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When most people hear post traumatic stress disorder, they immediately think about veterans and sometimes abuse victims. But that’s not necessarily the case. 

There are many situations that could cause someone to have a traumatic trigger based on past experiences. I’ve learned quite a bit about PTSD after receiving a personal diagnosis last year and it’s opened my eyes to the seemingly mysterious ways our brains work and how we react to situations.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and I’m here to tell whoever needs to hear it: You’re not alone. You have nothing to feel humiliated by.

On the contrary you should give yourself a big pat on the back because you’re strong enough to know mental health is equally, if not more so, important than physical health.

I’m not embarrassed to say I see a therapist. Well, the technical term is licensed professional counselor. I’m not shameful of it or find it to be something that needs to be a secret. In fact, I’m dang proud of it and fairly open about it.

Yes, when you break it down, I have a good life and came from a good family; if you see me, you might never know there is hurt inside.

But that’s what mental illness is all about. It creeps up on you and, most of the time, it’s not something you necessarily have control over.

“After trauma, the world is experienced with a different nervous system,” Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk wrote in “The Body Keeps the Score.” “The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life.”

This book has been an insightful educational resource for me and provided insight into some reasoning behind my behavior and I’m sure many others’ behavior as well.

I have had what may be deemed traumatic episodes. I act or react to situations sometimes in a way that seems extremely out of the ordinary for most or even in a way some may call “crazy.” But the truth is experiences impact the way our brain is wired. Our brain remembers things we may not and it also senses feelings we may not realize we’re feeling.

“One of the hardest things for traumatized people is to confront their shame about the way they behaved during a traumatic episode,” Kolk wrote.

I can’t tell you how loud this rings true in my life. The guilt sinks in; the shame hits you like a ton of bricks; then the brain starts turning all over again.

Trauma not only alters the way we think and what we think about but, very often, even the capability to think clearly and rationally.

When my therapist first told me I was suffering from PTSD, you know what I felt? Relief. Because for the first time in a really long time there was a reason for why I behaved the way I did. There was a reason for some of my actions that seem wildly absurd and I realized there was a subconscious response to what I probably wasn’t even aware crossed my mind.

One of the biggest issues I’ve found is the inability to let things go. When you suffer from PTSD, the body is almost in a constant state of fight or flight. Your brain sends signals to escape a threat that no longer exists.

To the average person who knows me, if they were to ever encounter me enduring this experience, they likely would assume I lost my mind. Well, in a way, that’s true.

“When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brains react as if the traumatic event were happening in the present,” Kolk wrote.

Mental illness in any way can be unpredictable and it often goes unnoticed. I can say truly I would not be the person I am without the hard work I put in during therapy. It’s not an easy road and it’s not an easy fix. And I still have a long way to go.

But I can tell you this: It’s worth it. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed or just need a little help, talk to someone. 

One of my best friends Lizi Arbogast said in a column once before, “No one looks at you funny if you say you’re going to the doctor because your throat hurts or you sprained your ankle or you think you might have food poisoning. But the minute you say your heart hurts or your brain feels funky, people think you’re crazy.”

Yes, 2020 seriously sucks. I said it. Try losing the love of your life followed by the coronavirus pandemic, tornado-like storms in the area and now murderous hornets? 

You know what keeps me going? My therapist.

I’ve faced depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-esteem issues and more than my fair share of what can be only politely termed as bad decisions. But I got help. And I will continue to get help. 

If this touches just one person and reminds them they’re not alone or convinces someone that getting help doesn’t make them crazy or mean something’s wrong with them, well, that’s good enough for me.

Amy Passaretti is a staff writer with the Alexander City Outlook.