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PTSD: My Experience and How I Got Through It

**This post was originally written on social media, but it has been expanded and adapted so that you can get the full benefits of what I went through.  To see the original post, click here.***

A few days ago, I revealed that I was clinically diagnosed with PTSD and ADHD.  In that post (which you can read here), I declared that I believe those diagnoses make me stronger, not weaker.  Of course both of these are significant, but the one that garnered the most attention was PTSD.  Ever since I posted about my diagnosis the other day, I’ve had so many people step forward and share their experiences with me, which is so humbling to know that you trust me enough to talk to me about something so private, and I thank you for that.

I also have been receiving many questions about it, and I believe that mental health issues need to be discussed and talked about more openly and honestly. There is such a stigma that society places on having a mental illness, but there shouldn't be.  Let's face it - in today's society, there is so much pressure to be all these things to all these different people, it's no wonder so many people are having emotional breakdowns and anxiety attacks.  So I'm going to address my experience with PTSD, how I was diagnosed, and how I've overcome it and am using it to help others.  Let me preface this by saying the information I’m about to share is SOLELY based on my personal experience. So whatever you take from this blog post, ALWAYS consult a licensed counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist for more information.

When you hear PTSD, many people think of military personnel who have been exposed to extreme, life-altering emotional trauma. This is certainly one of the most common scenarios, but there are so many more that can trigger this response in the body.

PTSD can result after the exposure to any emotional trauma, whether it be a physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual assault, or experiencing a great deal of loss or change in a short amount of time. It can also arise from being exposed to a certain amount of stress/abuse/trauma/etc. repeatedly over the course of time, until one day it becomes too much, and your brain and body simply cannot process it anymore. You become numb. The world turns gray, and everything feels like it’s spinning out of control.

Such was the case with my experience. My body was exposed to copious amounts of abuse over several years in varying forms. One of those forms of abuse was my eating disorder and killing myself with over exercising. I never felt accepted, and so I constantly tried to prove myself to gain acceptance.  I'm not really sure when I started to feel unaccepted, because I had a great group of girls that were my best friends in high school, but maybe I always had this thought that I had to keep proving myself worthy.  I'm still working through this one to understand where it came from, but I know now that it is a lie and that I am worthy and I don't need to prove my value to anyone.

In addition to the chronic physical abuse that I placed on my body through starvation and extreme exertion, I was also repeatedly exposed to emotional abuse and heartbreak in my relationships with men. I kept having the same relationship, just with different men. I allowed myself to be used for purely physical relationships.  I may as well have had a sign on my forehead that said, "I'll let you use me and treat me like garbage," because that's exactly what happened to me every single time.  This was part of my need for external validation.  I thought that if I was seen as attractive and sexy to the opposite sex, maybe then I would be accepted.  Again, not sure where this thought of not being accepted came from, but it's not my reality anymore.  Please know that if you are having a similar experience in your relationships, it is NOT YOUR FAULT!  Seek to understand yourself first, learn to love yourself first, and then you'll be able to attract the type of relationship that you're really searching for.  You ARE worthy of love, allow yourself to be loved.  First by yourself, and then by others.

So over the course of seven years, I was exposed to multiple physical and emotional traumas.  Two years ago, there was one particular emotional experience that occurred that shoved my body and brain into full PTSD.  It was simply too much.  It was not necessarily the person or the experience that caused the PTSD, it was just the last experience that my brain and body could handle under those kinds of circumstances.  I shut down, and I closed myself off from the world immediately overnight.  This occurrence happened in Florida, which was a place I never truly felt accepted, which made it even more difficult for me to process everything I was experiencing.  If it wasn't for my best friend and my roommate at the time, things may have been a lot worse, and I thank God for them being there every day.

Once I was in this mental space, it felt like my world was ending. All of my efforts of restricting food and over exercising became moot. They were not effective. My body simply could not handle any more stress, so it started putting on weight. Quickly. When the body is placed under a great deal of stress like this, it can respond in various ways to keep you alive.  In my case, my body was starving, I was emotionally and physically traumatized, and so my body responded as if I was in danger and suffering from a famine, so everything I ate started to be stored as fat from survival.  The more weight that I gained, the more I felt my identity slipping away. My body had become my identity.  It was all I had control over.  I had worked hard for it, and maintaining it was truly what my life revolved around.  I planned on building my career off of it, and I had lost that.

All at once I had lost my body, which in my mind meant that I would be a failure in the health industry. I lost a relationship that I had actually been really excited and hopeful about, and I had to move home from Florida because my reputation had become tarnished, by false accusations.  I knew I couldn't stay in this environment that set me over the edge, but I had very few friends left at home in Pittsburgh because of how engrossed I had become in my eating disorder. I understand why I lost them - looking back from an outsiders perspective, my illness may have looked to them as though I was obsessed with myself, egotistical, vain, and probably a little slutty.  The reality was, however, that I had fallen deep into the traps of an eating disorder and that took over my life.  When I moved home from Florida, it felt like I was drowning.  I had nothing left.

My mind became fixed on all of these things, and my world became a very dark place. It kept getting harder and harder to get out of bed each day. I had lost my motivation, and I don’t think I smiled or laughed for 8 or 9 months.

