Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Guest Post - PTSD - The Silent War of Non-Combat by Agyei Ekundayo

I'm thrilled to have a fantastic guest post from Agyei Ekundayo, a mental health advocate and very talented writer. Thank you, AJ for sharing your perspective on PTSD. I wish you all the luck in the world on your journey through mental illness. 

Write. That’s what the therapist told me to do—write. Journal. Get it all out. That when I’m all done with exposure therapy and I’ve practiced deep breathing for an infinite time, to leave a paper trail of how often I’ve been stricken. To count the episodes of when I’ve tearfully succumbed to flashbacks. To note the emotional abuse of a bipolar Caribbean mother. This is one black woman’s plight with trauma; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

                PTSD is one of those illnesses with an unfair reputation. It’s written off as “combat fatigue” to emphasize the battle-hardened scars of military personnel. It makes one sympathetic to the needs of those shell-shocked by events incomprehensible to the average psyche. It draws an outpouring of support to veteran sufferers who cannot fend for themselves. It also invalidates the stinging pain felt by people who haven’t served one day in anybody’s uniform. To say that PTSD is worse for service men and women than those who don’t share the same experiences is like telling a victim of sexual violence that he or she was simply fondled; not penetrated.

                I was diagnosed at the age of 32 after years of symptoms had crippled my life. I exhibited all of the classic behaviors including exaggerated startled response, avoidance, and numbness when experiencing certain triggers. I continue to stutter to this day at 38; I still sleep with the lights on. My family relationship is strained, to say the least. Mom and I don’t speak very often, no matter how relatives say we should. I haven’t seen her since 1998 and pictures of my hometown triggers crying spells. There have been times when I cut myself to numb the pain or sat in a restaurant with my back facing a wall. I don’t like anyone standing behind me because I feel unsafe.

                PTSD is a beast to deal with and medications do very little. Most medications for PTSD are prescribed to relax you. They may do the trick for the anxiety piece of it all, but often leaves you feeling like a zombie. Various forms of therapy are the only sure “cure”. Talking about traumatic experiences help to understand the scope of its effects. Gradual exposure to noise or other less paralyzing triggers in short duration is believed to re-acclimate a person to society without substantial fear. Creative outlets such as art therapy have been proven to be a safe method to recall flashbacks without significant emotional distress.

                I’ve tried a combination of therapies without much success. I recently wrote my memoir and suffered multiple months-long procrastination spells while writing, due to flashbacks. The rape I survived my sophomore year of undergrad makes me hate men some days; despise them on others. I can’t shake the migraines from getting hit by a car junior year has caused me, or the short term memory loss brought on by epileptic head trauma. My therapist told me to do deep breathing. I did that. She said switching medications would help. It didn’t.  I’ve been institutionalized 5 times and prescribed 13 medications by 10 doctors. My former therapist warned me about visiting family members without having panic attacks under control. Truer words have never been spoken. What am I getting at?

                Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is just that—traumatic. It affects every area of your life including interpersonal relationships and employment. It’s the reason why I am divorced. It’s the reason why I haven’t worked in five years; why I am also diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s the reason why I am writing this article. The next time someone tells you that they suffer from PTSD, don’t ask them “What branch did you serve in?” Say instead, “Do you feel comfortable with sharing how you feel? I’m here to listen.”                                                               

Agyei Ekundayo is a mental health advocate and author. 
Follow her @AJWriteMental.  
Youtube--AJ Writer