Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

I received the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) about ten years ago, after my daughter was involved in a serious accident while walking to school. Before the accident, I worked hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant she got hit, my controlled snow globe world instantly cracked, hit the ground, and shattered. In fact, when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “Things will never be the same again.”  Extremely prophetic words that at the time neither myself nor my family had any idea what they would come to mean.

During the year following my daughter’s accident, I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keeping our household running as normally as possible. Simultaneously, I kept having strange experiences that were making me feel like I was losing my mind. I couldn’t stop and think about what was happening, nor did I have the words to describe it to anyone. It was just an overwhelming sense of fear, and general feeling that I was going slowly going mad.

I was becoming anxious. I started losing all sense of time; finding myself wondering where I had been the last few hours and feeling incredibly disconnected from my body and the world. I was called into meetings at work because my performance was terribly erratic. I felt physically sick all the time. And I kept having these bizarre explosive memories leaving me feeling out of control and disoriented.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me, so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.

When I started working with my first therapist, I was anxious to tell her everything all at once. I thought if I could word-vomit everything that was coming to my mind, that would be enough to feel better and get back to work.

I didn’t understand that I was having flashbacks, and that I was living in a constant state of crisis. I was writing my therapist letters from a dissociated state which made no sense but felt vaguely familiar as she would read them aloud. I would lock myself in my room for hours fearing that I was going to hurt myself, and I didn’t want to be around my family. I felt out of control, thinking I was losing my mind, feeling like I had failed my myself, my family, and I began spiraling down a very slippery slope.

One of the most important practices to have in place when beginning trauma therapy is to have a safety plan. I needed to develop tools for many things, including distress tolerance. Once a plan was in place, we could begin the process of working on and processing my trauma.

Not only was my therapy about processing the memories, but I also had to start accepting that there were some intense effects of the trauma, and they influenced how I saw and reacted to the world.

I also had to face how my trauma affected my relationships with my family, friends, parenting style, and career. While dealing, and coping with the trauma, there were a lot of “aha” moments. I saw how my behavior and ways of coping with life, were a direct result of my trauma and not because I was a bad person.

Some of my PTSD symptoms still have a good choke-hold on me. As with many illnesses, PTSD can be invisible on the outside. My symptoms include (not limited too) flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed which leads to feeling like my brain is shutting down, difficulty making choices, anxiety/depression, and a sensitivity to triggers. I sometimes use the phrase, “triggers, triggers everywhere.” The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car backfiring, even the moon can sometimes bring on flashbacks.

Once I was able to name and accept my symptoms, I needed to learn to work within my deficits. This wasn’t easy or comfortable for me. And honestly, there are still times I find myself becoming frustrated and angry at my PTSD. When that happens, I stop, and use my grounding tools to rest and reset.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. Often, I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I could write what I couldn’t say aloud.  At first, it provided distance from having to use my voice, but then I found writing gave me a voice.

Learning to recognize and acknowledge each step on my path towards health and understanding is a long and never linear process that helps keep me in a resilient mindset. I also try to remember to notice the perfect moments. I made myself understand that are 24-hours in a day, and within those hours are some spectacular moments.

I was not going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I never lose sight of my goals. They are to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Some days those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I understand that, I am living in my truth, I am content and understand that I’m not just a survivor of trauma, but that I am thriving despite my trauma.

Thank you, Alexis and the Never Give Up Institute for inviting me to be a guest writer on your blog. The work you do is truly inspiring!

Alexis Rose
Author, Speaker
https://atribeuntangled.com/blog/
atribeuntangled@gmail.com

Thank you, Alexis Rose, for your enlightening blog on PTSD. I know my readers will appreciate your insights, vulnerability, and power to survive. Thanks a million for being a guest blogger on my website.

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Dear Mr. Trump

Dear Mr. Trump:

I’m a 41-year-old mom with six children. I’m like all moms who want their children to be safe from crime and live healthy lives; but unlike other moms, I was lead poisoned at the age of four. I didn’t know this when I had my six children, but now they all have health and behavioral problems because of the high levels of lead that were found in my blood. My lead poisoning is from paint chips on the old run-down house my family lived in for years. As President of the United States, it is your duty to keep children in this country safe from being poisoned from toxic paint and water.

