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Jun22
2017

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

By Jenni Schaefer

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 (34)

  1. Jen

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for talking about PTSD! I have not been through war, been in an accident or suffered physical abuse. But the trauma I experienced was real. I still live with its effects. PTSD has made me think I am crazy, not helped by the many blank stares I receive when I try to explain the madness my body experiences and how absolutely debilitating it is. Finally, I have a counselor who listens and fights with me. Thank you for entering the conversation and putting words to the helplessness it can bring. And for speaking hope. There is hope!

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Yes, Jen, there is HOPE! I am grateful to know that you have found a therapist who “gets it.” That is so important. Keep fighting! You got this!

      Reply  |  
  2. Kathy Baran

    Thank you 💛

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Thanks for reading, Kathy! I always appreciate your support.

      Reply  |  
  3. Tara

    I can relate to a lot of what you wrote in this article, Jenni! Especially in relation to my eating disorder, which went undiagnosed for many years until I reached a life-threatening level of sickness. Thank you for being so vulnerable and for shining your light so that others can have hope! I’ve always looked up to you in my recovery, and now that I’m better, I still love to read what you write because it is just so inspiring. Thank you!!

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Tara – I always love hearing from you! Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued support! And, I loved meeting you on Saturday!

      Reply  |  
  4. Mary Pat Nally

    Jeni, thanks for sharing so openly. Honestly, I used to be so jealous of you and what you had accomplished…why did life come so easy for you I wondered? I have written books too, I am a public speaker too. If am an educated woman with 2 Masters Degrees then why is it so difficult for me to be in the world, part of the world? Because I live with PTSD…I too, have been misdiagnosed as having Borderline Personality disorder, Dissociative Identity disorder, anxiety disorder, Major depressive disorder and then there is the 34 year relationship I have had with the most important diagnosis EDNOS. You see, I have held on tight to that diagnosis because it kept me safe. I didn’t have to worry about anyone finding out because no one ever actually believed I had an eating disorder. I really identify with the part about running from ptsd. For the longest time I felt that if I stopped running I would be swallowed up by a black hole; the black hole I now know to be PTSD. I have never been in a relationship because I always thought I was too ugly to be touched and wondered how anyone could ever love someone like me. My biggest fear is that my world as I know it will come crumbling down around me if I allow anyone in because well, I am supposed to be the intelligent one that has it all together, that is because I have no idea how to fall apart.

    Thanks Jeni.

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    1. Becky Ebert

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for commenting. We’re glad that Jenni’s piece resonated with you. We hope that after reading it, you feel less alone in your struggles even if your story is different in a sense.

      Please remind yourself that you are worthy of love, especially from yourself. Your body is not the enemy and you do not need to look a certain way to be deserving of respect.

      If you would like to share more of your story, please email us at info@twloha.com. We will read and respond.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
    2. Jenni Schaefer

      Thanks so much for your openness and honesty here. One thing I have learned: that is what it takes to recover. You are so brave and strong…quite an inspiration. I would love to read your story one day! I am sure I could learn a lot from you. And, thanks for your support. It means a lot.

      Reply  |  
  5. Courtney Armstrong

    ” A memory can’t hurt me, but I’ll tell you what: avoiding it sure can.”

    Amen.

    PTSD is often overlooked and under treated, even by experienced therapists. Thank you for writing this so that others will also realize that they are not alone, that they can move forward, and that though trauma may never be erased, with the proper treatment and care, it does not have to dictate what happens next.

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    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Hi Courtney – Thanks so much for posting this! You are such a gift to this world. I know that you have helped so many with both PTSD and eating disorders. Again, your support means a lot. Hope to see you in Europe again soon!

      Reply  |  
  6. Katherine Carson

    Have you or going to write a book about your journey,ed,and ptsd?

    I’ve read your other books and always great information and helpful too me.

    Thank you and especially for fighting for advocacy,overcoming your hurdles and your journey.

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Yes, Katherine! I am working hard on a book about PTSD. Please stay tuned. My biggest passion right now is to get the word out about PTSD. Thank you for asking. I so appreciate your support!

      Reply  |  
  7. Charlotte A Carbaugh

    PTSD is in some ways the most well known and the least well known mental disorder. Most people when they hear it think of veterans wheeling around every time something drops or staring off into space, hallucinating something that isn’t there. And while, YES, those people do exist and do deal with some awful symptoms… not everyone has that level of intensity.

    My PTSD is easy to mistake for autism, DID, depression, or just regular anxiety. As a teen looking up the disorder, I said I couldn’t possibly have PTSD, since my symptoms were so ‘light’. I just have a less dramatic version.

    Unfortunately the public’s idea of PTSD isn’t exactly what it really is, and worse then mental health field is full of… less than helpful people. I’d know, I met 5 of them. But thing is, if you think you have the disorder- if the symptoms match, regardless of severity, if the description seems remotely accurate- find help, and more importantly, someone to listen. PTSD isn’t something that cures itself, unfortunately, and it can be really hard to deal with on your own. Again, I’d know.

