My Personal Journey With PTSD

By Cindy Cain, DNP, RN, CNS, CCRN-K Apr 21, 2021

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Seeking mental health care is frightening.

Seeking mental health care is frightening. I didn’t want to jeopardize my job as a nurse manager or lose the security clearance tied to my 25+ year career as a Navy reservist. I didn’t want to be labeled or have my work second-guessed. I didn’t want to be called crazy, psycho or just plain nuts. I didn’t want to have my co-workers worrying about me or thinking that I might harm a patient. I felt like I was in a no-win situation. I was in trouble if I sought care and if I didn’t.

How My PTSD Emerged

My PTSD symptoms began almost as soon as I got home from my first deployment. After having been in such an intense environment with little opportunity to decompress or process all of my experiences caring for combat wounded, I felt empty. The PTSD symptoms I had were relatively common and included severe anxiety and deep depression. I was easily angered, struggled with concentration, couldn’t sleep, and did not want to be around people because I felt exposed and vulnerable. You could think of it as being in a constant state of a fight or flight response. I now know this is called a hypervigilant state, a symptom of PTSD. I discovered once I began therapy that my history of surviving childhood abuse and neglect is prevalent among those diagnosed with PTSD after adult trauma.

Each Day Was a Struggle

I was just exhausted at the end of every day from trying to keep others from seeing just how broken I felt. I just knew they would see how inadequate I was for the work. How broken I was. I lost confidence. I second-guessed myself. I never felt good enough or perfect enough. My journey to seek help happened the day I contemplated driving my car into a pole to be free of the emotional pain. I made my first appointment that day. That was 10 years ago, and it was the best decision of my life. I have been in and out of therapy since then. I only really committed to treatment after I retired from the Navy Reserve 3 years ago.

Therapies That Worked for Me

I have had a variety of therapies to treat my PTSD. Some worked better than others, but I do genuinely believe they all helped. I have had Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR), in which the therapist uses repetitive movements while thinking about the trauma to allow your brain to reprocess the experience in a healthier way. This treatment for PTSD was especially helpful in dealing with my childhood traumas. I have had Cognitive Processing Therapy, a type of behavioral therapy that helped me challenge unhelpful beliefs related to my military trauma. Lately, my focus has been mindfulness work, especially self-compassion. I have found this treatment helpful because it forces me to focus on this moment in time and not get lost in remembering the past or worrying about the future. It has also helped me to forgive myself for my lack of perfection. My way of practicing mindfulness is to spend time each day in prayer and meditation focusing on gratitude.

Why I Shared My Story

I am writing this blog because of COVID-19. My war experience includes two deployments with about six months in the war zone each time. I have now seen my fellow nurses worldwide fighting in this COVID-19 “war” for more than a year. Such a compressed time frame of seeing so much death and disability in such a concentrated way does impact you. And for some of us, it affects us a bit more. I write this to say there is hope. There are ways to treat PTSD. It requires vulnerability and a willingness to commit to the sometimes prolonged process of healing emotional wounds through professional help.

Resources for You:

If you recognized yourself in the description of my post-deployment PTSD, I hope that, like me, you will choose to reach out for professional help. Will you?