Monday, March 9, 2009

PTSD Healing: Jump Into the Fray

I fought my PTSD diagnosis hard. You’d think after 25 years of struggling with symptoms of this Thing With No Name I’d be happy for it to no longer remain nameless. But that wasn’t the case. More important than diagnosis was the idea of being labeled. Or, not being labeled. I didn’t want a condition with a name. I wasn’t crazy. I didn’t have issues. I didn’t have a disorder that was clinically classifiable. I was just me, with a few glitches.

The truth is it scared me to have something that was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I wasn’t, you know, mental. I just had, like, some troubling memories. When a therapist suggested I speak to other PTSD experiencers I balked at the idea. She suggested finding a local support group; I suggested I’d rather go it alone. The reason? I was afraid (have you noticed how often fear drives our thoughts and actions??). Mostly, I was afraid people in a support group would freak me out. Afraid they’d be off the deep end and drive me deeper. Also, afraid that too much of a PTSD focus would make it bigger and take over more than it already had.

What this all boils down to is that I was afraid to really see myself. Without the diagnosis I could walk around talking myself into the idea I was not so bad, there wasn’t that much more wrong with me than the next girl. I could believe I was just one of those people born to be glum, depressed, sleepless and angry. I mean, there have to be those people in the world, right?

The funny thing is a part of my healing had begun by educating myself about my particular trauma. That is, long before my PTSD diagnosis I researched my traumatic illness. Part of this meant speaking to other survivors. I went online, joined a support group and met a small handful of people who had experienced what I had. And you know what? It felt good. We spoke the same language. We shared many of the same fears and emotions. We had many of the same concerns about the future. I should have learned from this experience how comforting and supportive it can be to connect with others in a similar boat.

But I didn’t. Instead, I insisted on going it alone. Rather than have a place in which to engage in healthy, proactive discussions and conversations about coping and healing I chose to continue my isolation. Don’t make the same mistake. When we end our isolation we begin to heal.

An important thing to remember: our traumas are all individual, but the PTSD experience is universal. Someone does not need to have experienced your particular trauma to know exactly where you’re coming from in terms of PTSD.

Last week I wrote about the online PTSD support group at (DS). Have you checked it out yet? Have you researched other online support groups? If you Google ‘PTSD support groups’ you’ll find many, many online choices.

If you haven’t begun to participate yet, it's time to get over the whole ‘I don’t belong there’ thing. Release the ‘I’m more special in my trauma than all those people’ perspective. Get registered on a support site and get involved. The Daily Strength PTSD forum, for example, has sections for Discussions, Recommendations, Advice, News & Info, and Treatments. Right now in the discussions forum a sample of topics range from dissociation to being able to stand up for ourselves to coping strategies, triggering people, discovering triggers, experiencing flashbacks, fight/flight/freeze response and anger.

What topic would you like to sound off on? What question would you like answered but don’t want to ask anyone you know? Go ahead and post it on DS. It’s a free for all. There are no moderators; everyone’s expected to be on their best behavior. I like this feature a lot. Each time I post no one’s looking over my shoulder to decide whether or not what I’ve written is acceptable. We’re all honest and honorable in treating each other with respect. No one’s judging. Everyone’s joining each other’s search for wellness. You can find me in there pretty easily under the name ‘MicheleFaith’.

While I choose to go by my real name (and so, now you know my middle name, too!) most people choose to participate anonymously. There’s a great freedom in this. Not only are you secure in the knowledge no one you know will be able to find you, you are also free to really be yourself. It’s sort of like wearing a mask to a party; you can say what you really think since no one knows it’s you.

It was a long time after my diagnosis that I began to engage in the PTSD community. Looking back I wish I hadn’t waited. Much of the info I sought was readily available. The friendly voices I needed were waiting. The support I never knew I wanted was there. The coping skills and treatments I could try were easily discoverable.

Don’t wait another day. Join the PTSD conversation somewhere, somehow right now. Post your questions, seek answers, meet people who feel just the way you do. End your isolation and begin to heal. Reaching out ultimately helps us reach within; this is where healing really resides.

(Photo: Arielle)

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