Aristotle said these words more than 2000 years ago, but I believe they ring as true today as they did then.
Knowing myself was never something on my “Bucket List”. Frankly, it never even occurred to me that I didn’t know myself. I was just going through life, one day at a time. It was more than enough just to maintain family, work, and social events.
When my life began unraveling several years ago, I thought I was going crazy. If someone had told me knowing myself would help, I probably would have just cocked my head and said “Huh?”
Truthfully, though, I think I subconsciously understood this theory to some degree. I often wondered why some events -or especially non-events – terrified me when it was obvious there wasn’t any actual danger. (It took a long time for me to learn about ‘triggers’ and PTSD.)
A time I remember like yesterday was at my kids’ middle school band concert. My husband and I sat with my in-laws, eager for the concert to begin. I smiled and shook my head, both amused and dismayed, as I spotted my son sharing M&M’s out of his shirt pocket with the trumpet player seated next to him. I also grinned indulgently seeing (and hearing) my daughter unsuccessfully stifling a fit of giggles with her girlfriend. Just a proud mom basking in the milestones of her kids.
Things changed suddenly when a woman entered a bit late and walked across the gymnasium floor to join her family. I spotted her to my left and while she strode confidently to my right, my eyes locked on the scarf fashionably tied around her neck. Without warning, my throat began to close and I couldn’t breathe. A simple fashion accessory was my trigger that day. I was instantly transported back to the day when my dad choked 8 year-old me to the brink of passing out. As I sat on the bleachers and tried to focus on my kids, I was robbed of another joyful occasion and instead was frozen in confusion and terror. To keep myself steady, I clutched the bleacher with one hand and tried to discreetly make sure nothing was touching my own neck with the other. I was at once terrified and embarrassed. The rest of the concert was a blur as I tried to focus on breathing, not looking where the woman was seated, and calming my racing mind. I didn’t know I had PTSD at this time, but I knew my response to situations like this wasn’t ‘normal.’
Living with untreated PTSD means a situation like this truly feels like death is imminent; survival mode kicks in automatically. It’s not reasonable, there is absolutely nothing reasonable about PTSD. My head knew I wasn’t in danger, but my emotions overruled my logic.
When treated, PTSD can be very manageable, and there is joyous hope for living with it. I know the hard work of recovery has helped me know myself and therefore reduce my PTSD symptoms. Even so, one of the most frustrating things about my recovery that I still have what’s called a hyper-startle response. Loud, unexpected noises usually make me jump and/or shriek. I am embarrassed when I do it, but it’s a residual effect of the PTSD. I’m grateful triggers such as the scarf are manageable now. I sometimes still get a strange sensation in my throat when I see a scarf around someone’s neck, but it’s very tolerable and my reaction is mild to none. As those living with PTSD know, triggers can range from something as benign as a scarf to the stero-typical backfiring of a car engine.
With God’s help, one of the best ways I discovered to overcome the disorder is through trauma-based therapy. This is what finally led me to be able to discuss it openly with my husband, safe friends, and ultimately on this blog. It’s been the single most important way for me to begin knowing, understanding, and accepting myself.
How about you? What have you learned about yourself?