What does PTSD feel like? What causes it?

I remember first finding out about my husband’s arrest, then slowly learning of the betrayals, addiction, and complete destruction of our family. I felt very much like Alice in Wonderland . I would dream and cry upon waking to find that my life was real and the dream was only wishful thinking. The PTSD came on as a result of the nature of the secret lies, the public arrest and media coverage, and the fact that I was married to someone for twenty-five years that suddenly became a stranger to me.

Suddenly my world no longer made sense.

I felt like everything was unreal.  The trauma was palpable and unnerving. I walked around in a daze for hours and days and then weeks and finally it felt like years. I had to numb my heart and mind or it would not recover. The very first full day after no sleep….I cried like there was no tomorrow. I couldn’t even breathe.

I completely lost my ability to think clearly for a while. I couldn’t do simple math, and my memory came at a very labored price. I forgot simple things like names, phone numbers, and history stories that I teach. I had to read each story five minutes before I would teach it for that first year. I had to make lists for myself in every area and carry them around so I wouldn’t forget to pay bills….cook dinner….do laundry….water the plants….get gas…..and breathe!

I was able to function…talk…dress…and even teach if I didn’t have to use my memory. But anything complex became a horrible struggle. I have NEVER felt so stupid in my life. Sometimes I would just cry at night….my heart broken over the fact that I had forgotten how to spell a simple word like awful…..or couldn’t remember the name of a colleague in the hallway that day.

I would also see things out of the corners of my eyes that were not really there. I would jump at the slightest sound. Trusting anyone felt like it took the strength of Hercules…..and just desiring to eat was a conscious choice I had to make. I was weepy,  and yet prone to days when I could muster no feelings at all.

I j umped at roaches and would see them crawling in my peripheral vision. My heart would tremble and my body would go into fight or flight at the slightest stress. The slightest trigger could make me cry for hours.  I remember someone sharing a song with me….and the lyrics made me cry for hours. I would watch a movie and have to cry…..see a commercial and totally be triggered by the women……..I remember going into Publix for the first time after I had learned everything….and being completely overwhelmed by the feeling that everyone knew….and some of the women might have met up with my husband. It was completely unnerving and disheartening. Feelings of intense hopelessness and worthlessness would flood over me seemingly out of nowhere. I was in very real danger of closing up my heart and never opening the door to my emotions ever again.

I remember my saving grace was teaching. I would walk into the classroom and could immediately feel almost normal. I could be the Leslie I used to be in front of the children. I could run my classroom and take field trips and forget that I was this broken woman in my other areas of life.

There are days now when I am able to be strong. I can believe that the world will be a good place and I have worth. But there are still times when the PTSD will return briefly. My heart will falter. Something will trigger an emotion or a memory, and I will feel so alone or so unable to move forward. My whole sense of time goes off kilter….five minutes can seem like five days. I lose the ability to think for awhile. I cannot plan. I cannot execute my plans. I simply have to hold on emotionally and try not to drop out the bottom of the black hole. This week it was returning to a pizza joint. I went there with my ex-husband….pizza night….anniversary dinners…take out. Sitting there in the restaurant, I could feel the wall…the numb….the dizzy feeling of all the emotions crowding around. I couldn’t be comfortable, and I just wanted to run out. It is crazy. I know when it is happening….and can look back and see what I should have done…..but in the moment….I am not able to deal with all those emotions. I will become numb.

Sometimes during this time, I will write. I often will try to do something that has beauty attached to it…, art, poetry, reading……a wonderful movie.

I try to pray or read scripture but often….I am immobilized and unable to do anything but feel like a scared rabbit in the grass being hunted by a giant war eagle.

Today it is not as bad as it has been in the past but it is there occasionally. I feel the tremble. I feel the fear. I feel the spinning that could go out of control.

Time seems to be lingering and hopeless. I cannot seem to trust that Good and Perfect gifts come from my Father. I cannot seem to believe fully that I am lovable and that someday I will feel loved again.

I am trying but my mind keeps getting stuck on what I do wrong in relationships. I have been up since three am and I need sleep. I have not been able to eat much and my heart is aching. I am longing again….longing for someone to hold my hand…..someone to see me…someone trustworthy to come into this mess and help walk me out. I am beating myself up….hearing the words that tell me I am not enough.

These and ten million more thoughts cross my mind and make it difficult to even breathe.

I have been in touch with a wonderful woman, Laurie Hall. She wrote a book called: An Affair of the Mind, which I read two years ago. She has walked this road and had some wisdom for me. She said:

Your fear of trusting anyone is very normal.  PTSD is also very normal when you’ve had this kind of trauma.  I lived with PTSD for over 20 years.  It was awful: self-condemning thoughts,
panic and anxiety, that would come out of nowhere and torture me.  I have finally found peace from that.  

