Boundaries Are Crucial!

I hadn’t realized that it has been a year and a half since I have written.  I knew it had been awhile, I mean, I took a break on purpose, but daaaaaang.   I had my reasons for leaving and they are valid, I promise. I needed to think about what I was doing some more.  When you choose to speak out about your own battles, it’s an act of vulnerability. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is brave, but it’s important to have set boundaries.  That whole boundaries thing? Yeah I had looked over that part…

I want to reiterate the purpose for this blog.  This is me being a storyteller, as in sharing my own experiences living with a mental health condition.  This is me sharing information that I find useful to others, or maybe I find it fascinating, whatever it is, I am sharing with you.  What I am not…is a therapist. I cannot give advice or play the part of a counselor. There are people trained to do that, and many of them are AMAZING!  My own therapist was incredible and she helped me in oh so many ways through my healing process. I am hoping that when I share with you, it is helping you to not feel alone in this world.  I am also hoping that my being open about my own struggles, successes, observations, will help destigmatize mental illness.  

I want to hear from you.  I do! I want you to comment, definitely!  If you have had a similar situation, tell me about it.  If you have dealt with something successfully and have a plan of attack, by all means, share!  But if you begin asking me what to do in a given situation, my only response will be to find a therapist, counselor, crisis center, or hotline to assist you.  I want you to be well, and that kind of help is way, WAY above my pay grade.  

In other words, I’m still figuring this life out myself…

With that being said, let’s talk about BOUNDARIES!

What is a boundary?  Merriam-Webster defines it as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.”  In the context of personal boundaries, it is the limit’s you set as to what you will tolerate from others as well as what you will allow for yourself.  Boundaries have degrees of seriousness.  It can be as simple as I will not accept phone calls after 8 p.m. to I will not allow you to touch me in a certain way, whether that be assertive or sexual.  Boundaries are imperative and setting them gives us a sense of safety and balance.  When we feel uncomfortable in a situation, more than likely a boundary has been crossed.  Communicating these boundaries openly can seem difficult.  What if I hurt their feelings?  What if they get angry?  Will they think I am weird?  Going to share some truth, yes they may.  But guess what?  It does not matter. Boundaries are for your protection and anyone who believes that they should (a.) be an exception to the rule or (b.) makes you feel that your boundary is invalid, is just plain wrong.  Seriously, it’s that simple.  We all have our own history, battles, and personal preferences on how we should be treated and what we are willing to tolerate.  Set your limits AND respect the limits of others.

Most of the time, boundaries can be set without much fanfare.  An easy example, setting a time for phone calls.  Let’s say you do not accept phone calls after 8 p.m.  When a coworker/friend/acquaintance calls at 8:15 p.m., don’t answer the phone.  The next day, return the phone call, “Hey it’s Lisa.  I’m returning your call from yesterday.”  You do not even have to give them an explanation.  Your pattern of behavior will most likely train them.  Next time, if they call at 7:30 p.m., answer the phone.  If they ask for an explanation, just be honest, “I don’t accept phone calls after 8.”  That is really all you have to say.  But there are less simple circumstances.  Do you work with a hugger?  Better yet, a hugger of the opposite sex?  There are times that unwanted physical contact is under the category of sexual harassment, that isn’t what I’m talking about.  Sexual harassment is a serious problem that should be brought up to your manager or human resource department.  I’m referring to the person who considers the hug another form of a handshake, a showing of friendship, it is technically innocent in it’s performance but that doesn’t mean it makes you any less uncomfortable.  You’re allowed to say no, remember that.  “Hey, good to see you!  Let’s just fist bump, ok?”  If they ask why you don’t want to hug them, a simple, “I don’t do hugs,” should suffice.  Being honest and positive about your boundaries are usually all that is required.

