Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a nightmare, literally. I have had horrific and terrifying nightmares since I was a toddler. They are so graphic, so realistic, and so vivid that I cannot differentiate them from real life even upon awakening. These hellish nightmares are gruesome, frightening, and horribly detailed down to the vivid sounds, sights, smells, and tastes. It’s like I am really there, it is really happening, I am trapped inside an eternal hell.
I have always hated going to sleep and would do most anything to avoid it most nights. I tried over-the-counter sleeping pills, supplements like valerian root, and even prescription drugs. All they did was put me into such a deep sleep that I could not wake up from the nightmare. Without any medication or supplements, I often woke up in the middle of the dream completely terrified, but it’s better than being trapped in the nightmare.
For me, nightmares are the worst part about having PTSD, however, another big challenge are the sudden flashbacks that are triggered. It can be a sight, a sound, a smell, or even just a random thought, then BLAM! I am right there in a terrifying moment. I am aware that it’s not really happening, but I just can’t stop it. Sometimes it’s minutes, sometimes it’s just seconds, but it’s a jolt to the system that leaves me feeling very anxious.
At one point I worried so much about the flashbacks and the triggers that I avoided all public situations. It was so bad that for about a year I didn’t leave my house unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then I would hide my face with hats and sunglasses and cover my body as much as possible. I would do anything to avoid people, especially crowds. I remember doing all my shopping for food right before the store closed to see the least amount of people. I could not handle being in the public for a long period of time because of the fear of something triggering me. I spent most of that year dabbling with depression and anxiety medications while doing intense therapy.
Living with PTSD also means living with anxiety and a constant state of hypervigilance, especially in public. I am hyperaware of my surroundings at all times and don’t like to have my back toward the room. I usually sit or stand in a position where I can see the door. I always have an escape plan in all situations. I can’t handle feeling trapped.
PTSD caused by past traumas (read my story here: http://www.stefanilord.com/category/why-write-a-blog/) means that I have had depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, agoraphobia, and nightmares most of my life, until now.
There is hope!
For years I went to all kinds of therapists; some good, some bad, and some who have given me tremendous in sight. But it wasn’t until recently that I sought out a therapist who deals with PTSD and offers a type of therapy that works wonders to alleviate the symptoms.
Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing Therapy (IRRT) to the rescue!
All the years of therapy before now peeled back layers of trauma like an onion, which also included a lot of tears. The steady and persistent woking on my self over the years is what helped me to feel better and to overcome my past. But in 2015 I made the greatest breakthroughs ever! Even with all of the years of therapy beforehand, I still had issues with nightmares and some triggers. I asked around for a PTSD therapist and was referred to Bob Stahn (http://wellspringcounselingllc.com/6.html) in Idaho Falls. I had never heard of IRRT therapy, and during the first visit he explained to me what it was. I was excited to get started, so we did some work in the first session. It was horrible! It was awesome! It was emotional! It was life changing!
The therapy works like this:
1. Imaginal Reliving – visually recalling and re-experiencing the traumatic imagery along with the associated thoughts, affect, and bodily sensations accompanied by the creation of a detailed, descriptive, verbal narrative;
2. Mastery Imagery – visualizing oneself as a competent and capable ADULT (today) successfully confronting and disempowering the perpetrator (back then) while rescuing the CHILD from the trauma scene;
3. Self-Calming/Self-Nurturing Imagery – visualizing oneself as an ADULT (today) calming, soothing, and nurturing the traumatized CHILD (back then).
The first step is the hardest and I hated every minute of it. We had to relive the trauma – every inch of it – and I had to say it out loud. I had to recall every detail of the event, including all the emotions; It was one of the toughest moments of my life. But I had faith; I trusted my therapist and I trusted the process. I had nothing to lose. I WANTED to get well!
After my first session I did not have a nightmare that night – not one. I thought it was a fluke at first, but one night turned into one week. I felt lighter, relieved, joyous, and excited about life. I went back again to deal with another issue and we did the same process. As difficult as it was to relive my past traumas, I felt even better after each session. With every session I felt calmer and more empowered. It’s been over 6 months now and I have not had a single nightmare or trigger and I am so relieved. Because I have so much trauma to deal with, I go back twice a month for sessions and each time I feel stronger and happier about life. I cannot say enough about how life saving Bob Stahn and IRRT therapy has been for me.
The hardest thing about dealing with PTSD is that you get so overwhelmed you feel there is no way out, no hope, nothing that will help. But I am here to tell you that there is hope, you can get better. Try IRRT therapy for yourself and see if it works for you. If not, then try other forms of therapy – there is something out there for you. There is a form of therapy that will help you to cope with life, you just have to be brave and try. And one thing about us PTSD survivors, we are brave! We faced some horrific things and come out the other side, broken, but we come out. The hard part is facing the demon and walking into a big, cold, dark cave and believing there is a light. It’s a good therapist that helps you ind the switch. I have faith in you, I know you can do this. If you need more information on PTSD you can find it here: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20022540