A Close Look At PTSD

Send to Kindle


IMG_0714Over the last twenty or so years, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, three times. Though I was never sexually abused, my father who suffered from PTSD himself, beat me and my brothers, and made growing up into healthy adults, almost impossible. His experiences during the Second World War, screwed up his brain, and like so many other soldiers in every war that has ever been fought, my father brought his “invisible wounds” home with him. At the time, veterans such as himself, were said to have, “Shell Shock.” There was no treatment for what would later be called, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those warriors just had to get over it by themselves.

My mother, was abused as a child herself, and later by her husband, my father. She rarely, if ever laid a finger on me, yet her psychological abuse of me made an already difficult childhood, even more challenging. She was also loving, and at times an ally in my never ending struggles with my father. But she’d also threaten me with, “Just wait till your father comes home! He’ll get you to behave.” I was left to pray that she’d forget what I had done to anger her. Mostly though, I simply had to face the music when Dad came home from work. When he turned physical and brought out the leather horse crop he sometimes used to beat me, my mother would completely disappear, never protecting me from who we all, including Mom, called King Kong. Her behavior was confusing to say the least, and her constant betrayals did not help me to build trust or confidence in her.

I’ve struggled with extreme anxiety, depression, and flashbacks most of my life. When I became my mother’s caretaker during the final seven years of her life, my symptoms grew worse. She lived with me, for most of that time, and because I was there, I became bore the brunt of her sadness and anger. We were constantly at war with one another, making my intention to help her to be as comfortable as possible through her waning years, impossible.

I knew that I needed help after my mother died, and for the third time, I was told I was struggling with PTSD. I finally let go of my denial, and sought treatment with a therapist whose specialty was dealing with Trauma. With her help and a village of other supporters, including my husband, I began a slow recovery, pulling together the lost and broken pieces of my life. Writing my memoir about those difficult times has been the act that has most helped me to celebrate who I am and have become. I look forward to it being published soon.

I’m happy to say that eight years later, I feel like a new person. Though I’ll never be perfect, I no longer struggle every day with anxiety. When depression tiptoes in, I know who it is, and it makes a hasty retreat. Yes, I can still react to certain triggers, but now I usually catch myself before I react and cause extensive damage to my own ego and those around me.

Living with the likes of PTSD has an extremely steep learning curve. Just a few weeks ago, I learned an important lesson about dealing with those nasty triggers. I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, being fitted with a new mouthguard which I need to use at night, in order to keep myself from grinding my own teeth away. It was a new product, much harder and stiffer than the mouthguard that I had been using. My dentist, who is the kindest and best of them all, was struggling to get it seated properly. Suddenly out of nowhere, I had a panic attack, and started struggling against him. I was in tears and for a few moments didn’t understand what was happening.

We took a break from the fitting and in a few minutes I realized that I had been reacting to some unremembered trigger event. I confessed to the doctor, that I have a history of abuse and have struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had never considered telling him about it. What does dental care and PTSD have to do with each other? Having been a military dentist in Iraq before opening his practice here, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

At the time, I had to admit that there is still a bit a shame involved in owning my PTSD. But it is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing I did caused it. And just because it isn’t on the list of ailments we’re supposed to check off when we see a new caretaker, doesn’t mean it should be ignored. True self-care is learning to accept ourselves as we are and honoring our own minds and bodies.

Finding my center amidst the panic, I learned that it is important to let caregivers of any kind know about the problem I have. My general practitioner has known all along, but being upfront about PTSD with everyone is important.

Is there anything in your life that you’re ashamed of owning?


  1. Wow Joan, Thank you so much for sharing your amazing journey here and bringing PTSD into this space.
    I am deeply moved by your courage and vulnerability.
    You are an inspiration!
    (((Standing up with applause)))
    Val xo

    • Joan Rough says:

      Val, Thank you so much for your comments. I bring PTSD up because so many of us struggle with disorders like this and don’t even know it. If we’re told we have a disorder, we often deny it because we feel shame and think we are crazy. Owning who we are gives us courage and a healthy mind.

  2. Joan – I’m so glad you’ve found writing (particularly your memoir) to be therapeutic. I, too, find it a healing balm.

    I love your wise observation, “True self-care is learning to accept ourselves as we are and honoring our own minds and bodies.”

    You asked, “Is there anything in your life that you’re ashamed of owning?”

    My memoir, “Fourteen Christmases” details the events in my life between age 7 and 14. After sharing it with my only sibling, she acknowledged the accuracy and said it’s beautifully written. However, she said that if I publish it, she’ll sue me. So while I’m not ashamed of owning the dark intricacies of my life, she clearly is and I’m respecting that, hoping to find a way around it (perhaps create a “fiction” story instead)…

    • Joan Rough says:

      Laurie, I’m so sorry you can’t publish your memoir. Fortunately, one of my brothers has always said, “Tell it like it is.” He’s been a huge support for me. Hopefully you’ll find a way to get the story out so that everyone can benefit from your wisdom.