But what if they refuse to listen?  Sometimes people do not get the hint, in that case, you may have to be more assertive.  It is also possible that you may have to involve a mediator or third party to assist you, especially in the workplace.  Remember, the problem is not with you, it is with them.  They are not respecting your boundaries that you have set.  You have asked them kindly to do so and they have ignored your request.  Be consistent.  Is it difficult?  Yes, sometimes.  Is it necessary?  Yes, always.  Boundaries are about the safety and balance of an individual.  They deserve respect!

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with those around you!  It’s a healthy practice that will leave you happier AND healthier.  Be consistent and honest and know that what you are doing is what is best for you.  Who knows, you may actually be setting an example for others to follow suit.  Look at you being a pioneer…


Let’s Try Again…

It’s that time again.  Time to say goodbye to the old year and bring in the new.  Some are celebrating, others are exhausted.  New Year’s resolutions are being made and alcohol is being bought.  Last year I resolved to eat better and exercise.  I did that…sometimes.  I weigh exactly the same as I did this time last year.  I’m going to strike it up as a maintain and try again.  I also resolved to write more, I maintained the blog so I’m counting it.  No great American novels being started but hey, there’s always next year.

Goal setting is an integral part of our growth.  It shouldn’t be just a once-a-year event, but instead, a continuous process that morphs and changes as we grow and mature.  Yes, I will be making a resolution to eat better and exercise more.  Yes, I will fail miserably.  Yes, I will tell myself to do it again in March.  I will continue to set that goal because it is too important not to.  I know I’m not going to jog down a beach in a bikini in slow motion, but I need to be heart healthy and keep my energy levels up and my endorphins active.  I will also continue to feed my creativity and passions because that’s what we live for.  Happiness doesn’t come from an easy life, it comes from allowing ourselves to be our best selves.

Timber Hawkeye, founder of Buddhist Boot Camp, shared a tradition he and his friends do; they take pieces of paper and write down what they want to leave behind and not bring with them into the new year.  They then burn the pieces of paper in a large bowl to symbolize their release.  What would you let go of?  Resentment, anger, jealousy, impatience?  Maybe a bad habit or a bad relationship?  Would you let go of a bad job? Self-hatred or self-pity?

Whatever resolutions you may or not be making as we say goodbye to 2017, (I’m saying good riddance, get the hell out, hasta la vista) here are a few that we should all be making…

Take care of YOU!  Get some rest, let go of toxic relationships, go for a walk, have dinner with a friend.  Make sure that self-care is a priority.

Smile more.  There’s enough anger and hate in this world, share a smile.  Smiles are contagious but way more enjoyable than the flu.  It not only helps the recipient, it will make you feel better as well.

Be kind.  Do we really have to explain this??  Yes, unfortunately.  The present nature of society is to brag at how we told off the clerk at the store for the policy we disagreed with; flip off the driver who inconvenienced us; choose to belittle as opposed to discuss differing opinions.  Being nice has become one of our greatest challenges when it should be our first reaction.  Just be nice.

Be fair.  Treat everyone equally and do not judge based on economic standing, social status, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  We are all human and diversity is what makes us beautiful.


Raise each other up.  Stop making life a competition!  Moms are arguing over parenting techniques.  There is backstabbing in the workplace and relationships are destroyed by gossip.  Stop, just stop.

Ease up on yourself.  You are going to have bad days.  You will make bad decisions.  You will say things you wish you hadn’t.  It’s ok, we’re not perfect.  Don’t beat yourself up.

My wish for all of you is that 2018 is your best year yet.  I wish you happiness, longevity, health, and peace.  Much love.

Closing Doors and Opening Windows…

I’m not going to lie…2017 has been a rough year.  Horrible.  Totally sucked.  Get the hell out.  Awful, stinky, yuck.  I remember at the end of 2016, we were all so glad to see it go.  We lost so many beautiful souls that year, Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, just to name a few.  I remember thinking, “Good riddance!” as I rang in the new year.  But then January felt shaky and by February, my world was upside down.  As the year progressed, more bad news and more pain ensued.  This year came at me personally.  The universe was no longer interested in my inspirations and heroes, it wanted my soul.  In my lifetime, it had already stolen my innocence, stolen my security, destroyed my self-worth, and now, it set its sights on the rest of me.  It almost won.

