Once Pulmonary Hypertension was brought to my attention, it’s been nothing but a life altering path I did not choose, but was forced to take. The public has a notion that a disease is sitting in a doctor’s office a little more than once a year, and maybe (maybe) sometimes it gets in the way. When a disease arrives, it brings all of it’s baggage: insurance hassles (or life terrifying moments when insurance threatens not to pay for anything anymore), financial struggles, side effects of medication, unplanned trips to bigger and better hospitals…the list really could go on and on. We learn of something new all the time, and with each changing phase in life brings a new set of baggage from this disease. The load is burdensome. But, the most important, ignored, and heaviest one? The mental, and brain health struggles.
I have been living with Pulmonary Hypertension well, since I can remember, eleven, but diagnosed six years. The past two years have been exceptionally difficult with a prescription drug addiction (doctors pushed Xanax rather than looking into a deeper problem) and I felt like I just couldn’t focus. I was so distracted by pure anger, anxiety, and it felt like every emotion I had tricked myself into believing was not there finally rose to the surface. I tried to fix it myself by throwing away my Xanax, and I picked my life up and moved. Change felt amazing, it took the edge off my problem, but deep deep deep in the background I still could not get control over anxiety, depression, and rage. Lots of it. Finally, I stepped into a therapists office surrendering to my “I will pick myself up” attitude. After a lot of sessions, his biggest concern with me was my PTSD, and severe anxiety. My what? I knew I had anxiety, but PTSD was in my mind someone who survived an attack. “Well, technically you have.” That was his response.
“Chronic illness is traumatic on both levels–the physical obviously, but also the mental and emotional. People who are ill very often display classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress, even if they don’t have the full-blown disorder.” -Psychology Today
“Individuals experiencing chronic diseases have been studied with regard to depression, anxiety, and a variety of coping maladaptions, but negligible attention has been given to the PTSD potential of chronic disease over the life course.” – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
As stated in my ignorance, I had not even given consideration to the fact that PTSD lingered outside the soldiers category; And the problem with this is that most of the world sees it this way too. We have not yet put together that a majority of chronically ill patients are also suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder because being told “you have an incurable and terminal disease” is trauma in itself. Not including the daily alterations we must make to maintain a new normal that we did not choose, on top of surgeries, and bad news. The dangerous thing about this trauma? We are living inside of it everyday. Having undiagnosed PTSD was not even knowing of its existence, not knowing I had triggers, as well as not being able to identify my triggers, and having no idea I was suffering intensely mentally. Instead I was telling myself that “I was always going to be this out of control”, “Never going to find an escape”, or maybe “I needed to kill myself.” Yes, those are real thoughts in the middle of an attack. They aren’t comforting are they?
“But for some, it might be better not to shrug off problems, but rather to acknowledge the dark side. By recognizing the traumatic aspects of illness the ill person can potentially break through denial, modulate obsession, and lessen rage.” -Psychology Today
Since I’ve opened my mind to the presence of my PTSD diagnosis I’m not going to say it has become easier. However, maintaining and openly dealing with the trauma, and triggers has lifted some weight. Now I will be able to communicate to health professionals about how I feel in the moment rather than becoming enraged, and shutting down. It has opened a door in communication that I did not know I had, and developing an understanding towards myself. The best part? I am picking myself up. I just needed someone to show me how.
Please understand that mental health is an invisible disease just like PH. Your brain is an organ, and it deserves it’s own upkeep. If you feel like you are suffering then please find a professional to help your pain.