Tuesday, June 16, 2015

PTSD: what it is, what it feels like, and why I hate it


PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is something that I've been struggling with. It's something that I try to be pretty open about on here because I know it helps myself process things but it also helps to raise awareness and help others feel as though they're not so alone.

It's common in our veterans but also occurs in a wide variety of people depending on their experiences. My comrades in being afraid all the time can include child soldiers, kidnap or assault victims, terrorism, bullying, those who witness death and natural disasters, or other traumatic and stress causing events. It's actually a lot more common than people think. There is also a genetic component though it needs to be investigated more.

My brain even looks worse hooray!
In very very basic terms, PTSD is essentially where your mind and body are in constant fight-or-flight mode. Sometimes it's just lurking and subdued, but can be triggered by a number of things. To expand, the trauma affect the levels and productions of certain chemicals in your brain like cortisol, adrenaline/epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine. It can affect your prefrontal cortex and other areas in the brain as well as chemicals that regulate your temperature, growth, and metabolism... and your amygdala, which helps regulate emotions and learning and your memories.

Basically it just messes with your entire body. NBD.


There are a lot of things that happen as a result of this body-wide issue. I used to be very short with everyone and get overly angry at little things. I'm happy to say that I'm over that for the most part, because I've learned to communicate what I'm dealing with and express myself.

If you live with other chronic illnesses, you may notice that some of these are things we deal with due to rheumatic disease or other things - difficulty sleeping, irritability, difficulty concentrating, memory issues, etc. I feel like I've gone to Culvers and gotten a delicious meal to find it tripled in my bag.

But like with things I don't like in it instead of delicious custardy goodness.


Anhedonia is when you stop getting pleasure or joy out of things you normally love. That one sucks. I would say for me that it's the same as feeling flat but eh. There are have been days where I come home and the piggies are so excited to see me and I'm just kinda like...


That breaks my heart because I love them like they were human babies... which can lead into questioning myself on what the fuck is wrong with me and how I thought I could be a parent to animals let alone kids in the future being so fucked up, etc, etc.

That, hypervigilence, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts are definitely my least favorite.

Hypervigilence is just exhausting honestly. Do you ever have the feeling that something bad is about to happen (like the dude walking behind you creeped you out) so you're extra aware of your surroundings? Or where you might hold your keys in your hands in a way to fight back just in case you're mugged or whatever?

That feeling has its place, which is exactly in those situations. It doesn't need to be in your every day life. It's exhausting, harms your muscles because they're often tense, and mentally is hard to process unless you go into the CIA or something.

Sadly, I did not.

Sometimes I like my spy skills but not usually.

Flashbacks are just hard. For me they tend to involve moments where I didn't protect my sister and instead watched her being beaten. That happens so much so actually that it's almost refreshing when my flashbacks are of myself being beaten or assaulted or molested.


This image takes you through some of the steps that can happen over the course of a single PTSD episode but also of the initial trauma. If we think of it as a guide for being triggered, we can use one of my issues to walk through it (why do I share some of these things?). In case it needs to be said, from now to the next picture is going to contain major triggering talk for child physical abuse.

Right now I'm not able to watch Law & Order SVU which sucks so much because it's my favorite. Katy and I used to watch it practically whenever we weren't in class in college, so it also may be part of why some of my energy drink fueled papers sucked.

This is going to be a fictional trigger with a real result, but it'll help shed some light on these attacks.

I'm watching an SVU episode and it turns out the child's mother was helping her boyfriend to sexually assault her daughter. I usually can figure these types of twists out easily, but sometimes I miss them and they take me by surprise. When that happens, it's almost like I can feel myself shutting down or I have to go do everything on my list ever NOW to get away.

I'll explain.

When I'm initially triggered, I get the chemical fight-or-flight reaction. It makes my hair stand on end and I get a shiver in my back or neck. I may breathe differently - more rapidly and audibly, like I may cry or hyperventilate. My temperature changes. I zone out if I don't go do other things because that's a technique that kept me sane and from fighting/talking back. I'll interact with you intelligently but may not remember our conversation. It feels like everything is still and taking forever because I feel slowed down.

Sometimes this is where it ends. Eventually I watch something funny or go do something and wake up out of this.

Other times I'm not so lucky. Maybe the SVU episode showed some of the interaction or showed a parent beating and degrading a child. I go through the process above, but with some add-ons.

It takes me back to sitting in one of the two rooms that was once part of the garage in the house I grew up in. They turned part of the garage into two rooms before we moved in - one with blue carpeting that was sometimes a kitchenette or pet room depending on the era, and the other with red carpet which was either a bedroom or a movie/hangout room. In the memory I bring up, the blue room was a kitchenette with storage and the red room was a bedroom.

There was one of those white wire shoe rack type things on the back of the door to the red room (which you got to through the blue room) where mom hung her belts in addition to shoes I think. All that ever stands out in my mind are the belts.

My sister is crying and screaming and begging as my mother drags her into the red room and closes the door and locks it. I've run after them wanting to know what happens, telling my sick six year old self that I can help my sissy. I know I can pick the lock but I don't want to leave because what will happen to sissy. I'm presumed that me being near will help things not go too far. I'm scared as hell.

The wire rack hits the door as mom yanks her belt down. You can hear the clinking of the belt buckle, a noise that to this day elicits this memory. If my pants are falling down, please just keep it to yourself because fuck belts man. Fuck belts.

Whatever happened made mom angrier than normal. Normally, Kelsey just got hit with the inserty end of the leather belt. This time she isn't so lucky. You can hear her still struggling as Michelle tries to get her into a position to whip. Maybe that's part of why she got so angry? I have no idea. All the while Michelle is hurling horrid horrid insults at my baby sisser. They're so bad I can't access them. I know I remember but my brain won't let me go there.

