That condition that burns an imprint into your brain and invades your thoughts and sleep without permission. Like an unwelcome guest ringing your doorbell at 2 in the morning, you are awakened to its call. Slam the door and tell it to go away and do not invite it in or give it permission to stay.
1. Accept your PTSD.
The most healthful thing that you can do is accept that something happened to your body and brain that you had no control over. Don’t apologize for it. Don’t excuse it away. Treat it as if a man with a limp that requires a cane. He did not sign up for it and yet it just is.
2. Make a pact with yourself that you will be like the man with a limp that accepts and adjusts to it but you are going to live life fully even if you have a limp.
It’s a part of you but it certainly does not define who you are as a person and can only limit you as far as you allow it to.
3. Exchange the Survivor mentality to an excellence mentality.
I abhor the word Survivor. Even though it seems to have positive intonations and is preached everywhere, I hate the word. Why? It forever links you to the trauma and the whole of who you are and what life is in NOT tied to that one or series of events. Survivor, that is a word that defines who you are by the event. Why not start calling yourself an achiever or an exceller in life? Get rid of the connection.
4. Quit analyzing the situation and understand it did not make sense.
I was held hostage by a patient. It was a terrible time and I refuse to keep rerunning the tape. It doesn’t make sense. Never will. You cannot make something logical out of something that is illogical and psychotic things are illogical. Car accidents, they are not logical, they are outside of the norm. Whatever caused this situation, it was not normal. If it was normal, you would easily understand it. Why spend a lifetime trying to rationalize and analyze something that is abnormal? If you can’t analyze the event in a few minutes and find an answer, why waste a lifetime on the whys?
5. Celebrate the Escape.
If you must ponder the situation, go straight to the end of the story. Focus on how you got out or unleashed yourself from the situation. Be amazed at your strength For me, the escape was this. For some reason, and with the courage and love I had for my children, and my experience as a scuba diver, during the event, I rationalized that if I could scuba dive, I could do things that are impossible. It wasn’t an exactly rational combination of reasoning but it came to mind and got me out. I jumped over a six foot man’s head. Seriously, I did this thing with sheer adrenaline and some rush of something superhuman to get out. What about that? What about knowing, when looking death in the face that my adrenaline will kick in and give me super strength. I can suck out of my mind superhuman rationalizations of how I will get out and I can get out and I did. What about understanding you have superpowers that are accessible when you need them most. And here you are. Focus on the end of the story. Everyone has a story. Focus on how you freed yourself from that bad situation. Focus on the getting out, not on the story itself. Start the story like this, … and there I was, when suddenly, I saw an open door or suddenly I realized…… Fill in the blanks…. And then I…… and now I had a new chance at life with a deeper understanding and greater appreciation.
6. Get rid of waste.
Stop wasting your time worrying about an event that you got away from. Stop wasting your energy on something that no longer exists. Stop wasting the beautiful moments that you are missing out on by staying attached to something that no longer controls you, unless you let it. The more you ponder it, the more it robs you. Look for the beautiful. Search for it as treasure. Find it in nature. Look for it under rocks. Yes, you have a limp. Force yourself to interact with people tiny pieces at a time. Not just on a computer. This is not real. You need to learn to trust yourself. Sneak out to the grocery store. Start a conversation. Some will reject you. Learn who those are and have greater confidence that these are not people you need to socialize with. Now, you become the driver. It’s okay that everyone doesn’t like you. But, you will find gems along the way. These are people you connect with. These gems are the ones you want. But, in order to be healthy, you must unconfine yourself and go make some acquaintances. Connect. Stop letting something that is not rational waste your time, your energy and your brain space and do something different.
The vicious sleep invader. You can do everything you can while you are awake and aware but this invader of sleep that awakens you to an event, it sneaks in when you are off guard. When you do not get enough sleep, the next day, you become more anxious, sad, depressed, fearful. Then, the following night, you cannot sleep and thoughts become more invasive. This is a viscous cycle. If you break the lack of sleep pattern, you break the cycle. It stops this spiraling circle. If you can avoid drugs, by all means do it. This does not help. All this does is place you in a place of REM sleep (the danger zone) that invaded your sleep in the first place. My suggestion. Wear yourself out. If you can’t sleep, don’t. Read a book. Exercise the entire day (this relieves stress too.) Take melatonin or warm milk before bed. Then sleep. If you awaken at 2 in the morning with scary thoughts, get up. Enjoy the night. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. Stay up until you are good and tired and then take a nap, a good long nap. And do it again if you have to. Even taking your sleep in pieces like this, breaks the anxiety cycle. In a day or 2, allowing yourself to go with the flow, you will find yourself slipping back into a place of normalcy with less anxiety and stress because your body is rested. As you practice this, you will find that your sleepless nights and invasive thoughts get less and less and before you know it, they become rare visitors. Pay attention to your own brain and body and allow yourself to go with the flow. Okay, so now, here come the naysayers. That’s easy if you don’t have kids or a job to go to. Really? Use those life responsibilities to assure that you are good and tired the next evening. Stay up and use those obligations to your advantage. It will help you sleep better the next night.
