Thanksgiving – PTSD

Gobble gobble gobble. Yes, it’s that time of year again when family’s put on that fake persona to fool everyone watching that they are happy. Our family was no different. When we were out in public we smiled and if you would have looked at us you would have seen a very happy family.  I’m not saying all families do this, but in the past couple years since I’ve changed my holiday traditions, I have talked to a lot of people and this was the way they were raised too. This doesn’t mean I’m looking for families to go out in public and start fighting, yelling  or arguing, but it doesn’t always have to be peaches and cream, sometimes it can be lemon meringue.

I remember Thanksgivings with the family pretty well. A family member would cook so much food. Some family members would come for dinner others would stop by afterwards. Dinner was in a small dining room that normally sat six people, but during holidays we would cram anywhere from ten to eighteen family members.

Typical Holiday / Special occasion set up for dinner

This photo shows a typical holiday/special occasion seating for eleven and that was tight. There were holidays we got fifteen to eighteen people in there and for someone like me who had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I would have anxiety, panic attacks, and be on the verge of passing out.

You can see from the picture that the dining room was small. In the corner, you don’t see on the other side of the single window, is another cabinet bigger than the one in the picture. I was typically seated in front of the single window with one to two people beside me, with no escape. My PTSD symptoms intensified and sent my mind into overdrive. All the memories came back from when I was molested and could not escape. I wanted to run, cry, hide, basically escape. Yet there I am pinned in with nowhere to go. Panic and anxiety was setting in while I sat there listening to everyone talking and they all sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown in my head. No one recognized this was happening to me, I was taught to hide feelings and these types of episodes. This is what I went through at every holiday dinner from the age of seven until 2013.  

In 2013, I quit going to family holiday dinners with the exception of Christmas that year.  The absolutely only reason I went was I knew one family members  Alzheimer’s was progressing and I was afraid that would be the last Christmas with them and it was. I will talk about Alzheimer’s in later posts. Just know that family member, while not perfect, meant the world to me.

Some people in my family have argued with me over the past years that I do not have PTSD. They say that, PTSD is something the people in the military get, not me. I got very good at hiding the PTSD attacks that no one really pegged me as a sufferer. Once I was away from everyone I would just let out a big cry and figure out how I would continue to handle the pain. Most of my holidays I suffered and no one cared or even paid attention. My family did not know what I was going through until later years and even when they did know, they did not care.  Like with a lot of things in my life I suffered alone and felt very much alone. It wasn’t until my last therapist helped me figure out the best way to handle my PTSD. The answer, move away from my family. It was easier to not travel back home at the holidays than to deal with a PTSD episode.

You don’t hear it mentioned much in the news or in articles about everyday people suffering from PTSD during the holidays or really during any triggering event unless they are military. PTSD is associated mostly with military, especially those who have faced combat. Not to take anything away from our military, I have nothing but respect and gratitude for their sacrifice. However, the second letter in PTSD is for “Traumatic.” Any Traumatic incident(s) can cause PTSD. You don’t even have to have been the victim, if you witnessed things like serious car accident, shootings, sexual  or physical assault, or combat it can affect you deeply. I cannot speak for everyone who has PTSD, I can only write about my own experience. I just hope that this will make you aware that behind every smile or tear there is a story that might not be the one you assume.

Basically, I have had 40 years of PTSD. I used to have nightmares especially when I was younger, as I got older the nightmares would only show up during triggered events. I was kind of a loner growing up. I grew up on a farm and  spent more time with the animals than people. I only had a couple good childhood friends. I had difficulty dealing with feelings, I would basically feel nothing, which could explain why I made some of my life choices in the past. I had sleeping issues, still do. I was depressed and had suicidal thoughts. I felt guilty. I blamed myself for years. I had trust issues. These are just a few of the symptoms I received from the molestation, I have other symptoms that occurred due to emotional, mental and physical abuse.

Over the past four years, I have been working on correcting the symptoms above that were caused by the PTSD. I have learned how to feel and it has been both good and bad. The good is I know what it feels like to be in love, the bad is I know what it feels like to lose a close family member. I didn’t know truly what caused my sleeping issues until a therapist explained that my mind is afraid to drift off to sleep for fear of the nightmares. I took antidepressant medication about 20 years ago, but I did not like how it made me feel. At one point, it made me feel suicidal and like a zombie. I am currently exploring essential oils and so far, they have been helping my moods and depression. My trust issues are slowly going away. I have a couple friends right now that I trust completely, which is a huge first step for me.

I am learning how to better cope with the PTSD. I am more open to new experiences. My moving 500 miles south without a job was scary but a new experience I welcomed. I also have joined some groups that have really helped me socialize and become more of an extrovert as opposed to growing up an introvert. I have become a more optimistic person, I believe I can do anything I set my mind to, I’m not going to let someone stop me. I do like to be in control of situations. It goes back to not being in control while I was being molested (and in my marriage). I love a challenge, which is why my career path is not the normal one. There were jobs throughout the years that would have made sense with my path, but they would not have offered me the challenges I needed. I cannot just walk into a job and do the same thing day after day, I would be bored. I need to be challenged. Another very important coping mechanism I developed throughout the past few years is a sense of hope. I do not give up on people unless they give me a reason to and I do not give up on my dreams. It has taken me years to realize that anything is possible.

Figuring out how to handle the residue the lemons left behind was the biggest challenge. At one point two years ago, I did a self-evaluation of my life. I examined everything, good, bad, and horrible. I realized I used different coping mechanisms during each lemon of my life. With the molesting and emotional abuse growing up I threw myself into my studies. I wanted so bad to do well in school in order to go to college. I knew early on that I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be in the business world and my dream, some day was and still is to be a CEO of a corporation or run my own business. With my marriage, one of my many way to cope was to stop communicating. That was not a good way to handle things, but it kept me safe at times. I knew when I challenged him or questioned his knowledge on something it was not going to be pleasant. I am glad that I do not have that fear with those in my life right now. My communication is so much better in personal settings, I’ve been known to talk to friends on the phone for several hours at a time. 

My life is turning around and I want to help you or someone you know who has PTSD do the same. The biggest message I want you all to leave here with is, if you are suffering from PTSD, you are not alone. Do not try and handle it by yourself. Find a therapist, a friend, a priest, a support group, or someone you know you can trust and talk to them. Know what triggers your PTSD, for me it is sight, touch, and sound, yours may be different. Once you know your triggers and your confidant knows them too, you can work together to figure out the coping mechanisms you need to get through it.

Do not feel the suffering of PTSD is the end and that suicide or self-hurting is a way to deal with what you are going through. Others are going through it to and we are all here to help each other out. You do not have to suffer in silence or alone. Remember you are a valuable person on this earth, do not let anyone tell you different or make you feel different.

Thank you for reading this today. I hope you all have a good Thanksgiving. If you are traveling for the holidays, please be safe.

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