Friday, April 20, 2012

"Expect progress to come when you least expect it": Finding my internal voice amidst a bout of helplessness

On Tuesday morning, I received the following "Heal My PTSD Recovery Tip of the Week" in my email inbox from PTSD survivor and advocate Michele Rosenthal (click here to visit the "Heal My PTSD" website for numerous healing resources):


Earlier this week, though I really wanted to believe this optimistic tip, I must admit, it did have an all-too-familiar cliché ring to it. The past week had been particularly rough with flare-ups of PTSD symptoms, and well, the pessimist in me was beginning to build a pretty persuasive case that living a productive, honest and happy life was not in the cards for me.

But then a really strange thing happened...

When I felt as though things could not get any worse (or better for that matter), I heard a faint voice within me - my voice - and I listened to it!

On Wednesday night, my PTSD symptoms culminated into a really ugly, full-blown emotional flashback, preceded by a whole host of visual memories I'd like to see take a hike. The experience wasn't the recommended therapeutic "safe revisit to unresolved issues to facilitate integration" - no, this experience was the type of horrific retraumatization that makes you feel as though bathing in a pool of bleach would not even wipe the invasive slime from your body.

Following an undeterminable amount of time spent hysterically crying and desperately pacing around my apartment in search of a way to peel the uncomfortable, disgustingness from my body, I found temporary relief in punching my mattress over and over again until I had to stop due to lightheadedness. Only then did I notice the throbbing in my right wrist and the spots of blood stamped all over my white comforter from the blows of my fist. 

Startled and ashamed by my behavior, I walked over to my mirror, leaned in closely, and stared deeply into my bloodshot eyes.

What is this? Who are you?

During times like this one, I feel as though I am a guest in my own body. That I would love nothing more than to unzip myself from my skin. 

Feelings of nausea and disgust in myself continued to seep in and quickly overtake the feelings of rage I had experienced just moments earlier.  Part of me wanted to cling to the memory of my rage, as an outward expression of emotion was a welcomed break from all of the inwardly directed self-loathing and helplessness I had been experiencing recently. 

How am I ever going to stop this? 
The pain is unbearable, and this is no way to live. 
What on earth am I supposed to be doing that I'm not doing? 

I could hear the voice of my therapist, "Breathe...deep, deep breaths..." I am always surprised by how soothing breathing actually is (and by how easily it is for me to forget to do it! :). 

I closed my eyes and began to search for more ways to self-soothe. I went through my old coping strategies and decided on going to a restaurant down the block and getting chicken fingers and a beer. You would think that being around people would be the last thing I wanted to do; however, the unpleasant feelings associated with my apartment at that time had me wanting to run for the door.

But something in me caused me to reconsider.

I looked back at my reflection in the mirror - honestly, I looked like crap - but I was connected to the person in the reflection. It was my reflection, and behind those tear-stained eyes, completely exhausted from insomnia, I could see someone with the strength and desire to heal - wholeheartedly. 

You can get through this. Yes, I can get through this. I will get through this.
I cannot change the past, but I can choose how I deal with it.

I smiled at myself, realizing I had been talking aloud to myself for who knows how long. Self-empowered, I reached for my tennis shoes and went for a strenuous run. Improving self-care (i.e., by focusing on exercise and choosing healthier food options) has been a focus of mine the past few months in an effort to help restore a sense of control in my daily life.

Something as simple as opting to run may seem trivial, especially to someone who has never experienced overwhelming floods of helplessness; however, this one small gesture to myself has been one of the more empowering moments in my healing journey thus far. For example, though my concentration still falters as intrusive thoughts come and go, my sense of control in completing schoolwork has greatly improved the past few days (e.g., I am finding it easier to initiate and follow through with assignments without becoming overwhelmed).

Although I still feel the indescribable slime encroaching on my neck at random times throughout the day, threatening to suck me into the pits of helplessness hell, I find comfort in knowing that I can overcome even the most vicious PTSD surprise attacks. Most importantly, I remain hopeful that one day my sense of security will be such that I no longer experience these emotional disruptions.

In the meantime, though...?! 

I will try to follow Michele Rosenthal's ("Heal My PTSD") other recommendation this week, "Don't look for results, just do the work." Here's to hoping for many more unexpected demonstrations of strength and progress!


  1. :'( no way is there to tell you how very sad i am.....
    these things should not happen...:'(

    1. Yeah, there's no way around it - flashbacks are terrible!
      Thank you for reading and letting my voice be heard. xx

  2. I am so proud of you for choosing a healthy way to discharge the feelings. Over time it will get easier and easier to make healthy choices and manage the feelings. You are moving from victim to survivor. You go girl. You gotta read Micheles memoir. So powerful. Much love. You are doing this. Yeah you.....

    1. "You are doing this. Yeah you..." - THANK YOU!!! I really appreciate the encouragement. Though I know that I have quite a bit of work to do, this whole "healing thing" is beginning to make more sense :) I'm definitely going to check out Michele's memoir (and, of course, yours when it is released!). Thank you for your ongoing support. It means so much.

  3. I experienced something very similar Wednesday. Thank you for reminding me it's just a step in the healing process

    1. Hi Iris, I'm very sorry to hear that you had a similar experience on Wednesday. I hope that you were able to work through the emotions and that your kind husband was there to provide you the support and love that you need and deserve. Thinking of you and sending you safe hugs, if okay. xx

  4. So much hugs to you dear one! I can so relate. I am finding myself do things now that I would normally not embark on. All in the healing process.

  5. worth waiting for... your husbandApril 23, 2012 at 7:19 PM

    I'm so proud of you for fighting through and taking the path that was healthy and self-nurturing. Even in such a difficult situation where the trigger hit you with full force, it's awesome that you not only overcame your trigger, but you overcame a coping strategy that you've used before but wasn't making you happier or building your sense of self. You've been working so hard!!! I know it seems like baby steps, but sometimes the baby steps look like great strides to recovery. I love you so much.

  6. I'm so impressed by your clarity, you ability to stay present in the moment of pain - and become even more present because of it. That's the kind of strange irony I see so often in PTSD and recovery. This post is an inspiration for anyone who wants to imagine we can develop the tools to reclaim control. All any of us can hope for is the strength to do the work. Over and over I see that simple MO as the one that brings us to achieve our recovery goals. Onward toward freedom! xo