I often refer to those of us who live with PTSD, or any other mental health condition, as warriors.  Life is a bit more challenging for us.  Not just a bit, life can feel like a battlefield.  A battle we did not declare but was declared on us.  A battle that we fight in our mind, daily.  A battle that many of us work to conquer one day at a time.  One that leaves us scarred and bruised and broken.  Like soldiers, we watch our fellow brothers and sisters who fight alongside of us, succumb to the battle.  We say goodbye.  We question whether we are next.  Yet through the tragedy and the trauma, we carry on, often hiding the pain that rages inside of us.  It can be a silent and lonely fight.

I wish I could say I handled myself well these past several months.  In some ways I have, I have survived, thus far at least.  I wish I could say that I reacted in a healthy manner, that I used my coping skills, that I took the high road in all matters.  I didn’t.  We put so much pressure on ourselves to follow the textbook; here is a list of twelve ways to cope with adversity, follow this list.  Life can come at us like a hurricane leaving us no choice but to ride out the storm until we can get our feet back on the ground.  Today is the first day of November; the storm has been raging all year.  Dear 2017, what finger am I holding up…

I have come to a realization that healing often comes through releasing.  Letting go of the negativity.  Letting go of self-pity.  Letting go of toxicity.  Letting go of unhealthy habits.  Releasing others from my own expectations.  It is so difficult to relinquish control.  Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  The road paved with anger, resentment, toxic friendships, distrust, seems the more difficult road.  However, look around, the world is full of anger, resentment, gossip, and negativity.  That is the road our psyche seems to want to follow.  When someone approaches you with a story that begins, “The most wonderful thing happened…” or “You will not believe what happened!  I am so angry!” which one piques your interest?  I believe we all love the excitement of the big fight or betrayal, whether we are willing to admit it or not.  It has been easier to allow my emotions to rule the show.  It has been easier to be angry and bitter, to feel sorry for myself.  It has not been healthy, but it is reactionary so it comes natural, like an instinct.  Forgiveness, positive focus, healthy choices, those take discipline and work.  Discipline and work are laborious, but they are oh so worth it.

If you’ve read my previous blog posts then you know that my marriage took a severe blow.  I still am not sure if it can recover.  Unlike relationships of the past, there has been no abuse, no derogatory comments, and no critiques of who I am as a person.  This is new territory for me.  I have always left war zones.  In the last eight years, I have never been abused, mentally beaten down, or treated harshly.  My husband is not a bad person.  He is actually very likeable, he smiles often…or used to.  But there IS betrayal and distrust.  There has been secrecy and suspicion.  This has not felt like a vicious attack, but more of a growing cancer.  The details are irrelevant.  What is relevant is where do we go from here?  Quite frankly, I don’t know.  What I do know is I have to let go of my resentment and anger because there is no doubt it is hurting me every bit as much, if not more, than it is hurting him.  This is not to say that I have to accept inappropriate behavior or that what happened is acceptable or “ok,” but there is no way to heal a wound if you keep tearing off the scab.  In order to let go of resentment, I have to let go of expectation.   Unmet expectations lead to disappointment.  Emotional intimacy is something completely foreign to him.  He does not know how to reassure me, how to make me feel comforted, how to share his own pain and struggle, he just doesn’t know.  Could he learn?  Yes.  Could he try and fumble around and take the difficult road to something that feels very uncomfortable for him?  Yes.  He could, but he hasn’t. It is not because he doesn’t care, this I am sure.  Possibly it is a product of being a recovering addict, but that is just me analyzing.  I still have no understanding of the why’s for his actions.  I still struggle with the “what’s wrong with me?!”  He is unable, for the time being, to help with that.  My unmet expectations, coupled with the original pain, leads to rage, resentment, and of course, acting out.  This is making me into someone I no longer recognize.  I find myself becoming the enemy…and I hate it.  I have to let go of expecting from him what I need and begin giving myself what I need.  I have to feed my own soul, my own self-worth, bring about my own joy.  He knows the stumbling blocks that are before him, it is up to him to remove them.  If nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes.  The future is unknown for us, so I am concentrating on my own future, finding my own smile again.  That is all that I have control over…so I am letting go.  Letting go of control and letting go of expectation.

