Do You Choose Your PTSD Attitude?

Me and my dance partner, John

Almost right after my trauma ended I transferred from the trauma fog into the PTSD dark. You know what I mean: that place in which you feel oppressed by the memories. That place that makes you feel crazy with fear and terror and the thought that you will never be ‘normal’ again. That place in which you feel so completely changed from who you were before the world intruded to who you are after it’s trampled you to bits.

Needless to say, I didn’t handle that transition very well. Insomnia, intrusive thoughts, rage, depression, emotional numbing — you know the drill. I allowed them all to overtake me. In fact, I didn’t even try to fight back. It just seemed easier – and even necessary – to succomb. Of course, this made my attitude toward moving away from the past…. well….. not very proactive.

The truth is, it never occurred to me that I had any choice in my posttraumatic perspective. It just seemed like my mind chose a way to look at things due to which I felt emotions I couldn’t combat and so there I was, drowning in the midst of what might have just been a puddle if I’d taken the time to adjust my perceptions. After all, others have survived my trauma and didn’t end up with PTSD.

How we view things after trauma enormously impacts the effect they have on us. How we view the recovery process, too, has enormous effect on the progress we make. At a key time in my own recovery I chose to stop trying so hard (can you imagine what that felt like — sheer doubt!) and decided to just do something simple: I broke the failure cycle of my recovery by giving myself balance. I chose to commit to accessing a joyful feeling in myself once a day. (For those who’ve known me long enough, you know I began to break my posttraumatic stress curse through dance.)

It seemed like a ridiculous thing to do at the time, but you know what? That small act of committing to joy put me in touch with a part of myself that I really, really needed to know. It helped me begin imagining that one day I might be PTSD-free. While it wasn’t easy to feel joy (at first I had to really work at it!), I made the commitment to try. In the end, it was an exercise that helped me imagine and connect to and use the part of myself that existed outside of PTSD. It led to a great partnership for me, too, both on and off the dancefloor.

Last week on YOUR LIFE AFTER TRAUMA I interviewed Dr. Alex Pattakos about how to live a life a meaning after trauma. One thing he said has stuck with me and I think it’s important. He said, “You have to choose your attitude.”

After our conversation I realize that’s exactly what I did. I chose an attitude of belief in myself, plus and attitude of reconnection to something good about who I was despite PTSD. This one act doesn’t heal us, of course, but it puts us on track to connecting with a strong, resilient, determined part of ourselves that we need in order to overcome symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome.



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