Living With Post Traumatic Stress
I have PTSD. Well, technically it's just post traumatic stress, because psychiatrists have recently decided it's not a disorder. Anyways, I was diagnosed this fall and I'm seeing a therapist and working on getting better. I know mental health isn't really discussed openly, but this isn't something I'm ashamed of.
I thought my behavior was just cautious and a little jumpy coming out of Ecuador, until it became clear that it was much more than that. It's not normal to panic when you hear someone running behind you, or to jump out of a cab and flee if the driver shows the slightest sign of disorientation. It's also not normal to lie in bed at night, unable to sleep because of an overwhelming fear that something bad is going to happen. Or to sit in a coffee shop with a racing heart and panic creeping in because a stranger asked you a simple question. Anxiety attacks, night terrors, heaving on street corners- all decidedly not normal. And yet, this is my reality.
I felt weak for a long time. Why could all of my friends handle living in Ecuador without having these intense feelings I had? But long hours of therapy made me realize that having post traumatic stress is out of my control and it doesn't matter how 'strong' or 'weak' I may or may not be. All I know is that I interpreted the situation as being a threat to my physical safety, and I was stuck in that situation for so long that the physical sensation of fear became hardwired in my nervous system (especially in the tenth cranial nerve, or vagus nerve, that runs from heart to my gut). Also, other factors matter, like the fact that women are more likely than men to experience post traumatic stress.
The worst part of this is that I feel profoundly different from the girl who moved to Guatemala years ago. Latin America changed me. I am much more introverted now. When I moved to Guatemala, I had no problem making friends, and never turned down an invitation. That is not the person who I am currently. Lately, I prefer to spend time alone so that I have the space to process my thoughts and cope with the stress on my own.
Ecuador felt like a war zone to me. I was harassed, dragged down the street hanging out of a taxi, ripped off, chased, grabbed at by strange men on the street, robbed, scammed, followed, and hissed at on a regular basis. I had taxi drivers mess with me constantly, and most of my friends were robbed as well, oftentimes violently. Some were attacked, kidnapped, or assaulted. My apartment oftentimes felt like a prison. I don't need to justify my feelings, but for anyone who says it's really 'not that bad' in Ecuador, I have many personal stories that beg to differ.
My brain knows I am in a safe place now, but my body is hard wired to go into defense/panic mode when exposed to the smallest trigger. It's awful. I can't control it, but my heart starts pounding and I feel a sinking sensation in my gut, and I know I've lost control.
I'm a functioning human being with a job, but that's really all I can manage these days. I haven't pursued any hobbies, and I've found it really hard to put myself out there and make friends here. Most nights are spent in my apartment, my safe space, watching television.
It’s hard not to be my best self right now. I’m in Hong Kong, where everyone works hard and plays hard and manages to be fashionable, fit, cultured, and intelligent at the same time. And I’m sitting home listening to folk music, reading books, and doing Pilates, because that’s really all I can handle.
I think recovery is going to be a slow process, but like I said, I'm in therapy and making a real effort to socialize more. The friends I've made here have been really supportive, as well as my my family and my close friends elsewhere. It's good to have that support even though I am far away from my loved ones right now. So... big thanks, guys. Love you all.