I have begun by eating healthier so that I can feel better and have more energy.  This has helped my overall mood as well.  I had ignored my meditation and mindfulness practices so I am getting back into the practice with the help of the app “Calm.”  I am aware enough to know that without some form of outside help my meditation will be futile.  My mind has just become too jumbled to do it on my own.  I am going back to work and will be starting my new position soon.  This does not afford me the luxury of self-sufficiency but it does give me something new to focus on, will help with financial preparation, and will also give me a much needed distraction.  I am setting long term goals for my career path.  I am looking at where I want to see myself in one year? Two years?  Five years?  I am talking to people in those fields and asking about the pros and cons that I can expect and making informed decisions.

Social networking is a love-hate relationship. I love being able to keep up with friends who I do not get to see often, but it can easily develop into a crutch.  We mindlessly look at our phone to distract us from whatever life is dishing out.  That could be something as serious as personal pain or something as minor as completing a task, whatever the case, it is a huge distraction that is often accompanied by negative consequences.  Many of us, yes me, find that likes on Facebook validate us.  I have over 500 friends on Facebook, yet I have never been lonelier.  There is an illegitimacy there that we may not always see, but deep down we know, or at least sense, is present.  I am limiting my time on Facebook and have been spending more time reading books from people like Timber Hawkeye, Anne Lamott, and Thich Nhat Hanh.  I am watching Ted talks of people who have overcome diversity or desire to live a purpose-driven life.  I have decided to feed my soul.  If 2017 has decided that it’s my soul that it wants, by God, it’s going to get a fatted one.

One of the most difficult things we have to do sometimes is to let go of toxic friendships.  Our friend circle should include people who we consider part of our tribe.  People who act as positive influences, trusted confidants, comrades.  It can be hard to let go of a friendship that has become toxic.  A toxic friendship becomes laborious and one-sided; it brings with it negativity.  All relationships, regardless of whether it is a friendship, parent/child, marriage, lovers, has its ups and downs.  They all take work and upkeep, but a toxic relationship will bring with it toxic results.  Feelings of being taken advantage of, taken for granted, being used, are all signs of toxicity.  If setting boundaries have not worked, if sharing your feelings about the direction of the relationship have not worked, then it may be time to release them.  This is not easy and it is not painless but sometimes, it IS necessary.  It is not leaving someone when they are down, it is not letting them push you down. In order to make room for the healthy, you have to let go of the unhealthy.

Healing is not a rush job, it is a journey.  It does not happen overnight, it takes time.  It is one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time.  It is acceptance of the lack of control we sometimes have in a situation and the realization of what we CAN control.  It is an act of releasing and reintroducing. It is a gift to ourselves but also to those we love.  Healing is a love act and love always emits outward.  Much love and healing to you all.

I’m Not Crazy…I’ve Been Tested.

There seems to be a mold that we are all supposed to fit into, individuality be damned!  If you find yourself outside of that formula, well…something must be wrong with you.  I found myself being very weighed down by my PTSD diagnosis.  Everything that seemed different about me was, in my mind, due to that “damn PTSD.”  If my trauma had not occurred then I would be normal, just like everybody else.   Discovering the Myers-Briggs Personality Test was a freeing moment for me.  I found that some of the things I blamed on my negative experiences, is just part of who I am.  That some of the things I saw as negatives, were actually positives, gifts if you will.  We are not supposed to be like everyone else, we are unique originals and should embrace our identity.

