Anxiety and trauma can feel like trying to tame a wild horse within, one who may buck or bolt and run at any moment, without warning. As a survivor of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I still maintain that one of the most difficult aspects of coping, was with the less obvious symptoms, the ones people generally didn't understand or even notice, because with that I slowly become enveloped in a sense of isolation and self punishment. I was angry that I couldn't "just be normal". But in time I learnt it is really important to avoid berating ourselves, as it can significantly slow our steps towards healing.
My hope is to raise awareness about some of the lesser known manifestations of living with PTSD and anxiety so that those suffering can receive understanding and support in their journey to recovery...
Some battle scars are not visible to the eye but that doesn't make them any less real, forgetfulness is a trait of PTSD that stayed with me even after I had healed all of the other symptoms. A psychologist once told me she had a theory that victims of trauma become forgetful as they spend years constantly having to "block" particular thoughts and memories, quite simply so they are able to cope with life. This resonated a lot as a survival mechanism that seems to "kick in" to protect us. Anything that possesses a threat to your mental state in the moment is deflected... The true difficulty is that when we find most things stressful, even something as simple as paying a bill on time or remembering a friends birthday, we can end up "blocking out" things that we especially need to remember, which is an awful catch 22 where we perpetuate our own stress and might blame ourselves for "never being able to get anything right". I feel strongly that this needs to be recognised more widely as a common challenge of trauma and anxiety.
Dread at keeping appointments
I know this might sound strange to some people but in my experience this is a very common phobia among sufferers. If I had a Doctors appointment or a meeting in a few days for example, I would often suffer moments of severe panic, worrying about what day it was, if I had missed the appointment and what arrangements I might need to get there. I could spend the entire week feeling anxious about an appointment that only lasted 30 minutes and went without a hitch in the end. As a result I came to dread making appointments or feeling like I had to be at a certain place at a particular time. I have seen this countless times with people dealing with anxiety issues. Such a simple thing becomes a monumental effort and drain on the person. Combined with forgetfulness this issue made me feel "dithery" and like I wasn't in control of my life.
Loss of focus
The majority of people wish to to be taking daily steps to improve themselves, their lives and circumstances, no one enjoys stagnation, this does not exclude those with PTSD and anxiety, sufferers tend to have a deep desire to improve their situation and lives, but often find that their minds "blank out" periodically creating a barrier to study and work. An untrained person may accuse them of laziness or simply a lack of concentration but these phases of blanking out are beyond the sufferers control. They may end up feeling that they are under achieving and of course like the other points on this list this can create a spiral of self esteem issues which then inflames the original symptoms further.
Whether its tears, anger or frustration, outbursts of emotion may be triggered seemingly out of nowhere. Even when something very minor goes wrong, the PTSD sufferer may appear to have a complete meltdown over it, this is due to carrying the burden of their condition and all that goes with it. Often these outbursts are highly self-critical and the person suffering from anxiety may not even know themselves, why they are so agitated or upset.
“We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” - Brene Brown
Fear is one of the most powerful emotions humans can experience and PTSD can be remarkably intense, sometimes the recollection of traumas can cause our body to be running on far more adrenaline than it actually requires. Which can cause hyperactivity, fidgeting or even in some cases twitching. When we experience trauma, the body doesn't understand that we are recalling a danger rather than facing one in the now, so we receive a release of hormones that enables us to handle a life or death situation, but being in this state constantly is a nightmare and can even lead to damage to health and especially the heart over time.
Headaches, aches and pains or catching every seasonal virus going, there may be a lot of discomfort in the abdomen and heaviness in the chest. Being in a state of anxiety over time, weakens our immune system. Our body and spirit is not happy or content in this state, which is why we must strive to find healing, it is not natural to our bodies to always be under stress. As a result we may feel "generally weakened" which when your frame of mind is already low can feel like an awful lot of suffering piled on top of you.
Being rigid or stoic
Another way that deep anxiety and trauma can manifest is through being rigid and inflexible, perhaps sticking with particular friendships or places and being unwilling to allow the "new" in. Staying in our comfort zone and following routines we can predict. This is a coping method that can be helpful in the short term, but it can enable us in remaining stuck over time. Sometimes those suffering deep anxiety can appear emotionless or stoic, however this is usually a coping mechanism.