    But I did eventually find a non-quack and learned to face some of my demons- or realized they weren’t demons at all. It is possible… it just takes time, and a whole lot of persistence.

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Charlotte – Thanks so much for sharing this. You are right: PTSD often gets misdiagnosed. I experienced that a lot. Your words here are so key. Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

      Reply  |  
  8. Sarah

    Something bad happened to me at college and I didn’t handle it well; and then my inability to handle it well led to me getting told to leave my campus job for the rest of the year and asked to think seriously about whether I’ll be capable of returning to class in the fall. And I’ve spent the last two months being so angry and scared all the time. And I can feel my brain trying to forget what happened and I’m nervous about what’ll happen later.
    I don’t want to be scared and I don’t want to give up my education or my goals.
    You got your pen back and that makes me hopeful that someday I’ll get mine back too.
    Thanks.

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky Ebert

      Sarah,

      You will find your way. You are not hopeless or helpless. You are not alone in this. There is help out there for you. Please take a look at our Find Help Page: https://twloha.com/find-help/local-resources/

      You can also email us at info@twloha.com. We read and reply to every message.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
      1. Jenni Schaefer

        Thanks for posting this resource page! Very helpful!

        Reply  |  
    2. Jenni Schaefer

      Oh, Sarah – I am so sorry to hear about your struggles. Yes, I did get my pen back. And, I know you can get your “pen” back, too–whatever that might be in your life. If you need resources, please email me at jenni.schaefer@eatingrecovery.com – I can send along helpful books, articles, etc. Of course, this site has tons of helpful PTSD articles as well. Never give up. You are not alone. You can make it through.

      Reply  |  
  9. Kelsie

    I relate with a lot of this article, but the thing is, the memory DOES hurt me. PTSD makes my heart race, makes me withdraw socially to avoid triggers, gives me headaches, and makes me afraid of absolutely everything. The memory still hurts when reliving it frequently. My first two therapists diagnosed me with PTSD, but had no idea how to treat it. I’m finally with a therapist that specializes in trauma and can treat me effectively with EMDR, neurofeedback, alpha theta training, and hypnosis. I hope others with similar issues can find help too.

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Kelsie – I am deeply sorry to hear that you are struggling. I am grateful to learn that you have found great help. In my early recovery, EMDR helped quite a bit. Thank you for sharing here and for offering your experience, strength, and hope to others. I think connection is what helps so many of us to pull through!

      Reply  |  
  10. marcella nix

    If you keep trying long enough and hard enough you will find a therapist that will tell you what you want to hear.
    I grew up in a truly abusive household, I’ve lived through a matiagenof abuse and 2 marriages of cheating, 2 family suicides and 5 years of caretaking for a husband who had brain cancer before he died. No one has ever said I have PTSD- in the millennial age, I think it would be wise to consider what is truly PTSD and what is kids not wanting to do chore and homework.
    I’ve supported TWOLA for several years – not sure I can continue after this post that was reposted by someone I know and completely NOT the case!

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky Ebert

      Hi Marcella,

      We appreciate you taking the time to both read Jenni’s post and to comment and share your thoughts.

      We understand your hesitation, however, we hope you know that this post is a personal story for Jenni and something that she herself is expressing as a journey relating back to her. If people relate to her words, we are pleased, but this is not to say that she is influencing others to believe that they too are experiencing the same mental health struggle as she is. It is a telling of her own, and a way to shed light on a struggle that many may not be familiar with.

      Thank you again for your time and concern.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
  11. Kim

    Thank you for sharing. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my “weirdness”

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenni Schaefer

      Kim – Thank you for reading. You are absolutely not alone. And, things do bet better. Never quit!! You can do it. PTSD will tell us that we can’t, but we are stronger than PTSD.

      Reply  |  
  12. Sky Gram

    One of my diagnosis is PTSD. I can’t seem to prevent the triggers, or the startled responses. I have had therapy, & am back in it. Tried suicide a number of times, & have harmed myself. People say my history is horrific. Hard to keep my thoughts straight when my PTSD is high. I still don’t know who my true self is after all these years. When I wrote my book, I thought I would find my true self. I still don’t want to be touched, & have a plan.

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky Ebert

      Hi Sky,

      We’re glad you took the time to comment and share your story as it relates to Jenni’s. The fact that you are going back to counseling is encouraging. You are deserving of this help. And the strength and courage you’re displaying by continuing even when you feel stuck is inspiring. We hope that you will email us at info@twloha.com to share more of your journey. We read and reply to every message we receive. You are not alone.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
  13. Karyn braveheart