What is the Myers-Briggs Test? It is technically called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and is an introspective questionnaire, basic questions about how you feel about situations like being with other people, or how you prefer to tackle a project, things you like or dislike.  You have to answer honestly, not what you wish you were.  This indicator is widely used in the business world to test potential employees.  There is some debate to the accuracy of it, one of the reasons being that the results can change if taken more than once.  I have gotten the same type every time I have taken it but I can see how results can vary based on honesty in answers and life experiences.  I would suggest approaching this as a tool for understanding and not a life changing event.  It takes approximately 15 minutes to take and is 93 questions.  The official test can be found at  There is a cost of $49.95 but you do get a full explanation of results.  I have found that I get the same results from the free ones as well so depending on your level of interests, you can determine your investment.  A free abbreviated version can be found at

The MBTI is set up on the basis of four key elements that everyone holds.

Extrovert(E) or Introvert(I)

Sensing(S) or Intuitive(N)

Thinking(T) or Feeling(F)

Perception(P) or Judgement(J)

There is a misunderstanding due to popular uses of the word extrovert and introvert to equate these terms to outgoing and shy, but that is not the case.  It refers to either being outward turning or inward turning.  Extraversion draws energy from action, act first reflect later.  Introversion expends energy through action preferring to reflect, act, then reflect some more.  An introvert needs quiet time to recharge.  An extrovert recharges through action/activity.  Being an introvert does not mean that you are socially awkward or timid, it simply means you look inside for answers first before taking action.

Sensing and Intuitiveness describes how information is understood.  People who are sensing, want concrete information.  They need something that can be proven with the five senses.  An intuitive, will look at patterns and how things may relate to other issues.  They look for underlying meanings.

Decision making in our personality type is determined through Thinking and Feeling.  Thinkers approach decisions using logic and weighing out the best course of action through that.  Feeling types will look more at circumstance and how a decision might affect someone’s needs.  They look deeper into the issue and how it might be affecting the problem individually.

The last elements, Perception and Judging, refer to lifestyle preferences.  Not to be confused with being “judgmental,” it refers to whether or not you approach life in a more structured fashion (judging) or a more flexible way (perceiving).  Judgers like to plan and make choices early.  A Perceiver will keep their options open and avoid making decisions too soon.  Not because they are procrastinators, but because they prefer flexibility.  They are much more curious in nature.

These four categories classify into 16 personality types.  I was going to write out a description of each type but it was making for some boring reading so I found a handy-dandy visual that summarizes them fairly accurately.


You can also find visuals that tell you which princess personality you are…


Or Star Wars character…


So yeah there is some silliness out there, still, it’s always nice to know that I equate to Pocahontas or Obi-Wan Kenobi.  But seriously, there is something to this!  For example, I feel like I can read a person fairly well, fairly quickly.  If I am getting a negative vibe, I tend to want to blame paranoia (hypervigilance) from PTSD.  But as an INFJ, I apparently have a natural ability to pick up on small cues.  Instead of “my trauma is hindering my friendships,” it is now, “I am good at reading people, I’ll approach with caution.”  At public events where I am dealing with crowds and other hustle and bustle, I come home exhausted.  Instead of thinking my exhaustion is due to anxiety, I now know that I need to refuel and recharge after these events because I am naturally an introvert.  I just need a little self-care.  Don’t we all?

What will you learn about yourself?  Take the test and find out!  I learned that I have the rarest personality type, only 1-3% of the general population is an INFJ.  That makes me kind of a unicorn…




Finding Comfort…

Where do you go to seek comfort in times of tragedy or uncertainty?  Some spend time with a friend, others seek guidance through their faith, I…turn to the wisdom of Fred Rogers.  Yes, you read that right, THE Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”  I not only find his words soothing and nostalgic, I find him to be an excellent spiritual leader as well.  An ordained Presbyterian minister, he never pushed a particular doctrine or dogma, his words taught love and acceptance.  Two things that seem to be lacking in today’s society.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”  To this day, especially in times of disaster I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers…so many caring people in the world.

