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Finding your happy place: PTSD and Anxiety

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Recently, I celebrated my 50th birthday. Usually, when one celebrates a birthday, the emotions involved can be breathtaking. Those emotions took me back to my 7th birthday in 1975.

As a child, I never really focused on gifts associated with Christmas or my birthday. All I really cared about was being with my mother. I can remember us celebrating my 7th birthday (1975) with my first-grade classmates at Mahalia Jackson (PS 123) in Harlem, NYC. It was a huge surprise to me and I was so ecstatic that my mother chose this setting to celebrate this special day with my classmates and me.

Also, I incorrectly assumed that the party with my classmates was it, but a few days later, we had a private celebration in our home, as well.

I can recall her baking a coconut cake and watching me open my gift. It was just the two of us which was a big plus for me because her abusive boyfriend had already destroyed our last Christmas together.

Four months after this celebration, my mother was murdered. The last time I saw her alive, she was struggling to breathe and trying to hold on to life after being shot several times. This alone makes it very difficult at times to go back in time to reflect back on happier days with her.

Although we shared some great times together, I consider the above mentioned one of the best because it was precious time spent alone with her on a special day. The only thing I regret is that I was too young to help her fight off the three individuals that invaded our apartment.

After many years of battling with flashbacks, nightmares, and depression, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, or become aware that a traumatic event has happened to a loved one.

Feeling frightened is a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Experiencing intense fear that comes on suddenly could mean you're having a panic attack. This sudden fear may come without warning or without any obvious reason. Or a panic attack may happen when something reminds you of your trauma.

Also, determining the difference between post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma disorders can be a challenge. Confusing this issue is the fact that PTSD and other anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), often co-occur.

When anxiety levels are high a person will generally experience ‘Flight or fight’ response (Acute response). This 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.

There are six major types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobia, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although it isn’t always an easy task to take your mind back to happier places, it can be very therapeutic. Also, please remember that you’re not alone.

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.

UT Counseling and MH Center

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