Many people have PTSD but don’t know it. I was talking recently to an old friend that I hadn’t seen for over thirty years and describing some of the symptoms of PTSD–the hypervigilance, recurring nightmares, panic attacks, heart racing, the hyperactive amygdala–when she broke in, exclaiming, “That sounds like me!” I can’t tell you how often this happens in talking to people about PTSD. Many of us are walking around with burdens that we could set down if we only knew that we were carrying them.
Who might we be without our PTSD? Is it an inextricable part of our personalities because it has shaped who we are and how we have behaved? Is it a condition that has skewed (or skewered) our development, stunting or mis-shaping our personalities? If I were a tree and PTSD was the fence that was built offensively close, did I grow through the barrier that was blocking my way so that the fence is now inextricably part of me, or should the fence be extricated from my branch in order for me to thrive and be the tree I was meant to be?
The truth is, as we cope with PTSD symptoms, we become more fully ourselves. As we relax hypervigilance or calm ourselves in the midst of a panic attack and allow ourselves to understand the catalyst for the uncomfortable feelings, we become whole. As we risk leaving old patterns behind, we are more of the tree we were meant to be. In coping with PTSD consciously, an enormous opportunity presents itself. With our new awareness, we can say to ourselves, oh I’m in one of my PTSD moments. Understanding floods in. Compassion for self follows. Often, one hears oneself say, I make sense! I fit in with the universe!
We can make our way to a place of power, relief, and joy. For while no one would have wanted the event that caused the PTSD to happen in the first place, it did. Someone built a fence too close. But in claiming ownership of it, its power over us diminishes. A few times in the midst of a panic attack, I’ve even heard myself say Oh, it’s that again and breathed my way through it with relative ease. Self-awareness is the “axe that breaks free the frozen sea within.” *
*from a quote of Franz Kafka’s