My panic attacks became worse.  I remember one instance in particular where I had to pull my car over off to the side of the road because I couldn't breathe or stop crying.  My brother had to come get me.  I had recurring nightmares about all of my traumatic experiences, particularly the one that set me over the edge.  My thoughts would be stuck on this experience and I would relive it almost every day, which only made me slip further into the darkness.  I couldn’t control my body no matter how hard I tried.  I was putting all of my efforts into my workouts and trying every single trick I knew in the book, but my body never responded.  I couldn't understand why.  It all became so much that I even began to wonder if this life was worth living. That’s when God stepped in, but that’s another story for another day 😉When that happened, I finally reached out for help.

I think something that's really amazing about my experience is that my brother knew that I had PTSD before I even sought professional help or went to therapy.  He went to Barnes & Nobel with his girlfriend at the time, who is now his wife, and brought me home a PTSD workbook.  I remember thinking that my experience was not significant enough to warrant this diagnosis.  But it amazes me to this day how concerned my family was for my wellbeing, especially Jeffrey, who is special needs and wanted to do everything he could in his power to get me back to the sister he grew up with, including bringing me that workbook.  Typing that makes me very emotional, because Jeffrey is a very very special person.  I think God spoke to him to get me that workbook.

PTSD manifests itself in many ways. All traumas are relevant and valid. It does not matter how “small” or “irrelevant” you might think your experience was. There is no such thing as a small or insignificant trauma. But I am here to tell you that there is hope!  Once you understand what has happened to you and why you are feeling the way that you do, it becomes a little bit easier.  It's important to have a strong support group who encourage you and fight for you, because coming out of something like this is NOT easy.  Coming out of the eating disorder mentality was NOT easy, in fact it was harder than being in the disorder itself.  The disorder had control, the recovery does not.  But it is soooo worth it!!  You have to be willing to do the work to understand your traumas.  Whatever trauma you experienced, it is not your fault.  Just because something happened to you does not mean that you deserved it.  It does not make you a bad person, and it certainly does not define your future.  You can work through these things, but it takes a conscious effort and a lot of support.  You do not have to face this alone.

If you are experiencing any of these things or have gone through any similar experiences, I want you to know that you are not alone. Your experiences matter, YOU matter, and your life is extremely valuable.  I share my story with you because I believe that mental health is extremely important and needs to be discussed more openly and honestly. It is my professional opinion that the body will not be physically healthy until the mind is. Mental health is EVERYTHING.  My experience is actually proof of this: my body could not heal until my mind was in the right spot.  Once I had worked through all of the lies I had been telling myself and saw myself for who I really am, I was able to release the emotional pain.  I can talk about my experiences now in a calm and collected manner because they do not have power over me anymore.  Two years ago, I would not have been able to say a word without crying.  Once that emotional weight is released and your mind is truly in the right place, the physical weight will release itself.  When the body knows it is safe for you to lose weight and be at a healthy size for you, it will do it naturally.  Mental health comes first, physical health follows.  As long as you believe it will happen for you, it will.

Please know that if you have been diagnosed with or are experiencing any mental health issues, they do not define you. These things are just a teeny tiny piece of who you are as a human. They are NOT who you are, and you are SO much more than them. In fact, if you let them, they can empower you. Allow them to make you stronger.  Use those experiences as a way to learn more about yourself, because the more you understand, the more powerful you become.  Just because something happened to you once does not mean that it has to continue to happen to you.  You have control and power over how you approach the rest of your life.  You CAN and WILL get through it.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Trust me guys, I was really, really sick.  I didn't know how sick I was until I got through to the other side. 

It takes work, though.  To recover takes a lot of work, and to STAY in recovery takes a lot of work.  Just because I am at peace with food and with where my body is now doesn't mean that I don't still have some of those thoughts that whisper I'm not good enough.  I still have moments that I catch myself thinking that I have to work out more, or that I'm afraid I'm gaining weight again.  Trust me, those thoughts still come in, but I do not act on them.  I acknowledge them, I know them, but they are NOT the real me.  You have to know who you are and you have to stay true to yourself and really KNOW that those thoughts are not yours - they are the disorder's.  The real you knows the difference.

I am so lucky that I had my family to support me and do everything they could to get me back to myself.  I am so grateful and blessed that some of the friends I had thought I had lost from the disorder are still there for me to support me.  There are some very special people in my life that I consider my angels, and I hope they know who they are.  But I always tell them how grateful I am that they are still in my life, because it must have been hell to deal with me when I was going through it, and having them still there for me means more to me than I'll ever be able to put into words.  

Talk to someone you trust. Reach out to a friend, a family member, or even a mentor. Schedule an appointment with a therapist or counselor. Start the conversation, as difficult as it may be, to allow yourself to begin to process it. The more you understand it, the more you process it, and your body will begin to release it. I am proof of this. As long as you are willing to dig in and do the work, you WILL get through this.

In the meantime, I am here to support you in any way that I can! I have made it through my traumas, and I have allowed them to empower me to be a better coach, a better friend, and a better citizen of society. Every single experience serves a purpose.  If you feel like no one understands what you're going through, I do.  Even if our situations are not the same, the feelings are the same.  They are suffocating, but I promise you will be able to breathe again.  When you’re in it, it’s difficult to see any way out. But I promise you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Trust yourself.  Do the work.  Ask for help.  Seek to understand, and you'll be able to move on.  Let your experiences empower you.  Do not let the past define you, and do not let your diagnoses control your life.  You are ALWAYS in the driver's seat.  I hope this helps someone who is struggling to seek help, or inspires someone to reach out to a friend who they think might be struggling.  

For a list of mental health providers near you, visit www.psychologytoday.com - this is the website I used to seek help.

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