My Experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

My experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is rather minute, in fact, perhaps my experience is hardly worth mentioning when compared to the level of PTSD experienced by a soldier returning from war or a refugee fleeing from a shattered homeland. Just the same, my experience had a grave affect on me and made my life difficult for a number of years and still, occasionally, affects me to this day.

A number of years ago I broke my ankle while teaching the sport of curling to a group of small children. Out of nowhere I fell and immediately guessed I’d broken my ankle because of a strange limp feeling that followed what I can only describe as a snap.

This was the snap that would forever change my life.

This was the snap leading me to undergo three different surgeries. First to repair multiple fractures to both my fibula and tibia (the 2 long bones running between the knee to the ankle). The next to remove metal hardware required while the bones healed and the third to have the ankle scoped to remove scar tissue.

Unfortunately I was left with severe ongoing joint and nerve pain which is what was the beginning of the end to my career as a curling pro/manager.

For at least 2 to 3 years, perhaps longer, I found my mind drifting back to that life-changing snap over and over. It often felt as though I was right there back in that moment. 

I could smell the ice, I could hear the laughter and chatter of the kids I was working with, and I could see it in my mind in vivid, high definition colour. One moment I’m standing there directing the kids in a silly game I’d created, the next I was falling and feeling, hearing that traumatic snap. This ten second vision would come out of nowhere, insinuate itself into my thoughts and run on a, seemingly, infinite loop. 

These flashbacks were awful. I never knew when to expect them. Eventually I’d squeeze my eyes shut, tears trying desperately to escape from my tightly shuttered eyes, pressing my thumb and forefinger against my eyebrows as hard as I could. I wanted to squish those visions out. Eventually I’d be distracted and the flashbacks would cease but I lived in fear of the next incident.

I was also incredibly sensitive to seeing someone else break any bone. I recall watching more than one movie where a character broke their ankle. I completely lost it and literally screamed and ran from the room crying. Often I’d cry and shake for at least a half hour before maybe being able to return to the film or sometimes I’d abandon it entirely.

My husband was wonderful as always. He’d comfort me as I cried and even pre-watch movies so he could warn me about a bone break scene (oddly this happens a lot in films) and I could either squeeze my eyes and ears shut or he’d skip ahead past the offending scene.

These were the two main PTSD difficulties I had but, depending on the trauma, others might find themselved hyper-vigilant and hyper-arroused, suffering from nightmares, night sweats, panic attacks, and insomnia just to name a few symptoms.

For me, time and distance from the trauma eventually brought an end to the flashbacks and hyper-sensitivity. I also, under the care of a psychologist, subjected myself to purposely watching broken ankle scenes on film repeatedly to help desesitize myself. This process was difficult but helpful. Writing about the trauma also helped me to cope better.

There are many other treatment types used, including mindfulness training, talk therapy, exercise, and meditation. Should you suffer from PTSD symptoms from a trauma there is help available and you are worthy of seeking it❤ 

K

A Worthy Distraction

When the going gets tough the tough find a good distraction. Be it chronic pain, acute anxiety, crushing depression, or a plethora of other physical and mental maladies, I find distractions frequently help stave off the worst of it.

I first read about using distractions to help with acute anxiety in Feeling Good by David D. Burns, which is a great read and the ultimate primer for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a series of coping methods and a common lifestyle addition for those dealing with anxiety and depression as well as many other psychological disorders.

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy

Some CBT recommendations have worked well for me and others haven’t. At this stage, having been in therapy for so long, I use a variety of techniques from many different therapeutic modalities. I find it has been helpful to draw close as many helpful techniques as possible and distraction is one of my favourites.

For me, when I’m at home and in a lot of pain, anxious, or depressed, I use many distraction techniques to get my mind off the whatever is causing me grief. I find drawing, the more complicated the subject matter the better, while also trying to focus on a tv program to be extremely helpful. If drawing isn’t something that would work for you, fear not! The world is full of distractions, there’s something for everyone.

Other distractions to try are as follows, but the sky is the limit, keep trying different techniques until you find a few that work for you:

  • Listening to podcasts
  • Listening to music
  • Painting
  • Knitting or crochet
  • Woodworking
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Phone a friend
  • Colour in a colouring book, there are so many beautiful and unique choices on the market right now.
  • stretching and gentle yoga
  • Household tasks like; sweeping, dishes, dusting, and so on
  • 5-7-5 Breathing – breathing in deeply for a count of 5, then exhale slowly for a count of 7, then continue the process by breathing in for a count of 5 and so on.
  • Fidget spinners can be helpful or if you have a small brain teaser or puzzle you can carry with you
  • Crossword puzzles, word searches, logic games, sudoku are great as they can easily be used at home or carried with you on outings
  • Going for a walk
  • meditation
  • Watch a tv show or a movie you enjoy

I’m sure, once you start trying different distractions you’ll come up with even more ideas and find a number of distractions that work for you.

