Archives for PTSD
(This is the eighteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society”, in which I interview everyday anxiety sufferers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Last week, we met Sveta, a young blind woman who grew up in an abusive home. Now diagnosed with complex PTSD and dysthymia, Sveta still struggles as an adult with the effects of her emotional abuse. In this final segment of our interview, we discuss her methods for coping and discover exactly how the Russian language reversed her suicidal thoughts. SB: Tell me about how you use the four senses at your disposal to calm you down or improve your mental health. S: Wow. Well, in my purse I have a pocket of things that are soothing. I have a velvet cushion, about the size of a pin cushion, an aluminum guitar that my father made, some perfumes that are solid, and some stones. I love listening to music, especially music in Russian. I have some tactile Russian letters that I use as well. SB: I sometimes carry around peppermint oil because it helps me to reduce my perception of nausea when I'm anxious. I also really like the scent of Tiger Balm, too -- for some reason, it's grounding and it helps to calm me. What scents do you carry around? S: There is a company up in New York called "Aromadoc". They make perfumes that are solid, meaning they have a longer shelf-life than liquid ones and aren't messy. I usually carry rose, lilac and lavender with me. The rose is to remind me of summertime, the lilac is to calm me, and the lavender is to ground me. I also carry hematite, rhodinite and rose quartz stones with me. SB: Do the limitations of your disability affect your mental health at all? If so, in what way?
(This is the seventeenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society”, in which I interview everyday anxiety sufferers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Earlier this week, we met Sveta, a twenty-year-old blind woman with complex PTSD and dysthymia. Today, Sveta shares the story of her emotionally abusive childhood. SB: I'm so sorry to hear about the abuse. What was the abuse like and how did it affect you as a person? What did you do, if anything, to cope? S: My parents didn't like me because I was blind. My mother was the main abuser, though Dad ranks a close second. He once told me he doesn't think emotional abuse is real. I assure you it is. SB: Wow. S: I was alienated from my brothers because my mother claimed I was a liar. I was home schooled by my mother who would punish me severely if I got anything wrong, stating it was a "reflection of her teaching skills". I was sent away to a boarding school, where the abuse from the students and restrictions by the staff only made things worse, and then Mom left and didn't even say goodbye to me. Heaven forbid if she was angry with me. SB: What happened if she was angry with you?
(This is the sixteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society”, in which I interview everyday anxiety sufferers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Meet Sveta. She loves music, listening to bird calls, and reading. Although she's just in her early twenties, she's already been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymia. Her diagnoses follow a difficult and abusive childhood. What makes Sveta's story a bit different from most stories of PTSD and abuse is this: she's also blind. Although she can perceive colors and shapes, and distinguish between light and dark, that's the extent of her visual ability. The blindness affects everything from her ability to escape triggering situations to her anxiety coping strategies. Her parents still largely control the minutae of her everyday life, so Sveta finds herself struggling to carve out her own strategies for controlling her environment. Summer: Have you always been blind, or were you able to see at some point in your life? Sveta: I was born 3 months and 2 weeks early. I was put on oxygen because I couldn't breathe. The result was that not only could I breathe, but the blood vessels in my eyes grew too fast, forcing the retina and the eye apart. SB: And you suffer from an anxiety disorder, correct? Do you mind sharing your diagnoses? S: I have been diagnosed with dysthymia, also known as chronic depression and complex PTSD, which is like BPD but to a lesser degree. SB: Do you feel the dysthymia was always present, or did it develop at some point in your life? S: The dysthymia was always there for as long as I can remember. My parents used to make fun of my love for minor keys saying, "You only like songs where someone dies". This, of course, isn't true. I like the minor key, not the death. It happens, sometimes, that songs where someone dies are in minor keys. It also happens that in songs in minor keys, sometimes, someone dies.
