My PTSD (It’s NOT What You Think)

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I used to hate the word “triggered.” 

I thought it was some pansy way of making an excuse to not “toughen up,” or persevere through a problem. Everyone says it so lightly, “I’m triggered,” and they use it to make a joke. It had really become irritating . . . . 

And then my husband died in front of me, two weeks postpartum, while I tried everything to save him. 

As I lay in bed, sweating profusely, my body shaking uncontrollably, as I will myself not to see the dilated pupils or the blue, hypoxic color of his skin. On the cusp of consciousness, as I tried to sleep, my mind attacked me. Flashbacks of his death, reliving the pain of my weakest moment, my body betrayed me over and over again. 

When I’m sitting at a stoplight, on my way to the grocery store. An ambulance appears out of nowhere. With the siren wailing, my heart begins to pound and in two seconds I’ve seen it all again. Bursting into tears I pull to the side of the road and rush out of the truck to vomit. 

I’ve finally started dating again and my new beau has fallen asleep on my couch. As his head falls, he makes a sucking sound and instantly I’m back; hearing my late husband suck for air as his body and lungs fail him. I bite my forefinger so hard I’m sure I’ve drawn blood, as I will myself not to scream. My heart pounds, and I rush to the powder room just in time before I collapse in a shaking mess on the cold, hard floor. 

A trigger has an entirely new meaning for me, as it literally “triggers” a symptom of my posttraumatic stress disorder. 

Though there is a huge association of PTSD with combat veterans, there are many other traumatic events that can cause the manifestation of this in a person. For me, it was witnessing the death of my spouse and trying to save him while my newborn baby slept five feet away. I struggle with this every day; and, honestly, it is something that I am hesitant to speak about or even write about because of the societal pressure surrounding it. I almost feel like I don’t have a right to say this is what I am experiencing because it doesn’t seem as “bad” as what war veterans have been through. 

No, I am not a combat veteran, but I have experienced a traumatic event in my life that I vividly relive over and over in my mind It is something I can’t control, and I have no idea when it will happen. 

What I have learned through this tragedy is that pain is all relative; and, sadly, there is enough to go around. My pain doesn’t have to be “ranked” higher than yours, because there is no comparison in something so personal. We all experience things differently, and something that may seem silly to me, may completely break you apart – or vice versa. We must learn to accept ourselves, as we are right now in order to facilitate healing.  

Do you know anyone suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder? 

Please know that your loved one does not expect you to act differently, filter yourself, or want you to walk on eggshells because you are unaware of what might “trigger” him or her. 

Here are some things you CAN do to help:

  1. Provide social support that is within your emotional bandwidth. Your loved one may need to talk about the event over and over, or just about any incident over and over in order to calm their nerves. Or they may not want to talk at all yet; so providing a safe space to do so, without pressure, can make a huge difference in their lives. 
  2. Do not act differently around them. Do “normal” things and have “normal conversations.” Don’t filter your life around them. They appreciate the normalcy, and it can actually ground them when they are feeling vulnerable. 
  3. Manage your own stress. Those experiencing PTSD can be very sensitive to the emotional volatility of others and the recovery process is a very long one. Be patient and take time for yourself if things are getting to be overwhelming. You are better able to support your loved one when you are emotionally and physically healthy. 
  4. Do not offer “silver lining” excuses, such as “You’re lucky; it could have been worse” or “This happened to so-and-so, and they are doing great.” This does not help and can make your loved one shut down completely. 
  5. Stability and safety are key. Make sure you’re consistent with your loved one and reliable. No matter the trauma origination, their reality, and their world instantly changed in the moment of that trauma. Everything they knew to be true was altered, and they are perpetually stuck at that moment or thrown back in a second. Having just one person that is stable, reliable, and consistent can do wonders in repairing their trust and sense of safety. 

Sometimes it can be difficult for those around someone experiencing this to know exactly what to do or how to act. Stability, normalcy, and support are the greatest thing you can offer a loved one suffering from PTSD.

It’s important to acknowledge that every case is different because every PERSON is different, so it is vital to seek help from a professional. These people are trained not only in helping your loved one but helping the families with coping mechanisms through all the tough times.

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Sondra Kilian
Born and raised in Mount Pleasant, SC, Sondra graduated from Wando High School and went on to Maine Maritime Academy where she was in the United States Merchant Marines for 10 years. She sailed as Captain for an emergency response company until she was 6 months pregnant with her sweet little boy Sullivan! After the sudden death of her husband in 2017, Sondra has now hung up her Captain’s hat to start Skip & Sully, Charleston’s only luxury indoor playground, parent’s club and flexible preschool. In her free time, Sondra and Sullivan enjoy traveling around the world together and can’t wait until their next trip! She is also a fitness fanatic (kickboxing, weightlifting & Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), book nerd & social butterfly!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you again Sondra for the right moment to express your journey of recovery from the pain of losing your love. The emotional journey is hard to survive the loss of the love of your life. I know. I have a very precious member of my family that is going through a terrible grief from the loss of a friend. He lost another friend not long ago too. So, he is alone and troubled. I will share this with him. I pray for you and Sullivan always.

  2. Thank you so much for your vulnerability and sharing! I was recently diagnosed with PTSD and the diagnosis at first made me really mad. I didn’t see the multiple traumas I have been through as a big enough deal to cause such a diagnosis because I was comparing them with other people’s traumas. I haven’t even talked about my diagnosis with anyone I’m close with yet because it seemed so “silly”. Not only has reading this helped me to acknowledge that my traumas are still trauma and that I shouldn’t compare because that trauma reaction is so personal to each individual, but you have also given me words to be able to start talking about it with my friends and family. Thank you again so much for sharing!

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