PTSD: The bad and the ugly

I suffer from PTSD.

Whoa. I actually said it. To someone other than my psychologist and primary care doctor. Kind of a big deal, y’all.

PTSD is really sucky in that it totally ruins the things many of us love most – like sleep. I don’t sleep. I stay up as late as I can, hoping that by the time I do fall asleep, I will actually stay asleep. Oh, and also that I’ll be too tired by that point to dream. OK, scratch “dream.” What I mean is – “have nightmares.”

Why am I sharing this? Well, because my psychologist says that it’s high time I start writing again. Also? She says I’m kind of hard to get to know – meaning that I hold people at arm’s length and laugh a lot – or make jokes – about really stupid, inconsequential shit while never really sharing much of myself.

I’ve argued that it doesn’t seem fair to the nice folks out there to subject them to the dark, cobwebby portions of my brain, but hey – if you’re up for the ride, then who I am to tell you that you aren’t tall enough to board the roller coaster?

Also, I’m kind of hoping that my fellow PTSD sufferers won’t feel so alone.

So here’s what I’m going to share tonight:

On average, my blood pressure hovers around 155-160 over 100-112. Even more disturbing? I’ve been on blood-pressure medication for about four years now. I’m 48. And up until a knee injury this past year, I’ve always worked out at least four times a week. We don’t eat out much, so I can’t blame the diet either.

Up until late 2013, my numbers were great. But then, it seems, my 20-plus years in newspapers – all spent covering all sorts of really horrible stuff – coupled with my near death in the Chihuahuan Desert – turned that innocuous little arm cuff into a harbinger of impending doom.

Since then, I’ve gone to therapy. Continued exercising. Revamped my diet multiple times. And still – nurses insist on checking my blood pressure two or three times per doctor’s visit, because – surely, the reading can’t be accurate? Maybe I’m stressed? Maybe it’s higher because I’m sick?

“Let’s just check this one more time, sweetie. Uncross your legs, please. Now just try to relax.”

The numbers, however, don’t budge. And, according to recent research, they don’t lie.

The results of medical studies released this year clearly state that PTSD actually can cause hypertension. Doctors may find this surprising. I don’t.

PTSD isn’t just a mental or emotional condition. It’s an adrenaline system gone completely awry. I describe it as living in a state of constant fight-or-flight syndrome. You’re primed – ready to do anything to ensure your survival – even when you’re tucked snugly into bed with the only apparent threat being the knowledge that your alarm will go off in six hours. And yet. Your body insists that something is about to go dreadfully wrong and, by God, you had better be ready to fight off whatever that something is.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

Luckily, this is the year I decided it was time to actually fully embrace and address the PTSD. Which is how, two weeks ago, I landed in the office of a psychologist who has spent most of her career working with veterans.

My first assignment? I was to start using Headspace. You can access it on your computer or install the app on your phone. I have to admit that I was skeptical.

But now – after two weeks? I love it. It’s becoming part of my routine.

Thus concludes tonight’s installment. In my next report, I’ll share the ugly details of what it’s like to be afraid to fall asleep and WHY the mere thought of sleep is such a source of stress for PTSD sufferers.