With the latest tragic events in Las Vegas, it is easy to get caught up in the media’s frenzy to dissect the mind of the shooter.  Although trying to understand the “why” in this senseless act will hopefully help in our future attempts to end gun violence, there is no comfort there.  Look for those smaller, less talked about stories of heroism and courage from ordinary people just like you and I.  Through these stories, you will regain your faith in humanity, not through the analyzation of the mind of a mad man.

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility.  It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.”  Then there are those who see the need and respond.  I consider those people my heroes.

Step outside of your world and see what is happening around you.  We have information thrown at us all day, every day, 24/7.  It is easy to say, “Wow that’s terrible.  Oh well.”  What if when we saw despair, tragedy, and human atrocities, we reacted with passionate fervor?  What if instead of, “Someone should do something,” we said, “What can I do?”


Some days, doing “the best we can” may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect-on any front-and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.

In today’s society, we put so much pressure on ourselves to strive for “success.”  We push our kids to be the “best” in grades, sports, and extra-curricular activities.  We stress ourselves and our children to the point of frustration and sometimes even to anger and depression.  Is that a life?  Successes to brag on?  Or is life something more than that… Yes we should put our best foot forward, but that will change depending on our health (both physical and mental), our overall circumstances, and our individual strengths.  Today for example, I do not feel very well, I am fatigued and drained.  Tomorrow, I may feel better and have greater energy.  Tomorrow I will most likely accomplish much more, however, I still did my best on both days.  Be gentle with yourself.  Life is about experiences and the sharing of them, not a checklist of look-at-me’s.

When we can talk about our feelings they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.

We all want to seem strong don’t we?  We think that if we SEEM to have life by the horns others will believe it.  Here’s a little secret…it is extremely brave to be open and honest about your feelings, your fears, your shortcomings, your vulnerabilities.  In a world full of empty happiness and falsified lives, be authentic.  Let others know that it is ok to not be ok.

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like struggle.  To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.

Relationships are difficult.  Marriage is not easy.  Life is not a fairy tale and there are not always happy endings, but we wake up every day and choose to love.  It doesn’t fall upon us like snowflakes, it is an energy that we produce from our souls.

If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of.  There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.

You are worth so much more than you realize.  You make an impact on this world that you may never see, but others may never forget.  From a simple smile in a grocery store to supporting a friend during a difficult time, you are loved and you are a beautiful part of life’s tapestry.

However you find comfort, whatever brings you peace, I urge you to seek it out during these difficult times and anytime you may be struggling.  Much love to you all…

(All quotes are by Fred Rogers)

Let’s Play, “What Will I Find In My Daughter’s Room?”

PTSD is not something that I think about all the time.  For the most part, I lead a pretty ordinary life.  I look for strange smells, feed the pets, check the news headlines, call my mother.  What is not ordinary are the things that I find in my fourteen year old daughter’s room.  If you have ever lived with an artist you know that their taste can be, let’s just say, eclectic.  Let’s play, “What Will I Find In My Daughter’s Room!”  *cue applause*

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Awwwww…look at the horse collection.  This is pretty.  This I like.




Look! A sea turtle…precious.  What a cute little cupcake and piggie…*warm and fuzzies*




Is your name Alexander Hamilton?


What are we feeding this cat????  The skull’s name is Gerald.  The horse is smelling the cat’s butt and the lamp is a cactus.  Nothing to see here.


She swears she never has nightmares with this Dream Catcher hanging over her bed.  Does it come in extra-large?

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What is this supposed to…?  It’s kind of…um.   Is that a tomato on it’s head?  Is that its head?

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She likes to draw these a lot.  This is actually pretty cool, except it looks like a gold wanker hanging from under its skirt.  Just look away…

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The Council.  I’m not sure what the meeting is about.  I’m guessing they are discussing a different venue, like not a lampshade.


I’m stealing this.


Yes that is a skeleton in a fleece jacket and tween headband.  His name is Craig.  He was chilly.  That’s normal, right?


A stuffed wolf from her younger childhood, now with black wings hanging on the wall.  He DOES make an adorable dark angel, don’t you think?  The wings were from a Castiel cosplay, Castiel is on the right.