I see that you’re reducing EPA standards to allow factories to continue to pollute our air and water just so they can make more money. Let me tell you something: I am disabled because of the lead poisoning which includes anxiety, depression, joint pain, hearing loss, and anti-social mood swings. I hate the fact that my life has been out-of-control and only recently did I find out the cause of lead poisoning. I’ve been hospitalized four times and my doctors could see my symptoms but didn’t know the cause. When I read a blog about the long-term effects of lead poisoning I got tested. All these years I thought I was crazy but now I find out that I was poisoned. I was poisoned here in the United States of America. This shouldn’t be happening.

My heart breaks knowing that my children are effected by my lead poisoning. They didn’t ask for anemia, ADHD, and learning difficulties. They didn’t ask for their lives to become more complicated because of lead. They didn’t ask to have a sick mommy. I’m angry that it took so long to find out the cause of my medical and health issues and that my children are suffering too. So, I’m telling you to keep EPA laws in place that effect our bodies and our environment. If you’re going to make America great again, maybe you should stop and ask the poor and disabled how to make life great for us because it isn’t happening.

(I had help writing this letter because I was too sick to finish high school and I don’t write so well. But I want you to know that I’m a fighter and I won’t give up until I can control my dysfunctional life. I could sure use your help and protection for me and my children.)

Sincerely,

Rosemary Henley (This isn’t my real name because I’m a private person.)

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Life-Long Effects of Poisoning on Adults – Part 2

pills-575765_1280In Part 1 of my blog, Life-long Effects of Lead Poisoning on Adults, I explained the side effects I have due to lead poisoning as a child. I have many auto-immune diseases and I wondered if the lead affected my immune system. I’m a walking medical petri dish and I want to know if there’s a correlation between lead poisoning as a child and my ill health as an adult. I’m not looking for something or someone to blame – I just want answers to the cause of my many health conditions.

First, let me give you a list of all the health issues I have (no sympathy required): Type 1 diabetes, kidney infection, hypertension, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Graves’ disease (overactive thyroid), clinical depression, cataracts, sleep apnea, and Stage 4 colon cancer – twice! When I asked my primary physician why I have so many health problems, he basically told me I had a bad gene pool. I accepted his answer with no further questions — until now!

Does lead poisoning in children cause damage to the immune system?

“The simple answer is yes,” says Elizabeth O’Brien from the Lead Education and Abatement Design Group in Australia. She adds, “but the problem is that many other things can cause problems with the immune system, so the only way to determine if lead is the cause is to ask the doctor to do a blood lead test.” She further states that, “Heavy metal exposure may develop autoimmunity as well as immunotoxicity. Autoimmune diseases are those in which an individual’s own immune system attacks one or more tissues or organs resulting in functional impairment, inflammation and sometimes-permanent tissue damage….” This is exactly how diabetes Type 1 is explained in medical journals.

In his work, K.P. Mishra, M.D. wrote an abstract on Lead exposure and its impact on the immune system: a review. He states:

Metal toxicants which affect the immune system may contribute to an increased incidence of autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cancer. In the recent past, there has been a growing concern among health and environmental scientists on the impact of environmental exposure to heavy metal lead on human health. In some instances, the immune system appears to be exquisitely sensitive to the toxic heavy metal lead as compared to other toxicological parameters.

In their abstract, Lead and Immune Function, authors R.R. Dietert and M.S. Piepenbrink stated,

The heavy metal lead is a widely deposited environmental toxicant known to impact numerous physiological systems, including the reproductive, neurological, hepatic, renal, and immune systems. Studies illustrating the capacity of lead to impair immune function and/or host resistance to disease date back to at least the 1960s.

Dietert and Piepenbrink also found “…lead exposure can produce a stark shift in immune functional capacity with a skewing predicted to elevate the risk of atopic and certain autoimmune diseases. Age-based exposure studies also suggest that levels of blood lead previously thought as safe, that is, below 10 microg/dl, may be associated with later life immune alterations.”

Hundreds of studies have found links between lead poisoning and: auditory and visual system alterations, behavioral impairment, renal function damage, Parkinson’s Disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, neurological disturbances, autism, osteoporosis, asthma, and peripheral artery disease.

What can we do?

The medical conditions above lead me to ask what can we do to prevent all of these health and behavioral effects. Here’s a list:

  1. Don’t panic! Never give up!
  2. Prevent lead poisoning from happening in the first place.
  3. Check the windows and paint in your home for lead if your house was built before 1978.
  4. Remediate all sources of lead in the environment and in your homes.
  5. Give immediate medical attention to children suspected of being lead poisoned.
  6. Require a lead blood test for all adults exhibiting the health problems listed in this blog.
  7. Recommend more research studies in repairing the immune system from lead poisoning.
  8. Provide federal grants to extend all researchers who have a vested interest in the correlation between lead poisoning and the immune system.
  9. Tell us your stories of how lead poisoning has impacted your health as an adult.