Try this: when you go to bed each night, remind yourself that God is present with you and loving you and then repeat, “I let the love wash over me, I let, I let it be.”  Keep repeating this until you feel the love.

Then, repeat “I let the peace wash over me, I let, I let it be”.  Keep repeating until you feel the peace.
It was so good to just hear that all this is normal….that I am not just so broken in a way that cannot ever be fixed. It is so comforting to know that this is not something I am just making up in my head. I forget that broken places can take on normal ebbs and flows and others can help guide you through them. I am not broken because I did something wrong. I am not experiencing something strange…..I am experiencing something known and that gives me hope.
I can begin to use God’s word to fight this battle. I can begin to strengthen my mind and my spirit along with my heart. God does not fail us. When He says the truth shall set you free….He means it.
So I intend to work hard to gain freedom over this PTSD….these feelings of hopelessness…panic….anxiety….worthlessness….they will pass. I can identify them and feel them coming…..and I can fight them in the power of Christ’s love. I am so very grateful to Laurie Hall for speaking into this situation….and Barbara Steffens and Leslie Vernick for their powerful books as well….three women who are valiantly fighting for the hearts and minds of women (and men) who have been scarred by someone else’s sexual addiction.

God come for me in these moments. Help me to release control, breathe  your vision into my life, and walk forward making beauty out of these ashes. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder……PTSD…..

Come Lord Jesus…..create in me …..Patience, Trust,  and Self-Control …a reordering of my mind!  PTSC……a much more pleasant way to spend a morning! Take even my mind and make it yours today!

16 Replies to “PTSD”

  1. This is me. My experiences after betrayal. This nails it. Still struggling one year out. Sometimes I feel like it’s been a year I should be over it, and then a memory is triggered by something and I’m suddenly breathless and panicky again. How long does it take to go away??!! I know there is no real answe, but is a year too long?? Just keep saying Jesus Jesus Jesus when it gets bad.

    1. Lynne, I am so sorry! No…a year is not long at all! I am four years out and there are still moments and days…..not looong weeks anymore….but really rough moments and days. You are not alone! You are beautiful! You are worthy! You are faithful! Keep saying it….Jesus, come for me here! He will come! Keep reminding yourself and let others remind you of how lovely and wonderful God designed you to be! I am sorry Lynne! I know this is tough and ugly and just miserable! But it will pass. God is there with you and holding your heart!

      1. Thank you so much! I just love you and know we would be best friends in real life. Everything you write I’m just like yes, yes, yes. I so admire your braveness and willingness to be vulnerable with us and share. You have helped me tremendously. Just love you!!!

  2. Four years battling for your life and family can be numbing. Survival modes. Your post tells some of your Herculean efforts to recover from the deep wounds. God’s love and truth are healing you, beautifully.

  3. Leslie you are a gem. I’m only a few months out and still not totally free due to legal issues being drawn out. Each time I come here, I feel strengthened. Few people would have the courage to share raw emotions the way you do. You continue to help others through your gift for words. What a blessing in my life as I walk through the darkness.

    1. Oh Mona…..keep walking….the light is just over there….just around the corner and up ahead….it is getting lighter each day! Keep walking….You are not alone! We all cheer each other on and He comes and gives us wings as of eagles! Soon you will fly!!!!!!!

  4. I love your writings as they express my deepest thoughts and emotions. Thank you for giving credit to all the authors and counselors who have identified PTSD in those who have been betrayed. Barbara Stefens has been my counselor through my difficulties and the first book I ever read was Affair of the Mind. I am SO grateful for these women who are helping us overcome. Thank you for sharing!!

  5. Thank you for writing this post. There so much I want to write in this comment. Will simply say that you nailed it with both the title and your words. I have tried to describe my experience and its traumatic effects, both during my high conflict divorce and the alienation from my children during and after the divorce.

    I was naive to think that getting through the divorce (including, agreeing to a custody agreement) would put an end to the craziness and establish a “new normal” for my ex and me, and our daughters. Instead, what continued as parental alienation began to worsen and become a custody battle, yet again. Ultimately, two and a half years of post-divorce conflict detrimentally affected me and my relationship with my children and, even more importantly, my children themselves. It was not post traumatic stress. It was at the time, and is, present (and continuous) traumatic stress.

    Your authentic writing on this post and others (including, the post where you reached out to your father for the first time in decades) is just so “spot on” to what I have experienced as a father, who didn’t want a divorce but accepted it and who wanted to remain in his children’s lives but is prevented from doing so by his ex and others, all at a great cost in too many ways to list.

    1. I am sorry you are experiencing such heartache. I don’t know your story or why your ex feels the need for such battles….but I do know that counseling has helped me tremendously. I could not have sorted through this disaster alone or unguided. I hope you have someone helping you sort through the rubble. Praying you find a way back to your girls and back to being able to a life without the constant trauma.

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