PTSD: How it Feels & How We Heal. ~ Betsy Greer

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I’ve done more crying in the past year than any other year.

I cry when I’m watching television, when a not even very interesting ad comes on, featuring a really dumb animated staple, or when I’m choosing which soup to buy at the grocery store. Without warning, tears begin streaming down my face.

In fact, I cried not too long ago to Top 40 Pop Radio while in an airport shuttle van with two strangers. One minute I was fine, and then one catchy hook later I was a blubbering mess.

I texted a friend and asked, “Wtf is wrong with me!”—but really, I knew I was crying because I felt the lyrics, like, felt them.

I felt emotion.

Most of us know what it feels like to feel; the touch of someone’s hand, the soft down of a fluffy puppy, the warm solace of a cup of coffee. I mean, I’d feel all those things, but it would be like there was still some sort of barrier between us. It was never quite authentic and to the bone. There was always something not quite right.

Funny how when we can’t feel, we drown out the confusion, the hurt, and the anger with various substances—subsequently, making it worse.

We lie to ourselves, saying that we really can feel when under these substances; eventually that fake sense of feeling becomes what we think is real, and life gets turned upside down.

Fake becomes real, because fake is better than nothing.

At least that’s what we tell ourselves, repeatedly consuming this as truth instead of seeing it’s like using a mop to soak up a flood.

The real goodness, the real feeling, isn’t being unearthed—it’s simply chased after without progress. Like a dog chasing it’s tail, you spin and spin yet go nowhere.

In order to get to the real feeling, you have to face the truth, and for me the truth was that I had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While this hurt, it also made all the craziness make sense.

It meant fully opening to the fact that this is why all my romantic relationships were miserable—each fraught with anxiety, disaster and panic.

It was why sometimes getting close to someone made me run away with reason or excuse, because my mind fed me danger signals when everything was, in fact, perfectly safe.

It meant owning up to that there were times when I would find myself shaking in fear for no reason; clueless as to what was triggering me.

It meant seeing my panic attacks for what they were, instead of laughing them off as something (anything) else.

It meant admitting that there were times when I disassociated from everything and retreated to a place deep inside, casting everyone out.

It meant truly looking at myself in the mirror for the first time.

It meant releasing my grip on (and dream of) the mythic and fictional “normal”.

So I began devouring books and online forums as well as a heap of information online about PTSD. And I let myself grieve. I let myself seethe and rage. I let myself feel insidious embarrassment of having this weird, horrible sounding thing that made me feel separate from the entire world—bringing hyper-vigilance, depression, anxiety, anger, and crappiest of all, numbness.

It was as though I were trapped in cotton wool, unable to see an exit and having a panic attack trying to find one. And this is all before I got to the inappropriate crying, the eight million apologies, and the occasional random meltdowns.

I was beginning to see why either no one wrote about this stuff, or everyone that did was firmly rooted in a long-term relationship; (i.e. it’s not attractive).

I also knew that to stay silent was to leave others with PTSD all alone, so speaking up seemed well worth the risk; so I did, even though I was at serious risk of never getting a date again.

Speaking up about my disconnect felt odd at first, but then I began to; (weirdly and luckily—because, how many people know what it’s like to fully crack their hearts open; to fully connect with not just other humans, but also everything you come in contact with from coffee to Q-tips?).

Now if I love another I do not worry about whether they will say it back, because I am so ecstatic to feel such joy.

Now I fully listen because I’m so happy to feel their presence; and I will fully cry with them when they’re hurting because I can feel the pain.

Now I truly know what it’s like to feel something, and I am in love with all I can feel now.

These days I welcome the tears that come down my face and don’t worry about the sunglasses. I embrace them because each one means I’m feeling more. And they have become welcome visitors because I know that with each tear my heart continues to break open; slowly becoming full with a love I’d never thought possible.