This can be a difficult aspect of trauma to face, however our unhealed traumas and anxieties have a knock on effect in terms of our friends, families and romantic partners. Survivors of deep trauma tend to love differently, in my experience they have so much to offer in terms of love, acceptance and understanding, those who has seen the worst of life often have the deepest appreciation for the beauty it can bring, and often grow to be the strongest and most compassionate of people, I love this quote which sums it up beautifully...
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain".― Kahlil Gibran.
However those who have been exposed to trauma tend to swing between a deep fear of abandonment and a fear of suffocation, which can be so confusing for the partner or loved one who is trying to understand them. So it goes when we open our hearts to love we also unlock fear and buried pain which can cause turmoil in relationships sometimes even causing us to push people away so that they don't have to "deal with us".
It could be that sometimes life takes on a "surreal" feeling, you may find yourself questioning the meaning of your life or worry that life has no meaning. The ego has endured waves of destruction which can lead you to question every aspect of your life, You may feel as though you are experiencing many deep transformations that feel unsettling to you and are difficult to explain to others or you may suffer with feelings of despair, confusion and hopelessness. In some cases a total overhaul of lifestyle and habits ends up being one of the things that leads us back to our true selves and frees us, eventually.
Negative coping mechanisms
Overwhelming frustration and distress needs an outlet but we are seldom offered an outlet that is safe and effective within our day to day lives, therefore people frequently turn to negative coping mechanisms, we may all be aware of bulimia, cutting and other forms of self harm, however negative coping mechanisms may take much less obvious forms too, such as a person isolating themselves to an unhealthy degree, neglecting their health or acting recklessly in general with disregard for their own safety (If you feel that you or a loved one may fit any of these descriptions, or are self harming please consult your doctor immediately)
Becoming fixated on certain comfort objects or music, or having to complete rituals to feel safe. Perhaps using excessive cleaning and organisation as a coping mechanism. It's worth a mention that recently I have seen an explosion of people become fixated with finding reassurance through psychics and tarot readers to a level that is not good for their well being and mental state. Sometimes even having many readings per day. (Spiritual guidance can be positive but we cannot rely on the fates, we have to believe in ourselves and make our own lives happen). Obsessions can also emerge around our careers and love lives, we may become supremely anxious about our partner or bury ourselves in work until we burn ourselves out. Sometimes anxiety sends our minds and fears in to over drive and it can seem impossible to find peace of mind.
People are for the most part aware that insomnia is a common side effect of anxiety or PTSD, But for many sufferers, their entire routine can slip completely out of whack. They may be unable to fall asleep all night, crash out before noon, wake up in the evening, be eating in the early hours, or skipping meals because their body clock is so confused, sometimes also completely missing out on day light, (which can then cause hormonal problems) or struggling to sleep for days on end. We may fall behind on tasks or be unable to cope with even simple things. The worst part about this is that as if anxiety and trauma wasn't enough to handle, day to day life has now become an absolute minefield to navigate, this is no way to live and it can bring absolute despair to a person suffering with trauma anxiety, there is a sense that if they cannot control their own day to day lives, then the road to healing may not even be in sight, this impacts the persons relationships, careers, and mental health in a destructive way and can be extremely alienating.
It is clear as well as deeply saddening to realise that dealing with one or more of these lesser known symptoms can cause a person to feel that their life is snowballing and that their condition is deteriorating further beyond their control.
I am not convinced that a person will ever be the same again after suffering from PTSD or debilitating anxiety, but I do know that we are given an opportunity to rebuild our lives and become the most truest version of ourselves. The most important thing that you can do today is refuse to give up on yourself. Never resign yourself to this being simply "who you are", although you may always carry scars they will in time become a symbol of your ability to survive. Please do not think that you are alone in your struggles, please don't be afraid to reach out for support... Before you go
Please read my guide here on a natural approach to healing trauma, depression and anxiety. Where you can read a little about my story and find ways to at the very least, better manage your symptoms. I will write more in depth about coping techniques in future posts. If you need to speak to someone you can contact me here for a Counselling/Life Coaching session.
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