The Reality Of Growing Up With PTSD

The Reality Of Growing Up With PTSD

A look at the unique challenges facing kids growing up with PTSD from the perspective of someone who did just that.

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By now, many have probably—hopefully—noticed that millennials are experiencing unprecedented rates of reported and undocumented mental health issues, more so than any generation that came before.

Now I'm no sociologist, but my theory is not simply that the baby boomers are just all bad parents. Since psychology is such a young science, it seems like many of our parents were unaware of the signs that characterize mental health issues and had a corresponding lack of knowledge of what to do if their child was diagnosed.

Although the reality of the current mental health epidemic is staggering, recovery starts after acceptance, and with that, abandoning blame and "what-ifs." With that being said, millennials are still stuck with memories marred by mental unrest and the psychological effects that this kind of an environment fosters.

As a 22-year-old person, I am no exception to that.

In 2015 as a sophomore in college, I visited a counselor for the first time and was diagnosed with PTSD almost immediately. It also became clear pretty quickly that it had been there for a while.

Although, from childhood, I remember having episodes of extreme mood swings; events that only happened because I had a violent impulse and punched somebody, inconveniently disassociated from reality until I blacked out, or fantasized about death at the slightest inconvenience. I lived in a constant fog that muted my emotions until they burst out of me in dangerous fits of energy, making me totally out of anyone's control, including my own.

From the time I was about seven years old, my mind was not my own, and fear dictated a lot of my decisions and actions.

I would have vivid fantasies about violence about as much as, if not more than, sex fantasies since my fight or flight instinct was almost constantly engaged. All that energy affected my sexual drive, too, as PTSD will if left unchecked for too long, so all of my earlier exploits were far from safe or healthy.

That fear affected my sleep, too.

I grew up with chronic sleep paralysis, having episodes almost four times a week. During sleep paralysis, the body remains physically asleep, which creates the feeling of palatalization, but the mind remains active and aware. So, while the person goes through the REM cycle or rapid-eye-movement, the eyes are open just enough for nightmares to come alive in their very bedroom.

Each night I dreamt of a huge, hairy arachnid with a man's face and insane smile while I was powerless to do anything. Every night I felt that if I could just scream, or even twitch a finger and get someone to wake me up, I'd be safe again. But it never happened, and I would dread going to sleep every day in fear that he would come back to haunt me again.

I didn't know how to tell anyone about it, so I assumed that I was being punished by God for being gay and had been possessed by a demon.

The anxiety, too, was unspeakable.

Unable to articulate the complexity of my struggles, I developed excoriation, or skin-picking, to relieve some of the pent-up stress I carried with me always. I obsessed over making the surface of my skin and the inside of my mouth smooth and free from imperfections.

I would rip off whole nails in one fatal swoop if I found an imperfection, pick scabs until they left gaping holes in my skin and scars still visible today, and bite the tissue on my cheeks until eating seemed impossible. As not-so-disgusting as that all sounds, it actually didn't help me at all on the social front.

All of this unsettled emotion that quite literally strapped me to my bed every night stayed constant until young-adulthood when it got to the point where couldn't leave my house anymore for fear of being attacked. Shortly after, I started hallucinating in broad daylight instead of in the comfort of my own home while I slept.

The day I saw two fully-equipped zombies in the back seat of my car, mouths gaping, clothes greying and my whole car stinking of rotting flesh, I knew it was time to get into counseling.

Three years down the line, after a lot of sweat, tears and, yes, blood, I consider myself to be 100% healthy and free from PTSD. But I can't pretend that my life would've been the same if I had gotten the help I needed at a much younger age.

Now I'm obsessed with making sure my kids have a healthy and happy childhood, and I know a lot of my fellow millennials feel the same way. With this, we need to do everything we can now to raise awareness and patron resources for mentally ill people in hopes that Generation Alpha aren't half as afraid of the monster-under-the-bed as I was.

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Everything You Will Miss If You Commit Suicide

The world needs you.
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You won't see the sunrise or have your favorite breakfast in the morning.

Instead, your family will mourn the sunrise because it means another day without you.

You will never stay up late talking to your friends or have a bonfire on a summer night.

You won't laugh until you cry again, or dance around and be silly.

You won't go on another adventure. You won't drive around under the moonlight and stars.

