Let’s Stop Missing PTSD: A Lesson from the Psych Ward

By Jenni SchaeferDecember 7, 2017

With the new year approaching, we wanted to spend the month of December looking back on the top 8 blogs of 2017. This post was originally published on June 22, 2017.

My marriage sent me to the psych ward.

I guess I should rephrase that. It wasn’t actually my marriage that got me admitted. It was the letters PTSD, or rather the fact that that’s what happens when you tell enough people, in one day, that you want to die.

I wish I had known the truth about posttraumatic stress disorder long before they took my shampoo, spiral notebook, shoelaces, and anything else the hospital staff deemed dangerous. They even took my pen. As a writer, this was a “face down” moment; I couldn’t be trusted with a ballpoint pen.

It never should have gotten that bad. The thing is: I did reach out for help. A lot.

I described posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms to nearly ten different therapists over a period of about twelve years. I was told that my difficulty in intimate relationships was a result of my being “avoidant attachment” or “just really anxious.” One therapist (that’s what he listed on his business card anyway) told me to drink more alcohol to deal with the anxiety. Excuse me, what?

Why did so many people, including me, miss the signs of a real, life-threatening mental illness? Not to mention, why did I get such bad guidance from helping professionals?

My friends and family could tell that I was exhausted, depleted, that I was far, far from myself, but they couldn’t see what I was fighting against.

Nothing is chasing you, Jenni. Just quit running.

But PTSD is an invisible monster hunting you down, and you have to keep running, or you will die. That’s how it feels, at least. There was a saber-toothed tiger lurking around every corner. Yes, I think I will keep running. Why couldn’t everyone see that?

I share my story in hope that people will get help way before I did. I want PTSD to be on their radar because it wasn’t anywhere near mine. I had never fought in a war; I had never survived a horrific accident. I was ignorant to the fact that any of us can develop PTSD.

Awareness, for me, came with one life-changing Internet search: “exaggerated startle response.” Let’s just say that I was jumpy—one of those on-guard symptoms. To my surprise, pages and pages of information about PTSD loaded onto my screen.

I’m not going crazy. I’m not alone. Thanks, Google!

If you are struggling with something from your past—don’t let others dismiss what happened to you, even if they think it’s something small—my hope is that you will tell someone and seek help.

The diagnosis of PTSD, for me, wasn’t about a label; it was a compass to point me toward treatment that works.

I can’t change the fact that I experienced trauma, but I am no longer afraid of the memory, something that I avoided for so long. A memory can’t hurt me, but I’ll tell you what: avoiding it sure can. So, today, my motto in life, in general, is approach, approach, approach, especially when it’s scary. Move in the direction of your healing.

It was scary to write this, so that’s just what I did. I got my pen back, and now I’m using it to tell my story.

Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author and a National Recovery Advocate of the Family Institute at Eating Recovery Center. Contact ERC to learn more at (877) 957-6575. For PTSD-specific resources, contact ERC Insight at 877-737-7391.

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Comments (7)

  1. anonymous

    No one knew what i had been hiding for so many years
    No one knew how scared i was inside
    No one knew how shameful i felt
    No one knew have often i had contemplated suicide
    No one knew No one knew not even me
    I was walking through life like with a sharp stone in my boot never knowing it didn’t have to be this way.
    When life finally came crushing down upon me no one believed me, not even the people who i thought would have.
    Delayed complex PTSD was eating my soul
    I guess one cannot expect others to care, I had to take the journey alone but with the help of many professionals thousands of miles away.
    And still there are so many old friends that have gone from my life because they just do not believe that my PTSD was and still is real.
    I live, I love, I laugh, I make music, I am not an empty shell any more. I am getting closer to what i was meant to be.
    I am almost 70 years old and now know life to be a marvelous place to be after being diagnosed almost 12 years ago.

    Reply  |  
  2. Sara

    Thank you. Thank you for saying what I felt but couldn’t explain. You explained exactly how I feel. And it sucks when people keep not helping. Thank you

    Reply  |  
  3. Nik

    Wow thank you so much for this! Any words of wisdom to help some one who is running away, especially from you? They say they are fine but you know they are not. And they say they just want to be left alone. But your gut instinct is screaming at you to keep contacting them.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Nik!

      Just do your best to create a safe and welcoming environment for them. Continue to offer them support just as you are.

      If we can learn more about your situation, would you email us at [email protected]?

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  4. Mrs. Clements Suzanne M.

    Thank you so so much

    Reply  |  
  5. Mrs. Clements Suzanne M.

    Thanks so much

    Reply  |  
  6. Maite

    Thank you to everyone. Is it possible to get recommendations of professionals on PTSD? Anonymous give me hope, thank you.

    Reply  |  
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