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Guest post by Mykelti Carlson

Anxiety. Everyone experiences it at one point or another. Some people deal with it more often than others, but it is not uncommon. Me? I’m not ashamed to say I have anxiety a lot of the time, and it sucks. I am a huge over-thinker, I psycho-analyze everything, and make up scenarios in my head that will probably never happen (but I have to know how I’d handle them if they did happen). I went to my doctor a couple years ago and told her I could not handle it anymore, I needed something to help me relax. Of course, she suggested counselling, which I 110 per cent hated a refused to go to at that point, so she gave me medication. It really did help for awhile, it helped me through school, and brought up my confidence a ton. But medication is not the answer, it does help, and I’m thankful for that, but when I finally decided to stop being stubborn and go to a counsellor, that helped so much more…

Now the anxiety I’m talking about is serious, but all anxiety sucks. It makes you feel so vulnerable and helpless, and it can come from anything. Mine stems from a lot of not great experiences in my past. My counsellor taught me that things that happen in the womb, or before you have any memories, can affect you later in life and you’d have no idea why. No, you’re not crazy for going through a conversation that happened seven years ago and thinking “I should’ve said that”, that comes with our lovely friend anxiety. But I found a lot of great ways to help get rid of it, and I hope they can help you too.

  • Talking to someone: not just a counsellor, yes that’s their job, but I find having someone you genuinely trust to tell every detail to about what’s going on in your head helps. Someone who understands what you’re dealing with is easier, you don’t feel weird telling them because they’ve gone through it too. My go to is my mom, always. I know a lot of people don’t want to talk to their mom, but they are pretty good listeners, so I highly suggest trying it. Friends are awesome too though, they usually have a different insight than your mom.
  • Joking about it: this might not work for everyone, but it has helped me a lot. Making light of the situation, teasing yourself for thinking of crazy scenarios. It helps. It takes away the seriousness of it and gives you a chance to relax about it. Sometimes the serious stigma around anxiety makes you feel like joking about it is so horrible because it’s a mental thing that people deal with everyday. Well, I deal with it, and I’m here to tell you that joking about it is okay if it helps you feel better for even a moment.
  • Distracting yourself when you can’t stop thinking about one thing: okay, this is probably something that’s different for everyone, but I know when I get stuck on one thing, I neeeeeeeeed to distract myself, especially when I know it’s crazy but it’s stuck in my head anyways. Some of my favourite distractions are: watching ‘Friends’ on Netflix (or whatever show), hanging out with a friend, cleaning, playing games on my phone, taking a shower, getting out of the house, or dancing around my kitchen to rap music. I watch ‘Friends’ all the time anyways, but it’s a great show to distract you if you need it!

Those are just a few things that have helped me a lot. Having anxiety is okay. Whether you want to talk about it or not, that’s totally your business, I know I was quiet about it for a very long time. But you’re not alone, no matter how cliché that sounds. I have amazing people in my life who have helped me through it, and I think that’s important, having people who support you. There’s some people who just don’t get it at all, they don’t deal with it everyday, and good for them, but make sure you have someone in your life that understands. First of all, it makes you feel like less of an outcast, and second, it makes it easier to talk about. I think having people who understand has made me more relaxed in life.

I recently returned from a month-long trip working and living abroad, in Indonesia. The trip was amazing, but my PTSD presented a fair set of challenges for myself and my roommates. After surviving (and I do use the word ‘surviving’ intentionally) a month living with eight people and my PTSD (because it has a life of its own), it left with me with a lot of reflections on what it’s like to live with the lingering side effects of trauma.

Being the Victor of multiple sexual traumas in my life, I now live with PTSD that takes on various forms, and is triggered by a number things. I guess I never realized how much some of my symptoms had become my new normal, until I was faced with sharing a bedroom with someone else, and a home with people I didn’t know. At 28-years-old, I have mastered most of my PTSD side effects, in the sense that I know how to cope with them and I can live a relatively disruption-free life because of the skills I’ve acquired over the years. Like most people who have suffered trauma, certain things can still trigger me. Unfortunately for me, my biggest triggers arise from bedrooms and sleeping, two unavoidable things and two things that caused a lot of grief for myself and others on my trip.

Let me set the stage for you, I travelled to Indonesia with a friend who thankfully knew about my PTSD before we went there, and was supportive of my needs in dealing with my PTSD. However, the seven other people we were going to be staying with were strangers to me, and right off the bat I hit them with my annoying request: “I need my own bed”. For many years, my PTSD has reared its ugly head almost every time I fall into a deep sleep, causing me to rise instantly from bed and run around my home locking doors and barricading myself in my room, until my brain realizes there is no real threat, and then I can go back to sleep. Sounds fun, right? Because I live alone, this is more of an inconvenience that has become the norm for me, but nothing more. The added “threat” of another person in my bed, causes anxiety I can’t even begin to describe.

Because of the lodging situation, I agreed to share a room with my friend, on the one condition that I would be able to have my own bed in the room. However, we realized after booking the villa that there was in fact just one bed in the room, so we had to bring another one in. Here was PTSD inconvenience number one: purchasing and moving a spare mattress into the room.

On the day we moved in the mattress and I was to start the journey of sharing a bedroom with someone, my anxiety kicked in almost immediately. Before my friend had even entered the bedroom, I stared down at the mattress beside my bed on the floor, and my throat just started to feel like it was closing up. I felt short of breath, panicked and scared. I immediately expressed my anxiety to my friend, and bless his heart that he was so understanding through ALL of this process. He came up to the room, and said, “maybe we can close the curtain around your bed at night to give your brain the extra sense of security at night?”. Yes, it was a kind suggestion, but I couldn’t help but think about how this was my life.

The duration of our stay, I had to work very hard to keep my PTSD sleep anxiety at bay, which meant a lengthy process to get to sleep every night.

  • Check under the bed (seriously)
  • Position myself in the middle of the bed to allow for the most surface area around my body on all sides
  • Close the netting around the bed to create imaginary separation between myself and my roommate
  • Put my headphones in to block out all noise
  • Turn on a video on my laptop, which was placed beside my head on the bed every night

All of this just to trick my brain into thinking there was nobody else in the room, and no threat in falling asleep. To my credit, it worked almost every night. I only woke up in extreme panic a few times the entire month, and aside from the usual quick wakeup and tossing and turning, I was able to get some sleep while I was there. A true success for me!

While people have been mostly supportive of my PTSD symptoms over the years, sometimes a suggestion is posed that points a touch of blame, though almost always unintended. What I want to express to everyone, is that there is no such thing as an irrational fear when you’ve suffered trauma. Every fear seems very real. When I take a step back, I can see (as I’m a very realistic and logical person) how silly it might seem that I am in essence, afraid of sleeping. But anxiety makes no exceptions, neither does trauma and neither does PTSD. Mental illness, trauma, it can affect anyone. But I share this story not to gather pity or frighten people into thinking PTSD is some inescapable beast. My intention in sharing this story is to show that after many years and a LOT of work, PTSD can still show up. But that’s okay. Every day I get a little stronger, and every day I get a little better. And some days, I get hours of uninterrupted, anxiety-free sleep. Those days are coming more and more often too.

Fear not your experiences or your struggles, they shape us and they don’t have to be burdens. Conversations and honesty can remove the stigma and bring everyone a step closer toward healing.

— Written by Amber Craig
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