PTSD Survivors Speak: Recognising and Rebelling, Part 2
Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 • PTSD Guest Post: Survivors Speak •
Two weeks ago we met Katie and read her background and struggle with PTSD. This week we read how Katie fought back!
I’m still not sure what it was that gave me the courage to start fighting back. I think maybe it was the dawning awareness that I was being controlled and destroyed by an illness. Eating disorders are sneaky, they make you believe that the behaviours and their effects are essential to your survival. The PTSD was the same: I was convinced that the things it made me believe were real, and that if I let my guard down for a moment I would be emotionally or physically attacked and annihilated. What I finally worked out was that the things I was thinking and feeling were symptoms of illnesses. No one told me that all those things I was experiencing were NORMAL responses to trauma. I thought I must be going insane but actually I had a pretty textbook case of PTSD. And PTSD is eminently treatable.
After receiving a less than helpful response from the local EDU, who seemed to want to label me as chronic, I took my recovery into my own hands, started slowly gaining weight at home and found a private therapist. I started training myself to respond to eating disordered and PTSD related thoughts by labelling them as symptoms of an illness, not a part of my core beliefs and personality — and then rebelling against them. If the eating disorder ‘told’ me that I had gained enough weight and should skip dinner, I would tell myself that I was still medically underweight, I couldn’t trust my own perception and that these thoughts were just typical symptoms of anorexia, which was an illness I was recovering from.
When the PTSD, not masked by the anorexia anymore, began to start causing problems again, I told myself that running away from it had not been an effective strategy long term and that the only way to recover fully was to face it, sit with it and learn new ways to cope. The incident which caused the PTSD was not my fault, the perpetrators had almost destroyed my sanity and my life in 2002 and it was still ruining my life years later — so labelling thought processes which had kept me sick as symptoms of an illness made me feel angry and rebellious, determined never to let myself be controlled or dictated to ever again. In a way, I lumped the PTSD and anorexia in with the people who hurt me, and it was only then that I was able to separate my own personality from the illnesses and see them as something to fight against.
The last six months haven’t been easy. Everything I did felt counterintuitive to start off with — I had believed that the anorexia was the only thing keeping me safe and sane for so long that fighting it felt like betraying myself. But I stuck with it and I kept telling myself over and over that if I gave up now, told myself that I would try again tomorrow or next week, what would stop me giving up again next week when it was still hard? Now I am almost at my target weight and I am working on the PTSD in therapy.
I often feel sad, scared, angry, frustrated — but I don’t feel like these emotions will overwhelm and consume me anymore. I don’t see starving myself as the only way to cope with them. When I feel really bad I find comfort in the fact that at least now I have my self respect back — I know I am fighting, I know I haven’t given up. And whilst things are often quite tough, I have made a lot of progress. I am studying again — through distance learning now — looking for a job, making new friends locally and writing a book about my experiences. At the start of this year I was just rolling over and letting the PTSD walk all over me; I was killing myself physically in an attempt to try to stop it from destroying me emotionally. I don’t buy into the fear it tries to instil in me anymore. The world will not crush me if I close my eyes to go to sleep. Relaxing my guard to have coffee with a friend will not be my undoing. I do not need an iron grip on myself to cope with my emotions and keep myself safe. I recognised that I was trapped by PTSD and anorexia and I rebelled against them. I just needed to get straight in my head what it was I was fighting and which side I wanted to be on.
The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.