  3. Joan – I actually meant “between the ages of 7 and 21.”

  4. Gail Livingston says:

    Joan, this is awesome and insightful writing. You symbolize courage and hope through your writing. I am so glad I met you in Taos in 2010.

    I have suffered chronic anxiety and some depression, as well. I was never abused and am not ashamed of what happened to change my brain chemistry, but I’d like your thoughts on my situation. When my beloved father died suddenly of a massive heart attack, I suffered horrible insomnia and extreme rage, mostly directed against my poor mother. I was 14 and he 46. I have wondered if my experience losing my father was a type of PTSD. Do you have any idea? It has cropped up again in the form of possible panic attack and prescription abuse. It is scary.

    I may want to PM or EM you sometime about my bouts with these disorders and also hear more about your experience with anxiety medications, etc. If you have time, please respond here as you prefer or PM me on FB or email at gail.livi@gmail.com.

    Thanks and love for sharing your life with others. Gives me hope we all can heal from our darkness and pain.

    • Joan Rough says:


      I’m happy to have met you out in Taos, too. Being there was one of the things that got me moving on my journey to recover my life.

      I am not a therapist and cannot tell you whether your bouts of anxiety and depression are PTSD. It certainly does sound like your father’s death was a major trauma for you. Be assured we can all heal “our darkness and pain.” It takes courage to find the help we need, and then we must be completely honest with ourselves about where we’ve been and who we are. For me it has been an amazing freeing experience. I wish you all the best in finding yourself and who you are.

      PS When my book is published, you will find a chapter on how I found help and my experience with anti-depressants.

  5. Thank you for sharing your courageous and hope filled story. I have much the same story but with a dx of DD-NOS – and I’m pretty sure most people would be surprised. My doc knows but very few other people. I don’t think it’s out of shame (is it?), it’s more like I don’t want to bring attention to myself, I don’t think people would get it, I’m afraid I’ll get treated differently, or not believed (ok, maybe I’ll have to rethink that shame part 😉 I’m slowly getting a tribe where I’m accepted unconditionally… it has taken time and has not been easy path… but there is light and love and we are perfect and enough! <3

    • Joan Rough says:

      Dealing with these problems is never an easy path. First we must find the nerve to realize that we have issues. Once I went through that door, there was no going back. While it was frightening and painful, it was worth all every bit of it. I was always scared ti death of what other people would think of me. But I know it doesn’t matter. I know that I am not a victim and that the only person who can take me down, is myself. I’m not about to let that happen. I’ve seen to much beauty in the world and had to many good days to go back to where I was.

  6. Joan,

    I totally get it. The disorders that are not visible to the naked eye are much more difficult to deal with in terms of helping other people understand. But they are just as real and can affect us in so many ways. I cannot imagine what a scary thing PTSD must be, especially if it seems out of our control.

    In my memoir I describe this briefly (because it really has little bearing on my story) but I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 20 and had several years of tests and medications. I was in a car accident when I was five and the neurologist said that it likely was a result of hitting my head. Miraculously the symptoms disappeared on their own as I got older but it was hard to talk about, especially since it was back in the day when people were frightened of the disease and thought that epileptics were mentally ill.

    Thanks for writing about this important topic.

    • Joan Rough says:

      I remember those times when epilepsy was considered a mental disease. There was real hysteria surrounding surrounding it. Thank goodness, those days are gone and that we now can understand what causes so many of these disorders. There is research happening
      that is looking into how abuse changes the genes of children who are mistreated. I believe this continuing research will open up a new way to look at child abuse, PTSD, and possible treatment.

  7. Joan, thanks for being so honest and sharing the details of your private life.

    I’m so glad we met online and in person a few months ago. You have such a joie de vivre even after living through such traumatic times. Or perhaps it’s BECAUSE of those events. You’re a joy to be with.

    I’m looking forward to reading your book, of course! When can we expect it?

    • Valerie,

      Thanks so much for your comments. You make me blush. I enjoy being with you too. And I hope we’ll get to see you soon. It’s not as though DC is on the other side of the planet.

      I looking to have the book in your hands in sometime in the fall of 2015, if my current plans work out. I’m excited.

  8. Gail Livingston says:

    Thanks, Joan. I am in good hands with a therapeutic approach.

    Are you going to Patti’s “camp” in Hendersonville in early November? I am thinking about it.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Hi Gail,

      I’m glad to hear that. No, I won’t be going to Patti’s camp. I am so far behind here on things and will hopefully be working on the final draft of my book by then. I understand it will be a lot of fun though and think you might enjoy it.

      We were jut visiting Lisa in Black Mountain, last week, but couldn’t get a chance to call you. They keep me pretty busy. Hopefully next time.