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Symptoms of acute PTSD made me think I was insane, literally. For over twenty years I struggled with the anguish of anxiety, fear and terror, plus the despair of sleep-deprivation, insomnia, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, mood alterations and emotional swings that were impossible to predict. I raged at the drop of the dime or within seconds was wailing in a tearful deluge that could not be comforted. I was powerless inside my own mind. This can’t be normal, I used to think. I must be crazy.
Beneath all the symptoms of acute PTSD ran an oppressive depression-driven darkness so heavy I thought it would eventually kill me. How do you live when you feel life isn’t worth living for? What’s the point of going through the motions of life when death is all you think about, and often desire?
During so many mad days and nights when I felt out of step with the world, unloved, unlovable, unpredictable and unsalvageable I soothed myself with this sentence,
Some people are meant to be crazy; I’m one of them.
For a long time I believed that sentence. I treated myself as if it was incontrovertible truth. I gave in to self-destructive “crazy” behaviors, allowed people to use and abuse me, made poor choices about relationships, work environments and lifestyle and all the while explained these things to myself as doing my best to live as a crazy person. If I’m crazy then I’ll do crazy as well as anyone!
During all those crazy symptoms of acute PTSD, however, there was a small voice echoing somewhere in the depths of my mind. It was a soft voice but it was persistent. It kept saying, I don’t want to be crazy. And, I don’t think we have to live like this.
What the heck could that small voice know? I was sure I better understood the bigger crazy picture. I continued on my crazy path and ignored that other voice for many years. Then, when crazy took me to the brink and I was facing not only thoughts of suicide but real physical danger that voice suddenly got stronger. It was like a suicide lifeline throwing me a rope to a different way of thinking.
I don’t think we have to live like this.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with the idea that crazy wasn’t who I was meant to be. I had no idea how to stop the symptoms of acute PTSD since I didn’t yet even know I had posttraumatic stress disorder. But that little voice spurred me on to look for answers and what I found surprised me:
The more I researched how I felt and the symptoms I experienced the closer I got to understanding what had happened. Finally, all that research led me to a trauma therapist and, ultimately, my PTSD diagnosis. That’s when I started to feel a little more sane. As a matter of fact I wasn’t crazy! There was a name for what was wrong with me, plus a path to healing. More than that the feelings I had and the behaviors I experienced were normal responses to trauma and posttramatic stress.
I look back now at my former self and feel such compassion for her. She was doing the best she could in a world after trauma she did not understand and was not equipped to manage. She was doing the best she could to cope with and heal how trauma affects the brain and a body that was acting independently of her mind’s own choices. Later, she did the best she could to heal, and she was successful. I feel gratitude for that self every day. Without her — and her hope — I wouldn’t be where I am today. She is the reason I discovered how to heal from PTSD.
Learning to be sane began with learning that crazy was okay. I was not to blame nor was I flawed or irrevocably damaged. More than that, my behavior and symptoms of acute PTSD were to be expected given what I had survived.
The more we normalize our PTSD experience (to ourselves and those around us) the more we start to heal and reclaim a life based on calm, confidence and control. The more kind we our to ourselves in our PTSD madness the more energy, creativity and flexibility we have in discovering our own unique brand of recovery, which can lead us to being very sane, very productive and very happy in life.
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