Look around yourself. Do you see any immediate threats? If so, please flee, fight, or do what you need to do to stay safe, but otherwise, hey! You’re okay! No one knows what the next moment will bring, but right now, you are safe.
When I’m in a car and start to get scared that we’re going to tip over when we go around a curve or something, I look around and see that in this moment, we are not tipping over. In this moment, we are safe. Then the next moment comes. I look around. We’re still safe. The next moment. We’re still safe. And then my anxiety starts to go down.
I have gotten through this before, and I will get through this again.
Some of the things I struggle with come up again and again. (note: mentions of self harm and suicidal urges) I think that I did something wrong, I feel intense shame, and I want to hurt myself. I haven’t been sleeping or eating enough, haven’t seen my friends in a while, feel like I never get a break from the grind, and nothing is pleasurable anymore. I get my period, and the pain is so bad that I want to die. A trauma reminder comes up, and I feel so scared and overwhelmed.
In times like these, I find it helpful to remind myself that even though it seems overwhelming, awful, and like it will never end, it has ended before. I have gotten through these things before and come out on the other side. In fact, I have coped well in healthy, effective ways! I am capable of managing this.
I have dealt with strong emotions before, and I will deal with these ones, too. I have gotten through the before, and I will get through it again.
(Note: brief, vague mentions of self harm, eating struggles, deaths, and violence)
I am happy and proud to say that I have been feeling much better recently!
My PTSD has almost disappeared! I have nightmares less than once week now, and their content is much less violent and traumatic. I can’t remember the last time I had a flashback! I’ve had many fewer intrusive thoughts, too.
I think the main reason for these improvements in my PTSD is that I’ve been doing Prolonged Exposure and directly confronting traumatic memories. I’m proud of this because I’ve put in the work and done things that scared me and were hard to do. I may write about this more later, but it really is remarkable to me how much it has helped.
I have so much more free time in my day now. Being upset took up so much of my days! I have more time available for going to class, doing homework, and hanging out with my friends, and sometimes I even have free time left over after that!
I got grades that I am proud of this semester; I took on a leadership position in a club I’m part of; I even tried flirting with someone I had a crush on!
Getting better is a change, and change can be scary
However, there are still struggles in getting better. It’s new and very different from how the past few years of my life have been. Change of any type is hard and scary for me, even when it’s positive change. There are new things to get used to.
Experimenting with the possibility of dating someone was a very stressful experience for me, even though I’m glad I tried and have grown from it and made a new good friend (I told him I liked him; he said he didn’t like me back, but we’re still good friends). There are a lot of situations I’m not used to being in. Applying for jobs? Having interviews that aren’t for therapy programs?!
It’s scary, but I’m growing. 🙂
Higher expectations for myself
As my mental health improved, my expectations for myself shot up. Before, I called a day a success if I went to all my classes and ate some meals, and I’d be proud of that and pat myself on the back because I knew it had been hard to do. When those things got easier and more routine, I felt that I needed to do more. I thought that since I was doing better, I had to take school more seriously and actually get better grades (in part to make up for the lower ones I’d gotten when I was struggling more). My mental health had been holding me back before, and it wasn’t now, so I felt that there was no excuse to not do well, to not do everything, to not be like my peers.
I didn’t see it at the time, but those were unrealistic expectations. There is a lot of room in-between managing to make it to most classes and getting straight A’s; it’s not strictly one or the other. I expected myself to be perfect all of a sudden. I wanted to be able to make up for all the things I’d missed out on over the years all at once.
Wanting these things did make me more motivated, and I plan to achieve many of the things that I realized I wanted — someday. I have to radically accept that I can’t do everything all at once, and I can’t do everything so fast. I need to be patient with myself. While it’s great that I am getting better and seeing improvements, I’m not fully better. It’s a slow process and something that I need to keep working on.
Not everything gets better
Another thing to radically accept is that there are some things in my life that don’t get better as my mental health gets better. I came home from college recently, and it was a bit of a rude awakening to see my parents arguing just as much as they had been when I left. My improvement hadn’t affected them — of course it wouldn’t, but somehow I just assumed that everything in my life would get better as my mental health improved. That’s not the case.
Therapy also can’t make up for the fact that I have two family members missing in my life. Opposite action can’t bring them back from the dead. I think that I am dealing with the losses better than I was a few months ago (I’m not incapacitated by sadness; I don’t spend most of my days lying on my bedroom floor crying; eating isn’t as much of a struggle), but they are still gone. I am still sad. The grief resurfaces every now and then.
Worries about things worsening
Another challenge is that I worry about my mental health worsening again. Now that I’ve experienced how good things can be, I feel a deeper loss when I’m temporarily feeling worse again. I know all the things I’m missing out on and feel sorry for myself.
