I would like to share with you a unique description I came up with this morning on how to describe what it is like to live with PTSD for someone who has not had any experience with mental condition diagnosis, whether it be PTSD or anything else. I’m very excited to share this with you all, I’ve “soul searched” for some time what to share in this blog.
Imagine that you find yourself in a room full of identical mirrors, only these mirrors are not just a physical reflection but an internal reflection of each of your emotions. Each of these emotions we are going to say is governed by a facet of PTSD. I believe that it is helpful to think of each symptom as a facet of PTSD, because each symptom can bring out a very different person than the next.
The first of many mirrors we all have, we’ll call this the parasympathetic mirror. This is the part of us that can see, understand, and digest all the nervous inputs that our daily lives give us. For many people, the room of mirrors would end with the next mirror, the sympathetic one. This is the mirror that receives inputs that spark our flight or fight instincts, our mirror of protection. With PTSD, it’s like living with that mirror being broken into several more that all reflect inward. So, for our next step in this imaginative exercise let’s pretend that 2nd mirror has now become several mirrors broken by the trauma that caused the PTSD.
The first of the sympathetic smaller mirrors we’ll call our depression mirror. Many of us are familiar with depression so I won’t spend much time with it. This is the reflections that bring about not just the sadness, but the inability to feel joy. These are lives most draining moments like family funerals, that just completely burn you out. For many survivors, this one is the trigger that we avoid like the plague. When I personally must face situations like that though, it shines a light on a much more dangerous mirror; the second of the sympathetic mirrors that we’ll dub anger.
I could carry on for days about the subsequent mirrors such as depression and anger. That would take away from what I need you to understand. For some of us, when we get to looking at that mirror we end up with tunnel vision. We stay stuck, whether it be angry, disappointed, depressed, we can no longer see anything past what we’ve focused in on. This is our caregivers’ time to shine. It’s these moments when we need you the most, but doubtfully will be able to express it appropriately.
For those of you struggling on how to help your PTSD survivor, I strongly encourage CONSISTENT empathetic passion. Trauma doesn’t just affect a person on short term, it changes the way we take in and process information for the rest of our lives. If your loved one seems like they’ve been “stuck” in a mood unlike themselves, ask them what has been going on in their lives/what’s changed. We only win by standing together and speaking up, never be ashamed to ask- it shows us that you care.