Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My struggle with PTSD & Stigma

I am not a Doctor. I wrote this post to talk about my own personal experiences of why I felt stigma and in no way it is meant to be insensitive to any one else nor really describe mental illness as a whole. I can only hope my experiences and strength inspires others who struggle with mental pain to seek help or at least treat those suffering with respect.


I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which includes anxiety and severe bouts of depression. I have been hospitalized twice for symptoms related to severe anxiety attacks and destructive behavior. At the height of it all, some of my behavior included staying awake for 2 or 3 days straight, didn't eat, couldn't get out of bed, couldn't sleep for more than a few hours at a time due to nightmares, smoking excessively, afraid hatred would consume me, biting whole nails off, pulling hair, constantly feeling guilty for reasons I shouldn't be and wanting a reset button on my life. There is quite a bit more I could add to that list but overall, I just couldn't really see me as having a future. My head was just foggy. I was so numb and it was worse than any physical pain I've ever endured. And yes, that is from a person who had severe burns, about 15 surgeries and cancer. I was on four different medications at once to get through my day without having an anxiety attack and to sleep through the night.

I only had a handful of people I felt comfortable talking to about what I struggled with behind closed doors because I felt massive stigma. Much of my stigma came from feeling guilty and feeling judged as broken. I felt that I was a burden to anyone I asked help from because my need was so great and I didn't have anything to offer back to them. I felt like I was being ungrateful for the simple things in life and the blessing I had around me. I felt so ashamed because the friends and family I turned to did not wish to address these issues because they did not want to feel like a failure. They would tell me to "just be happy" or that I was "selfish." Those statements disregards the inner battles making it seem like being nightmares, anxiety and depression is a choice. No one wants to feel chronically like he or she is drowning, unable to escape or tortured. It is a heavy burden and war inside. Suffering from mental pain is not selfish. It is an illness like any other illness. You wouldn't call cancer patients selfish, just how it is never okay to call anyone else with an illness selfish. Not only that, the reasons for me was not just a single event but a series of events. I just can't unwind a lifetime of anger, mourning and confusion overnight. I felt so alone but realized that many of my family and friends most likely have never been through the same battles as me and do not know how to handle the situation.

The reason I am able to talk about my own pain now is because I have more confidence in who I am as a person and have a more genuine group of people around me. In order to make progress in recovery, I had to really understand what exactly happened and why. I had to learn that many events are out of my control, but what I could control was my own reaction. However, I can not say I am 100% as I am sometimes prone to relapse. In truth, my mind is still an ongoing battle but at least now in my mind I am winning. And I still struggle with night terrors and nightmares on a daily basis but I have since learned to control my anger. I turned the pain of experience into wisdom and an outward action of helping others instead of inward anger or blame towards others.

What I ask of others is to be empathetic to the struggles others have behind closed doors and that each struggle is individual and unique. Do not try to make a person feel guilty or a failure but instead encourage that person to receive proper help. Just be a friend, you could save a life.