“Mountains out of molehills. Zero to sixty like a Corvette. Glass
half empty. The smallest infraction leads to tears. A slight worry grows to panic. A miserable day masquerades as a ruined life. And a reminder of a painful past event can morph into a full-fledged trauma response. Hi, I’m Angie. And I don’t always see and feel things with a healthy perspective.
I have C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This illness affects my life in numerous ways, one of which is distorted perception. Because I’ve faced a series of traumas and gone on to develop a disorder, my brain quickly makes connections between stimuli and past events, and utilizes a set of well-worn responses to try to survive, even if I’m not in danger. Here’s an example…
Five years ago I was in a hit and run. I was a nanny, and the baby in my care was in the backseat when my car was struck from behind. This happened on a busy street flanked by restaurants, and customers came running to our aid. The baby and I were uninjured. The car was totaled. The event was shocking and scary.
Flash forward to now. Sometimes I’ll be sitting at a red light and glimpse a car approaching from behind in my mirror. With no conscious thought or memory, my stomach lurches into my throat and my heart skips a beat. My muscles tighten as I brace for impact that never comes. This is an example of a trauma response stemming from my hit and run. My eyes see an image and my brain quickly connects it to something familiar, then deploys the best responses to keep me safe. A trauma brain can be a pain in the butt. It makes sense how it’s trying to keep me alive, but hyper-vigilance is a drag, and damn, I want to calm down and heal!
It’s important to note not all traumas lead to PTSD, and not all sustained traumas, or series of traumas lead to C-PTSD. But sometimes they do, and people like me may experience prolonged symptoms from one or more experiences of danger and harm. These frequent trauma responses affect our perspective. Even when our basic needs of food, shelter, and safety are met, we can feel empty, exposed, and afraid. It’s exhausting to feel so often afraid.
If you struggle with PTSD perspective problems, the most important thing you need to know is- this makes sense. Put your hand on your heart and say “this is really hard.” Because it IS really hard! But you’re out there living in a world you perceive as dangerous, every damn day! Look at you go! Another coping skill is to talk to someone. I see a therapist weekly, and have a set of trusted people I reach out to when things look bleak. Supportive people mirror life back to us, without our trauma filter. Just yesterday I told a friend a painful story, and when she spoke it back to me, I heard something entirely different! She was seeing my story without my trauma-spin. It was valuable for me to hear her perspective. She helped me adjust my own.
If you know someone with PTSD, please understand, though it seems we are overreacting, or high-strung, we are actually doing our best to survive. We need empathy as we work to recover. Remember, to practice empathy, you don’t have to match our experiences, just our feeling. Not everyone will be in a car accident in their life. Not everyone will develop PTSD. But all of us have experienced fear and sadness, so empathy is doable. Acknowledging our pain, allowing us to share our experiences, without trying to fix us, helps us heal. When you let us express ourselves you’re doing important work. You don’t have to say anything profound, just listen, and let us have our feelings in your company. Brené Brown says, “rarely can a response make something better – what makes something better is connection.” I love that!
PTSD is a set of symptoms that are difficult to endure. Although my perspective is affected by past painful experiences and my uptight trauma brain, I’m grateful to know what I’m dealing with, and to be on a recovery path. I’ll be writing more about my PTSD journey as I stretch my courage and I thank you for your support.