Yes!!  You go Babygirl!  You just keep being you!


But does that really require this?



Stigma…we hear this word a lot these days.  “Break the Stigma” is now a battle cry for substance abuse, mental illness, and both domestic and sexual violence.  A stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” (Webster’s)  I prefer to describe it as an ignorance or misunderstanding of a condition or situation.  We judge what we do not understand.  Addiction is a perfect example…I’m not an addict so why are you?  I make the decision to not use drugs and I don’t struggle with that, why can’t you do the same?  It is easy to judge a person if you do not understand the disease, in this case the disease of addiction.  It can lead to criminal behavior, destroy families, and can even result in death.  This makes it easier to stigmatize.  People suffering from addiction are assumed to be “bad” people, when in fact, they are usually great people who are suffering.  Stigmas are common in the misunderstanding of abuse and mental health as well.  “Why doesn’t she just leave?”  is a common thought in domestic abuse.  “What was she wearing?”  is often said in cases of sexual violence.  And what about mental health?  Depression is seen as a choice.  Anxiety as just thinking too much.  PTSD?  Oh you must be unstable…

One of the first misconceptions of PTSD is that it is a mental illness; it is not.  PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is actually a brain injury.  It is caused by a traumatic event that changes the neurological processes of the brain.  PTSD actually CHANGES the brain!  The hippocampus (located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, almost the center) actually shrinks.  This area of the brain helps us to distinguish between past and present memories.  The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (located in the lower front of the brain) also shrinks.  This region of the brain regulates negative emotions that occur when confronted with a specific stimuli.   Are you starting to see a correlation?  The amygdala (located deep and medially in the brain, also part of what is called the reptilian brain) sees increased activity with PTSD.  This is what helps us to process emotions and is linked to fear responses.  The reptilian brain is the area of the brain first developed in humans.  It is in charge of our “fight or flight” response.  This is the part of the brain that takes over when we are in danger.  Let’s connect the dots.  Traumatic event occurs.  Brain injury (PTSD) develops.  Changes are happening in the brain with the shrinkage of the areas that differentiate past and present memories and regulation of emotions.  Our reptilian brain is becoming more active.  What comes of this?

Hypervigilance – This is an exhausting state of constant high awareness.  The world is potentially unsafe and a constant threat.  This causes increased paranoia as well as an exaggerated startle response.  An example from my own experiences are locks.  I am adamant about locked doors, both at home and in my vehicle.  If someone else in my household leaves a door unlocked, I WILL overreact and feel immediate panic.   This reaction is known as a trigger.

Triggers – This is where the brain changes really come together.  A trigger is “anything that sets you off emotionally and activates memories of a trauma.” (Healing from Trauma)  An event causes a trigger.  The brain that differentiates past and present memories has shrunk so it processes this as though the past trauma is currently happening.  We begin to respond out of fear or anger; the part of our brain that regulates our negative reactions has shrunk as well.  We are unable to react appropriately.  Now we must fight!  The amygdala is already in overdrive so it takes over and we are now in “fight or flight.”  Once our reptilian brain has been put in charge, all of our reasoning ability that occurs in the front of our brain is no longer available.  The amygdala is in charge and it HAS to save us!  Our reactions will often take us back to the time of our actual trauma.  My therapist has described it as a ditch that the trauma has “dug” into our brains.  Once we are triggered, that is the pathway that our brain takes to react.  Our reaction will be based on our trauma and the age or circumstance in which it happened. I may be in my late 40’s but I may react as an immature adult in my early 20’s or show the emotional control of a young child.

Exhaustion – Because our reptilian brain is overactive and the world seems to be a constant threat, we grow weary.  Exhaustion is a common symptom of those of us who live with PTSD.  We’re not lazy, we are exhausted from the battle that rages within ourselves.

These changes are not just theory, they actually DO show up on a brain scan.

This is your brain.  This is your brain on PTSD.  Any questions?


