Dealing with PTSD

Let me start by saying I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this, and I am not sure how much I am willing to share.  But because this relates to our lifestyle I do feel like I need to talk about it some.  If you have been following along, you know that a couple of months ago my husband had a heart attack.  If you haven’t read that post, I do recommend you take a moment and go back and read it, because I am not going to rehash the specifics here.

I mention it because as hard as I have tried over the last couple of months I have not been able to shake off the experience.  Despite all of the activity over the last couple of months whenever I talked about it or thought about it I found myself getting extremely emotional. Pretty early on Lee mentioned the possibility of PTSD, but in the shorthand way people talk about having trouble getting over something.  Since I equated PTSD with a traumatic event such as being in a war or loss of life, I didn’t ever think it could apply to me.

Fast forward to when we arrived at Timothy Lake and during our training class they mentioned we were eligible for Employee mental healthcare assistance.  As soon as they started talking about it, I thought it might be a good idea if I talked to someone.  I knew my reactions were intensified and between taking Chantix to quit smoking and the other lifestyle changes we had made I didn’t trust my own emotions.    Several weeks went by before I found time to make an appointment.  In the interim I stopped taking Chantix, but my emotions were still heightened to the point it was worrisome.  Finally I found a therapist with availability on one of my days off and I went to see her.

It took less than 10 minutes into the session before she diagnosed me with PTSD.  Oddly, hearing it from a trained professional made me instantly believe it, because she was so matter of fact about the diagnosis.  She also helped me understand the connections between feeling safe and my full time lifestyle and that is where the conversation got really interesting. In a nutshell, because we were working in an isolated location when the heart attack happened and I was all alone for about 45 minutes during the event, I stopped feeling safe.  And I haven’t felt safe since.

This is where it gets a little difficult to explain, but can we just stipulate the brain is a weird and wonderful place and not everything is logical.  Over the last couple of month the only time I have felt somewhat safe was when we were with our friends. As soon as we left them I went back to feeling unsafe.  Concurrently, the closer we got to coming back to Timothy Lake the worse I felt.  I knew that I didn’t feel safe in that environment, but I also knew that my reactions were heightened.   It didn’t help that some friends of ours  were supposed to join us had to back out at the last minute.  Lee thought it would be fine, but my stomach was in knots and as the start date grew closer I felt panicky

Turns out that work, feeling safe, and Lee’s heart attack are all interconnected in a way I didn’t really understand.    While Lee was having the heart attack I was not only trying to deal with what was happening to him, but I also had to coordinate someone covering our jobs.  Because we were on a single lane gate, someone had to direct the traffic and I had to call my boss, grab random oil field workers to help, and completely shut the road down when the emergency personnel finally arrived.

The only way I personally could deal with all of this was to shut down emotionally.  Later I felt really bad..I mean really bad that I was able to do that.  What did it say about me and our relationship?  When I laid the experience out and asked the therapist if she thought my behavior was unusual or meant something, she said that she didn’t think any rationale person could say I didn’t handle the situation well.  I couldn’t completely fall apart and dwell in the moment because of how complicated things were.  To the contrary she felt I had done some creative problem solving in the moment, which was nice to hear.  I can’t tell you how much that had been bothering me and taking a deep breath and talking to an independent third party and getting their opinion really helped.

I also learned that PTSD is more common than I thought.  5% of men and 10% of women have experienced it.    Feeling emotionally disconnected is a textbook response.  Heightened emotions, feelings of not being safe, all the emotions I have been having are very common symptoms.  The good news is it usually resolves itself in a 1-3 month period of time.  In my case because we had so much going on, I think those feeling got pushed aside and only when we finally settled did they really surface.  Thankfully we are in a place where I can take advantage of our EAP benefit and see someone to talk it through.  At this point I don’t really trust my feelings about anything and having an independent third party to talk to will be extremely valuable.

Finally  I would like to say I have wavered on whether or not to share this.  It is deeply personal, but it also relates to the lifestyle because the situation that caused the PTSD is unique to the way we have chosen to live.  To be clear it was not Lee having a heart attack.  That could happen to anyone at anytime.  It was the feeling of isolation when the event occured.  That’s what I need to work through and I appreciate everyone giving me the time and space to do that.


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