I move to hiding in a further corner and by this point I'm crying. Things haven't even fully started yet.

But then they do.

And all I can hear is the snap of the belt, the violent clinking of the buckle, as it hits Kelsey's skin... and her blood curdling scream. Every lash makes me cry out and by the time it's almost over I could fill in for Niagara Falls. My throat hurts from holding in as much as I have.

It's done and mom throws down the belt, which she'll later ask me to pick up and put away before demanding that I cuddle with her. Touching this weapon and being so close to the woman who just did this makes me want to vomit. For now, Kelsey sits there crying and Michelle yells at her for it before leaving the room. She uses the old parent line about how this hurt her more than it did the child who was just beaten. She walks back to the main part of the house, not seeing me hiding in the corner thank god.

Kelsey has welts and bruises that quickly develop on her back. They really hurt her.

I feel like shit. I didn't do anything to stand up for her or to wake my mother up to what she was really doing. I didn't get help from other adults, though we were threatened with the knowledge that we'd be taken away and likely split up because who wants two broken girls. I feel like shit for still not really sharing details of this with anyone (this is the first time even T has heard this story in detail here). I feel awful for treating my sisser so poorly and for not protecting her. That's what big sisters are supposed to do and I have failed.

I parented my mother enough at times that I feel guilty for not chastising her... until I remember that I was a six year old who everyone thought was literally dying. What could I do?

I feel helpless, hopeless, like shit. I'm worthless because I don't do anything to stop this. I get angry with my mother, with her parents and grandparents. What did they do to raise this monster that bore me? My grandmother is much the same and has done similar things to my sister. She is, in fact, the one person I've ever called 911 on... Well, dialed 91 and threatened to finish.

It was much easier to stand up to her because (remember I'm in my six year old brain here) she is fat and can't move as fast as mom. She also doesn't sleep in the same bed with us or do nurturing things that mother does. Mother made me think that she was doing this because Kelsey was bad. Everything turned into her fault somehow.

My sister was treated like shit her entire life. My mother never cared to connect with sis - until I left and lessened contact. Then sis suddenly became this amazing child who could do no wrong, save not sending her poor mother money.

Sometimes this storm of thoughts builds and builds and I think about other events that happened or mistakes that I made. I spiral downwards until I'm numb and seem like a zombie. This happened everywhere - at work, school, lying in bed at 3am not sleeping, even during sex.

If I think about this, I get angry. Fuck you Michelle. Fuck you for all of this. It doesn't matter how you were raised - you had a responsibility to do better by us, to love us and protect us, and instead you beat us physically and emotionally and allowed us to be sexually abused without doing shit about any of it. How fucking dare you?! And even more, you gaslight us. You try to act like what we remember didn't happen. Then why the FUCK do we have the same or very similar memories? Why won't you ever admit fault? That you did even one thing - maybe this particular thing?

Because of my research, my adult brain knows why. It's because Michelle and Patricia are mentally ill. They need serious help that neither of them will ever get for many reasons, but namely the illness itself. Well, and not believing that they need it.

This all goes through my head in the span of a few seconds. While I'm zoned out, I notice everything. Hooray for special spy skills.

Now I'm just exhausted - physically, emotionally, mentally. I cry, sometimes in front of T or in the bathroom or at my desk at work or driving. My crumpled and angry body is done, spent, completely out of spoons in such a way that that phrase doesn't do it justice.


It's interesting to look at this image because so much of it has to do with ableism too, doesn't it? Dismissing others as unimportant or unworthy? It's like a family hobby. It gets so bad you think that you really are lying, like that episode of Star Trek.


The hardest thing about PTSD is that it's a physiological response to an event or a series of events. When those events aren't around anymore, though, your brain and body don't know how to adjust. It still is prepared to protect itself. I'm grateful for the thought behind it, but living with the result is really hard.


Working on recovery is hard. It means revisiting a lot of this and allowing myself to feel the emotions and really be there with them. It sucks so many donkey balls.


I think the hardest thing is that sometimes the most innocent things trigger me. Sure, SVU is a perfect example, but sometimes it's blinking a certain way or hearing a child scream (even happily) or a word or just someone being angry or berating/putting down someone else - even if they think it's funny.

I used to love FG but now I can't watch it or at least certain epis
Of course there is also the belt sound triggers. I hate public restrooms between this and being beaten during potty training.

I hate having a good memory honestly.

The good thing is that my antidepressant really helps. My therapist and I are working on some coping skills - and really working hard to get to the bottom of some things. I know that if I want to be more normal or have certain hobbies back, I have to get through some of this trauma. It's not going to be easy and there will be days where I want to stop. I just have to tell myself that I'm different and will always be so, which is totes fine.

But you know what? I'm also unbreakable.



4 comments:

  1. God, Kirsten. I couldn't even finish reading this. (I'm going to come back and read it all, because it's important, but just couldn't handle it all at once.) I am so so sorry you had to live it. <3

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  2. You make is sound so easy! Your story is my husband but i wont leave him, cause i roll with the punches cause inside of all that craziness is a good man and sometimes dont no any better!! Thank you for opening up and making me as a wife think about what he thinks and the reaction thaks a million! God bless your soul.

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  3. Thank you! I still will never know what it is to have it but my husband gots it! I wont leave him because i love him and dont say he got issues but i know deep dwn he feels depressed and won't go in public! And i continues to push him out the door! I want our old live back but im living a dream !! I asked him abt the 12steps of ptsd? No cure for ptsd yeah one killing yourself! No mr negative is not a cure!! Well i will never understand him but roll with the punches thanx for sharing your story and trying to put ur words in my head so i know what to look for in my husband. Ugh god bless you and continue on your road to rejoice!!

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