Following the marathon bombings last week, I am deciding to share my own experiences with PTSD here on my blog. Typically, I’ve been private about the events leading up to my PTSD diagnosis, but I am hoping that what I share might help others who are dealing with the INTENSE events of last week.
Before I started my healthy living journey way back when I was in college in Florida, I had a very involved health scare. It started with a 104 fever which would not go away and sore lymph nodes under my armpits. It progressed – the fever wouldn’t drop. My closest friends fed me popsicles and forced me into ice baths. The health center on campus was totally and completely flabbergasted, and they prescribed me a whole punch of prescriptions.
Confusing the directions on one of the labels combined with the total fear I was experiencing sent me into a full blown panic attack. My roommate drove me to the ER. I was convinced I couldn’t breathe (and I swear to you it totally felt like i couldn’t.) It got worse before it got better because it took days for me to be admitted, and at that point I had developed so many infections in my throat that I couldn’t talk above a whisper. When I had to speak for doctors, I asked to use a pen and paper.
I was having horrible digestive problems in addition to my throat – so much so that the doctors asked everyone visiting me to “suit up” (picture alien outfits so no one would get my germs), and you can imagine the toll this took on my mental state. At the time, I didn’t realize it. I’m a fighter, and I was simply determined to get better. I was so weak, and so thin, that I didn’t leave my bed or my room for nearly ten days. Because I hadn’t been out in the light of day for so long, I started to hallucinate. I would think my mother was asking me questions when she wasn’t…apparently this is somewhat common for people in the circumstances I had been in.
The tests were pretty inconclusive. I had a whole slew of things wrong, but the doctors at the hospital I was in weren’t very convincing. It basically just took time.
Eventually, I returned home with my Mom to rest, to do follow up tests with more reputable doctors in Boston and begin to heal.
As my mom wheeled me on to the airplane because I was too weak to walk, I had my first anxious pull. What if my stomach acts up? What I need to get to the bathroom quickly and can’t? What if I’m still sick…is there a doctor on this plane? The thoughts came and then went, but I remember thinking hmmmm, that’s not normal.
Then, my first night back at home I woke up in the middle of the night covered in sweat (was this another fever?!) and shaking violently. When I saw the doctor the next morning she let me know, I was officially experiencing PTSD.
PTSD comes in many shapes and sizes, and after what happened with the marathon I think it’s safe to say we’re all probably experience a little bit of it.
Here’s the good news…
Thanks to learning diaphragmatic breathing and practicing meditation and yoga I have never had another full blown panic attack. Sure, I’ve come close, but I know how to stop them, and that takes a lot of the fear away. If you are feeling especially on edge, try yoga, breath work (google alternate nostril breathing) or see if you can find a mediation class.
Don’t be afraid to say it out loud. Speaking our fears/patterns out loud to someone we trust can help take away a lot of the charge. If you are embarassed to talk about what you’re feeling, write it in your journal as a start.
Another technique that can be especially helpful for strong bouts of anxiety is called EFT (also known as tapping). I was first introduced to EFT a few years ago, and I was very skeptical. First, you look really funny when you do it. Second, it takes a few tries to get the knack of it. But when you do, it’s stunningly effective. I tapped my way through anxiety about food allergies, career changes and break ups and more. Here’s a video from Gabrielle Bernstein about tapping for stress.