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by Jenni Schaefer

JenniSchaeferPTSD is an invisible monster. It disguises reality. When I was sucked into what I learned to call the trauma vortex, I often couldn’t distinguish between what was real and what wasn’t. I thought I was going crazy.

PTSD told me this over and over again: You’re not safe. You never will be. Being dead would be better than living one more day like this. The message from my illness was clear: Give up.

Fortunately, thanks to my prior, hard-fought—and victorious—recovery from an eating disorder, I knew that feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are just a part of mental illness. At one point or another, most of us who struggle believe that we are too far gone to ever get better.

While I have written about my eating disorder recovery in several books, my battle against PTSD and its accompanying and unrelenting depression are lesser known. I haven’t spoken much about this experience yet, because for so long, I didn’t even know that I suffered from trauma, much less PTSD.

Even though I had sought help from well-meaning doctors and therapists for years, my PTSD and trauma were continually missed and dismissed. It wasn’t until I visited “Dr. Google” with the words “exaggerated startle response,” that I came to learn the truth: I wasn’t losing my mind. I was struggling with a real problem that had an actual name. Indeed, in light of the fact that PTSD is a brain injury, the flashbacks, nightmares, rage, and utter despair actually made sense.

Heading in the Right Direction

The best thing about the diagnosis of PTSD is that it pointed me in the direction of help. Posttraumatic stress disorder is very treatable. A good first step in healing is to pursue evidence-based treatments, which are backed by rigorous scientific research. In my recovery, prolonged exposure therapy, commonly referred to as PE, was one key. I even found an excellent PE therapist on this very website. (Thanks, ADAA!)

After lots of falling down and getting back up again in the process of recovery, I now know that PTSD is not a life sentence. Today my nightmares are gone, I rarely startle, and incredibly I have fallen in love with life. The world isn’t out to get me after all, and I feel safe. Finally, I am living in real time and not trapped in the past. While the fact that I experienced trauma will never go away, PTSD itself is fading.

I am not just speaking from my own experience but rather from the perspectives of women and men who struggled—and got better—before me, those who shared their hope with me when I had none for myself. In my PTSD therapy group, all of our trauma experiences were different, but the symptoms of suffering we shared. During group sessions, my friends and I never talked about our specific traumas because what mattered most was our getting better. Slowly, step-by- step, we did.

And you can, too. Yes, PTSD is a monster that absolutely wants to destroy your life; it almost took mine. But I have learned—and you will, too—that we are more powerful than PTSD. After all, we survived. Out of unbearable pain and suffering, an authentic, enriching, and meaningful life can emerge.

When I searched the ADAA website for help years ago, I never would have believed that my words would appear in “Personal Stories of Triumph.” Impossible. But here you are, reading my story. Like my friends before me, my life has come full circle in the most amazing ways. Now it’s your turn: Do the impossible. Get help, trust yourself, and never, never, never give up.  


 Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and is a Senior Fellow with The Meadows. To learn more, visit her website. 

"We are more powerful than PTSD"

Comments

Thank you for sharing your testimony that PTSD as a condition can improve and fade over time (and with treatment). I am beyond exasperated with people saying that PTSD (and depression and anxiety for that matter) are incurable. This is not only inaccurate but sets people up for treatment failure because mindset and belief are more powerful than any treatment. If you don’t believe you can heal or improve - you won’t. Period. An army of therapists can’t help someone who can’t - or doesn’t want to - believe in the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel. There is Hope - I have experienced it myself and wish others would be open to seeing it also. ☺️

Thank you for sharing your story!

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to read my article. Along my healing journey, a lot of people gave me hope. I wouldn't be alive today without people who said, "Me, too," as well as, "You can do it." In this challenging time of COVID-19, I especially appreciate the ADAA community. We need ADAA more than ever right now.

I have found this article quite helpful and inspiring. I am 63 and due to trauma 3 years ago I now suffer from ptsd. The incident stirred up old feelings and traumas from childhood. I became manic after the trauma and did things that I am not proud of which just intensifies my ptsd. I take medication which has yet to start helping. My motivation for doing things I used to love has been extinguished. Hoping a new medication and continued therapy will help. I am expecting my first grandchild in the fall and so want to enjoy that new phase of my life...can’t give up.

I have been dealing with trauma for a year and my therapist only recently diagnosed me with PTSD. It was something I suspected I had for a while but hearing the diagnosis was initially not great news, given all the articles I’ve seen and read that people have not been able to work or recover from this illness. PTSD is a monster and right now I’m just trying to live with it. Hopefully one day I can live without it.

Well I’m looking forward to less issues I’ve had PTSD for 35 years yet manageable than all of a sudden serious issues as if it was the original trauma experience. It’s been 8 or 9 yrs since it started so intrusively yet now finally I’m starting to feel better and hopeful. Yikes it’s taking me to ruining most of my relationships well what can I say. I don’t find others supportive or kind but I’m hopeful I’ll find people who are.

