During an armed robbery at the age of seven in Harlem (NY), I witnessed the murders of my mother Helen Thomas, her boyfriend Ian Richardson and my Godmother, Ethylene Carne. Although I suffered from a gunshot wound, it was the mental scars that did the most significant damage. Since this tragic event, I have been clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
The trauma that brings about PTSD is also a contributing factor to depression. I'm in no way insinuating that everyone diagnosed with this condition suffers from depression as well, but the probability of that being the case certainly exists.
In recent years, research revealed that sports participation can positively affect your mental health. For example, regular exercise that comes with playing sports can help boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem. Also, exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body. During this process, it stimulates the production of endorphins which are natural mood lifters that neutralize stress and depression.
A good coping mechanism that works for me is doing some form of physical activity on a regular basis, but before embarking on any type of exercise routine, it's very important to consult with your physician.
Even though there are the positives health wise (mental and physical) from having regular workout regimens in place, exercise can also increase bodily arousal meaning your heart will race at times and you may in all likelihood experience shortness of breath.
Although this may not seem like a big deal to most people, someone with PTSD may feel the need to avoid the above-mentioned bodily symptoms because of its affiliation with anxiety. This alone would have many of us avoiding exercise or any other physical activity that increases bodily arousal because it could possibly trigger flashbacks.
During my routine power walks, I have a tendency to reflect back to the time that my mother's murderer shot me as I attempted to run from him. I normally have to pause for a few minutes and remind myself that I'm no longer in the setting that eventually led to my present condition. This allows to me to decompress and exit out of "fight or flight" mode.
There's nothing wrong with having great natural instincts, but it's not always necessary to be in "fight or flight" mode. This term describes a mechanism in the body that enables humans and animals to mobilize a lot of energy rapidly in order to cope with threats to survival.
Although fight or flight is an automatic response, it isn't always accurate. The majority of the time when the fight or flight response is triggered, it's a false alarm and there's no threat to survival.
During my next blog pertaining to PTSD, I will write about the parts of the brain that initiates the automatic part of the fight or flight response. You will be very surprised how similar the modern day human brain and primitive brain react to certain situations.
If you feel the need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.
Current and former service members, use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
Also, please remember, if you think you may hurt yourself or others, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.