Brittany, I first want to commend you on being courageous enough to seek out answers to your questions about living with PTSD. I'll do the best I can to answer your questions based on my experiences, but please keep in mind that PTSD presents and feels different for each person. It's up to you to figure out how this does and doesn't apply to your life and figure out what will work for your healing.
When I was diagnosed, I think there was confusion and also some relief. I had been struggling with severe depression and many other symptoms for several years so having a name for it kind of helped but I didn't really know what it all meant at the time. A diagnosis is not intended to define you or your life. It is a tool to assist in treatment and healing. A diagnosis can be helpful to us in that we know there is a name for what we are experiencing. Our focus should not be so much on the diagnosis but more so on how we move forward and what choices we make for ourselves.
No one can predict what your future will be like. Unfortunately there is no formula for what PTSD looks like or how it plays out in our lives or what the best treatment is. Because of the nature of the varied traumas that cause PTSD and because of the differences in our personalities and the way we live, there are too many variables to come up with a formula that works for everyone. It can take time to figure out what works for you. But know that you are in control of your treatment and how you handle aspects of living with PTSD. Sometimes the trauma invades into our lives unexpectedly or stronger than expected and it's hard to remember that we are in control, but try to hang on to that as much as possible.
Sometimes it feels like it gets worse. It will get better though, as long as you continue to make choices that are healthy for you. A lot of times, I have to ask for counsel on what the healthiest choice is for me in different situations. I'm learning this as I go, with the assistance of wise counselors. My counselor describes the path of healing in PTSD like these overlapping circles pictured to the right. You might start out at the bottom circle and be walking the outline of that circle for a bit and then at some point you will get to one of the intersections with the second circle and leave the first circle to walk the outline of the second circle. You are making progress. The problem is that as we walk the outline of the second circle, we end up spending part of that time inside the first circle. It feels like we have gone backwards but really we have made progress because we are not walking the outline of the first circle anymore. The same will hold true as you move on to the third and fourth circles and so on. It is frustrating when we are at the bottom of the circle and feel like we have moved backwards instead of forwards, but keep challenging yourself to move ahead on that circle until you are not at the bottom anymore and then when you are ready, advance to the next circle. You have to figure out for you how this analogy plays out in your life. It's okay to fall down on the journey. It's okay to take a break when you need one. It's okay to feel whatever you feel when these things happen.
I absolutely know what you mean when you say you feel alone. Usually our traumas are rooted in something that is shameful to talk about or something violent that just seems really sad to share with others. No one wants to bring people down, right? I believe if we all just talked about these things we would find that more people than we think are going through something similar. No one will ever understand your individual trauma because no one else will have experienced exactly what you went through. And that makes the journey a lonely one at times. My counselor says that each time you share your story with someone, the trauma loses power over you. Seek out safe people to share your story with. Suggest resources, such as the Understanding PTSD blog or other sites, to your friends who are willing to try to understand more about what it is like for you to live with PTSD.
Keep challenging yourself to move forward. Find your voice and use it. Advocate for yourself. Make healthy choices. Share your story in safe places with safe people. Give yourself freedom to feel what you feel. Find ways to express what you feel, sometimes this doesn't require words. Allow yourself to be loved and cared for by people who are for you and are willing to walk your healing journey with you. Be real as much as possible.