    Dear Jenni l have been there too. Even though no two stories are identical l have been running away from feelings and memories that l don’t remember, they are more scarey than the ones l do. I look at my scars now and l don’t see the scars like l did before, filled with shame because they are a part of my story and my way of coping to block out that pain l can’t describe on the inside. Now l know it is not appropriate but my body has taken its own way of dealing with it by having non epileptic seizures. This is to me another way of torment and yet because l feel when l have them it kind of makes sense that my brain is doing this to release what needs to come out. It’s out of control, it has a stigma attached to it like eating disorders but in a way anorexia and the seizures are working together or fighting each other. The solution from the neurologist is see your pschycologist …what?? Thirty years later I’m asking when will it be over? Thankyou for posting, twloyarms is close to my heart as well. Today l wore my pink beanie l got for them standing up for being heard before it’s too late, breaking the silence and keeping our eyes open so others don’t have to go through what we have and have been through and come out fighting but alive…

    Reply  |  
  14. Crystal

    When will the storm end I can’t take it I promise that I try oh Lord do I try. I love so deeply and feel every ounce of energy around me and like I’ve said it’s a blessing yet it’s a curse.

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky Ebert

      Crystal,

      We hope you are well. We hope that you are asking for the help you deserve. Your courage and bravery to speak up about how you are feeling is inspiring. We encourage you to visit our Find Help page. https://twloha.com/find-help/local-resources/ There you will find local resources available to you. Also, if you would like to share more of your story, please email us at info@twloha.com. We read and respond to every message we receive. You are not alone.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
  15. Carolyn Dower

    DAYUM. Missing PTSD?? I am so sorry this happened to you, Jenni. First, the trauma, of course, but the fact that nobody put it together is appalling. PTSD is debilitating and very difficult on a relationship. Thanks for your honesty. I wish you healing. A trite, but very very sincere wish: take care of yourself. (and maybe stop taking care of other people for awhile?) <3

    Reply  |  
  16. Michelle

    Thank you for sharing your story, Jenni! I hate that you went through what you did, but it is comforting to know that someone else has found a way to begin healing. I know from experience that PTSD can be wildly misunderstood.

    When I was in college, I was in a car accident which left me with painful physical injuries. That same semester, I was walking through my campus, and a minor (but scary) car accident happened in front of me. Not even three weeks later, a friend of mine was hit by a car on campus. I didn’t witness the accident itself, but I saw the dented car, my injured friend and the blood he left on the street. These events soon became all I could think about. I couldn’t sleep, because I often woke up with nightmares. I felt depressed and tired, but I was at the same time extremely jumpy. I couldn’t be in a car — much less drive one — for a while because I would have flashbacks and panic attacks. Because of the physical and mental pain, I began struggling to keep up with my classes and part-time jobs.

    I mentioned my issues to friends and family, but I was basically told to lighten up and stop being immature. “Don’t worry!” “You’ll forget about the accidents soon enough!” “It’ll go away on its own!” They had known me as an overachiever who hardly ever made excuses when things got tough. But I had reached my breaking point, and their words made me feel like an utter failure.

    One thing people don’t realize about PTSD is that it can be brought on by a ton of different things … even things like car accidents. I did eventually find the help I needed, but I got to my lowest point first. I became suicidal, to the point of actually having a plan. One rough night, I finally promised myself I would first try seeking professional help. I figured I had absolutely nothing left to lose. I’m much better now, but I still wish those I loved had wanted to be part of my recovery.

    If someone ever approaches you with their struggles, I hope you will try to listen to and encourage them. It is important to not minimize what others say they are going through. What may seem minor to you may be life-altering for someone else. Don’t dismiss or belittle someone’s thoughts just because you are not seeing things the same way. It really can be a matter of life or death.

    Reply  |  
  17. Jenna Von Trapp

    “Nothing is chasing you, Jenni. Just quit running.”
    That made me cry; it’s so horribly perfect, it could go on a T-shirt you’d never ever want to wear.
    I grew up with a sort of manic anxiety (I am bipolar, wasn’t noticed, just assumed to be an anxious little girl who needed to stop being such a crying baby). It wasn’t PTSD; it wasn’t something – it was everything. (Although later, in a hospital, a doctor said I sure showed the signs. He was curious about that.)
    Ugh, that exaggerated startle response – I was always trembling and dropping things and reacting to every little noise – but remember that little game, where someone holds a dollar bill between your fingers and if you could catch it, it was yours? Well I got that bill. Every time.
    Medication has helped me immensely, as this really is brain chemistry, but I’m still trying to deal with the first thirty years of my life, where I wasn’t normal, where I had to find places to cry and scream where no one would know, where I starting injuring myself, then moved up when I was allowed to go to the store by myself.
    It makes me said that you had such incompetent doctors. They can break you if you’re not prepared, and how sick is it that you’d have to be prepared? I had some very good doctors; I was just afraid to tell them things (eye roll). I had equal fears that I was overreacting and that I was some kind of monster.
    If I hadn’t been so young, I think I would have stopped. Welcomed the tiger. But I didn’t have a choice. I never had a choice.
    Anyhow, I’m 38, which is a heck of a lot older than I ever thought I’d be.
    And to make a long story over.

    Reply  |  
    1. Jenna Von Trapp

      Oh, my. This was not to compare myself to people with PTSD. I am sorry – I did not mean to be disrespectful.

      Reply  |