My Experience with PTSD

By Bernard Lee Starks Jr.

From PHN Issue 43, Summer 2020

Hi, my name is Bernard Lee Starks Jr. I am a 30-year-old African-American male who has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Contrary to the belief that PTSD only happens in people who have experienced war, my PTSD comes from getting sucker-punched over an intense three-year span in a juvenile correctional facility. The degree to which I was affected was unknown until I became an advocate against sexual violence and began reading about rape trauma syndrome.

Being in confinement is very difficult, especially while fighting symptoms of PTSD. It’s always noise from people or machinery which adds difficulty to maintaining assertiveness. After speaking with a trusted psychologist at 20 years old, I was told I likely had PTSD.

At first, I was prescribed mood stabilizers to “knock off some of the edge” of my symptoms from PTSD, but living with the belief of self-empowerment, I quickly became tired of them and stopped altogether. Very soon after doing so, I became more explosive than I was before I was prescribed medication.

Symptoms of PTSD
After my traumatic event took place, I felt as if I was beaten out of whack. It was such an abrupt change in my worldview that I could not grasp. The scariest part was the feeling of being not myself, but a stranger inside my own body. Group conversations were very uncomfortable because of the feeling of separation.

In the beginning, I was unbelievably stressed. I was terrified because of the way I would explode. As of today, it has been 11 long years with PTSD, and nine were pure mental anguish. I have dealt with these life-draining symptoms for years, and the longer I went without knowing how to effectively cope, the deeper I fell. The more disconnected I became, until I not only felt this way inside, but my eyes and facial
expressions also adopted the appearance of being elsewhere. Complete trust feels nonexistent and unattainable. It seems to be forever question marks behind the words of others. Years of inadequate sleeping from nightmares about me running from seemingly nothing. Recently, I’ve come to the thought that maybe I am not being chased, but subconsciously searching for myself.

Feeling anxious or jumpy throughout the day or even while unconscious is a symptom of hyper-awareness that can happen to sufferers of PTSD. Nightmares and stressful daydreams can signal an acute panic attack. You may experience flashbacks as replays of traumatic events. Intrusive, or unwanted, thoughts can seem to be uncontrollable. Intrusive thoughts made me feel like I was losing my mind. They took over until I found a calming environment.

The mental disconnection from others caused me to create my own fictional reality, which in turn led me onto a path that others misunderstood. I became avoidant, quiet, and eventually many potential relationships were crushed. Talking to myself became a new normal along with being perceived as weird. I have come to terms with who I am now. Though I still deal with symptoms of PTSD, they are now manageable.

Advice
Being able to find someone you trust to unload your feelings and worries can work wonders. It will not make your problems go away but will remove some of the weight from your mind, which makes all the difference.

Educating yourself is a must, because these are not problems people can muscle themselves through. Many have committed suicide as a result of negative coping strategies such as drugs, drinking, and violence.

Depression is one of the problems many who suffer from PTSD have. Depression does more than making you feel down. It can cause headaches and gastrointestinal problems, such as stomachaches. Some who have had PTSD develop clinical depression, which is more intense and lasting, longer than the event that
caused the PTSD in the first place.

Helpful Exercises
Learning how to control anxiety is paramount. For many who are unfamiliar with their triggers, knowing ways of calming yourself is even more of a demand.

Deep Breathing Exercise
Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, then hold for a count of four. Breathe out your mouth for a count of four, then hold out for a count of four. Repeat this exercise until your anxiety, flashback, or panic has passed.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
All this takes is five minutes. Find a calm place for this exercise. Sit or lie down, making yourself comfortable. This exercise is meant to reduce the tension you carry in your body. As a result, your whole being will be less stressed.

Begin by tensing all muscles in your face. Make a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly as possible, clench your teeth, even move your ears up if you can. Hold this position for a count of eight as you inhale.

Now, exhale and relax completely. Let your face go completely lax, as though you were sleeping. Feel the tension seep from your facial muscles, and enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation.

Next, completely tense your neck and shoulders, again, inhaling and counting to eight. Then, exhale and relax. Continue down your body, repeating the procedure with each muscle group.

Closing Thoughts
I have had a life compounded with traumatic and unwanted experiences I once allowed to put me down. It’s never about what an individual goes through, but how they overcome their obstacles. Where you are now has to be farther along than you were before you experienced trauma. If this wasn’t true, how would you be here and live to see another day?

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