The Phoenix Project: You Don't Have to Experience War to Have PTSD
Today’s interview is with Molly McManus, who has experienced PTSD much of her life. She shares about stigmas surrounding PTSD, how she successfully manages her symptoms, and how she has found hope, healing, growth, and joy in the Lord, even in the darkness of her illness.
When were you diagnosed with PTSD and what symptoms have you experienced?
I was diagnosed with PTSD in November of 2017. I relive trauma through flashbacks and nightmares, and I experience panic attacks, hypervigilance, uncontrollable twitches, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms. I also had conversion disorder, which is a condition in which the brain converts mental stress into physical symptoms. In my case, I completely lost all muscle memory in my legs and thus, my ability to walk. Through intense therapy and rehabilitation, I have fully regained my physical capabilities. I have experienced all of these symptoms at different seasons of life, but some are still a part of my life today.
How has PTSD affected your life?
PTSD has hindered my life in the past by keeping me from going out because I was afraid of panicking in public. I missed events, classes, and the freedom of feeling free. I was always anxious. After a lot of encouragement, I made the decision to reach out. It was incredibly humbling and has transformed my life. It was both difficult and freeing to be diagnosed. Difficult to begin the journey of processing the trauma and experiencing it all over again so I could heal, but freeing to finally be able to put a name to something that had plagued my life for so long. Having PTSD changes the way I approach my day to day life. It has caused me to have to be extremely self-aware. I have to know and constantly be aware of my triggers; I have to help my loved ones adjust; and I have to work a little harder to regulate my thoughts. But as long as I’m very honest with myself and do everything recommended to me in counseling, I can manage very well.
On a happier note, it has made me a much more loving person. Because I know how painful it is to live with trauma, I am much more aware of the suffering of those around me and am able to love them better. I deal with hidden symptoms of my mental illness every day, so I strive to give people the benefit of the doubt. I know how hard it is to suffer in silence and that you never really know what might be going on behind the scenes in someone’s life. God is merciful and when terrible traumatic things happen to us, He cares for us so much that He comes into those situations and makes the outcome better than it could have been had those horrible situations never happened. I have seen this so clearly in my own life. God has always proven to me that even my deepest wounds aren’t more powerful than His healing love.
What are some common misconceptions about PTSD that you see?
Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know much about PTSD, which is crazy since I was living with it for years. I used to think that you only got PTSD if you went to war and had some crazy experience or if you witnessed a murder or something like that. But the truth is, trauma is everywhere. I am a 21-year old regular college student getting ready to graduate, but I’ve still experienced intense drama that has warped my life completely. I want people to know that traumas happen all around us, and it’s ok and good to talk about it. Ask me about my PTSD. I’d love to have a conversation with you about it. It’s a huge part of my life, that’s for sure, but I have the power to decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. We can’t change what has happened to us, but we do have the power to choose if it’s turned into beauty or if it burdens our life even more...and I want to choose to make something beautiful out of my pain. Every single day.
Do you still deal with PTSD and what techniques can you share that have helped you manage PTSD? (specifc things from counseling or what you have found helps you)
I still deal with it today, but the difference between where I am now and where I was a year ago is that I actually address it now. Before, I suppressed it, ignored it, and didn’t allow myself to rise above it. Now, as triggers come up, I deal with them. I feel the ache. I experience the pain. And then, I move forward. That is one of the most important things I have learned in counseling-it’s so important to expose myself to the emotions and memories that I so desperately want to hide from. When I face them, I realize that really and am in control. Being open with the people who love me has been really important too. We are not meant to get through this life on our own, and reaching out to my loved ones has been such a crucial step in my recovery. It’s okay to need people. I’ve found that it reminds me of my deep need for God, and that is everything. I will never forget the trauma I’ve been through and there’s no magical surgery I can get to cure me of PTSD forever. I will be dealing with it for the rest of my life. But the beautiful part is that now, I no longer deal with it as a prisoner but rather as a conqueror.
What is something you would like to say to someone struggling with PTSD?
Remember that your trauma is 1.) Not your fault and 2.) Not your identity. You didn’t choose this suffering and you can rise above it, becoming more beautiful, strong, and brave than you were before. That right there is the mercy of God.