"But you don't look sick." Yeah. I've heard that one before. Have you? There's migraine. Fibromyalgia. Lupus. The pain and autoimmune problems aren't immediately visible. Within the mental health spectrum, there's panic disorder. There's depression. There's bipolar disorder, PTSD, and OCD. It's not easy for others to visually see our suffering. But just because an illness isn't showing doesn't mean it's not legitimate! THIS STUFF IS FOR REAL When I have a bad migraine, the only overt evidence of my suffering is the pair of sunglasses I'm probably wearing indoors. Also, I tend to walk very lightly on my tiptoes in a futile attempt to suppress the gnawing, throbbing, and stabbing pain on the right side of my skull. But a big pair of sunglasses coupled with a delicate walk? I look more like some cross between a drunk ballerina and a celebrity-in-hiding. I don't look like I'm suffering. It's the same thing with panic: if I have an attack in the middle of the grocery store, there's no good visual indicator that I'm suffering. Sure, I'll probably abandon my cart and walk quickly toward the exit -- but how does that make me different than any other woman who has forgotten her wallet in the car?
Is it ever possible to happily embrace your anxiety disorder? I think about this question often. I mean, we tend to frame our disorders with war-based terminology: I'm battling agoraphobia. John is struggling with panic disorder lately. Casey struggles from social anxiety disorder and gains ground every time he makes a telephone call. Amy is fighting her PTSD in an attempt to resume a normal life after fighting in Iraq. This kind of semantic habit isn't limited to anxiety disorders, of course. We use war-based metaphors for so many illnesses: depression, the common cold, cancer...the list goes on for miles. Miles upon which an infantry of other illnesses can march. So, how can we ever embrace anxiety -- or any other illness, for that matter -- when we view the illness as the enemy?
I always thought that everyone could hear his or her own heartbeat. Day in, and day out...ka-boom, ka-boom, ka-boom. Why did I always assume this? Well, I can definitely hear mine. Oh, and I can feel it, too. If I sit still for a moment and focus on the left side of my chest, I can feel my heart drumming against my sternum. Can you? And every once in awhile, my heartbeat does what I've always referred to as "the flips" -- a tiny second or two of transgressions. A quick double beat followed by a moment of silence. Or, a moment of silence followed by a quick double beat. It happens more often when I'm nervous. A few years ago, I began asking friends and family members if they experience this strange phenomena. (By this time, I'd already learned to never Google my symptoms lest I interpret the calcium deposit in my earlobe as cancer. Thanks, internet.) Most of the folks in my informal survey didn't have any solid answers for me. They said they couldn't feel their heart. They said that they don't hear it beat. They said they've never felt any abnormalities -- or normalities, for that matter. They simply moved through the days of their lives completely unaware of the thick blood-pumping muscle that keeps them alive.
(This is the third post in a new series called “Anxiety Society,” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Meet Angie Jackson. She's a mother of a 6-year-old and a sufferer of both Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After growing up medically neglected in a fundamentalist Christian cult, she stepped aside from religion and now proclaims herself as an atheist/anti-theist. Currently agoraphobic, she has a difficult time leaving her house unaccompanied. If Angie's name sounds familiar to you, there's good reason. In early 2010, Angie made the news when she live-tweeted her abortion after an IUD implant failed to protect her from pregnancy. Unlike most women who elect to abort, Angie found herself in the national spotlight because of her decision to go public. Summer: It's sort of hard to decide where to begin, so I'll start with a question about something we very clearly have in common: an anxiety problem. Are you diagnosed with an anxiety disorder? How does anxiety manifest itself for you? Angie: I was diagnosed with GAD in 2008, but I think I've had anxiety for much longer than that. I was also diagnosed with PTSD in 2008, which gradually became enough of a problem the two sort of combined into the social anxiety/agoraphobia I have now. I get panic attacks when I feel anxious. My palms get tingly, my heart races, and I start sweating. I have a hard time thinking clearly or articulating myself, which in turn makes me feel more panic-stricken. I try to avoid getting to that point for the most part. You were part of a fundamentalist Christian cult when you growing up. Is that where the anxiety began, or did it wait until you became an adult to make an appearance?