8. Use body movement and exercise to get rid of stress and anxiety.
I will not expound on this as there are many books and programs out there. Walking is great. Yoga is magnificent. Find what you like and do that. Make sure you like it so that you do it. Kayak, ride bikes, whatever you like. This is your program and you have a choice.
9. Avoid psychoactive medication.
I have been a nurse for 30 years and over 10 years was in psychiatric nursing. It doesn’t do any good unless it is for a very short term, like two to 3 months for genuine chemical depression. If you use it longer than this, it is masking the inevitable…. You are going to have to deal with it or hide it. If you choose to hide it, you are going to be dealing with it pretty much forever on an unconscious level, meaning it is going to come out in very strange ways. I can give you lists of people who are on more and more antidepressants, antianxiety agents and naturally progress to antipsychotics for the same reasons that I am speaking. It will do you no good. Not only that, but the physical costs in fatigue, becoming obese, abnormal tongue movements and body movements and new forms of psychosis develop. This is not the answer. Observe long time mental health victims. The handwriting is on the wall. Find an alternative like some of the skills I have mentioned.
10. This is the most difficult of all to grasp but it is now being scientifically proven through studies….
Figure out what kind of gain you get from staying in the event and staying trapped in your PTSD. The number one reason that people stay sicker longer is…. Financial gain or lack of financial support. Studies have proven this. This is not to say that people with PTSD are bums but, having to face life and freeing yourself from disability payments or from someone else’s support by remaining in a state of illness is a unique inhibitor of getting past the symptoms of PTSD. And, this is so not intentional. We get fearful and it is easy to hide away and not cope with life. The world looks scary and, if you don’t have to go out and live life, and stay in the comfort zone, well, life seems much easier that way. If you dare to venture out and become the best you that you can be, by getting a job, socializing, forming meaningful relationships, you risk losing your benefits or comfort zone that you can retreat to. This prohibits you from getting well. We like to be safe and stay safe and this happens by avoiding life. As long as we rely on the walker, we cannot learn to get by with the cane. Again, being kind to yourself and not throwing yourself into total shock… I suggest that you start dosing life and living a little bit. Forget about the job. Take a class. Start getting a little social. Test the waters. Pick things you like and start doing them. Reintroduce yourself to the world. Get a part time job if your ready. Do what it takes to start living. Take chances.
So here is my story.
One day, that was just a normal day, some crazy man decided to do something crazy and I happened to be there at the time. The great thing is, I developed this superhero strength and leaped six feet in the air, over his head and ran out the door. It took about 5 months to feel any sense of normalcy again but gradually with time, I started to feel better. I was determined not to take drugs since my years as a psychiatric nurse told me, this was a trap. I had to find inner strength instead. I am so glad I did. I found a different job and went out and started living life again and slowly reintroduced myself to a scary new world. But I found out I was stronger than I ever realized and started studying something called Positive Psychology, just for fun because I remembered how much I love to learn. I wondered how I felt so good with PTSD while others felt so bad. In fact, knowing how strong I was, I now had a greater appreciation for life since I had looked death in the eye and freed myself.
So I started digging.
I came across something deep within the Positive Psychology field called Post Traumatic Growth. Without boring you with the details its philosophy is this… if you can get “unstuck” from the traumatic event, people with PTSD, can achieve more than people who have never experienced such trauma since they have already confronted their greatest fears and lived. The greatest examples are those that lived through the Holocaust who witnessed some of the most brutal tortures, killing of family members, starvation and every form of human depravity. And yet, those who came out became some of the great philosophers, artists, authors, poets, scientists, inventors and the list goes on. This is why I am devoting my studies to this little gem. It is my hope that all who have PTSD can learn to break out, become unstuck, and go on to live magnificent lives.