Surviving Psycho-Pharmaceutical Trials
Essay and photos By Sheila L. Ferguson
My new medications make me feel like I can’t cry anymore. Even in my dreams I’ve noticed I cannot access my tears. This lack of sensation has been growing stronger and stronger as these first six weeks have gone by after starting the Zoloft and Buspar. I began to notice only two weeks into the trial, after I came home from therapy. That was the first time that I had not cried during my talk-therapy session. Not even a little bit! Normally, I would be trying to dry my salt-soaked cheeks while hanging my head in shame before leaving the office. I have cried so many tears in the last 3, almost 4 years. I was not getting any better after 3 years of talk therapy, so with the gentle support of my counselor at the time, Dennis, I decided to make arrangements to get the process started to talk to a doctor about considering the help of medication. I had no other viable options left to try. I had tried every remedy I could get my hands on, and to no avail. There is no ignoring my suicidal thoughts.
I try to be as raw and authentic with myself as possible . However vulnerable and honest as I can be during my cognitive therapy sessions, the better. I try to really sit with the pain, the torture, the fear, flashbacks and adrenaline, while we talk about whatever topics arise during the 60 minute sessions. My counselors have shown me so much kindness while I wrestle with one of the most dangerous mental illnesses.(https://healthresearchfunding.org/engrossing-ptsd-suicide-statistics/)
The torture of PTSD (and upon further diagnosis, CPTSD) has been greater than any other emotional pain I have ever known. It touches every aspect of my life. Even everyday tasks like applying mascara have been affected! And not in the obvious waterproof ways, I will reveal how in a little bit.
So, if the CPTSD is so torturous and all encompassing, would not being able to access tears feel wonderful? Could not feeling suicidal in fact feel “normal” again at some point? To be honest, it was so strange and uncomfortable and lonely to not have that constant dark cloud hovering over me with its looming doom and gloom. It seemed I had finally grown to almost know what to expect from myself. I wondered if I would ever escape the trappings of suicidal thoughts. I am still currently unable to feel most of my spectrum of emotional responses.
I began not feeling my usual embarrassing empathy when I watched tear-jerking commercials. I could not cry in situations when I would normally be hiding in a closet under a heavy blanket pile. This was alarming. Does this new sensation of feeling things less intensely mean progress or just nullification? I am beginning to be able to process it as progress! Granted, when triggered, I was used to seeking refuge in the closet for unusual reasons, usually because I would feel triggered by something that happened at a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store, a loud noise or violent scene on TV or the unexpected UPS man knocking to let us know our package has arrived. “Triggers can be anything we see (or dream), hear, feel, taste, smell, or think about that causes an intense emotional or physical reaction or often times, both. New triggers can also develop unexpectedly and they can be extremely difficult to manage. “ (Source: http://ptsdwifey.com/ptsd-triggers/ )
Part of CPTSD is the inability to regulate emotional responses anymore, because of repeated exposure to trauma. So, when my new boyfriend stubs his toe on the coffee table and lets out a roaring yell of pain, an average person with a normal range of emotional regulation would not experience intense terror and panic. Everyday sounds, smells, and experiences can trigger my body to unusual conditioned responses from the immediate fight or flight adrenal responses you might experience after a car accident, to running into hide in a small space, or even a panic attack or stress-vomiting. Because of the collective and repeated exposure to traumatic events, my body is easily agitated.
My body wants me to be safe so it prepares me for flight or fight IMMEDIATELY and involuntarily, even in seemingly usual or inappropriate circumstances. Suddenly, a very real and giant dose of adrenaline is swiftly released and pushes, pulsing through my veins and my heart can responds by racing up to an astonishing and medically documented 268 beats per minute. ( I recently had to face heart surgery to prevent this from happening so frequently and severely.) I start shaking, nearly vibrating, I can’t reach a full breathe. I can hear my heart beat so hard it is shaking my lungs and I can hear it as I choke to get even a little bit of air.
At this point, I’m deprived of oxygen because I’ve been hyperventilating. My body is so alert I can feel and hear the direction of the slightest breeze. I can feel the temperature of my skin change and I become aware I am suddenly covered in a cold clammy fully-body sweat. My skin tightens. I may faint, I have learned to lay flat on the ground immediately if I haven’t already fallen to my knees from the extremely jump in my heart rate. I feel my senses on high alert. I am preparing for something terrifying to happen that may be life-threatening. I’m preparing for…the flashbacks, memories flooding, visions of sections of memories, my palms are so wet I can see the sweat shining and collecting in the palm lines.
Even writing about this now, I can see the sweat on my keyboard smearing as I document the intensity of my experiences. All of what I just described can happen in the blink of my eyes, and for a trigger reason I would likely feel embarrassed and humiliated about later.
What I’m trying to show you is how a fleeting moment like someone stubbing their toe, or an unexpected someone knocking on the front door or having to place a phone call to any of my doctors, could land a person like me in a closet, trying to hide and be undetectable and in fear for my life. It is a torturous way to live. Can you see how that would affect so many different aspects of my life, right down to simple things like putting on mascara? Even seemingly simple or even involuntary tasks like breathing or staying conscious prove difficult when an “attack” happens. I call them “ attacks” because the episodes feel like literal attacks on my safety and well-being. I respond to life stimuli in the same ways some soldiers who have seen war respond. I want to survive this. I want to want to live again. I want to feel my light again.
As I press forward into uncharted and uncomfortable new territory, I intend to be accountable and I intend endure. I intend to be patient with myself, understanding that my brain deserves a chance to work out a new chemistry that could help me subdue some of the glaring symptoms of CPTSD that at times have made me want to die. I am starting to feel like I am greater than my illness. I long to feel victorious against my panic attacks and night terrors. I want to learn from this experience and share whatever lessons that the universe is teaching me. I want to use all of this as fuel to experience growth. I want this pain to have a purpose.
I will do my best to keep a positive outlook even if these medications are not right for me. I will remember to place some trust in my mental health medicine management team even if I do not feel heard or understood during this difficult process. I will remember to love myself and I will remember to show myself the compassion I so easily show others as I travel on my journey towards my healing. If you are struggling, I hope for the same things for you as you travel towards healing also. Namaste.