This post is by Meagon of Prose for the Masses.
PTSD’s Many Different Colors
I am not a veteran. I have not survived a major genocide nor am I a survivor of horrific abuse. I do not outwardly bear the signs of someone struggling, but inside is a catalyst of angst and worry all rolled into a nice package affectionately called, PTSD.
My experience in the mental health field, both as a consumer and an employee, have taught me one valuable lesson about PTSD: It comes in as many different colors as the rainbow.
I have seen elderly women who can’t listen to the TV set loudly because it brings back memories of their husbands who used to use them as punching bags while screaming at them. I have seen men and women in their 20’s who are petrified of intimacy because they survived childhood sexual abuse. Lastly, I have seen teenagers who, after years of neglect and toxic environments, have anxiety that cripples them during routine activities such as taking a test.
These are all cases of individuals who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I fit into this category myself.
My personal experience with PTSD stems from childhood abuse and was also something that went misdiagnosed in me for many years. I began presenting symptoms such as anger, night terrors and extreme anxiety when I was 18 years old. From 18 to 24 I was diagnosed with the following mental illnesses: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Every diagnosis came with a new slew of medications and, by the end of it, I screamed SCREW IT from the hilltops and stopped seeking treatment. Finally, at 25 I met an amazing therapist who talked me through my trauma before diagnosing me. At the end of our time together, she gave me the suggested diagnosis of PTSD. My immediate response was, but I have never experienced extreme trauma? I have never been to war or been locked up against my will, how can I have this?
I, like many others, believed in the stigma surrounding this illness. I believed that my run of the mill childhood abuse was not severe enough to warrant a stress disorder? Society tells us that only severe and horrific trauma can be considered as such, but who gets to define what severe and horrific are?
The definition of trauma is a disturbing or deeply distressing experience. Therefore, if something has happened to you in your life that YOU feel was disturbing or distressing, this is enough of a reason to label it as traumatic. But, we also need to remember that trauma is individualized.
For example, I am deathly afraid of heights. Climbing to the top of a tall building or, god forbid, climbing onto a rollercoaster is enough, just in thought, to make my stomach queasy. To others, being atop tall buildings and riding that new rollercoaster that flips you asunder 10 times is a true thrill! Traumatic for me, not for all.
This is obviously a very mild example, but the point is there. Trauma is trauma if you feel the situation or experience was traumatic.
This leads me to my next point: What in the hell do we do about it?
All I can share is my own experience, and in my case, meditation and mindfulness saved me. At 26, I found the path of Buddhism and began to dabble in what this truly meant. This lead to my exploration into meditation and mindfulness.
Meditation is a silent time where you sit and reflect on the here and now while quieting your thoughts and centering in on a nonmoving entity, I usually choose to focus on my breathe. Mindfulness is simply the practice of being in the current moment, not planning ahead or ruminating on the past. How do these help someone who is riddled with anxiety and unfounded worry? Otherwise known as my go to symptoms for PTSD?
Anxiety stems from the irrational fear of something or worry about something. Our thoughts begin to take a turn for the negative and suddenly, we see nothing but negativity on the horizon. Meditation and mindfulness do not fix this, but they do slow us down enough to gain control of our thoughts again. By silencing our thoughts and also focusing only on the moment we are in, there is no room for negativity regarding rumination on past experiences nor is there the need to plan for the future and instill worry about plans to be.
So, to those war torn veterans, those elderly women who are piecing together their lives, that teenager entering high school with more worries on her mind then a prom date and to the young college girl who is afraid of anyone seeing her body-I see you and I validate your struggle. PTSD is not curable but it is manageable. Remember that your trauma is yours, but it is not the only thing that makes you an individual. Keep your head up, your thoughts focused on the here and now and your mind ever open to the struggles of others. Namaste.
Meagon Nolasco is a practicing Buddhist, mental health professional, and lover of putting that stuff you never talk about into words. She is an avid mental health activist and human rights activist, and enjoys nothing more than fighting for those who need a louder voice. She is part of the LGBTQ+ community and many of her writings stem from personal life realizations and past experiences, and feature a touch of bad humor and good puns.