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.