Growing up on a very abusive and broken household , I dealt with my grief by drinking lots of alcohol and hanging out with people who didn’t really care for me but rather used me for what they needed. I was raped at a very young age, absent father, severely mentally ill mother who was mostly absent and when she was home it was pure hell. My stepmother verbally and physically abused me and I thought I had nothing and would never have a life anyways so I dove deeper and deeper into the depths of insanity. I experimented with drugs, to numb the pain that I felt was unbearable. Latched on to abusive men or anyone who gave me attention, which most Of them never cared for me. Finally in my late mod 20s I went College and graduated. I had a great job, a beautiful home, a husband and a beautiful son, I thought I had found my “cure” but my demons crept back in and I lost everything . My job, my husband , my child that I adored. I felt life was worthless and I could never be normal so I dove deep into alcoholism. I did not want to feel anything, remember anything, or be alive. I thought of all ways of suicide and attempted a few times and only stopped because of the guilt of leaving My son an orphan and realizing he would know his mother took her own life. I had no clue where I would end up. I just knew two things, I was either going to end my life or I had to get help and get better. So I finally got diagnosed by a trained professional. Began therapy and medication. I feel better most of the time and I’m functioning, job, paying bills, etc. but the nightmares and memories keep coming back and I feel shameful and like I’m really not worth anything. I have managed to stop lying and when people ask I tell the truth about myself now but I’m still not healed. I wanT this nightmare to end. I want some advice from anyone. I’m 40 and feel like I’m 60 with the life I’ve lived . I don’t know where to turn or what to do. I still have contact with my still abusive mother and my father has completely abandoned me and wants nothing to do with me as the same with most of my family. I just don’t know where to turn and often feel hopeless. I’ve found that you cannot buy you’re way or educate yourself out of this disease. Friends I had for 25 years won’t even speak to me. I just want to know how this works . I want I just feel normal and happy but I feel like i relive the same nightmare over and over and over again. Please help with any advice

Hey,

I don't know for sure why I am compelled to reply to your comment/story other than that it feels so familiar to my own experiences. A lot of the things you've experienced are parallel to my own trauma and experiences.

To be honest I don't have a any real advice to give you. And it sucks. If i could, I probably would have crawled out of my own pit a long time ago. It's just that I don't think you should feel alone. It's not much, I know. Because there's this disconnect from everything and everyone. No ideas stick, motivation always slumps and the dark clouds keep covering any ray of sunshine that comes through.

But what I do believe is that there is no living WITH this disease. It's either there or it isn't. Managing it feels like holding up a dam that could break at any given point and you can never stop pushing back, or else..

Though what I sometimes think is a powerful thought is this. Ask yourself, or else what? What the fuck is going to happen to me if I just let it all rain down on me. What then? What am I fighting? And why? And maybe, I don't even have to let anything rain down on me. Maybe I just need to step out of the river, let the dam break and watch it. Watch it for some time. Watch it until I realise I'm standing safely on the river bank. Where its dry and I'm free to move. There's a whole forest around me and it's scary in the way that there's just so many ways to go, so many paths to walk. But perhaps this is a fear I can enjoy dealing with. In stead of staying in that goddamn river holding up this dam, going nowhere but still losing all of my strength and energy to stay there. Maybe we need to find a way to walk away from it and just say. I don't care what happens, but I'm not spending another minute fighting something I don't really want to fight for.

Maybe there's worse things awaiting in the woods. But after all that time holding up this dam, I've grown pretty damn tough and I can probably take it.
So what the hell.

And there's no reason to think you're all alone. Shout, ask, scream or cry for help.
Someone might hear you and somehow they can get you back on dry land. Where you can breathe again. Where you can live again. Free.

I don't know and I'm not trying to make it sound all heres the cure, because I wish I could believe my own words as easily as I'm writing them down. Because it's not that easy. But it is that simple.. I think.

I could keep going I think, in the same way I keep pushing myself to be more than what I am. Like I'd love to split myself in half with one half holding up the dam and the other gallivanting through the woods. But I know that doesn't work. I think I need someone, preferably a couple of people to hold up the dam as I come ashore and then let it break. And then take some time to look around, look st the river and realise the damage is done and there's not a lot i can do about that. But there's still so much else I can do. And since coming to this point would equate with slaying a Giant. I shouldn't worry about what I can't do, but rather realise that I can do whatever.

I hope that despite this tale I've spun, may it help you or not. That you'll find your way out of the river. And learn to be free again. Because you're too strong to waste your time holding up something that's already gone.

- A well intended stranger -

Ps: Dropping those toxic people is one of the first things you should do if you want to break free. Don't keep them around, cause they're apt to keep you down.

Over the past six years I have been living in a personal hell. PTSD had taken over my life. I sought out all kinds of different treatments but nothing seemed to help (or so I thought).

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up one morning and my brain felt different - lighter, more focused, and the scary thoughts were gone. I’m not sure what happened - but it feels so wonderful not to feel panicked and scared 24 hours a day!!!

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