The questions you have after a PTSD diagnosis are endless.
Am I broken? How did I get this way? Why can’t I just go back to normal? Will I ever be happy again? Will this ever go away? And on and on. I know my questions never seem to stop.
But living with anxiety or PTSD doesn’t mean you can’t live happily. It means you need to take a fresh path to reach your goal. And embrace the rules for living a happy life.
I have spent the past 20 years learning how to live with PTSD. And today I am going to share with you how I am living with PTSD and thriving.
While going back to your old self may not be in the cards, living with PTSD and having a happy life is! If you will do the work. Let’s chat about how I rebuilt my life after my PTSD diagnosis, and I’ll answer some questions about living with PTSD as I go.
These are my personal rules for living a happy life when you’re living with PTSD. Because when you live with PTSD and anxiety, the rules for a happy life are different.
How Do You Get PTSD?
PTSD comes from witnessing or experiencing an emotional or physical trauma. You can start experiencing symptoms soon after or years later. I experienced symptoms within a month of the flood, and 2 entire years passed after my assault for me to show PTSD symptoms.
Examples of PTSD causing events:
- A Natural Disaster
- A Car Wreck
- Emotional or Physical Abuse to Yourself or Others
- Death of a Loved One
- A Terminal Illness Diagnosis
- Assault, Rape, Battery, etc.
- Living or Working in an Unhealthy Environment
- Military Combat
- Witnessing Death, Violence, etc.
- Pandemics (yes, like Covid)
- And other traumas.
Will I Have to Live with PTSD My Entire Life?
I’m going to be honest, this depends on your trauma. Some people do really well working through their trauma and it never affects their daily life. They can pick up their life after a few months therapy time and they can cope normally.
Then there are people like myself who are permanently changed by their trauma(s). It shattered my life. I had experienced so much I couldn’t look at the world the same way again. And that genie wouldn’t go back in her bottle.
When you experience multiple traumas, like I have, that’s called Complex PTSD, and it’s probable that you will be living with PTSD your entire life.
Your mental health will not be perfect, but yes, it gets better as you learn about living with PTSD, your own experiences, and you relearn confidence in yourself once again. It will take work and time to learn how to thrive again.
PTSD is like a cloud. You will get all sorts of nasty weather from it, but there will also be beautiful days ahead.
The 8 Rules for Living A Happy Life When You Have PTSD
Getting Help Is Critical to Living with PTSD
Of all the rules for living a happy life, this is one you should not skip. To receive an official PTSD diagnosis, you need to see a psychiatrist.
PTSD is a serious condition that can have devastating consequences on your life, work, and relationships. Honestly, living with PTSD can be exhausting and scary, especially in the early stages.
It’s best to have a great mental health team from the start and not need them, rather than not have them and have no access.
You also need to work with a therapist to help resolve your trauma, develop new skills for living with PTSD, and learn how to communicate your needs, as your life is different after trauma.
Therapy really helped me and my family understand what happened to me and why I was so changed. We developed strategies together, learned how to communicate again, and had a safe place for all of us to talk about how living with PTSD affected our family.
Need a therapist or psychiatrist? No problem! Find one on Psychology Today.
“Will I Need Medication and Therapy to live with PTSD?”
Your treatment plan will depend on your individual symptoms and your treatment goals. Depending on how disruptive your symptoms are to your everyday life, your doctor will help you decide if medication will help you.
–My PTSD caused me to have auditory hallucinations of footsteps, just like the day I was assaulted. It kept me from sleeping. My tension gave me horrible migraines that I was frequently in the ER for, and I was always irritable from all that tension. I wasn’t me anymore and the medication helped my brain balance again and help me be more like myself. Medication has improved my quality of life, where therapy helped me learn how to deal with my PTSD.-
However, I absolutely recommend seeing a therapist to help you create a plan for living with PTSD. Seeing a therapist will help you transition from feeling like a victim to taking your life back.
If you are getting therapy and medication, and need additional help to live with PTSD, you can talk to your doctor or therapist about adding a psychiatric service dog to your treatment plan.
To Move On, You Need To Grieve
When living with PTSD, it is important to know that your life is now changed. Yes, it will get better. No, you will most likely not be the old you anymore. And that’s okay.
My PTSD gave me guilt, shame, and self loathing. Why couldn’t I just be the old me again? I tricked my husband into marrying a crazy lady. I just need to get over it.