They'll miss you. They'll cry.

You won't fight with your siblings only to make up minutes later and laugh about it.

You won't get to interrogate your sister's fiancé when the time comes.

You won't be there to wipe away your mother's tears when she finds out that you're gone.

You won't be able to hug the ones that love you while they're waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had become their reality.

You won't be at your grandparents funeral, speaking about the good things they did in their life.

Instead, they will be at yours.

You won't find your purpose in life, the love of your life, get married or raise a family.

You won't celebrate another Christmas, Easter or birthday.

You won't turn another year older.

You will never see the places you've always dreamed of seeing.

You will not allow yourself the opportunity to get help.

This will be the last sunset you see.

You'll never see the sky change from a bright blue to purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows meshing together over the landscape again.

If the light has left your eyes and all you see is the darkness, know that it can get better. Let yourself get better.

This is what you will miss if you leave the world today.

This is who will care about you when you are gone.

You can change lives. But I hope it's not at the expense of yours.

We care. People care.

Don't let today be the end.

You don't have to live forever sad. You can be happy. It's not wrong to ask for help.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for fighting.

Suicide is a real problem that no one wants to talk about. I'm sure you're no different. But we need to talk about it. There is no difference between being suicidal and committing suicide. If someone tells you they want to kill themselves, do not think they won't do it. Do not just tell them, “Oh you'll be fine." Because when they aren't, you will wonder what you could have done to help. Sit with them however long you need to and tell them it will get better. Talk to them about their problems and tell them there is help. Be the help. Get them assistance. Remind them of all the things they will miss in life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255

Cover Image Credit: Brittani Norman

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Anxiety Medications Aren't As Scary As You Might Think

It took me about 2 months to even find the right medication and dosage. It's truly a process.

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Before my journey with anxiety, I was very anti-medication. I truly didn't understand the purpose or need for it. Boy, have I learned a lot since then. Upon visiting the doctor, I learned that there are two types of medication that do two different things to the neurotransmitters in your brain. These are categorized as SSRI or SNRI. According to anxiety.org, "SSRIs increase serotonin in the brain. Neural systems affected by increased serotonin regulate mood, sleep, appetite, and digestion."

The medication that I am currently taking falls under the category of SSRI. As a result of taking this medication, "your brain is more capable of making changes that will lead to a decrease in anxiety" (anxiety.org). I don't know if that sounds nice to you, but I loved the sound of it.

On the other hand, per mayoclinic.org, SNRIs "ease depression by impacting chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) used to communicate between brain cells. Like most antidepressants, SNRIs work by ultimately effecting changes in brain chemistry and communication in brain nerve cell circuitry known to regulate mood, to help relieve depression."

From my understanding, the different types of medication focus on different neurotransmitters in your brain. I don't think that one of these is "bad" and one of these is "good." This is simply because anxiety and depression are very personal and impact people differently. My anxiety is not the same as my friend's anxiety. I think it's more of a spectrum.

There are a lot of misconceptions upon starting medication. I think the first is that it works instantly. I have some bad news and it's that some medications take up to a month to get into your system. I mean, you're chemically altering your brain, so it makes sense. It took me about 2 months to even find the right medication and dosage. It's truly a process.

Another misconception is that the pills are addicting- making them completely unnecessary or dangerous. That wasn't true for me. One of my dear friends told me that if you don't feel guilty for taking cold medicine when you have a cold, then you shouldn't feel guilty for taking medication that helps your anxiety. I think this really does boil down to knowing yourself and if there's a history of addiction in your family. However, as someone who's taken the heavy pain killers (via surgery) and now takes anxiety medication, I can testify to say that there's a difference.

The pain killers made me a zombie. The anxiety medication allows me to be the best version of myself. I like who I am when I'm not constantly worried about EVERYTHING. I used to not leave the house without makeup on because I constantly worried what people thought of me. I used to be terrified that my friends didn't want me around. I used to overthink every single decision that I made. Now, none of that is happening. I enjoy my friends and their company, I hardly wear makeup, and I'm getting better at making decisions.

Do I want to be able to thrive without having to correct my neurotransmitters? Sure. However, this is the way that I am, and I wouldn't have gotten better without both therapy and medication. I'm forever grateful for both.

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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