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

Enough

So, after a two month stay in the hospital for severe depression and what turned out to be a severly low hemoglobin count I’ve been at home for more than a month. I’m feeling better about my life in general. In fact, most days, the prospect of getting out of bed doesn’t feel so overwhelming I suspect my head will explode.

Yeah me!

I think I’m actually on the mend. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my friends and family who’ve been supportive and caring in so many wonderful ways during this difficult time. I also owe heaps of thanks to the many kind and patient Dr’s and Nurses and hospital staff.

I’ve been doing well at keeping my expectations realistic. I’ve been spending a lot of time indulging in long-lost rituals of self-care, and self-love. And I’ve been trying to function in a manner that gives love back into my community. 

But I’m not on top of it all yet. I could easily make a list pages and pages long of gratitude I owe and people I haven’t reconnected with and visits postponed and how I CANNOT EVEN FIND THE STRENGTH TO CONSISTENTLY CONTRIBUTE TO THIS BLOG OF MINE!

Now, as my heart pounds with panic and my brain feels like a hampster on a wheel going full speed towards… what?

This is where I must give my head a shake and go back to being that self-loving, gratitude-having, nurturing person I was at the top of this page.

So, I will publish this little snapshot of how I’m doing a month and a bit after release from the psychiatric ward and I will say to myself, “This, all of this, is better than it was and that is enough for now.”

K

Passion Practice 

Author Malcolm Gladwell posits to gain expertise at something one must put in roughly 10,000 hours of practice and study.

I believe I have my 10,000 in many aspects of curling. I believe I have roughly 10,000 hours accumulated in writing and reading but I feel I could do with another 50,000 hours of study before obtaining the expertise in literature and how to craft prose without sounding like a poseur. 

I was recently asked by someone trying to get a feel for how serious I am about art,”When did you last make art?,”  

I immediately replied, “last night before bed. I try to practice drawing and/or painting every day.”

I’ve been asked about this too with regards to writing and the answer is generally the same. I work hard to practice whatever I want to gain skill at every single day whenever possible because, for me, this is what keeps me moving closer to competence and , eventually, expertise. 

I find my confidence grows the more I practice. I try to vary my studies. I read a bizarrely broad range of books. I try writing in as many genres as possible. With art I experiment with as many different mediums and styles as I can.

Sure there is reading material I prefer but I try to mix it up in order to see what I might be missing. I am often surprised to find myself enjoying things I felt skeptical about at first.

There are also styles of writing I enjoy but I try everything from Haiku to science fiction. Again I am always surprised to find myself enjoying an unexpected new writing style. Art is also always surprising me. The more I learn, the more I grow to llove the practice.  

My wish is that everyone has a chance to work towards exploration, achievement, and advanced knowledge in whatever one finds a passion for, be it anything from plumbing to flower arranging.

Knowledge is power, skills are transferable and practice is a huge part of growing and learning and stoking the passion within us all.

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

Finish Line

There’s something deeply satisfying about finishing. Finishing is a battle. I’ve learned I hate my art and my writing most right before I turn the corner and finish. 

It’s a struggle to stay with a project I think is nothing more than tripe, fit for no eyes or ears lest the looker/listener cry out in pain from the hideousness of it all (dramatically collapses on fainting chaise lounge).

The satisfying part is when I push and finally see the ugly duckling turn into a swan. There’re few better feelings than signing a piece of art work or seeing one’s byline in print because finishing is incredibly satisfying. 

The painting above is one I began a month or so ago. I showed a picture of it halfway finished at the I-fucking- hate-this-painting-and-can’t-believe- I’ve-wasted-so-much-time-on-it  (dramatic foot stomp and pout) stage. Truth be told that blog, entitled Finding A-MUSE-ment, was written, in part, to help me find the strength to power through and finish!

The finished painting above is titled Espressoscape as I cured the canvas in roughly 10 layers of coffee and espresso to start. I then used both coffee, espresso and acrylic ink for about another 10 layers for both light and dark areas, the shadows were laid in last with about 5 layers of espresso. It smells like the dreams of a Gilmore Girl❤❤❤

It was a really interesting project as I was making it up as I went along. I’m working on another similar and experimental piece where the canvas is cured in a combo of coffee, espresso and red wine. I’ll let you know how it works out😊

K

Are You, Unwittingly, Not Claiming Your Experience as Your Own?

“When I have a panic attack it feels like _____.”

Only one tiny word alteration changes how this sentence will be perceived, either consciously or unconsciously. Behold:

“When you have a a panic attack it feels like _____.”

Take a moment and think how each sentence makes you feel. Take another moment to consider the language you typically use?

Up until a few years ago when I entered group and individual therapy this extreme difference had never really had never given me pause. I was guilty of using you statements instead of I statements. The difference just hadn’t occurred to me until it was pointed out.

Once it was pointed out to me the gravity of such a small difference began to sink in and I began to notice it everywhere; in movies, TV shows, interviews on the news, in writing and everyday speech.

Unwittinly and without malice, many people are guilty of projecting their views and feelings onto others. Doing this, instead of recognizing the need to assume all viewpoints are subject to the unique thoughts and paradigm of each individual, can have a powerful effect on our psyche as individuals.  

As soon as I began to speak in I feel and in my experience type statements I began to notice significant and important changes in my interpersonal relationships. Others seemed more open to sharing their unique experiences and viewpoints. I also began to see my thoughts and opinions as important and, very much, my own, authentic.

If you haven’t already adopted this type of language shift I encourage you to give it a try. To start with, just listening to how others tell stories is helpful. Once the you epidemic is heard it can never be unheard and it is everywhere. 

Try slowly shifting your language to embrace taking ownership of your opinions and ideas as uniquely yours. I found, for me, it took a while to adopt this virtually all the time but the sense of accomplishment and, overall sense of authentic me-ness was worth the effort!

Remember we cannot change the actions and words of others but we do have the power to change ourselves.

I challenge you to try practicing the above dearest readers and let me know how this change makes you feel or let me know if you think this is just psychobabble hogwash😉

K

Whirlwind 

I feel like things are moving faster than I can handle. If I stop for a moment and allow my thoughts to stray into the future or back to the past I feel paralyzed with fear.

Sometimes when I look to the past I mostly think of situations I could have handled better or situations where I behaved like an ass or a moron.

I think of interactions in my recent past where I failed in my estimation. For instance, I ran into several old friends recently and my current situation came up and despite all my practice, all my determination to take control I gave more information away about my health than I wanted to. I failed to practice the answers I’ve been rehersing so I can stay in conversations, not feel uncomfortable, and hold my head up high.

When my thoughts stray to the future I get into the counting game. Maybe if I do really well I can be back to a full time job I enjoy in 6 months, maybe a year, but what if it takes longer? What if I never find anything I can support myself and family with that I’m passionate about? What if it all falls apart again?

I try so hard just to stay in the present to think about now and only now but I’m not always able to control my thoughts. I keep thinking being mindful of the present is the only way forward. I can feel the difference when I stick to this. I feel less worried, less terrified, less hopeless. 

I just don’t understand why I can’t maintain my grip on the now. Why do I constantly allow myself to be dragged to the unproductive parts of the past and future when I know it won’t help. I’m not an ouija board or a fucking magic 8-ball. 

Does anyone else have trouble maintaining mindfulness? What works for you and what doesn’t? I’m not looking for anyone to solve my problems but I could sure use some reassurance there is hope.

K