* Warning: Topics include suicide and self-harm *
For almost everyone that knows me, the following bit of information will be news: Last year, I took a year off from work to get intensive treatment for depression, anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
In October 2018, my doctor sent me to the ER because I was having a mental health crisis. I was suicidal and was afraid to go home. I knew that I was a danger to myself and would probably act on my suicidal thoughts if I went home. For months before I landed in the ER, I was barely eating, was having panic attacks almost every day, self-harming and was afraid to go to sleep. I was still going to work every day, but it was getting more difficult to hide my illness.
I have suffered from depression and anxiety disorder for most of my life. I have become really good at creating the façade that I am “okay”. I somehow got thru high school with a 4.0 grade point average. I have a degree in Computer Science from the University of Toronto. I have a great family and love my circle of friends. I have a really loud laugh, and many people see me as a very social person. At the hospital, I was referred to as “high-functioning”.
There are many reasons why a person develops anxiety or depression. For me, it was probably because I experienced a traumatic event when I was a child. I started developing symptoms of PTSD about 3 years ago after seeing something on TV that depicted almost exactly what happened to me. My life has never been the same ever since.
So, what is it like to have PTSD? It’s different for everyone. What makes PTSD complicated is that it is not just a cognitive experience, but it is also an embodied experience.
For me, certain smells or sounds can trigger flashbacks and extreme emotions. Sometimes my heart starts racing, or I feel nauseous without knowing why. It’s almost as if your body is still trying to protect you from the trauma, and it’s doing things that don’t make sense to you. I avoid anything that reminds me of the traumatic event. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air. I am extremely hypervigilant. I always need to know what’s going on around me at all times. It’s so exhausting.
I am slowly learning to live with those symptoms, but I still never speak of the trauma itself. Here’s some helpful advice: Never ask a trauma survivor about the traumatic event. You would think that it would be cathartic to finally talk about your trauma, but very often it is not. It can actually be re-traumatizing, and can have some dire consequences. I remember self-harming after an insurance case manager asked me about what happened.
I am now back at work full-time, still healing and learning to live with my PTSD. I am on medication to manage my symptoms. I go to therapy regularly. I will probably have to do those things for the rest of my life. My recovery required a lifestyle overhaul. I now live a pretty structured life. I work out regularly, eat healthy food, and follow a strict sleep hygiene routine.
Some resources that have helped me in my healing journey are the following:
· Going to a trauma-informed therapist: A trauma-informed therapist will help you heal without re-traumatizing you and will know how to make you feel safe despite speaking of the unspeakable.
· The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. This book was great in helping me understand PTSD.
· Mind Over Mood, by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky. This book uses cognitive behavioural tools and methods to help with depression, anxiety, etc.
· Mindfulness meditation. I took a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course upon the advice of my therapist and doctor. It’s a great grounding tool.
If you are reading this and see yourself in some of the things that I wrote, I encourage you to reach out for help. I didn’t ask for help until I hit bottom—please, please don’t let that happen to you. Hope is real. There will come a day when you don’t feel like you’re drowning anymore. That day is worth fighting for.