrior who is facing a battle very few people understand, and she should be so proud of herself that she is still there and raising a family and making her life better.

      71/2 months clean and sober is absolutely wonderful, what a courageous and strong woman.

      I wish you and your wife and family the absolute best Jason. There will be tough times ahead and bad days still, but the fact that you are fighting this together means everything.

      Take care 🙂

  11. Kathy, please don’t just accept this is it for life. I am a Mum to 3 kids, I have complex PTSD and had 3 seperate child abuse experiences that caused this. I also found triggers occurred once I had kids. I had eating disorders used to disassociate often and still do when faced with severe stress & frequently thought I was going nuts. I don’t care what part of my brain is damaged I am fighting back. The police took one female perpetrator to court last year they won she appealed then she won. I was left devastated and it opened a whole new world of flashback pain but I am determined to forge on and testify at the Royal Commision as all my abuse occurred in institutions. THEN I am determined to do whatever I need to re wire my brain beginning with EMDR – Do Look into it, mindfulness, exercise whatever the hell I have too to stop being a victim and become a survivor. Thank you for sharing your story it’s powerful but please know it can get better!!

    1. Thanks so much Sian – I am always looking to make a better life for myself, but the first step for me was just to accept that this was a real part of my life.
      You sound like you have had a lot to deal with, but you also sound like a fighter, and I agree, staying a victim doesn’t help anything, always better to become a survivor 🙂

      1. Ohhh cool.
        I actually found you a few weeks back and sent you a facebook message to your page, I don’t know if you have seen it yet, awkwies if you have and chose to ignore me! hahaaha!

      2. Oh my gosh, really?? I’ve checked my Facebook inbox and have answered all my messages on there but didn’t see one from you?? So sorry if you thought I’d totally ignored you – I answer ALL my messages (albeit slowly at this time of year, being summer holidays with my family) so I’d have answered if there! So sorry! x

  12. Absolutely the truth. I have used your blogs to tell my husband what’s going on in my head and to make it easier for him to be supportive of me. Keep being the voice for those of us who have trouble with letting ours be heard.

    1. Thank you so much for your beautiful and encouraging words! It makes all the difference to me to know my writing is reaching the hearts of others and making a difference to their lives x

  13. Hello Thankyou so much for sharing its good to know we are not alone with ptsd. Although i havent had the courage to tell most of my family and friends and i often wondered how do i go about telling people i have ptsd and wat to say? I want to feel comfortable to open up about wat im experiencing but im worried they wont understand and i dont want them to feel sorry for me or judge me but just have the information so they are aware of my emotions, behaviour and anxiety and increase awareness in my circle of friends.

  14. I’m so excited my broken Marriage has been restored my husband is back after he left me and our 3 kids for another was robinsonbuckler ((@hotmail)). com that made it possible

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