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Assistant Ed: Kathryn Ashworth / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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anonymous Nov 7, 2013 2:35pm

I treat survivors of sexual abuse in childhood, most of whom are diagnosed with PTSD. I will be sharing this with many, very well said. Thank you for giving a voice to the experience, and especially to the healing. Best wishes, keep healing 🙂

    anonymous Nov 8, 2013 6:18am

    Ashley, thanks so much for *your* work! Yeah! And thanks also for your kind words and for sharing what I've written with them. Wow, talk about humbled!

anonymous Nov 7, 2013 7:20am

Thank you for sharing this, Betsy…beautifully written!!

anonymous Nov 6, 2013 6:07pm

THANKS SO MUCH for sharing your story! People need to hear others speaking about something they may not even know that they are dealing with . Much love <3

    anonymous Nov 7, 2013 6:10am

    Thank you, Leslie, for your kind thoughts and words. Yes, all too often, people don't know what they're dealing with and it can definitely take its toll. That's why accepting that you may need things like therapy and meds can be a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness.

anonymous Nov 6, 2013 11:36am

Betsy, Thank you thank you! Knowing I am not alone, helps.

    anonymous Nov 6, 2013 4:44pm

    Glad to hear it helped! And trust me, it helps me a ton to see how many people feel the same way in the comments. 🙂 I was worried that no one would understand and I'd feel worse about sharing… So that's two of us that are grateful!

anonymous Nov 6, 2013 11:14am

Thank you for putting your PTSD experiences into words. Feeling as though as I was trapped in cotton wool and could not find an exit to escape definitely resonated with me! Yes! I know that feeling well.. I was diagnosed with PTSD about 17 years ago after being physically attacked by a coworker who had physical and mental health issues. I have received therapy and continue to find ways to increase my heart connection with the world. So far, Reiki has been the most successful for me to be able to regain emotional balance and experience the love in me and all around me. Thank you for this post!

    anonymous Nov 6, 2013 4:43pm

    Denise, thank you for sharing about how helpful reiki has been, good to know and you're welcome! Therapy has been a godsend for me, that and a little ol' meditation have truly helped me come out of the dark, so to speak.

anonymous Nov 5, 2013 4:55pm

Wonderful article. As a Mental Health therapist battling my own PTSD demons I find the emotional numbing to be the most difficult. I am in the phase of acknowledgement and acceptance of how numb I have become to emotions and am really working towards the whole "crying everywhere all the time" phase…sounds crazy but I WANT TO CRY!! If there is one thing my PTSD has robbed me of, it is truly connecting with the raw real emotion I know I have bottling up inside. I've equipped myself with my own therapist and hopefully soon the tears will start flowing! I am trying to branch out and connect with others going through the same battle with PTSD, anyone have any suggestions on where to look for such connections?

    anonymous Nov 6, 2013 5:41am

    Jessica, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me (and the rest of the readers)! And hoorah for helping out other people with PTSD, even though you are battling your own battles. Regarding freeing your emotions, I found Don Carter's book, Thaw to be helpful in depicting what is going on. There are also several forums online ( is a good one) where you can connect with others dealing with PTSD, which I've found incredibly helpful.

anonymous Nov 5, 2013 2:10pm

Wonderful piece of writing that is so honest. Thank you!

    anonymous Nov 6, 2013 5:37am

    Thank you! And I'm glad you liked it! I've found that honesty is the only way to holistically live life, so why not share it when you know that others may benefit?

anonymous Nov 5, 2013 9:59am

Thanks for this. My 17 year old daughter suffers from this and is getting really good help but it helped me to read this. You put to words what she says as well.

    anonymous Nov 6, 2013 5:36am

    Anne, so sorry to hear about your daughter, but happy to hear that she is getting help, that's such a hard hard step to take, I bet you are so proud of her! 🙂 Best of luck to you and her during her journey forward.

