I hate the way stress can jump out of the bushes while I’m happily strolling through life and trigger a storm that leaves me feeling hopeless. Helpless. And most of all, guilty.
I recently tripped over a pile of life’s inevitable stressors and landed a five point face-plant. I rarely see it coming so when it happens I feel betrayed, duped and terribly undermined.
There is a progression to these storms.
Initially, I forget that I have to monitor stress in my life. Unfortunately I’m not always mindful when I’m getting in over my head. Stress triggers an emotional storm that seems to have a life of it’s own. I relate to the terrified Apostles being thrashed on an angry sea. I cry out:
Save me, Lord!
I can’t convey the gratitude I have for the crucial role my compassionate husband plays in my life. He’s learned, right along with me, the nature of this illness and how best to manage it.
For me the storm begins with feeling overwhelmed on many fronts, like waking up to a To Do list that looms like Mount Everest in front of me. As a convicted perfectionistic over-achiever this can be be fearfully unsettling.
My Symptoms: I become hyper-aroused and startle easily. I get irritable, impatient and overly-introspective. It becomes hard to focus or follow through on tasks. I find it incredibly difficult to make a decision or arrive at solutions to the smallest problems.
I become defensive and verbally unfiltered.
Everything feels like a threat in some way. I find it hard to trust, especially myself.
I can’t sleep. Anxiousness buries me. I cry easily and sometimes I can cry for days with an inexplicably deep sadness.
The storm clouds darken and I become convinced I am neither loved or wanted but simply tolerated; that I have no worth and that my life is invalid and without purpose and that I’ll never achieve my highest potential.
And then I look for evidence to support my feelings. I call it the inventory.
My relationships come into question and inevitably I’ll find myself in conflict with someone because I have overreacted to something that under normal circumstances wouldn’t even register.
I withdraw. In my isolation I can ruminate and convince myself that I have only ever been defective and I haven’t enough time left for a successful do-over.
I feel angry–born of the extreme frustration of having worked so hard for so long and still unsuccessful at freeing myself from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.
While in the storm I have absolutely no grace for myself. In fact, I sometimes loathe myself.
God feels like a distant memory and I struggle to feel like a Christian. This is by far the most distressing aspect. It’s here that my prayer is simple and oft repeated:
I belong to you, Lord!
Though I have painted a dark picture, there are rays of sunlight on this canvas as well!
God’s grace has carried me through.
I have learned to recognize and manage these symptoms. I’m quicker to suspect my thinking and to begin self-care. The emotional fallout and relational debris is significantly less than in the earlier years before I understood what was happening. Or why.
PTSD, and all mental illness for that matter, is not a character defect or a faith deficit.
Illness brings suffering and suffering should illicit our compassion rather than our avoidance and judgment.
Understanding how trauma effects the brain, learning how to guard against an overly-stressful lifestyle and gaining skills to manage symptoms are all so vital in living with this disorder.
If statistics are accurate, you know at least 3-5 people who suffer from mental illness.
As my friend Angela Howard recently posted, we’re quick to rally around people suffering from other illnesses but avoid, and sometimes shun, those with mental illness.
Suffering is the operative word here.
We don’t have to have all the answers to be helpful. A little compassion and understanding can go a long way in bringing relief to those who suffer. And please, whatever you do, don’t suggest the sufferer has failed in some way!