When something goes wrong, I also worry that it’s the beginning of the end. Will I go back to being depressed and tormented by nightmares? Good things can’t last forever, right? Is this a temporary blip in my life, or a more lasting change?
If I check the facts on these fears, I can see that the gradual changes I’ve made over the past year have lasted so far. I can see that I have been doing the treatment recommended to me by multiple therapists who believed that it would improve my life, and they agree that I have made lots of progress.
Yes, more bad things are bound to happen in my life, but I do have better skills to deal with them now. I haven’t self-harmed in maybe four months? I “graduated” from DBT group, and I use the healthier coping skills that I learned there every day. I can get through things.
Same friends, new relationships?
When I became friends with the people I’m friends with now, I was struggling, and I was looking (consciously or unconsciously) for certain things in friends — sensitive, a good listener, etc. In addition, many of my friends have their own struggles with mental illness. I’ve also stayed in touch with some people I knew from group therapies.
As a result of these things, many of my interactions with my friends were centered around me venting/asking for support, or me providing emotional support to my friends. I was happy and grateful for that, and it enabled me to have deep, intimate friendships, but I’m not struggling as much anymore. What do we talk about now?? What if we can’t relate as much because we’re not in the same dark place anymore? What if my friend liked me because she felt like she was helping me, and now there’s nothing left to be helped? The dynamics have shifted.
I don’t think that any friendships will end over this, but I may end up more distant from certain people, and that makes me sad. I suppose it’s also possible for friendships to evolve as people evolve, and I hope that mine will, because I really do like my friends.
On the other hand, I am also making new friends. Now humor and playfulness are more attractive qualities to me. I want to laugh for a while with a friend more than I want to express to them how badly I’ve been feeling. There is a time and place for both, but I find myself wanting more fun now than I did before. This is another change that is scary for me at times!
My friends enabled my avoidance
Some of my friends also enabled some bad habits that I want to stop doing now. They let me and even encouraged me to avoid things. Part of my exposure therapy is not avoiding things that aren’t objectively dangerous. I don’t want to avoid things anymore, but the message hasn’t sunk in for my friends yet.
Several people know that I hate blood, decapitation, violence, and related things. When there are scenes in movies with those things, they say, “[My Name], don’t look!” They say, “I don’t think you’ll like this movie, it’s not for you.” When I ask, “What are you laughing at on your phone?” they say, “You don’t want to know, you won’t like it, it’s bad, trust me.”
I very much appreciated these warnings at times when I felt like I needed them, but now I feel like I can handle things. I know that avoidance makes my fears stronger. I don’t want to avoid! I am ready to face scary things!
It’s just frustrating that my old habits were so deeply engrained that they spread to my friends, and now I have to change my friends’ habits, too, not just my own.
Overall, I’m doing so much better now than I was a few months ago. A couple of weeks before final exams, someone asked me how I was doing, and I said “good”! She said, “haha, like the dog in the fire meme?”
Meaning, was I saying that things were fine when I was really super stressed out about finals? I wasn’t! I was serious that I was doing well! As I thought back on the conversation afterwards, I realized that I wasn’t just doing well, I was doing the best I had been in the past two years. That seems quite amazing to me.
I wrote this post because I think I had an idea in my head of “getting better” that was all perfect sunshine and butterflies, and I wanted to express the ways in which getting better is still hard. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. 🙂
This affirmation is maybe not as uplifting as some of the others, but it can be freeing. It’s more about radical acceptance of my inability to control everything.
I was in a bad car accident a few years ago, and for a long time afterwards, I fixated on the things I could have done to prevent it and ways to be safer in the future. I was very cautious. I avoided traveling, long car trips, and driving on the highway because I feared they would lead to situations where another accident would happen. I carried safety gear around with me wherever I went. My backpack was big and bulky, but I carried it with me everywhere.
Over time, these things and many more worsened my PTSD because I was avoiding so much and made me depressed because I was limiting my life. I ended up in a partial hospital program, and, with the help of my therapist, realized that some things in my life needed to change.
Some bad things will happen no matter how hard I try to prevent them. It’s sad and awful and makes me feel scared, helpless, and out of control, but it’s true. There are some measures I can take to be safe, of course — always wearing my seatbelt, maybe keeping a resQme tool in the glove compartment of the car but not carrying it with me otherwise, practicing driving on the highway when it’s less busy so that I build up my driving skills over time, etc. — but staying in my safe bubble was making my life miserable. Thus, I have a life to live, not a death to prevent. I can’t do everything, but I will do what I can and live my life.
As part of the prolonged exposure therapy I’ve been doing, I do imaginal exposures, which involve talking through a traumatic memory. I tend to dissociate when talking or thinking about the trauma, so it’s sometimes hard for me to continue thinking about the memory because my mind goes blank with dissociation. However, I need to engage with the memory in order for the memory to make me less scared in the future, so I can’t just block it out. I have to balance not dissociating (by grounding myself in the present moment) and remembering the memory (which brings me a little to the past).
