“The body remembers. Stuffed until an event, a sound, a sight, a touch, a word, or a person awakens them.” – Unknown
My PTSD. It goes wherever I go, and it does whatever I do.
It is always there though it is often unnoticed. I have tried to deny it, ignore it, and hide it, but PTSD is a force that will not be hidden.
The slightest hint of threat can trigger traumatic memories and bring them roaring to the surface like a lion pouncing on its prey. In an instant all the feelings and emotions associated with the trauma can come rushing back. It leaves you in a state of panic—wild eyed, heart racing and vulnerable to the core.
It is a feeling I have felt many times.
IT’S FAR BETTER TO PREPARE FOR THE WORST AND HOPE FOR THE BEST
During a recent trip to the mountains with my husband I learned a very valuable lesson in preparedness. Since I haven’t had any recent episodes, I put my guard down and felt uncharacteristically comfortable going to a cabin in the woods with absolutely no worries and no plan.
I remember thinking, “I got this. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Well, that worst thing happened. My husband, me and my PTSD in pitch black darkness. My biggest trigger was playing out right in front of me and there was nothing I could do about it. By the time my husband got to a light switch, it was too late. I had gone from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds and there was no calming me down. I usually have a plan for when these episodes happen at home—but I wasn’t at home, and that made this episode more intense than usual.
I had to pull it together. I mean I was seriously in the middle of nowhere.
There was no escaping and I was in a strange place, which is a bad combination for me and my PTSD. I rushed to find my phone, it’s 3:00am—heart racing and sweating profusely I made my way to the living room area and the TV. Thank God for DirecTV in the woods. I turn on cartoons and breathe deeply.
“I am safe. I am safe. I am safe.”
It took close to an hour before I started to feel some sense of normalcy. As I watched Sylvester chase Tweety my eyes grew heavy and I finally faded to sleep. I woke several times before dawn, peering outside into the darkness and trying to remain calm. “I am safe. I am safe. I am safe.” My dreams were erratic and frightening, but the sun came up and everything was okay.
My husband was worried, but he is certainly used to this by now. He knows that I just need to do my own thing—he has learned to let me be until I ask for help. I didn’t ask for help that night and I am proud of that. I did however tell him that I will never be unprepared like that again. I understand that I can’t control everything and that my triggers can show up anytime and anyplace.
MY TOOLKIT FOR SURVIVING TRIGGERS WHEREVER I GO
It’s likely that you won’t have a cabin in the woods experience like I did, but then again only you know what your triggers are. Most of the time I do my best to avoid the triggers that I know and understand, but sometimes the element of control is not at my disposal. In those cases, I have no choice but to weather the storm, fight my way through and learn valuable lessons in the process. My valuable lesson from this latest episode is this—I am stronger than I realized and I must always be prepared.
I have vowed to always keep a small arsenal of my own personal weapons with me at all times. Some of these items are essential for me everyday, while others are only necessary when I’m traveling. Here are the items and tools that I use to combat triggers when they show up without warning.
MY GO TO ITEMS
- Lavender Essential Oil – This is probably a must have at all times item for me. This soothing essential oil has an immediate calming effect. I like to put a few drops on the space between my thumb and index finger and use the inhalation method. Inhaling will draw the scent of the oil all the way into the amygdala gland (the emotional warehouse) in your brain, calming the mind.
- Organic Liquid Cayenne – This is another must have for me. I was introduced to liquid cayenne after being diagnosed with Benign Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVC). Known as the “king of herbs” cayenne can strengthen, stimulate, and tone the heart, balance circulation and blood pressure, and calm palpitations. Since PVC causes heart palpitations, it is imperative for me to keep cayenne with me at all times. I have found that it eases my palpitations within minutes, which allows me to calm down. As a side note, it also adds some great heat to bloody mary’s!