This is a HUGE task but a very crucial one. If we want to enhance the quality of life for children and adults with lead poisoning, lower medical costs, and expand current research, we must raise the awareness of life-long effects of lead and find solutions – today!

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Building Resilience Against Trauma

I recentlcrime-scene-30112_1280y attended a conference on “Building Resilience.” It was an awesome day as I gained new insight into how we survive trauma. Those in attendance were social workers, Minnesota Department of Health crisis staff, psychologists, non-profits dealing with the homeless and sex trafficking victims, women’s group facilitator, medical professionals, and wellness advocates like me. It was a delightful day of meeting new people and learning new information.

I’m excited  to learn that the information I present in my blogs is both timely and accurate. Some of the new insights I learned are amazing as we live with acute trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here are some of the things I know or learned:

  1. An estimated two-thirds of American adults have experienced one or more potentially traumatic exposures in their lifetime.
  2. Stemming from events or circumstances experienced as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening, trauma can result in significantly diminished mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being; leading to lost productivity, function and social participation.-George Family Foundation Catalyst Initiative
  3. Trauma doesn’t define who we are.
  4. The most intimate relationship is between you and the Divine.
  5. The Divine isn’t outside of us — the Divine is within us.
  6. When we internalize our own inner Divine we can connect and extend the Divine to others — this is the power of love.
  7. Creating circles of people dispenses hierarchy.
  8. You can meditate with your eyes open. This technique is especially great for those of us who have experienced trauma and are afraid to close our eyes. It’s okay — you can still meditate — with your eyes open!
  9. We can’t connect with others if we’re not connected to ourselves first.
  10. Margaret Mitchell said, “Every problem has two handles. You can grab it by the handle of fear or the handle of hope.”
  11. Depression is the #1 cause of disability in the U.S.
  12. Sleep is the missing link in recovering from depression.
  13. The first arrow causes us physical pain, which we can’t ignore. The second arrow is the mental pain and suffering we add on top of the physical pain. -Buddhist Teaching
  14. The first thought you have in the morning is what you worship.

Trauma impacts a large toll on us and those around us — and society as a whole. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, “In 2014 (latest available data), there were 42,773 reported suicide deaths.” The inability to copy with trauma and increased depression affect us all. Isn’t it time we eliminate the trauma in our homes and society, and the resulting depression and illness, and find ways to connect with trauma survivors to build a better quality of Life?

I think so! And I’ll never give up!

 

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What Does Depression Feel Like? Here’s Your Answer

Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year.* woman-1006100_1280

About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lives. Since I’m one of those eight, I’m asked a lot about what depression really feels like. The following description gives you an idea how deep and hopeless depression is like:

My eyes open slowly adjusting to the dull throb of morning. I stare at the white, speckled ceiling trying to convince myself to move, but I can’t.

My body feels like 600 pounds ground into the mattress — too heavy to climb out, too deep to surface.

It’s another morning, and another bout of depression.

I want to cry, but I can’t. I’m past the point of tears. I’m terrified and tumbling out-of-control into the nothingness of hopelessness. All I can feel is dread and pain.

My bones feel as if they are being twisted and pulled apart. My fingers are swollen like little breakfast sausages. The ache in my lower back is something akin to corporal punishment.

The nerves in my head drum to a deafening rock and roll beat.

My bed has gone from being my refuge to a torture chamber.

I slowly sit up and cringe at the onslaught of memories.

I have nothing to get up for.

I have nothing to look forward to.

I have nothing to get excited about.

I have nothing but nothing.

I open the blinds and stare out at the day. The sun is shining, the air is fresh with Spring, and the neighbors are busy going to work. I shut the blinds?

Why?

Why me?

Why must I feel this way?

Why can’t I be happy?

Why can’t I look forward to a brand new day?

Why must I be depressed?

Again?

Why?

STOP!

When I feel this way it’s time for me to talk to someone I trust — a friend, a sister, a therapist, or a person of faith. Depression is a disease and not an issue of lacking willpower. It can be paralyzing and disabling and can turn successful people into failures.

Antidepressants can take away the sharp edge of depression, but they aren’t cures for this mental illness. They aren’t “happy pills” that suddenly transform me from a dark brooding creature into a slapstick comedian.

Depression is serious, so take it seriously. This world needs a lot more slapstick comedians than brooding creatures.

* Statistics from Mental Health America

Never give up . . . ever!

Alex Acker-Halbur

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