anonymous Nov 5, 2013 9:54am

While I was diagnosed with a dissociative disorder (including derealization) due to trauma instead of PTSD, I would love to contribute.
You've written what I've tried to tell traumatized friends so many times. I would cry at work, ducking behind the bar of the empty restaurant and wondering why this wouldn't stop, and it wasn't until much later that I recognized the need to let the pain and memories out so that they didn't control me. The fog ate my world for so many years that I don't remember over half of my life, and when the fog left because of medication my response was to run. For years I was drunk most days of the week and made decisions that only reinforced the bad habits I'd learned through exposure to trauma and pain.
Since the beginning of this year, I've been sober and since the summer, medication free. My friends are proud of me, but don't understand how much it takes to maintain and feed what stability I've worked for. They remember my raging, my panic attacks, my fugues, how the nightmares shook me until I could sleep well again, my need to be held while I was incapable of being touched, but I don't know if anyone can ever truly feel what another person's perspective is. My family is angry with me for not having a career or completed schooling by my mid 20's and their response when I explain that I was working on fixing myself piece by piece into a functional being who could maintain an adult life is generally unkind.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this.

    anonymous Nov 6, 2013 5:35am

    Dewey, thanks so much for your response, and I'm so sorry that you have to deal with this ick, too! (And you're not alone in not remembering parts of your life thanks to certain, er, substances…) And mega congrats for being sober and med free! Yeah! (Although I still need meds and as they help loads, am happy to still be taking them!) Your family should be proud of you, but sometimes they can't see past their own vision of how you should be, and it's not a reflection on you, it's one on them. Thank you for sharing with me. x

    Oh! And if you'd like to participate in my project, feel free to email me, [email protected] for more details.

anonymous Nov 4, 2013 8:00pm

I have very severe delayed onset PTSD. I have been in therapy for about 35 of the 44 years of my life. I am very familiar with the disorder and all of its intricacies. I would love to get in touch with you if you would like and find out more about your statement project. Believe me, I am full of them.

Bless you for all that you have gone through and I thouroughly enjoyed your article. All the best to you!

    anonymous Nov 5, 2013 5:01am

    Ah, another soul with about as many years of therapy as me! 🙂 You are more than welcome to get in touch with me, my email is [email protected]. Thanks for your kind words, and sorry that you have to deal with PTSD, too, no fun!

anonymous Nov 4, 2013 7:12pm

Reading this gave me comfort. I too suffer with PTSD but only recently have I been able to start to embrace it. Thank you for sharing and putting into words what so many feel but can't express.

    anonymous Nov 5, 2013 4:59am

    Hooray for comfort!! And for embracing what you have, that is such a big step, GO YOU!

anonymous Nov 4, 2013 7:03pm

Thank you so much for sharing this. As someone who has suffered from PTSD, I know how shame-ridden and lonely the experience can be. I am glad that you found solace in talking about it and were able to heal and to find a deep, sincere way of connecting with the world around you. What an incredible thing that healing can be!

    anonymous Nov 5, 2013 4:58am

    Shame ridden and lonely… check! 🙂 Sorry to hear that you have PTSD too, but thanks for your kind words, they really do mean a lot.

anonymous Nov 4, 2013 6:31pm

Thank you for this, my battered PTSD psyche needed to read this today.

    anonymous Nov 5, 2013 4:55am

    More than happy to hear the thanks, sorry to hear about your psyche. Sending calm and strong thoughts your way.

anonymous Nov 4, 2013 6:08pm

I love that you are writing about this. I have never been officially diagnosed with PTSD but that is because I have not sought treatment in a conventional sense. I am healing and am feeling and the trembling is less. The pushing away and the rest is more difficult. Your experience resonates with me so deeply. I wept in public for months and months , finally that stage passes. Thanks for this.

    anonymous Nov 5, 2013 4:52am

    And thank YOU for your kind words! 🙂 Glad to hear that the trembling is less, that is definitely a good thing! And happy to hear that what I wrote resonated, that's always lovely to hear. I'm a big advocate for therapy, especially for PTSD, but also a big believer in finding our own unique path to healing. Happy to hear that you are on your way towards better times.

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Betsy Greer

Betsy Greer is a writer and maker who lives near Washington, DC. Her first book, Knitting for Good! was published in 2008 and her next book, an anthology on craft and activism, Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism will be published by Arsenal Pulp in spring 2014. Along with other writing projects, she is currently working on collecting statements from people with PTSD for a quilting and embroidery project and welcomes you to get in touch either through social media as craftivista or via her email: [email protected]