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Survivor's Corner - Living with PTSD: Stay Calm, You are Not in Danger

by Cassendre Xavier


I was in a hotel elevator the other day, and being a typical lifelong nerdy geek writer I began voraciously seeking and reading every piece of paper posted on the elevator interior walls as I could.

I saw a poster advertising the hotel chain's partnership with The Food Network, and marveled at the cute and strangely natural-looking tight blond curls of the African American female host of one of their popular shows. I thought about the graphic designer's choice to use a friendly-looking green, that interestly enough made me recall pleasant breakfast memories at a well-known fast food restaurant I had gone to with my family when I was a child.
Then I looked straight ahead of me at the elevator's notice of instructions in case of emergency or technical mishap.

Here was the very first sentence:

"Stay calm - you are not in danger."

This was so relevant to me as a person with long term posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety condition. Diagnosed over twenty years ago, I still live and struggle daily with the aftereffects of childhood trauma. Just hours prior to that elevator ride I had been telling my therapist how knowledge of certain facts significantly help me get over my anxiety-related fears.

I told her about how I got over my fear of flying. I had been afraid of flying my entire life, until, when fifteen years ago, when I was in my late 30s, I talked with the brother of my sweetheart at the time. We had taken a train for three days to go from
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, our city of residence, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where my sweetheart's brother P. and sister-in-love reside.

During our visit, we were all hanging out and I mentioned I had a strong fear of flying. P. asked, "What is it in particular that really scares you about flying?"

I answered, "I'm afraid something would happen in the air, and I would be ejected from the plane, and fall to my death. I don't want to experience that painful crash to the ground."

In a life-changing moment, P. replied, "Well, if you were ejected from a plane, you would be at a really high altitude, and at that altitude, if you fell out of a plane, you would be unconscious long before you hit the ground."
This made perfect sense to me, instantly removed any concerns I'd previously had about a painful flight-related death. My fear of flying was cured then, and a year later, when my then sweetheart visited Kazoo again, we took a plane instead of a train.

I am so grateful that my mental health issues (bipolar 2, posttraumatic stress, and binge eating disorders) are treatable with cognitive behavioral therapy. Facts and reason actually work for me in reducing my symptoms. I have had several loved ones in my life who suffer from ailments that are not affected by reason or facts. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia both come to mind. Nothing you can say to someone you are going out with can help if that person is checking their door countless times before you can leave (OCD). They just feel unsafe, and they have to go through the motions until they feel safer again.

I have gone through similar feelings with my PTSD.

But learning that I can "Stay calm" because I am "not in danger," is very helpful to me.

If you have posttraumatic stress, or other forms of fear or anxiety, here are some things which may help:

1) Make a commitment to receive ongoing treatment for your condition. Receiving clinical expertise and prescribed medication as needed, could be your greatest support and best chance for success.

2) Learn as much as you can about your condition(s) and never stop learning. Knowledge is power, and it is always changing. There is always something new to learn, or new treatments, medications, and options for you to better manage your symptoms.

3) Do not allow yourself to stay overwhelmed. Take breaks as needed, but commit to remaining on the proverbial horse of your mental health symptom management, while going at a gentle, easy pace with as many breaks as you need.

4) Remember that PTSD does not need to be a permanent, lifelong condition. It can last a short, medium, or long while, but with treatment and medication, there is always hope.

5) Never underestimate the power of friendship. You can decide how or with whom, and even just stick to pen pals if that's the most social contact you can handle sometimes. But remember, we are meant to need each other, and there are healings that can only happen when we are in the company of others. Many studies show that people who have active friendships are healthier and even live longer.

6) Stay calm - you are not in danger!

7) Never give up, always have faith, and practice gratitude for your entire life, challenges and all!

Cassendre Xavier shares her popular "Survivor's Corner" and "PTSD Chronicles" on Facebook and Twitter, and has been writing the "Living with Bipolar Disorder" series at Wisdom Magazine's online edition since 2011. Cassendre was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at age 23. From 1996-1999 she facilitated Sisters Healing Together, a peer support group for women survivors of incest with a special focus on compulsive overeating, which she also founded, at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia. Under her self-assigned spiritual name Amethyste Rah, Cassendre released the popular Affirmations for Survivors guided meditation audio series ("Self-Love" and "Spirituality" in 2007, and "Sexuality" and "Life Skills" are forthcoming). For more information, please visit http://cassEndrExavier.wordpress.com
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