Fight or Flight.

A part of my mental health issues landed me with the diagnosis of PTSD. I used to think that only soldiers came home from war, suffering with PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder. I recently found a psychiatrist that only treats females and ties together your biology- genetics, hormones, etc.- along with past seasons, or circumstances that you have lived through. After spending over two hours meeting with her and discussing everything from my childhood, genetics, losing my late husband, and more, along with Bipolar II, OCD, and anxiety, she diagnosed me with PTSD. I didn’t really understand why. Was it solely because I lost my late husband at a young age after watching him endure grueling treatment for his “slap in the face” cancer diagnosis, or was it everything I mentioned to her in regards to my life from childhood to now? After meeting with her, I realized that it was everything. It wasn’t just about being scared of another major loss, it was the realization that I’ve endured so much in my thirty-six years and my ways of coping with the burdens I’ve carried all my life that I’ve never talked about that were weighing me down.

My childhood before my stepfather entered my life was rocky. My brother and I lived with our mom and biological father. My father comes from a long line of mental illness. He grew up, raised by two parents who also suffered with depression. He was taught that the best way to deal with mental illness was to work himself to death. Understandably, my father used alcohol to deal with his issues. If you don’t understand mental illness, you have no idea. The difference between being an alcoholic and a mentally ill person seeking relief by using alcohol is totally unrelatable. I wouldn’t call my father an alcoholic, but rather a sick person using anything that he could to get relief. My father also had a temper. Some psychiatrists would probably label that as mania. I’ve experienced that. Not to the same extreme as my father, but I’ve often found myself raging in anger simply because my mental health had me frustrated. Like my father, I like order and routine. My father worked away on a 7/7 schedule just like my stepfather (dad). When he’d leave to go to work, my mom was in charge. I mentioned before that my mom had a hard time controlling us. You see, my mom was raised by a father who worked himself to death and a mother who was- and, I’ll put this in the nicest way I can- a toxic individual. My maternal grandmother is not a nice person. My mom grew up helping her dad on the farm. She didn’t have a nurturing mother, so she didn’t know how to be a nurturer herself. After years of being told that she was never good enough by her mother, it finally stuck with her and she accepted that label as being “worthless”. I really think she married my father to get out of her parent’s house. My mom and real dad didn’t have a relationship. There was no love there. My father, regardless of the mental health issues his parents faced, grew up in a loving home. My mom did not. Despite my mom’s issues, my father still accepted and loved her. Like many of us who suffer with mental illness, my mom’s way of coping was to just sleep. She slept all the time.

Imagine being under 7 years old and watching your father leave in the night to head off to work for 7 days and crying in your bedroom window because you knew that the only person who gave my brother and I the attention we needed was going to be gone for 7 days. Not only was he the one who parented us when he was home, he was the housekeeper, the cook, the teacher, the disciplinarian, etc. In my young mind, I knew that when he was gone, our house would turn into chaos. I didn’t like that. I liked order. I liked peacefulness. I needed my mom to wake up. I didn’t understand then why she slept so much. I get it now.

Shortly after my 1st grade school year, my parents divorced. After their divorce, my father moved across the country, back to his home state. He had to leave. His mental illness had taken over and he needed the support of his family there. My mom, brother, and I moved into a little house, and it was then that I remember my obsessive compulsiveness kicking in. No one was around to clean the house. No one was demanding any kind of order. My brother was out of control and my mom was sleeping. Life was havoc to say the least. I remember obsessively cleaning our house when I was in elementary school. Cleaning was something that would rid me of what I guess was the “anxiety” caused by the chaos. It was something I did well. Remember me mentioning my mom’s mom above? She was a compulsive cleaner. I am not ashamed to admit that the OCD that I live with may stem from my mother’s side. My mom was definitely not a housekeeper. She didn’t know how to be. She could never do it perfect enough for her mother. I see my grandmother’s characteristics in me at times. I often find myself allowing my kids to skip out on helping with housework solely because they won’t do it perfectly like I will. I’m breaking that cycle.

Again, all of my life, I’ve found great joy in cleaning. It’s more of an escape for me. When my late husband was diagnosed with cancer, as I mentioned before, I wasn’t on any antidepressants. Between taking care of him and manically cleaning house, I was happy. I didn’t just wash dishes and fold clothes, I scrubbed my house from top to bottom more than once a week and proudly displayed my “magazine cover home”. Now, I’m burnt out on the constant cleaning. It controls my life. If I have to choose between reading a book to my daughter or cleaning house, you best believe I’ll be in the bathroom, scrubbing the toilet. Cleaning is my escape. I’m sick of it. I’m breaking that cycle.

When I met with my new psychiatrist and explained that compulsive behavior to her, she began to question me on whether it was something I actually enjoyed doing, or if it was in fact more of a fight or flight behavior. That got me thinking. She was right. I constantly live in a battle with myself of worry and fear. On top of compulsively cleaning, the PTSD has scarred me. Losing Kyle was a huge loss. I became insecure and scared that I’d lose everyone else around me that I loved. Whether it be to an illness or a break-up, I physically could not handle another loss. The fear that I tune out with compulsive cleaning is exhausting. I’m not the naive person that I was once when I thought that I was unstoppable. I’m now more aware than ever how short life is and how quickly it can change. I’m fearful of my husband having a minor hernia surgery- scared of what the doctor “may find” while in there. My kids can’t complain of leg pain too much before I automatically assume the worst. I can’t do a panel of blood work without an anxiety build up, scared of what the results may show. Since moving to Baton Rouge, I’ve seen more car accidents happen in front of me than I’ve ever seen in my life. Guess what that did? It’s caused me to be so fearful of any of my loved ones or myself getting into a wreck. It haunts me so much that I have to lay my seat halfway back in the car and close my eyes when I’m the passenger. I obsessively check the Life360 app on my phone to ensure my kids’ safety. Why am I doing this to myself? It’s miserable. I suffer with PTSD, but it doesn’t have to define me. I’m living in fear and trying to escape the fear of something that hasn’t even happened. Are you obsessive compulsive, or are you constantly in a state of fight or flight? If you’re constantly fighting, like me, I know you’re exhausted. Break that cycle. Talk about it. Reach for help.

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