Friday, August 23, 2013

Did my PTSD Treatment Aid my Recovery?

It's been too long since I've written, but I have good reason.... I've been enjoying life!

In May of this year, I "graduated" from a PTSD treatment program and as after any graduation, one wonders how much information was retained. Well I think I might have an idea.

I have been taking my children down East as part of their summer vacation every year for the last eleven years. My family is there, and I wanted my kids to know their very large East coast family. I also miss them terribly as I haven't any family here in Ontario, so it replenishes my spirit to be with them even if only for three weeks a year. The only problem has been I have to drive to get there. Like most, I can't afford to fly the entire family there and back. So we drive, I drive.... 1800km... each way.

Prior to my treatment, this road trip caused me unbearable anxiety, but I forced myself to do it.  I promised my kids we would go every summer till they didn't want to go anymore. Many people with mental illness force themselves to smile, to go to work, to eat, to seem happy, to get out of the house. We force ourselves to do many things that most people do without even thinking, that's the nature of depression or PTSD. Taking an 1800km road trip was something I forced myself to do even though I was terrified of doing it, and I mean terrified! Why? No particular reason and for every possible reason....  I might get lost, I might get caught in between transport trucks, my car might break down, I might not be able to go as fast as the other cars and the drivers' might get angry, or I might have an accident and kill my entire family. That's anxiety, being worried or scared for no good reason. I would be so anxious about the trip that I couldn't sleep for three nights before we left! Yeah, then I got on the road with my three beautiful children and drove 1800km! I promised them, and I loathed myself for not being able to do what most individuals seem to do with ease, drive on the highway. "What is my problem?!" I would judgmentally and unknowingly say to myself.

My kids quickly learned that they weren't to talk to me or argue with one another for at least two hours after our departure. My anxiety was so intense that the slightest distraction could bring me to tears. My knuckles were white for those first two hours as I gripped the steering wheel as if our lives depended on it.  Somehow I felt I could control the situation if I tightly held that steering wheel, and that was the main issue, a perceived lack of control. Change, transitions, or a perceived loss of control are extremely anxiety inducing for PTSD survivors. Once I had driven for a couple of hours, I began to believe that I did have control so I could loosen my grip, and my kids could behave like kids again. When we finally arrived at our destination, I would be exhausted from the 21 hour drive, which I divided between two days, not to mention the anxiety and lack of sleep. It would take at least three days for me to catch up on my rest, we would stay for another 12 days or so, but the anticipation of the return trip started the whole cycle again three days before we started our trek back. Not fun. This year, however, was different.

Four days before we were to embark on our pilgrimage, my daughter came to me and asked "are we still going down East this year?" I was curious about her question and responded "yes, why do you ask?" She observed that I hadn't packed yet, and I usually start doing that a week before we leave, and now I only had four days left to do it! I was sleeping normally, and I didn't seem the least bit irritable or stressed about the impending road trip. All astute observations which made me go "hmmmm". I slept fine the three nights before we left, and I actually was kind of excited about hitting the road and seeing the family! Unusual. As opposed to thinking I had to rush to get there as fast as possible to get myself and my children off the road as soon as possible, I decided to take my time. I gave myself permission to take my time. We spent two nights in Ottawa visiting a friend, and one night in Edmunston on the way down. I didn't grip the steering wheel ever, and instead of never veering from a very strict schedule as I had always done in past trips, I decided we should stay an extra couple of days because we wanted to. Suffice to say it was a relaxing, extremely enjoyable journey unlike the nightmares I had experienced in the past. So what was different this time?

I was in full fledged recovery. What exactly does that look like?

Not minimizing my trauma as "that's the way it goes", and accepting it for how traumatic it really was and how it affected me. I lost so much because of my trauma, I lost of my sense of security; I lost loss trust in living in a safe world; I lost trust in myself; I lost my childhood; I lost the ability to have healthy relationships; I lost understanding my own needs. I lost me. Finally, I allowed myself feel the pain of those losses and to grieve which was a huge load off my psyche.

Understanding how I continued to be a victim and my own abuser by denying my own needs, never treating myself, believing I'm not worthy or deserving of anything good. AS well, not even understanding what my own needs were let alone how to take care of them. I was addicted to productivity and care-taking. I took care of everyone else's needs, and I kept myself busy 14 hours a day so I wouldn't have to face my own problems. In doing this, I wouldn't have to do anything differently, because as unhealthy as my relationship was with myself , it was familiar, it was my only sense of security and that's what mattered most. I learned, however, that I had to get up the courage to start doing things differently in order to heal.

Finally, realizing how I constantly was living in fear of the past and the future. Fear any of the choices I had made may have been wrong, fear that I would never be rid of my past, fear that I wasn't a good mother to my children during their formative years, fear I would always be alone, fear of crashing my car. Fear prevented me from doing so many things, it prevented me from truly living. Every decision I made was based on fear, because this is an unsafe world, and I can't trust myself to make the right decisions.  I never lived in the now because the now meant I had to face my own problems, feelings, and needs, and  I had never learned how to do that.

So now I meditate almost every day because it clears my mind, and I know how flippin cluttered my mind can get if I let it. I go to yoga. I get outside every day, so I can feel grounded. I try to stay in touch with what I'm feeling and what I can do to take care of those feelings. I assert my needs when necessary. In general, I have a greater sense of trust in myself and the world around me or at the very least, I have choices about what I can do to feel safe in this world. So often I would say "I have no choice", I was trapped or so I thought.

I was truly blessed to be able to participate in such an amazing treatment program, and I wish everyone who needed it could have access to such treatment, but that's another entry altogether. If you are suffering from PTSD and feel nothing is ever going to change, you're not alone, there are support groups and lots of information out there that will help. I can say with certainty there is hope, but you will have to be brave and trust. We can fasten our seat belts, brace ourselves, grab hold of that wheel for dear life because we believe it's going to be a bumpy, hair raising ride right to the exhausting and bitter end, or we can collect what we need for our journey, lean back, get comfortable, and enjoy the ride trusting that the road we're on will ultimately lead us to our glorious and final destination. Give yourself permission to heal, you deserve a pleasant journey.

In comparing past behaviour to present, it's safe to say my treatment was instrumental in my ongoing recovery.

#posttraumaticstress #PTSDrecovery #healing

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