Dear PTSD Warriors
I wish I could tell you this road will be easy, but that would be a lie. Healing is going to be the hardest thing you have ever done, but if you survived, this is what brought you here in the first place—you can survive this.
The road to recovery is often slow and can be isolating. Symptoms can increase during treatment, making it feel like no progress is being made at all. It may feel that way because healing is not linear, but as long as you are still fighting, you are making progress, and that is something to be proud of.
There is the person I was before my most intense trauma and the person I am now. For a long time, I thought I was working to get back to that person. It took me a while, but I now realize that person is forever gone. Some days I miss her deeply. After grieving the loss of the person I was before the trauma, I made up my mind that I will not stop working on myself until I am twice the person I was before. I will take all the best pieces of her and hold them close. I will rebuild. I am rebuilding.
I don’t think there is ever a point where we are done working on ourselves; it is something I will do every day. That does not mean that every day is perfect. That does not mean that I am perfect; in fact, I am very flawed—we all are. Some days, success is just staying here; some days, just surviving is more than enough to be proud of. We must strive for progress, not perfection.
The battle you are fighting is a silent one, but it doesn’t have to be. Being a PTSD warrior means reliving the worst moments of your life on repeat. It is sleepless nights of flashbacks and nightmares. It is praying for the sun to come up when each night feels like several days.
When symptoms are high, progress may look different. When days are consumed with emotional flashbacks and nights are consumed with nightmares and flashbacks—you need to find a way to be gentle with yourself. You may have to dig deep through the darkness to find some self-compassion, but dig until you find it. This is crucial.
Sometimes, being a warrior is being consumed, without warning, by the same sights, smells, sensations, sounds, and feelings you experienced in the worst moments of your life. This can come on randomly and unexpectedly because of the slightest trigger to the memory. It can feel all-consuming, unpredictable, and inescapable.
For me, some days, PTSD is hiding in the bathroom of a clothing store because a stranger walked past wearing his cologne and suddenly my sunny Tuesday turned into the worst moment of my life.
In the moment, I don’t know what brought it on. I just know I can feel the blood rush to my face and the sweat begin to bead and pool everywhere. The heat becomes too much to bear. I begin to try to rip my jacket off as the tunnel vision starts. I stumble to the bathroom as I am overtaken by the smell, that turns into the taste, that turns into hands around my throat and suffocation. As I claw at my throat in a public bathroom stall to break the grasp of imaginary hands that haven’t been around my throat in years, the fear of death consumes me.
In that moment, the only thing that is real is the experience. The only reality is the memory. Moments of awareness begin to break up the flashback. I hear a sound, I am able to open my eyes for a second. I remember a grounding skill and begin trying to open my eyes long enough to focus on what is around me.
I fight with everything in me to remain present. His face. His smell. As the flashback dissipates, the panic sets in. The impending sense of doom. I walk to the sink to splash some water on my face, my neck is covered in scratches. I begin to cry at the sight of my red, puffy eyes, disheveled hair, and torn-up neck.
At this point, the negative self-talk sets in. “Why am I like this?” “What am I doing wrong?” “I must not be trying hard enough!” “Why can’t I be normal?” “I am so worthless. I can’t even handle going to the store.”
It can seem impossible to find a way to cope with this while still managing and maintaining your life. There can be a constant fear of never knowing when your brain will get highjacked. In some cases, this can increase isolation. When you never know when or what is going to spiral you into a PTSD attack, being around friends and family or completing basic tasks in public can be horrifying.
Going out and trying to socialize or being in the community can be horrifying when you are on high alert during every moment of every day. It is exhausting to lack the ability to differentiate between real threats of danger and perceived threats. When your brain is constantly scanning for danger and pulling any and all similarities to trauma—there is no peace. There is no feeling of safety or comfort. It is constantly looking over your shoulder.
It is horrifying. But you do not have to do this alone. There is still beauty in the world. Cling to it like your f*cking life depends on it—because it does.
Being a PTSD warrior is waking up every morning to fight like hell to see the beauty in the world through those same eyes that witnessed the ugliest parts of humanity. It is looking evil in the eyes and walking away alive.
I see you. I see that you are so brave and courageous. It takes true strength to wake up each day and see the beauty in a world that has left you feeling so broken. You are not broken. You are healing. If you survived that, you can survive this.
Sometimes the hardest battle isn’t the flashbacks or panic attacks. It is fighting the demons in your head that are trying to make sense of it all. The demons that lie to you. They tell you things like you are broken, you are unworthy, you are less than. They try to coax you into taking responsibility for the trauma, that is not yours to take. They try to coax you into silently bearing the weight of all that shame, that is not yours to carry.
Those demons can make you question everyone and everything—your worth, your relationships, your value, who you are as a human. Sometimes those demons can make you believe it would be easier if you just ended it. There is a reason the rate of suicide among PTSD survivors is so high—because this illness is truly pure hell. I implore you; I beg you—stay.
There is a way out. You don’t have to do it alone. There are other people fighting the same fight. There are resources. There are treatments.
The trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.
No—it is not fair. It is not fair that someone took something from you that you will never get back. It is not fair that you have to live with these scars and burdens. You have every right to be angry, hopeless, and at the end of your rope. There are a million reasons for you to give up the fight, but all you need is one reason to stay. Find one reason to heal. Find one reason to take your power back.
One day, when your ready—share your story, break the silence, and rip apart the stigma. Help others still fighting.
I see you.
You got this.