For most of my life this was my favorite time of year: well after Halloween. All haunted houses are closed and decorations are put away. A reprieve of sorts.
I remember my first haunted house as a school kid. What I remember most is the car ride afterward. I sat in the backseat and felt my body shaking on the inside uncontrollably, my eyes wide. The sensation was distracting and strong. I asked the others in the car if they were scared from the haunted house and they laughed and chuckled to each other recalling their favorite parts of the house. I sat, almost paralyzed, doing my very best to fill my mind with other thoughts so as to not relive the vivid experience as they recounted the details over and over. The distraction didn’t work, I just got quiet and probably to them withdrawn. The 30 minutes of fright the haunted house provided paid off in dividends as I had flashbacks of scenes in that house and body shakes for nearly 30 days (until Thanksgiving dinner).
The first two times I was diagnosed with PTSD I brushed it off. I am a single white female living in the United States. Thankfully, I have never served in the military or witnessed firsthand the horrors in other parts of the world.
I mean, what does a diagnosis do anyway? It doesn’t solve a problem. It offers a label. And in some cases, reaching a diagnosis gives everyone an out – they no longer need to solve the problem. The patient now becomes a code derived from DSM-IV and the symptoms get played like a ring toss. I thought it was a lazy description.
And highly unlikely.
One summer night about 10 years ago I was dressed and feeling happy to meet some friends at a water front restaurant (water + food = bliss for Gina) when I got a call from one of them. She and another were at the restaurant and spotted an ex-boyfriend of mine, who was, let’s call it, aggressive during our relationship. I really did not want to see him. My friends suspected so which is why they called to let me know. Seemed simple enough; change the venue, wait until he leaves or any number of solutions was on the table.
I remember exactly where I was standing when I hung up the phone because I was frozen in that spot for what seemed liked forever. My heart began racing so fast and pounding out of my chest, I thought I might have a heart attack. Minutes later I was hyper ventilating and unable to take in a deep breath making me feel I might suffocate. The haunted house shaking feeling permeated my body and the combination of physical sensations felt overwhelming and crushing. I stood looking out my window, although I could only see a black tunnel. I felt trapped in a jail, unable to move or make a decision. This went on until the summer sky became dark, well after dinner time. I never made it to the restaurant that night.
Really? How could this be? It was a phone call.
I’ve spent my entire career learning how the body works and functions and what I’ve come to understand about a blip in the nervous system/ brain function is it’s the same as an imbalance in any other organ or system. Someone not having regular bowel movements daily has an imbalance in their intestine/digestive system. Someone with heart arrhythmia or high cholesterol has an imbalance in their heart/cardiovascular system.
The scariest part of having an imbalance in my nervous system has never been the episodes (although they suck). The scariest part is being ostracized by those run by fear and who lack compassion or understanding. The experience stings of isolation and we don’t need more of that in the world. There’s really no place for judgement, labeling or criticism. Doing so is like blaming someone for their appendix rupturing.
The brain is just another organ that needs optimal nourishment. For example someone with intestinal upset may need to add certain nutrients to their diet while someone with cholesterol may need to avoid other nutrients to keep theirs functioning optimally. What is optimal for one is not optimal for all – optimal is an individual formula. It’s worth it to learn what your body needs to be optimal and then take action on it.
For me it’s a three step process:
#1 Keep my environment clean
This includes what I listen to, what I look at and who I’m with. I don’t watch the evening news before bed (did you know your subconscious takes your last thought to bed with it?). I spend zero time with hostile or brooding people (including family members). I spend an enormous time immersed in nature.
#2 Support my organs rather than stimulate them
Foods have the power to change moods (hello chocolate & red wine) by affecting hormones and chemicals (more on this in the endocrine chapter of my book). Because of this, I’ve learned to be choosy about what I eat. The peaks and dives created by sugar and caffeine and the low depressed feeling of a hangover are too precarious for me, so I avoid them. I do not take synthetic medications of any kind. It may sound like I don’t have any fun, but there is nothing bland about being happy, clear and at ease.
#3 Nourish my brain.
The brain can only heal while it’s asleep. So I get lots of sleep and I start before 11p. Anything after that effects hormone production and I like to keep my roller coaster rides in amusement parks. I also meditate daily and spend a regular amount of time using PSYCH-K which is a tool for reaching Theta brain states. I take herbal supplements that support the nervous system.
Nourishing my brain and nervous system is a priority for me and doing so reduces the occurrence of episodes. I’ve become accustomed to them, but am unwilling to continue living afraid of them. I work really hard at keeping them away.
If you are surviving with anxiety, depression or PTSD I’m here to tell you thriving is possible.