None of that was true. Trauma changes you. That girl I was before, she was pure and innocent. She hadn’t survived what I did. Like a caterpillar in a cocoon, my trauma surrounded me until I was goo. Yeah, caterpillars are gross! It was time for me to take my life back and make a new one.
Unexpected change can make you feel sad, scared, and angry. No one likes changes, even though we all go through it.
I mourned my old life. My happy life. My life without PTSD. A life of innocence. I cried, I yelled, I burned things – safely!
RELATED POST: Why Do I Feel Empty When I Actually Live a Blessed Life?
Building Self Trust
After a trauma, I went through a huge phase of self doubt. Did my choices get me into this mess? Even when the trauma is out of your hands, you feel like there was something you could do to change the outcome.
Survivor’s guilt is a real thing, and it sucks.
I have survived traumas that were out of my complete control: a flood, burglary, abuse, rape, and an assault from a robbery gone wrong. I didn’t ask for them, but my brain still wonders if there was anything I could have done differently. The answer was and is NO, but 20 years after my last trauma, I still feel compelled to wonder.
It’s normal to doubt after a trauma. It’s how we cope, learn, grow, and move on.
But when you are living with PTSD, that self doubt spirals into panic and fear. And we are left with panic attacks, nightmares, decision paralysis, and become an anxious mess in the shower. Yeah, that last one was my breakdown of choice, along with crying over having to make a choice of any kind.
Self Trust Starts With Small Choices
A simple exercise to help you feel more confident is learning to make easier choices. –I had my hubby help me build up to making BIG decisions.- All you need is a choice, and a support person to do pros and cons with you!
Start with simple, safe decisions to help you rebuild your decision making. –Do you want Iced or Hot Coffee? Cake or pie? Blue or red shirt? Dinner at 5 or 7?
When you have regained some of your confidence with 100% rewarding choices, you can move on to small choices with a negative. And start making larger choices until you are making adult choices without consulting your trusted support person.
Learning to trust yourself again will help you conquer your anxiety. PTSD anxiety can come from feeling out of control, helpless, or unsafe. –Note: You may feel anxious because of other core trigger feelings than these. These are just a few that I deal with most often.-
Remember that journal? You should be writing down these triggers so you can get to the root of your feeling, aka your core triggers.
Speaking Kindly to Yourself
Living with PTSD requires you to speak kindly to yourself. There are feelings of self doubt, shame, guilt, anxiety, and sadness already living there. You do not need to add hating yourself as well.
Treat yourself with kindness. Living with PTSD is a new experience for you and requires some learning. Maybe you didn’t respond the best this time. That’s okay. Figure out what you learned. Apologize if needed. And work on being a better version on you for next time.
We are human. Mistakes will be made.
Think of your favorite person. Would you allow them to speak to themselves the way you are speaking to yourself? NO! You’d tell them how amazing they are, how they did their best, how they grew from their experience. How this trauma would not break them. You’d love and support them. Do that for yourself!
Examples of Speaking Kindly:
- Instead of “I was a wreck today. My anxiety kept me from accomplishing my goals for the day.” Try “Today was a tough day. I needed this self care day to learn about myself and what my needs are.”
- Instead of “I can’t do anything right.” Try “I was a little scattered today and made mistakes. What can I do to help myself refocus? How can I help myself feel more grounded?”
- Instead of “I should have known so I could have done more.” Try “I did the best I could in a bad situation. I did what was needed to get through it.”
RELATED POST: Positive Thinking Exercises To Soothe Anxiety & PTSD
You Are Not Your Thoughts
When you are living with PTSD, there is a horrible truth you need to realize. Your brain will lie to you to keep you from suffering a trauma again.
PTSD is a brain injury that changes the way the brain reacts to the flight or fight response permanently. It becomes exaggerated. Kinda like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Your brain is just trying to get you to pay attention to perceived threats. But the good news is you can retrain your brain!
These thoughts are just the primitive part of your brain on overdrive. Back when we were the prey, your brain learned to recognize patterns of predators. That’s why we see faces in wallpaper. We’re seeing patterns!
When you suffer a trauma, your brain works to give you danger signals sooner so you can avoid danger. These signals, at first, are more intense to keep you out of harm’s way. But as you learn about your PTSD and come to see your brain’s thoughts as just a response to stimuli and not the way you really feel, you can start letting go.
You can work your way through your thoughts and learn to how to think before reacting. You can take that anger, sadness, and pain, and turn it into productivity and even happiness. How? By taking those thoughts and working out the why.
