Physical Manifestations of Trauma

What is a life with only mental and emotional manifestations of trauma? I would be remiss to not mention the physical issues I have had with trauma and what I have done to address my body’s multitude of very loud and painful concerns.

I could start with the insomnia, but I feel like that is cheating because what veteran doesn’t have an abusive relationship with sleep? We survive off Rip-Its and cigarettes, learn how to sleep standing up, and are chronically sleep-deprived. Complaining about insomnia seems like a cheap shot against a friend, because insomnia REALLY helped me succeed in life. At one point, I had a newborn, was taking three exams for my career, training for a marathon, working full time, and applying to grad school. Sleep? What sleep? I could’ve written my grad school dedication to the military for their gift of insomnia….

But not sleeping sucks, and it probably impacted my body beyond what I am still sorting out. I wonder…

I had extremely bad postpartum depression from 2015-2016…probably from the lack of sleep and the immense stress I was under from living in Japan with no family around and then losing my career for almost a year because of a move to North Carolina. But 2016 is when the anxiety hit…landing me in the hospital because I legitimately thought I was dying of a heart attack. Me, an educated individual, looked incredulously at the doctor as she pulled off the EKG wires and pads and gently asked me if I had heard of panic attacks before. I SOBBED at her that “this isn’t mental, my chest is being crushed, please help me, I can’t breathe….” She patted my shoulder and told me it really was just in my head. “I AM NOT PANICKING. MY HEART IS BEING CRUSHED.” She just looked at me with sad eyes. It was impossible that it was a panic attack, right? Wrong. It was “just a panic attack.” I don’t remember two months of 2016…I was completely blacked out from sheer terror almost 24/7. A year later I found a bottle full of antipsychotic pills in my bathroom…which I don’t remember getting prescribed, but there was my name on the bottle…and the date of some of my worst nightmares about Afghanistan. My son was safe, and somehow I finished my semester of grad school with straight A’s, but I don’t remember any of it. I swear that is why I am no good at programming now, haha.

The next two years was when the physical portion of my trauma really set in. The anxiety only got worse, and I had a short stint of drug addiction to Ativan, complete with cold sweats and intense shaking during my self-induced detox. I was terrified of losing my job if I went to a rehab center. Fear of loss of a job can make cold turkey pretty effective.

I was back to panic attacks, but at least I was employed.

And then my coworkers complained about how warm I always wanted to be and how much I chewed ice. I worked in a freezing cold lab and wore parkas every day, and I would sit outside in my parka in the July California sun to warm up. So I went to see if I had an iron deficiency…and discovered that I had hyperthyroidism. Doctors suspect it was postpartum related. But what hyperthyroidism manifests as is…PANIC ATTACKS! Heyo. Panic attacks and irritability and insomnia…I didn’t even get the “fun” weight loss portion of hyperthyroidism. I just got the panic attacks. Doctors wanted to see if I could manage it on my own without surgery, so I went on a low-iodine diet. I started to see a correlation between when I would get my levels tested for bad hyperthyroidism and how bad the panic attacks were…if I managed my diet, my levels would go back to normal AND MY PANIC ATTACKS WENT AWAY. A medical miracle. I wanted to go back and throttle the doctor who said my panic attacks were all in my head. Antenatal health is extremely important, and I might have been able to catch that years prior…

So what caused the anxiety? My trauma? Postpartum hormones screwing up my thyroid?

I still get panic attacks, but not five times a day like before. Now, I average one a week, which I attribute to EXTREME mental work through therapy and following a set of principles provided by an organization called StrongFit. I’ll write about that later.

But onto my next diagnosis in 2018…fibromyalgia. And boy, that story is a fun one where I ended up in the hospital on multiple IV drips, unconscious for a few days. Fibromyalgia is kind of the umbrella term for physical pain that has no root cause…except for trauma, which is what the doctor was telling me as her fingers pressed on my pelvic floor. “You have so much trauma…” Great. So loads of therapy and introspection later and I am working on THAT too. Physical pain from mental issues. Such bullshit, to have a disease no one can see, which causes me to lay in bed for a day or two…until I address the mental problems causing the pain. But do you know how hard it is to address mental issues when you are physically incapacitated?

Anyway, onwards and upwards, amiright?