I’ve shared my history with complex PTSD and anxiety before. Whenever I discuss mental health on Instagram, I receive many messages from others struggling with mental health issues. Even though mental health is discussed more openly now, it’s still difficult for people to discuss. Therefore, I’m hoping that digging deeper and sharing more of my PTSD journey will help someone else that is going through a tough time because you don’t have to battle mental health problems alone.
I was directly involved in multiple traumatic events while serving in the military, which caused my brain to rewire due to spending a lot of time in flight-or-flight mode. It means I perceive threats more intensely than someone without PTSD, even when there is no present danger. During my deployment, I was on constant guard for 14 months. I experienced roadside bombs, ambushes, small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar attacks and witnessed multiple injuries and deaths. Shortly after coming home from my deployment, I received a Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because I was exposed to numerous traumatic events.
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF PTSD
Over time my anxiety and PTSD manifested into physical symptoms. I would break out in hives; my ears would ring, my hands shake, I would start sweating, experience increased heart rate, lose consciousness, and have seizure-like episodes. After four years of testing, including multiple psychiatric facilities, I was diagnosed with Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES).
PNES is a type of nonepileptic seizure that results from psychological conditions rather than changes in brain function. It does not involve changes in electrical impulses in the brain as found in epilepsy. However, the symptoms can be remarkably similar, and the condition is often misdiagnosed. PNES tends to affect people with a mental health disorder or who have experienced trauma. It’s important to note a person experiencing a PNES episode is unaware of what is happening and is not consciously pretending to have a seizure.
My PNES was my body’s way of expressing and dealing with what my mind could not. I could be standing in line at the grocery store, having dinner in a restaurant, shopping at the mall, or driving, losing consciousness and not having any memory of the episode. I’d wake up and find myself lying on the floor surrounded by strangers or EMTs because witnesses called an ambulance. It was embarrassing to explain that the episode was related to my PTSD and not due to epilepsy. It made others uncomfortable because it’s not something people understand or are familiar with. Unfortunately, PNES is a condition that is frequently talked about behind closed doors.
ANXIETY, PTSD & PNES
Every PNES episode I experienced had one common denominator, STRESS! Being in heavy traffic, surrounded by people in a store or at a crowded restaurant, caused debilitating anxiety, and it was how my body reacted to stressful situations. At twenty-seven, I received disability retirement from my government job because of my PTSD and PNES. Shortly after, I fell into a deep depression. It wasn’t until we purchased the farm a few years later that I had a noticeable shift in my mood. Moving from the city to the country, embracing a simpler lifestyle, and running a farm, gave me purpose again and made a massive difference in my anxiety and PTSD.
Today, my PNES episodes aren’t as frequent as they used to be. I still have episodes several times a year, which is a huge reason I don’t go public often. The farm is my sanctuary, and being around nature and surrounded by the unconditional love of my animals quiets my mind and soothes my soul.
I am receiving psychiatric treatment for my anxiety, depression and PTSD and taking medication for insomnia, but my quality of life has improved since I moved to the countryside. Having a farm to run and animals to care for gives me purpose and drive and provides a routine. Our bodies and minds function better when eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns are set to a regular schedule.
ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE
I get up at the same time every morning, feed, and water all the animals on the farm, muck out stalls and coops, work on current projects, check emails, and fill my small business orders. It’s usually time to head back to the barn to feed and water everyone again and to put all the animals up for the night. Then after evening chores, we enjoy a nice dinner, watch some television and then go to bed to do it again the following day. Living on a farm is not easy work, but it is the most rewarding and fulfilling lifestyle, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
There are several ways to deal with social anxiety disorder. Try these five tips to help you get through a stressful day in public settings:
1. Control Your Breathing:
Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest and breath in slowly through your nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 2 seconds and slowly let the air out through your mouth for 6 seconds. Focus on keeping a slow and steady breathing pattern of 4-in, 2-hold, and 6-out. Repeat this several times until you feel relaxed.
2. Exercise for at least 30 mins a day
take a daily walk
3. Challenge negative thoughts
Keep a journal to track your negative thoughts.
Practicing mindfulness to maintain awareness of your thinking
Use positive affirmations to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones
4. Face your fears
start with a situation you can manage and gradually work your way up to more tricky situations. By starting small, you can build your confidence and learn coping skills as you move on to other challenges.
5. Join a Support Group
The good news is social anxiety support groups will be more likely to understand how difficult it is to talk openly, especially in front of strangers. If you still aren’t comfortable with going to a support group, you can check out the following online support groups:
Recovery from PTSD and anxiety takes time; for people like me, it’s a lifelong challenge. However, with therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes, people can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Speak to your doctor about treatment options and see what lifestyle changes would benefit your mental health. Maybe it’s a career change, setting boundaries with toxic family members, or seeking professional help with a mental health disorder; whatever it is, you and your doctor can do over a game plan and help you get on the right track to improving your quality of life.
If you would like to learn more about PTSD, PNES, social anxiety, and coping strategies, you can check out the following articles to learn about the signs, symptoms, treatment options, and coping strategies
Disclaimer: The information shared in this post is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.