RELATED POST: Positive Thinking Exercises To Soothe Anxiety & PTSD
Grab your Free Positive Thinking Worksheet, and learn how to desensitize yourself to ease panic attacks, and learn to self sooth again!
Building a Self Care Kit & Routine To Thrive While Living with PTSD
Jobs require the right tools to accomplish the goal. You can’t hang photos without a hammer. You can’t drive a car without wheels and steering. And you certainly cannot fight PTSD without a self care kit. You are just fighting the process and making it harder on yourself.
Consider this another one of the unbreakable rules for living a happy life with anxiety.
You’ll want to grab a journal for this next part. You’re going to want to take notes.
In your journal, write your symptoms, your triggers, and what you believe will help you feel better when you experience them. That’s the first step to creating a self care plan!
What can help you accomplish these goals? List several methods for each.
- Calming Techniques to help calm your nervous system.
- A Self Care Kit to help you reach your goals.
- Hobbies to help distract you from intrusive thoughts while restoring helpful brain chemicals.
- Therapy to help you reach your treatment goals, heal your trauma, and learn skills to help you thrive.
- Medication to help mitigate and manage your PTSD, if needed.
- A Psychiatric Service Dog to help mitigate and manage your PTSD, if needed.
- The list of your loved ones who will support you.
Only you will know if your self care plan is working or needs revising. You can include people in your self care plan, but remember to have options for when they are not available.
You will feel better by learning how to self soothe again, as well as not feel you are a burden.
Learning to Communicate
This was the hardest thing I have ever had to learn to do. And the most successful!
For the longest time, I couldn’t express what I wanted or what I needed. And I allowed others to decide for me. Because when you don’t know your own mind, it’s easier to just allow others to take the wheel.
You’ll be able to tell people how you feel and what you need without yelling, without judgement of their behavior, and start moving to resolve issues that arise.
By learning to communicate, I learned how my own words and my actions with those words matter in a more profound way. -I knew it was important, but I made little emphasis to be sure my intentions were understood.-
Now, whenever a conflict or need arises, I can discuss the situation without becoming judgemental, angry, or frustrated. I can also ask for constructive criticism of how I could improve my communication skills without becoming offended by it.
Learning to communicate will help you in ALL aspects of your life. From your romantic relationships, to your children, and your work environment; good communication skills help you thrive. And also make it much easier for others to interact with you. Those honest talks create intimacy! Intimacy builds relationships.
Reconnecting with Yourself
After a trauma, you may feel you don’t know who you are anymore. –It happened to me as well.-
You may be the same person essentially, you may become someone completely different, or someone in between.
Reconnecting with yourself when you’re living with PTSD will help you find your new path to happiness. You’ll be able to connect to your core emotions and core triggers and figure out why you feel the way you do, what drives you to keep going, and what is holding you back from reaching your goals.
I tried to be the same person who I was before my traumas. I wanted things to be the same, but the problem was, I was not the same. And trying to be the same was only hurting me more. Holding onto ideas, hobbies, jobs, and things that made little sense for me anymore was hurting me more than when I changed and let them go.
When you suffer trauma, it’s likely you’ll go through this as well. Your world changed, and with it, so must you. Time to get started on learning all about the new you!
You got that journal handy? Record your random thoughts. See what perks your interest, what stresses you, what you absolutely love and hate, and what you feel is different. What is working for you, and what isn’t? Why do you feel it is working or isn’t? What do you need to improve in your life? What do you actually have control over? –Don’t say other people, you can’t control the actions of others.- Include your hopes and your dreams, but leave room for them to grow along with you.
Don’t use reconnecting with yourself as an excuse to ditch being social or to abandon all your current relationships. Most of us have decent relationships that just need a little tweaking here and there, our own behaviors included.
Let’s summarize what you learned.
- You get PTSD from suffering or witnessing traumatic events.
- You need to seek help from a mental health professional to prevent the more severe symptoms of suicidal thoughts.
- PTSD can be treated with or without medication, but always with the help of a therapist.
- You need to grieve to move on.
- You need to relearn trust.
- You need to remember to speak kindly to yourself, as you’re learning a whole new way of life.
- Your brain is lying to you to protect you. You are not your thoughts, and they do not require action.
- Building a self care kit and routine will help you ease PTSD symptoms.
- Grab a journal to document your journey so you can go back when you learn more skills and learn from what you wrote.
- Learning to communicate will help you live a happier life.
- Reconnect with yourself and find out what works for you.
What are your favorite rules for living a happy life with anxiety? Tell me in the comments!
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