Updated: Oct 29, 2018
Mental health can be a complicated issue, especially for those who have never struggled with it. I am here to tell you it is very real, very devastating, and often dismissed or shamed in society. For those who don't know much about PTSD, TED-Ed does a great video explaining what exactly PTSD is, and how it can manifest differently for people.
A little precursor: I personally have never struggled with PTSD. I have been through very traumatic experiences, but was so blessed that I did not carry it with me. I believe God walked me through healing before I even had the struggle, and because of this I have studied the issue in-depth. Eventually I want to work through trauma victims with physical fitness but that's a story for another day.
In this post I would like to share a little bit about how possible it is to heal, not only from PTSD, but from all mental illnesses, with a few steps:
1. Stop identifying with your mental illness
This is a huge problem. I have seen so many people identify as depressed, schizophrenic, anxious, etc. This is a lie. You are not your disease. You are not depressed, you struggle with depression. You do not own PTSD, it comes to attack you. It may seem like a very small distinction, but the thoughts behind it are in fact monumental.
When you tell people, "I have depression," or "I have PTSD," you are making a statement that this problem is a part of you, a part that will never go away--which is absolutely wrong! These illnesses came from outside of you. You were created for health.
Celebrities have recently taken to social media to talk about their own struggles with mental illness. While this is powerful when it comes to widespread understanding and acceptance, it can also be a problem. It normalizes your experience in a way that can be both helpful and damaging. On the one hand, it is so important to know that you are not alone. Knowing that someone who is famous and beautiful and seemingly all together struggles with things just like you can be very freeing and it's so important. On the other hand, it gets taken too far: people begin to believe that it is totally okay to be living underneath their PTSD, letting it run their life. It gives those problems an excuse to survive. It takes away your reasons to
Let me tell you: there is nothing in your life that you struggle with that is unique to you. No matter what comes at you, there is someone you know that is struggling with that too. But do not let death thrive in you. Do not give in to the problem because "it's normal." There is something so much better than normal available to you: it's called life. And it's what God wants for you! It's what he has given you grace to fight for. Too many people don't know that better is an option, and because of that they don't know that they can win over every single problem.
I encourage you to choose life.
Now don't get me wrong, it's not like you will ever have a life without struggle. However, you have the option to live a life of victory! You don't have to have the same struggles your entire life! You have the chance to fight and overcome, and fight and overcome, and not spend your whole life getting stuck under one crippling problem like PTSD.
2. Understand your habit cycle
Triggers play a major role in the brain, even in a completely healthy brain. What most people don't know is that your daily choices are actually about 40-45% habitual. That means that nearly half of what we feel like we're deciding to do is actually based on habit. (If you want to read more about habit, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, or his interview).
So, combine that 40-45% of habits that are triggered by our daily lives with a brain that has extremely powerful and toxic triggers that were branded into the brain's habit pathways by a traumatic experience. Can you see how devastating that could be? This is where people begin to feel so out of control, where PTSD starts to take over their whole life, they begin to struggle with anxiety, depression, or flashbacks.
Habits are branded into your brain like pathways through a cycle: trigger, action, reward. When those three things are combined, our brains begin to move our thoughts into a permanent position in our brains that come out as automatic action. Usually this is a slower process, but with PTSD it is almost immediate. The stress forces your brain into fight or flight, because when the habit pathway gets triggered, it keeps telling your body that you are in danger.
The best way to start to understand your triggers is to journal.
Pick any bad habit that you experience weekly: for PTSD, it could anxiety or flashbacks. If you don't struggle with PTSD, you can still do this with any bad habit you want to stop.
For a week, journal every time you experience this habit. Write down the circumstances leading up to the event, your emotions, what exactly happens, and how you felt after the event. This last one is really important. Your feelings after a bad habit is your reward: it's why your brain has formed this habit.
When you start to understand your triggers and reward, you can start to work toward changing the habit.
3. Take control of your thinking
This habit cycle originates in the prefrontal cortex (the space right behind your forehead), this is where our thinking starts. As it starts to become ingrained as an automatic habit, it moves to the center of your brain called the basal ganglia. When things happen here, it is almost subconscious. It's why we order the same foods at restaurants and why it's so hard to change our diets and lifestyles. Without knowledge that you are operating out of habit, it can be almost impossible to change these habits.
This is why it is so important to take control of our thoughts.
Choosing to focus on hope and letting go of anger have shown amazing effects on DNA. Not only does having a hopeful expectation allow you to do more than you would on your own, but believing a certain way actually changes rewires your cells and DNA in line with that belief. This is why placebo drugs work: your brain changes to believe that you have gotten medication that will make you better, so it makes you better.
Realign your thinking with hope, and believe that you were destined for health. These things will unlock your DNA and rewire your brain to work for you instead of against you. Stop thinking that your problem is so great that you will never overcome it.
As Confucious said:
"The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can't are both right."
4. Do not isolate yourself
When you start to learn about triggers, it can be very easy to try and avoid them all instead of working through healing. It is nearly impossible to avoid all the unpredictable triggers in your life, and all it leads to is you being alone and in pain. Get with someone who can help you work through your habits, go to therapy, tell the people you trust what you're going through.
Do not let pride get in the way of getting the help that you need. You absolutely cannot do life alone, especially when life gets this hard.
Much love friends! I hope this helped.
Please reach out if you ever need programming, habit-change therapy, or simply want to connect.