Michaels: Living With PTSD, is it a Blessing or a Curse?

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The mental disorder that quietly affects many. A disorder that most see as a condition war heroes endure after coming home from battle, never stopping to think that the person sitting next to you could be suffering from the same exact thing.

As a child, I correlated PTSD with soldiers as it was something I had only heard of from watching movies. Movies about men in battle who come home from war with visions that clouded their minds and often made people view them as crazy.

Then, after 17 years of the near loss of both my parents, childhood trauma, countless painstaking heartbreaks, and a fair share of unhealthy relationships, I made the choice for myself to go see a therapist and a psychiatrist.

 As suspected, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety; but what I did not expect was to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The “thing” I thought was simply something only soldiers could have, was no longer just a “thing”, but rather a mental illness that I and 6 out of every 100 people in the world suffer from.

PTSD was not a term labeled only for soldiers, nor did it have just a simple little meaning. It is a psychological disorder that occurs when someone encounters one or many traumatic events. It most commonly occurs in people who have been victims of sexual violence, near-death experiences, or any event that is too insane for the mind to process. This disorder causes a person to have very visual memories of traumatic events.

I cannot speak for everyone who suffers along with me, but personally these visuals can be quite overwhelming, terrifying even. They take me from whatever place I am at, and suddenly I become trapped in my own mind, seeing the memory of whatever has triggered the movie in my mind. The flashbacks can be triggered by something so simple as a sound or a particular scent. They can also be triggered by being touched or seeing something that reminds you of said trauma. Occasionally, I appreciate what I see, as my mom fell ill when I was very young and at times I see her in my mind. However at other times, they are memories I never wanted to relive again, and the memory often affects me for a good week or two after.

As awful as these visions can be, it still is not the worst part of this mental battle. The hardest part is the effect it has on those who care for me, as I imagine it is hard for anyone who cares for someone who fights a mental illness day to day. 

I watched relationships of mine deteriorate because I was pushing people who cared about me to their limits. I would lash out and ignore conversations because I would be having a flashback. I would disassociate from the world to protect myself.

 I refused to go to the hospital in support of a family member for fear of having a memory of my mom in the hospital. I had people even tell me they genuinely could not handle how I reacted to the images that clouded my mind and judgment.

 In an attempt to gain control of the situation, I began to do some research. It turned out that The National Center for PTSD has a page on the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs dedicated to the effect PTSD has on families.

“PTSD can make somebody hard to be with. Living with someone who is easily startled, has nightmares, and often avoids social situations can take a toll on the most caring family. Early research on PTSD has shown the harmful impact of PTSD on families,” the website reads.

Discovering this piece of information gave me a great new insight that I was not alone in what I endured, nor was I crazy or a bad person for the way I reacted in certain situations. 

I finally understood why I would wake my best friend up at night screaming from nightmares at our sleepovers or have panic attacks at the mere sound of an argument. And not only did I learn a valuable lesson about myself in that moment, but also realized a very valuable piece of information to hold onto in life.

I learned that some people simply need special care and that there are people in the world that may never understand this, nor be able to endure caring for a person with a mental illness. With this knowledge, I began to change how I treated others. 

I listened when my best friend expressed her mental illnesses to me and I now take special precautions to simply make her days better. I made friends with the people at my school who had special needs because I no longer viewed them as what they were labeled to be. They were simply people who needed special care and a little extra patience.

I was able to help those around me, whilst also slowly learning about myself and the disorder I had. The visions I see, the ones that take my mind away from real life could be viewed as a curse. The way it makes me feel could be viewed as a curse. But what I have learned since being diagnosed is an absolute blessing. 

I am no longer selfish to the world around me, nor am I blind to the way my reactions affect those who put effort into caring for me. Those who truly contain the compassion to give others the special care they need should never go unnoticed. I, personally, appreciate those who have helped me in this journey tremendously, and simply hope that the rest of mankind can grow and hear these words. 

Mental illness is indeed an awful thing, but when someone you love suffers from one or multiple of these disorders and you can withstand all the trouble that comes forth with loving them, you are a blessing to their life, as is learning to give someone the care they need. You learn to be kinder in life and as so many great philosophers have preached, having a healthy balance of putting forth kindness into the world ultimately will lead you to have a happier life.

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