One thing to keep in mind, especially for those with chronic pain or other chronic illnesses, is to be sure to pace yourself. It might help to set a timer when doing something physical, then switch to a quieter activity, and so on.

It can be tricky not to overdo it if you’re having a panic attack and you suffer from chronic pain, for instance. I tend to pace during panic attacks and if I go on too long with this I will end up with a chronic pain flare up and that just makes things worse.

I encourage you to get to know what activities work for you and why. I’d love to hear what tactics you use and further suggestions for distraction as I could not possibly offer an exhaustive list.

K

Psychiatric Meds are a Personal Choice

Panic attacks and depression are beastly and I’ve chosen assistance when it comes to slaying my dragons. I admit to needing help, help of the chemical kind, in order to move as close to wellness as I can get. There is absolutely no shame in this.

Roughly 10 years ago I began having acute, up-all-night-pacing, ugly-crying, hand-wringing, worry-looping, vomit-inducing, panic attacks. I was living on a razors edge. At first I thought I’d try to handle the problem “naturally”. 

I prowled through health food stores, begging for assistance from the resident naturopaths. I plunked my money down for any tea, herb, or supplement recomended. Some seemed to help briefly, but the effect was never lasting for me.

I tried alternative healing methods such as reiki, scent therapy, accupunture, accupressure, censory depravation flotation and crystal healing. I changed my diet, I cut out caffeine, I yoga-ed, I wrote in my journal, I cried in my bath tub, I screamed into my pillow, I practiced mindfulness and I meditated. Some of it helped. Some of it didn’t.

Under Dr’s supervision I eventually began taking the phamacutical Cymbalta on a daily basis to help me combat both the anxiety and depression and using Clorazapate for more acute emotional crisis such as panic attacks. This combo, along with bits and pieces of the treatments listed above seemed to work for me, at least for a while.

My first admission into the psychiatric ward for severe depression and anxiety came with the addition of a daily dose of Wellbutrin for extra assistance. During my 2nd and most recent admission both the Cymbalta and Wellbutrin were increased slightly.

These are the meds that work for me now. There are, literally, hundreds, if not thousands of mental health related meds on the market. Finding the correct cocktail can be an arduous task as medication types and dosage differ for everyone and needs can change as life marches on. Remember pharmacists can be an excellent, and often overlooked, resource when it comes to offering options and ideas Dr’s may not have heard of yet or thought of.

Side effects are also a reality when trying anything new. Sometimes they go away after getting used to a new regime. Sometimes side effects are permanent and one must weigh the benefits versus the detractors.

I don’t love taking phamacuticals but I think of it as a means to not ending my life. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to cut down dosages, maybe even taper off entirely. That would be wonderful. In the meantime I am doing what I feel is best under the advisement of healthcare professionals I trust.

Treatment for psychiatric illness, for any long-term illness, is complicated and involves a very personal series of decisions. Every patient has unique needs and I would never claim to know what’s right for anyone other than myself. 

What I do know for sure is, as a patient, I must never be passive when it comes to my treatment. I need to research as much as I can. I must advocate passionately, honestly, and tirelessly for what I need because, while I am not a Dr, I am the one who has to live with each decision made about my healthcare. Never forget to be your own advocate because nobody knows how you feel better than you.

K

Cocooning

My Mom’s birthday is (was?) November 21st. Soon. And the thought of it plagues my mind day and night.

Hearts and Tears, a meditative pattern drawing I created to help sooth my grief

I’m afraid my preoccupation with this upcoming anniversary has prompted me to withdraw socially and wrap myself in the warmth of quiet time spent in my own company. I have been rather incommunicado for a number of days now. I must admit I’ve been doing the bare minimum socially. And that’s OK.  it’s what I need.

The actual day of the birthday I will be spending in Banff with my Mom’s sister, my Auntie Lou. I’m hoping to breath in some fresh mountain air, eat fudge and perhaps enjoy a cheese fondue of which my Mom would surely approve.

So, there it is laid bare. The reason for my recent withdrawal. I’ll be back to writing on a more consistent basis just as soon as I feel I’ve given myself enough time to honour my need for quiet reflection.

K

Meditative Drawing

I have been drawing these little bird characters off and on for about 6 years. I call them Strange Birds (kinda like me😉) and when I draw them in mass quantities they seem to put me into a semi-meditative state. While in this state I feel less pain, less anxiety, less depression and less grief.

Here is an example of a partially finished piece at the beak colouring stage. From here I will move on to add colour and more personality to each bird. Even making colour decisions has a calming effect.

Is this actually meditation? Perhaps not conventionally, but it works for me so I’m not going to knock it!

K