In trying to work through some of the things I experienced in my past, I have regular sessions with a crisis counselor. Together, we plan to brainstorm ideas on how to effectively manage the stress-related symptoms that these experiences still manifest, even now.
I always knew that healing was going to be a long process and vowed to not rush myself through it just because “enough time has passed”. Yes, I want to move on from what happened to me, but recent conversations detailing my more traumatic experiences have shown me that I am still extremely affected by the memories.
When I talk about certain aspects of the abuse, I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. Additionally, my breathing becomes somewhat restricted and my hands feel like ice cubes. I feel “fidgety” as the anxiety takes over. Certain things still trigger flashbacks…and probably will for a long time.
Much of the abuse, throughout my early life, was emotional and verbal. Having experienced abuse as a child and, later, as a partner in an intimate relationship, I have a broader understanding of how the abuse dynamic differs between a parent / child and husband / wife. I also have insight into the differences between an abuser who is intelligent and one who is not. For instance, I always believed that my father’s lack of an education made him less fearful than my ex, who constantly boasted about his high IQ (which qualified him to be in MENSA). I still believe that’s true, for the most part; my father had a fairly limited repertoire which followed a daily pattern, so I knew what to expect. There were elements of psychological abuse, which still affect me even now.
My ex was well aware of how far he could subtly push me, without ever crossing that fine line between things he could justify as “normal” and what could be considered as grounds for divorce. He knew what made me feel terrified and he knew how to keep me sleep-deprived for maximum effect. He knew how to make me question my abilities, my character, my thoughts, my beliefs, my opinions. He had me second-guessing everything I said and did out of dread for what would happen if I made him angry. Although he abused me verbally, emotionally, financially (there were only two incidents of physical abuse and neither resulted in bodily harm), his preferred method was psychological.
As a result of the psychological abuse, I have PTSD. I suffer from insomnia because of the many years my ex kept me sleep deprived, sometimes using cruel methods to scare me into consciousness. I started having recurring nightmares, which certainly exacerbated my troubles with sleeping. As mentioned before, certain things trigger flashbacks ~ the sound of loud footsteps (or any noise that’s similar) brings back memories of being chased up the stairs, not knowing what was going to happen when my ex caught up to me. He was eight inches taller than me and, when he stood over me, I felt totally threatened. The way our house was set up, there were no locks on any of the interior doors and the exterior doors required keys to unlock; I couldn’t get away from him to any place I felt completely safe. I felt constantly afraid that if I left the house, he would lock me out and not allow me back in; with children to consider, leaving that way wasn’t an option.
I didn’t feel a sense of safety in my house because I never knew what was going to happen next. His brand of terrorism hinged upon the understanding that he had the power to do anything he wanted to me, even if he didn’t actually do it. The threat he posed was always in the forefront of my thoughts and, therefore, I never acted without thinking out “worst case scenario” first.
Dealing with PTSD is difficult. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t around to abuse or threaten me anymore. Logically, I know this, but the triggers still bring on the anxiety. If I heard loud footsteps behind me, for whatever reason, it would be difficult for me to disassociate the reality from the memory of being chased by my ex. Even if nobody was really chasing me, my mind would still feel that it was a very realistic threat and slip into a panic.
When it comes to dealing with PTSD, I haven’t had much experience but here’s how I plan to deal with mine:
~ Identify all the triggers and the anxiety associated with them.
~ Pinpoint the onset of the triggers and define why they happen.
~ Explore rational fears vs. irrational fears, as well as realistic ways that triggers can be avoided / prevented.
~ Talk about the triggers with trusted friends and relatives, without guilt or shame. That I have PTSD is not my fault; it’s something I have to live with until I can overcome it.
~ Tell trusted friends / family what they can do to help or comfort when anxiety happens.
As always, we’re here to help. If you have PTSD and have a coping mechanism you’d like to share, please get in touch.