This affirmation is to remind me that it is possible to do this. It is possible to remember without having a flashback or dissociating. I can remember non-traumatic events and still know where I am in the present. With time and hard work in treatment, I am gradually able to do the same with traumatic memories.
I experienced a traumatic event four years and nine months ago. I decided to do DBT PE (Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Prolonged Exposure) to treat my PTSD eight months ago. And today, I finally talked about the trauma in detail in therapy.
I’ve been building up to this for so long. I’ve gone over the traumatic event in my head so many times in varying levels of flashback-y-ness but always fairly anxious states. This has been a part of my life for so long.
But I had never said it out loud to another human being. I had never said it in order from start to finish. (well, the finish of one part, at least)
This feels like a watershed moment. Something small but fundamental has shifted inside of me, a change that will grow more pronounced as I continue this treatment.
I am still going about my same daily activities and interacting with the same people, but I feel a little different, as if I’m experiencing everything with freer eyes. It feels a little like what getting baptized felt like, or what traveling to another continent for the first time felt like. I knew logically what to expect, but now I’m experiencing it emotionally.
Of course, it was also really hard, and this is also only the beginning. But I finally said it!!!
(This is about trauma and talks about death, with mentions of self harm and suicidality.)
I’ve had lots of upsetting things happen recently — my mom lost all the hearing in one of her ears suddenly, my uncle was dying and then died, my grandmother was in the hospital and then died — those are the main ones, but my great uncle also died, my aunt’s neighbor died, my family has been very chaotic… taken all together, within a month, it’s traumatic.
I’m used to PTSD and the anxiety, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks as a result of that. But with PTSD, it’s post-trauma. I can use opposite action to face fears because I know (at least, rationally) that I am safe now. I can ground myself in the moment with phrases like “this reminds me of something scary, and, in this moment, I am safe.” I can point out the ways that this situation is different from the traumatic one.
Now it’s different. I’m not living in PTSD anymore; I’m living in trauma. It is happening now.
Trauma is something that overwhelms your ability to cope, something that threatens your life or that of someone you love. These events have definitely overwhelmed me: I feel like everything is “too much” very often; I’ve developed new self harm behaviors; I fantasize about dying to escape it all; accomplishing little things, or even getting out of bed and getting meals, are hard. And the lives of people I know and love were threatened and taken.
I know that my subconscious agrees that I’m overwhelmed because my PTSD (from a car accident) has disappeared. I’ve heard that having flashbacks means that your body and brain are ready to process through the trauma that you couldn’t process at the time. Well, clearly my body isn’t well enough to process old trauma anymore. I’ve had one night of traumatic nightmares and intrusive thoughts relating to the accident in the past few weeks. Just one! I suppose I should thank my body for this, for not giving me even more distress that I’m not capable of handling.
On the other hand, I have had nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and lots of strong anxiety, sadness, and other emotions about the current issues.
And when I have startle reactions, like when the phone rings, or someone knocks on my door, or I hear indistinct raised voices, or my mom texts me, those reactions are actually the response that is needed in that situation. It’s not a post-trauma startle reaction. It’s not out of place. It’s serving an essential purpose. It’s getting me awake from my slumber so that I can drive my mom to the hospital. It’s preparing myself for the news that my grandmother died.
This trauma is happening now. It’s awful. Here are some other things I’m experiencing that help show what this trauma feels like.
Constantly high anxiety
Checking the facts and finding that the intense emotion is justified: people are in danger.
Screaming when startled
Not knowing what will happen
Feeling like my world is collapsing around me
Trying to maintain any sense of constancy in my life
Things so chaotic that I don’t know when I’ll next eat
Expecting my life to be turned upside down and inside out multiple times in the near future
Having to always be ready to drop everything for my family at a moment’s notice
Waking up to my mom calling me saying she’s in the emergency room
And not being fazed by it because it’s become so commonplace — constant danger is the norm
Dissociating so much that I can’t read more than a couple of sentences
Dissociating the moment I consciously try to stop avoiding emotions
Dissociating in order to survive — because if I don’t, my emotions are unbearable, and I get very suicidal, or can’t eat, or can’t get out of bed — so, dissociating is keeping me alive
Needing to use my crisis survival skills toolkit many times every day
Almost always wanting to die
Crying when I didn’t call my mom because I think that if I don’t call her, someone will die — and then having my grandmother die the next day and confirming my worry
Not knowing where I am
Not being able to participate in a normal, casual conversation because everything reminds me of the awful things going on, and I don’t want to talk about them
All of my thoughts leading back to the trauma
Saying “HELP” inside my head or writing it on paper or my skin frequently
Wanting very badly to be able to escape and not being able to