- Numi Moroccan Mint Tea – This is by far my favorite brand of mint tea. I always keep a few bags with me, especially when I am traveling. Mint tea has many properties, but the most important one in this case is its ability to naturally relax the body and mind. I have relied on a cup of mint tea many sleepless nights.
- Shungite – Shungite is a stone with a long history of metaphysical properties. This carbon based stone found only in Russia has the ability to purify water and remove negativity from anything in its path. I wear or carry Shungite everyday. As a matter of fact I rarely take my Shungite bracelet off. I consider this stone to be a bubble of protection surrounding me wherever I go. I have found it extremely useful in dealing with PTSD, stress and anxiety.
- Badger Sleep Balm – This lavender and bergamot sleep balm comes in a very convenient travel tin and has saved me quite a few times. It’s great for traveling or nightly use. The fragrance of the essential oils in this balm helps to calm thoughts and clear the mind, allowing sleep to come naturally.
- Himalayan Salt Night Light – This item may not be necessary for you, but it is obviously on the top of my list. I love this night-light because it combines the air purifying and cleansing properties of a Himalayan salt lamp with the convenience of a night-light. This item is great for home and travel. It has a warm amber glow that is very calming and in my opinion not intrusive to sleep. At home I have two regular sized Himalayan Salt lamps in my bedroom, which I keep on at all times.
MY FAVORITE TOOLS
- Awesome Music – It’s important to have a go to song, album or Pandora station at your fingertips. It’s got to be your vibe and the kind of music that will help you calm down. For me that music is Jazz or Zen. If that isn’t available I try to find anything with nature noises like ocean waves crashing or rain falling. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and imagine myself sitting on the beach looking out towards the endless sea.
- Television – When in doubt I turn on the TV and focus my mind on meaningless things. I was lucky to have a television available during this latest episode—it was truly a life saver. I will admit that falling asleep with the TV on is part of my nightly routine. I have tried to venture away from this, but it’s like a warm comfortable blanket that I can’t sleep without. Why I thought I would be okay without it is beyond me. Because my trauma occurred while I was sleeping in bed at night, my triggers are often associated with darkness. For some reason, having the television on at night tells my brain that everything is okay. When the television is turned off it’s like an alarm going off. I will immediately wake in a panic knowing that my safe environment has changed. It’s hard to live with, but it’s getting better. I find that watching things I am already familiar with is much more helpful when trying to fall asleep. The repetitiveness of familiar shows is soothing, much like a lullaby.
- Mindful Breathing – This last tool is the most powerful and effective. I learned about mindful breathing while reading the book “True Love – A Practice for Awakening the Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh states that meditating is, above all, being present: to yourself, to those you love, to life. He proposes a very simple mindful breathing practice that will bring your mind and body together. “Breathing in—I know that I am breathing in; breathing out—I know that I am breathing out.”Hanh says that with a little concentration it takes only ten to twenty seconds to accomplish this miracle called oneness of body and mind (Hanh, 2006). I practice mindful breathing often. It is remarkable how the art of focusing on breathing can bring your mind back to your body and the present, and out of the darkness and fear of your trigger.
There is no doubt that PTSD will be a part of my life forever. As I continue my healing journey it will change and shift, but it will always be there. As I accept and work with my triggers, new ones will appear and old ones will fall away—it’s the nature of trauma. Research has revealed that trauma produces actual physiological changes, including a recalibration of the brain’s alarm system, an increase in stress hormone activity, and alterations in the system that filters relevant information from irrelevant (van der Kolk, 2014).
Working through trauma can take a lifetime, and there are many avenues to find the healing and support that you need. The way I cope with my PTSD is not for everyone and is not intended as a cure or treatment. This is how I personally deal with my PTSD triggers, which may not be right or helpful for you.
I am currently reading “The Body Keeps The Score – Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. This book has been incredible, and is providing a real understanding of the connection between trauma and the brain. Check it out and let me know with you think.
Love & Blessings,
Hanh, T. N. (2006). True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart. Boston, MS: Shambala Publications
van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books