Living with PTSD, I frequently experience intrusive thoughts of disaster, death and injury to myself. I can be sitting quietly and comfortably at home and thoughts of accidental harm and injury can race through my mind, completely unwanted – and to those who don’t live with it, completely unwarranted. “Just don’t think about it” or “Focus on the positive” don’t apply here. I have a neurologic condition, not an attitude problem.
It’s bad enough when I experience these intrusive thoughts about myself, but I can also frequently experience them regarding people I love and care about. I like having everyone under the same roof with me, and when they are all dispersed, I can go into a panic from all of the terrible things my mind conjures up could be happening to them.
It also causes control issues that I have to keep a careful watch on. If your brain frequently or constantly tells you that people could die or be hurt when they are not around you, the behavioral issues that you can develop from it can be catastrophic to your relationships, and you can be controlling and unreasonable. Not because you want to be that way, but because your brain is telling you in no uncertain terms that is how it has to be. In looking for something – anything! – to relieve the relentless horrors that flash through your thoughts, it is so easy to be overwhelmed and overcome by the notion that if you don’t control it, the worst will happen.
It’s a lie, and it’s a lie I have to fight every day.
I have to know when I’m thinking this way, because I have to keep the behaviors that come from it in check. Not only to I have controlling tendencies (not a good look, and not how I want to live), I also have tendencies the opposite way – completely disengaging so that when the worst does happen, I’m already emotionally distanced. Both of these approaches are brutal on relationships and other people, and they don’t ultimately help.
Take a breath, pause what you’re doing, acknowledge the thoughts, hold up reality (conscious thoughts combating the negative thoughts and reinforcing the thoughts you would prefer to have) and repeat as necessary. You have to reprogram your brain, and it takes time.
Controlling the people you care about will not improve your relationships with them. Controlling the things you care about will not make them better. Cutting off people you care about will not help you heal. Disconnecting from things you care about will not make your symptoms better. What makes it better, slowly, is confronting the intrusive thoughts as you are able with purposeful, new thoughts. What makes it better is communicating what you are dealing with to the people you are affecting, because honest information drives out shame and helps heal. PTSD is not an attitude problem, and the battle is not won with shallow and casual statements, nor is it won by avoiding the symptoms. Face them as you are able, and keep trying.