You may or may not have gotten that reference.

Now that we have talked about the science-y stuff and I got to use a lot of big brain words, what does PTSD look like in everyday life?  That’s not an easy question to answer because, in reality, it varies individually and is based on severity.  It can also vary based on the type of trauma.  Some people have developed PTSD due to witnessing a violent crime or homicide or were the victim of an attempted homicide with a firearm while others have PTSD through their combat experience.  Many of these individuals may have difficulty with loud, sudden noises or fireworks.  I have no issues whatsoever with either as those experiences were not the case with me.  I am obsessive with locks, because the world is not safe.  I have had several traumas occur over a lifetime beginning with childhood sexual abuse, rape in my young adulthood, and severe mental abuse in relationships.  I remember thinking that nothing else horrible can happen to me because I’ve had my tragedy already.  I was wrong, so I lock my doors…religiously.  If I am walking by myself anywhere, a store or parking lot, for exercise through my neighborhood or on the track; I am uneasy if a man is behind me.  I do not want to keep looking over my shoulder so I will do so occasionally and listen constantly.  You just never know, right?  Things that will throw me into a tailspin are leering, sexually explicit and unwelcome comments, condescension, angry confrontation, personal criticism,  and being cornered (literally or figuratively).  I react differently depending on the trigger.  If a man leers at me in a sexually deviant manner or says something to me that is sexually explicit and inappropriate, I will react internally with fear and panic.  That is also how I feel when walking by myself with an unknown male behind me.  Terror.  When I face the other triggers mentioned, that is when I will feel rage.  It will take days, weeks, or longer for me to get past it. Sometimes I never do.  It will haunt me with intrusive thoughts and brewing hostility.  Because of this, I tend to change jobs frequently.  If the clientele become difficult to get along with or the work environment is toxic, I get out.  I have to for I am afraid the rage will show itself and then everyone will know.  I keep to myself a lot.  It just seems easier that way.  I am a heterosexual woman suspicious, fearful and resentful of the male gender which can make me hard to love and marriage difficult.  I find joy in my children.  I have never felt triggered by them.  They make me feel whole and safe.  With them, I feel normal.

Much of these things happen internally.  On the outside I do not walk around with a scowl on my face nor am I anti-social.  I consider myself easy to like and rather funny.  People laugh often when they are around me; I’m hoping it’s my jokes and not my face or that my fly is unzipped.  If you are that person who takes up an entire aisle at Kroger trying to decide which Chips Ahoy cookie you are going to bring home this week, I may be internally punching you, but externally I will wait for you to decide and hate you in silence.  I stand outside and talk to my neighbors.  I laugh loudly and without reservation.  I clap and give standing ovations at my kids’ various performances.  I have ups and downs just like everybody else and I deal with problems the best I can…much like everybody else.  But I see things differently and I feel things differently.  I often wonder what it looks like from the outside; how people might perceive me.  This morning I was letting Rex, our dog, out.  A gentleman had been in the backyard reading the meter about a half hour before.  As soon as Rex stepped out he began sniffing the air.  He walked toward the meter taking in the scent.  He just knew that something was different.  I wonder if people feel that too, that everything seems ok but there is just something different…about me.

I wish I could describe what I was like before my injury, but I know no other way.  It has been surmised that I have been dealing with this condition in one way, shape or form, since I was four years old.  I don’t remember much before that.  Would I have married differently?  Have a successful career?  But also, would I appreciate the genuineness of an individual like I do now?  Would a sunrise or sunset still move me to tears?  Would I have the same passion to fight social injustice?  It’s hard to say.  What I can say is that having PTSD is not a scarlet letter on my chest or a cross I must bear.  It is a scar and a harsh reminder of a tragedy, the ugly threads sewn into a tapestry that is my life.  But even with the ugly threads, mixed with the beauty of the whole of my experiences, I am still quite a work of art.

Sources:  Healing from Trauma:  A survivor’s guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life.

YaleNews:  New PTSD study identifies potential path to treatment.