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PTSD Nightmares: The Nightly Battle

Over the last year, after losing my Mom and my two cats all within the year of one another, I have had nightly nightmares that have me re-live the worst times in my life thus far.

My dreams consist of seeing my mom pass away, become sick, or injure herself.

Last night, she choked and had a seizure in front of me.

My dreams consist of nightmare scenarios: being stuck in the ocean, shark attacks, losing friends and loved ones, falling from high altitudes, plane crashes…..

Last night, I fell through the sky, off of a skyscraper, and I felt it. I felt the roller-coaster feeling for a long time.

Will I ever recover? Will these ever go away?

I’m stuck in my trauma, awake and asleep.

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Dear Me At 23

I am sorry you felt the need to binge tv shows nightly and eat fast food to soothe yourself.

You stopped seeing friends except on the weekend when you would get wasted.

I am sorry you slept with numerous men who did not care about you.

(Remember the one who slept with you, took your cigarettes and then left and never talked to you again? Shout out to Kyle from Longmeadow, Mass. You reignited my trauma, yet I feel sorry for you. I saw those sadness in your eyes. I hope you are ok.)

I am sorry you let your mother, who loved you and who you loved very much, to control your emotions like a light switch….so badly that self harm and disordered eating became a part of your life.

I am NOT sorry for these experiences. They taught me lessons.

I am sorry for the hurt they caused my sensitive soul though.

Now, we will heal, but it’s up to me when.

When?

I don’t know.

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My Doctor Failed Me Today

I have been trying to get off of the fake love of my life, cannabis concentrate, for the last few years.

I have worked with substance abuse teams, therapists and group sessions.

I am now in an intensive DBT program at this place I’ve received all of my care. In order to be in the program, it is required you see one out of three of their doctors.

I’ve been seeing Dr. I* for over a year. Overall our relationship was cordial. She has a heavy accent and sometimes I can’t follow along with what she is saying, and I end up letting it brush by because, well, I have social anxiety.

Today, I came into the session planning to inquire why she dropped by antidepressant dose in half overnight, and maybe that is why I am struggling weaning off of 1gram of cannabis concentrate.

My partner was sitting next to me when after I approached the subject and let her know my feelings politely, Dr.I basically said “we have tried everything and at this point we are back at square one.”

Square one? I’ve been busting my ass getting clean. I gave up nicotine and alcohol! Why does she just seem to always tell me, “you just need to stop.”

That doesn’t work. Period.

To Be Continued.

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Love Endures

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Haldir, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
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5 Ways To Cope With Trauma Symptoms

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing has always helped me calm and center myself. When I first started singing lessons in middle school, my music teacher always told me to breathe into the diaphragm, into my belly, and my voice would radiate better. She was right.

Now, I use breathing as a calming tool. I particularly like tactical breathing (4 square breathing)!

Breathing involves your diaphragm, a large muscle in your abdomen. When you breathe in, your belly should expand. When you breathe out, your belly should fall.

Self Soothing

I am consistently self soothing. Whether it’s fidgeting with something, taking a shower, or sipping a hot drink, these activities help ground me into the present moment.

These coping strategies focus on improving your mood and reducing anxiety and are sometimes described as self soothing or self-care coping strategies.

Social Support

As the years go on my social anxiety has gotten worse, especially during Covid! When I do spend time with people who are caring and understanding of my mental health, I feel refreshed and connected! It’s a great feeling.

Research has found that finding support from others can be a major factor in helping people overcome the negative effects of a traumatic event and PTSD.

Mindfulness

Ahhhh mindfulness. The one thing I am terrified of is the one thing that will ultimately help in my healing process! Mindfulness heals.

Mindfulness is about being in touch with and aware of the present moment.

Expressive Writing

Clearly, writing is an expressive tool in my life. Writing emotions down is easier for me than speaking them.

In PTSD in particular, expressive writing has been found to have a number of benefits, including improved coping, post-traumatic growth (the ability to find meaning in and have positive life changes following a traumatic event), and reduced PTSD symptoms, tension, and anger.

Reference

Tull (2020) https://www.verywellmind.com/ways-of-coping-with-anxiety-2797619

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Coping & PTSD Flashbacks

I stare off and focus on a spot in the room. The image becomes fuzzy or non-existent and I’m instantly transplanted into my mind – into the scenarios I have been ruminating on.

I am back in my room from middle school. I’m surprised at how well I remember where everything is and what everything looked like. I am back there now, floating through the room to room, recalling the emotions I felt while here.

Despair, confusion, anxiety, connection, sadness, anger, frustration, fleeting happiness

I come out of the dissociative and flashback episode quickly. I am left with lingering images, thoughts, and feelings from the episode for hours if not days.

A flashback is when memories of a past trauma feel as if they are taking place in the current moment.

When I go to sleep at night, I fall asleep fast – sleep gives me a break from reality and my deepening depression.

Since my mom transitioned, my sleep is filled with monsters. Images of family and relational ruin and gore fill my dream state with blips of my personal life replaying itself over and over.

Learning skills and tools to cope with these flashbacks is essential for me and essential for those dealing with PTSD on a daily basis.

Here are a couple of tips that I’ve learned to lessen flashback intensity and lessen them all together.

What can you do to help flashbacks?

Tell yourself you’re having a flashback.

-Breathe! Take deep and slow breaths. Use box breathing. Inhale for 4, Hold for 4, Exhale for 4, Hold for 4. Repeat.

-Return to the present moment by using the five senses.

Distract yourself by watching a film, taking a walk, calling a friend, etc. Do something you enjoy doing!

Use DBT TIPP Skills:

credit: @dialecticalbehaviortherapy on WordPress

More About TIPP Skills Here: https://www.manhattancbt.com/archives/1452/dbt-tipp-skills/

How can you prevent flashbacks?

• Be aware of warning signs. This can help you manage or prevent flashbacks.

• Identify what triggers you and make a plan on how to avoid or overcome these triggers.

Happy healing my friends. We can do this together.

More Resources

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-and-complex-ptsd/self-care/

https://www.mindmattersmhc.com/blog/10-grounding-skills-to-help-cope-with-flashbacks-related-to-trauma

https://www.rainn.org/articles/flashbacks

cover art by: https://charlottefarhanartactivism.com/charlotte-farhan-artist-biography/