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Working Through PTSD

by Patty Fleener M.S.W.

When we are finally treated with medication and our bipolar symptoms begin to subside, which I compare to an elephant jumping on our left foot (as I do with the borderline personality disorder), we can finally feel the lion that has been jumping on our right foot.

Some of us have been fortunate and were diagnosed as a young person and some of us had to wait until we were much older. 

When we finally get into recovery from the bipolar disorder it is common to find our lives a mess from living with this painful disorder. Many of us have post traumatic stress disorder from living this life. Not all of us do however.

Many of us also have other disorders along with our bipolar disorder that we have to live with and treat as well. We have to have all of our disorders diagnosed and treated.

I want to address post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in this article. [Update: This article was written a few years back and my PTSD has improved dramatically. In fact I have lost a tremendous amount of weight and exercise regularly].

Though many of our symptoms are similar, we don't experience this disorder exactly the same way as another person. For instance, showers for me are still very hard. I would give anything to understand that and to get over that but I have learned recently that this experience is common among many with the ptsd. Others have no problem with this.

So, what works with me may do nothing with you and vice versa. 

Some people can go on a diet and eat Weight Watcher's ice cream occasionally and not have a problem. Me? I have to do all or nothing. If I taste that ice cream, diet or not, I become out of control and then I'm off into the car going to Baskin Robbins.

Let me briefly give you some of my general ptsd symptoms I was having - no desire to leave my home and rarely left; workaholic (7 days a week, 12 hours a day) - my feelings were very numbed up; nightmares; jumped sometimes when phone rang; afraid to speak on the phone sometimes; felt somewhat overwhelmed when people came over sometimes, not all the time. Those were the basics. 

Ok, what happens if you don't like exercise to begin with and you are really not in the greatest shape to begin with and you're overweight with all the meds and you're over 40 AND you spend the last 5 or 6 years of your life sitting in front of a computer for 7 days a week, 12 hours a day?

Well, I suppose all kinds of things can happen but for me it was my back. My back has hurt for years and I figured it was an injury, which it may be. I did gain weight really fast on meds and I never exercised to get my back used to carrying this new weight as well.

Next step was chronic back pain. Finally the climax was the Dr. telling me that my back was so bad that it was as if it had been in a cast due to unuse and if I didn't start exercising it and strengthening it, I was going to be in horrible horrible shape if you get my drift.

Here is what happened - I became extremely afraid. This fear motivated me to begin walking every day with my husband as my coach. I am joining the YMCA in a few days to take part in their water aerobics program. 

The strange thing is, is that this fear not only motivated me to exercise, but the "side-effect" was an extreme reduction in my PTSD symptoms compared to what they were.

I had stated for years "I am in the last chapter of my book, on the last page. There is no more to be written. I am empty inside and the light has gone out. I am not depressed, just empty and dead inside."

When I remembered saying that, it made me sick. Inside I quickly said, "I want to live!" It seems when push came to shove I really did want to live. More than ever, I want to live. 

I was wrong. The light had not gone out. It was dim, yes, but it was there.

I thought before that what would get me to get out of the house and do things would be to treat myself gently and journal my feelings, etc. The thing that works for me is self discipline. I needed the shove, the motivator and now when Tim is at the door and I am working on the net, deeply involved in my work, I force myself to get out and walk and get my feet back into life. It feels good each and every time I am out and when I come out. 

I am still having problems with showers but I am beginning to use self discipline on that and that works a lot better for me than journaling and being gentle with myself. 

It is extremely important that you know that this is what works FOR ME. You are a different person and you may need a whole different regimen. However, the main thing is that you don't give up and that you never ever tell yourself negative things about yourself. It is so easy to get into this habit for those of us who are working hard on improving our lives. 

PTSD feels like a huge monster to me. Sometimes it just felt so overwhelmingly powerful and I was powerLESS and this is the time we need to be very careful to watch our self talk. Three steps forward, two steps back.

This may sound like a black and white fairy tale story but it is far from it. The main factor motivating me right now in changing my life is self-discipline. I abhor exercise and for someone like me who lives in their head and is extremely cognitive, it is very difficult to say the least to get myself outside to walk. But already within me I have my survival skills I have developed when I needed them before. I find that they are still there and what works for me are certain keywords I say to myself. "Get your butt up" is a code to me reminding me how close I am to not spending time with grandchildren, etc. etc. etc. I cut off emotion completely during survival time but I remember that this code word is grand and magnificent and of great importance and so I must literally "get off my butt" which is a strong, action statement. Survival time is a time only of action. Emotions come only later. I didn't learn this anywhere. This is only what works for me and it may be the wrong thing for you.

If you are new to this site you will learn quickly who you are. A powerful, precious, wonderful and beautiful creature and you don't have to feel that way for it to be true. 

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