Those who experience PTSD and C-PTSD may go through periods of hypervigilance. We all experience moments of vigilance, where we feel an extreme sense of nervousness or anxiety brought on by fear, or any event that may put our nervous system on high alert and put us on edge. Imagine someone popping a loud balloon behind you without you expecting it, and you suddenly feel a shot of adrenaline rushing through you. The difference between your bodies normal reaction to the balloon popping, and hypervigilance, is that your body does not calm after the event. It remains on high alert even after the shocking event has passed.
Now imagine you feel that for hours or days at a time. With PTSD, hypervigilance is commonly experienced after a trigger (event, smell, place, feeling, etc. that reminds the person of their trauma). What is challenging with hypervigilance, is it means our bodies are on high alert to protect us, which means it releases various reactors in our body. Because these reactors doesn't shut down after the trigger, our bodies are part of the stress. When this continues, the person can feel high anxiety and highly alerted for a long period and the anxious feeling exhausts the person, not only mentally, but physically as well.
For me, I can have the symptoms of hypervigilance for a few hours or sometimes days. Recently, I was affected by it and I felt a heightened state of panic. Even while I was sitting and working, or doing simple everyday activities like washing dishes, I could feel my muscles tense and my mind racing. Sometimes I am unaware of what triggers the hypervigilance, and I have to sit and meditate to find the cause and work through the feeling to remind myself I am safe.
This last episode affected my sleep and I lost hours because of the inability of my body to relax as I tried to fall asleep. I also woke earlier than normal. When I did wake, the feeling of alert and panic was there the moment I opened my eyes.
Many people who are experiencing this will be unable to attend events with groups or crowds because their nervous system is extremely sensitive. This means sounds are louder, you may feel more sensitive to touch, and your mind can't focus. So even a regular sound could cause you to go into complete panic mode.
Most people will need to be in a dark room alone so they can tune out all sights, sounds, and thoughts and help their body relax. Your body is taking you on a ride and it isn't a welcome one! This causes some people to miss work, or activities with friends and family because they can't handle any more input. Their brain has their entire body ready for flight or fight mode. It is quite exhausting!
I finally gave in and took a mid-day nap to calm my nerves and I worked on meditation. Usually mediating on the safety of where I am now will help my mind disassociate with the prior event that caused me to feel I was in need of protection. To overcome this, I work hard to think of what is causing the hypervigilance. Is it a sight or sound that happened? Is it fear of an upcoming event (for instance when my ex emailed me he is coming to visit the girls for 5 days). Once I pinpoint the cause I can usually work through the tools of calming. I use positive thoughts to help myself find relief. The best and most healing tool is to go and exercise in nature. My body switches mode to connect with my surroundings and releases me from the grips of trauma. Nature has been my greatest healing tool and I hope to share more tips on getting out into nature to help others handle their PTSD symptoms as well. If you use nature to help you heal, please share you experience.
Self care is another important aspect of calming hypervigilance and in my next blog post I will talk about three ways to calm through self care and how we can do this with the help of our kids.
Love and wellness,
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com
What is complex PTSD? If you don't know, don't feel bad! Amazingly, I went through most of my life never being diagnosed or knowing what complex PTSD or C-PTSD was. C-PTSD is when you sustain repeated or prolonged periods of trauma (through abuse, neglect, etc.) through your childhood or formative years, from someone close to you such as a parent or caregiver.
I have had nightmares, panic attacks, and depression, from the age of six through adulthood but I never attributed my pain to any specific event. It was just how life was for me. I handled it as best I could through prayer. I was raised Muslim and so the five prayers were very grounding for me emotionally and I’m grateful for those times of meditation in prayer which helped me handle the anxiety (or as I now know), the symptoms of C-PTSD. Though prayer was helpful in stopping the panic, it never got to the root of the cause and I was only dealing with the symptom. When we only treat the symptom and not the cause, the symptoms will return. As I learned in my Holistic Health classes, it’s like sitting on a tack and instead of looking for the tack and removing it, you take pain-killers so you don’t feel the pain. That’s how I was handling my trauma with prayer. Although it removed the pain, it did not go to the source.
How does one not know that they have C-PTSD? Many people go undiagnosed for a variety of reasons. For me, I was raised that therapy and counseling were for “crazy” people, and when you are so shamed by your problems, you never tell, and just “deal.” I finally went to counseling when I returned from Kuwait and was diagnosed with PTSD, without the complex portion. It wasn’t until I was blessed to receive a scholarship to attend a writer’s retreat last summer and I shared a piece of my writing that my deeper trauma was truly exposed. It was the day I shared part of my memoir, Hidden Calling, with my retreat group, and I started crying. It was a chapter about how I met my caregiver. This kind woman, who was also my bunk-mate, took me aside and comforted me. She had written her own memoir about becoming homeless and helping other homeless people in the Pacific Northwest. As a nurse she was familiar with all types of trauma. She explained to me what complex trauma is and that it is clear I had it.
Complex trauma is troubling because it includes acts of abuse not only toward a child, but from a person the child looks to for love and trust. Accepting that this was the cause of my tremors, nightmares, and panic attacks all these years was eye-opening and helped me learn ways to heal. Without knowing the reason behind why we are feeling a certain way, we may only try to cover it as I did.
Writing a book about my story has helped me find the cause of my trauma and has been cathartic. Although at times it is also a struggle. I go back to these memories to share about how trauma shaped my life. Through sharing my story, I hope it helps other women and children. I have also worked very hard to break the cycle of trauma in my life and my daughters lives. I will never allow someone to hit my children. Physical punishments do not work and over a period of time erode self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. People with C-PTSD often experience extreme feelings of shame. Learning more about C-PTSD through counseling has helped me immensely. I still control symptoms as they happen but I am working through processing the pain and trauma as well. I am healing. The best part of my healing has been teaching my daughters a better way of life. A life of self-care, self-love, and self-acceptance. I have been honest with them about my journey because it creates awareness. If someone tries to hurt them they know they can speak out. Unlike myself. I was told not to tell and I was extremely fearful of the repercussions of telling. I was most afraid of losing my mom, because I thought I’d be taken away if I told.
My goal is to create awareness of C-PTSD and help children and women who have experienced abuse and trauma. I hope my book will shed light on various types and forms of trauma and how our mind and body are connected. Trauma is an experience that is re-experienced by the body because the mind is trying to protect the body. If you have experienced trauma, I want you to know that this is a place for natural healing and acceptance. I am a voice only because I spent most of my life voiceless. I choose to unveil my shame and be me. I hope to help you do the same. Have you experienced C-PTSD, or know someone who has?
If you have specific questions that you would like answered privately please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org