Understanding Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Clare Walton is the woman behind the blog Melanin Adventures. Built out of a turning point in her life, the goal of Melanin Adventures is to be a place of positivity and empowerment for women, especially women of colour. After leaving an abusive relationship, Clare began her blog as a place to focus her energy and rediscover herself and her passions. Then a wonderful thing happened, women read her blog and found comfort and common ground there. Clare’s hope for her blog, and Instagram page, is that other women read her pages and see their power and strength and feel empowered to live their best lives by embracing all the opportunities life throws their way.

Healing is not a linear journey. It is a phrase I have heard repeatedly over the last two years, it is also a phrase I remind myself of often. Sometimes I find myself leaning on this phrase weekly or even daily- sometimes it helps and to be honest sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s been just over a year since my sexual assault and although I tried very hard to approach my healing in the most practical black and white way, even trying to give my healing a timeline, unfortunately life does not work that way and we all heal at our own unpredictable pace.

When dealing with a mental health condition it is important to give yourself all the time and space you need. Everyone copes with mental health struggles differently and experiences mental health conditions in a different way, there is no one right way to manage your condition and there is no one right way to heal. The key is to try and remember to hold on to H.O.P.E. (Hold On Pain Ends).

Before my sexual assault I wasn’t familiar with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the way that I am now. All I knew of the condition was that it was trauma and stress related, and that someone who had been through something horrific or trying might experience it. I knew of former soldiers who struggled with PTSD or had read of women who had been attacked or assaulted by strangers and therefore struggled with crippling PTSD symptoms. I didn’t however think that I personally met the criteria of a PTSD suffer.

It wasn’t until I participated in a skills for healing group at my local sexual assault centre that I realized how common PTSD really was for women who had experienced sexual assault by someone close to them. I also learned how common it was for women to discount their symptoms of PTSD as them “going crazy” or “being too sensitive”, faulting themselves for not being able to just “get over it” and move on with their lives.

There is power in knowledge and by learning more about PTSD I was, and continue to be, able to remember to show myself compassion and know that I am not going crazy or unable to let things go. I am in fact responding in a normal way to an incredibly traumatic event in my life.

To be able to understand and label what I was experiencing was immensely helpful in my healing journey, allowing me to feel comfortable reaching out for help and sharing my experience with those I loved. Because of this I thought I would share an excerpt from one of the worksheets I referenced frequently when I was first trying to gain a better understanding of my mental health.

Four common symptoms of PTSD:

PTSD is typically diagnosed when the below symptoms last longer than a month and cause significant distress or impairment to functioning. The list below is given as a tool to help you understand what you may be experiencing, however, it is always best to seek the insight and advice of a trusted doctor, therapist or trauma counselor before diagnosing yourself with a mental health condition.

1. Re-experiencing (repeatedly reliving) the trauma. This can be in the form of nightmares, intrusive memories or images, flashbacks, or intense emotional or physical reactions to reminders of the trauma. These symptoms frequently leave you feeling like you are going crazy.

2. Avoidance of trauma reminders. This may include trying not to think or talk about the trauma, or trying not to have feelings about it. It may also include staying away from activities, people, places and situations that bring up trauma memories. These symptoms leave you feeling apart from the people and surroundings in your life.

3. Negative Changes to Thinking and Mood. This includes persistent and distorted self-blame, inability to recall key aspects of the trauma, losing interest in activities that used to be important to you, feeling detached from important people in your life, feeling unable to have normal emotions (numbing), and losing a sense that you have a long-term future. These symptoms diminish your relationships with those closest to you.

4. Hyperarousal. This includes sleep problems, anger/irritability, concentration problems, reckless or self-destructive behaviour, always feeling on edge or on guard, jumpiness, and being easily startled. Increased arousal could also include physical symptoms, such as pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, and rapid breathing. These symptoms keep you stressed and eventually exhausted.

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