The snowball effect of PTSD

Triggers for sexual abuse*

For me, PTSD has many faces. One moment it is a flashback that I can quickly move on from. The next moment will be a 2 hour anxiety attack. The next can be one tiny trigger that sets up the snowball effect. 

Last night we were watching the AMAZING Super Bowl. Seriously, that was the best Super Bowl ever!!! Having a lovely time with my husband on the couch and then….Towards the end there was a movie preview for The Handmaid. I only saw maybe 5 seconds of the preview. I told my husband that I saw the original movie and it was one of the most triggering/anxiety provoking movies I had ever seen. When I watch something on TV that is triggering to PTSD it is not the same as a smell trigger or a flashback. Something different happens. I get hot. My face feels flushed and I can’t feel my legs. I immediately feel like I’m going to throw up and pass out. When I first saw this movie it was 25 years before I even knew what the PTSD symptoms were. I had no idea why I was so shaken. Seeing this preview to this movie was the first part of the snowball.

I went to sleep last night telling myself “stop thinking about that movie” and that didn’t work so I completely distracted myself. I watched comedies until 4 am when I finally fell asleep. Then the nightmares came. Second part of the snowball. My nightmare was a post apocalyptic one. Large groups of people were put in this massive parking garage type thing. They were all lined up in some areas and others and crowded into corners. The children had tears running through the dirt on their faces. They were all starving. There was panic in some and blank stares in others. Then a rich white man who had a lot of power came through and chose the women that he felt still had a little fight in them and were cleaner than the rest so that he could use them to rape repeatedly. The nightmare went on and on, children being ripped from their mother’s arms. I woke up after only a few hours of sleep and I knew this was all part of the movie preview. It had triggered an emotional response deep within my brain. I was so upset. I had this nightmare residue I could not shake off. Then I lay there and kept thinking how my view of this nightmare was post apocalyptic realizing it wasn’t at all. These things happen everywhere. Men in power raping women. Men in power taking what they want. People starving. This was not just a nightmare, this is really happening in the world. I got so worked up over this I couldn’t calm myself at all. I tried all of my therapy coping skills and none worked. My nightmares are just a symbol of a true reality for many people around the world. And that crushes me. I know how it feels to be sexually abused. Then I have nightmares of other women experiencing the same nightmare and know that it is a reality. Very very upsetting. Once my mind gets wound, it is hard, to bring it back down. Especially on a few hours sleep. 

I got up finally and started my day to soon after realize I was hypersensitive to smells. Everything smelled badly. I thought I smelled urine. Then I thought I smelled something dead. I spent half of the day seeking out where these smells were coming from not to find a one. Every smell, my shampoo, my conditioner, my deodorant, all smelled too strong. Cooking foods smelled too strong. This was definitely stage 3 of the snowball.

The last stage was inevitable and it was dissociation. I look at my hands and they don’t feel like they are my own. I look at my daughter speaking to me and I don’t hear the words. I realize a 2 hour tv show has just passed and it seems like 2 minutes or maybe 2 days I’m not sure. So I came into my room and decided I needed to take some control of this.  It is taking everything in my being to stay in bed right this minute. I feel manic. I want to manically clean or manically check things. But that would be feeding into this chaos that my brain is currently wrapped up in. 

Therapy has taught me to be mindful. To be aware. I am learning more and more about things that are the most triggering and I am seeing the snowball effect that PTSD can have. I have just begun my healing path through this PTSD really, it has only been a few months of therapy. We have only scratched the surface. PTSD is very serious. It is very real. It is very scary. It is a very powerful mechanism in the brain that I am not AT ALL happy about having to deal with. It feels like PTSD is an abuser all over again. PTSD makes me feel like I have no control. Lacking control, feeling vulnerable, is just even more triggering to MORE PTSD. It is so incredibly frustrating. 

These are the times where my brain goes to a dark place. These are the times when internal dialogue is critical. I could very easily give up, feel defeated, lose hope, and just throw in the towel. This is where being mindful is key. I may NOT be able to control triggers, PTSD, or any of the symptoms that come along with it, but right this very moment I CAN control my internal dialogue. I can choose to not go to a dark place. It is so hard. You just don’t know how hard it is. But I will choose to say positive affirmations, I will breathe, I will watch a happy movie. I will pray that I have dreams of angels and puppies and that the cycle of the snowball effect stops right here. 

52 thoughts on “The snowball effect of PTSD

  1. I have been using meditation for a while. Just over the weekend I have learned transcendental meditation. I think the US government veterans affairs have tipped over 200 million dollars into the development of this for use with veterans suffering PTSD. it has shown to be a most effective treatment. The real trick will be healing the damage done by doctors who have been telling already scarred and distressed patients that there’s nothing wrong with them

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    • I will look into this. Thank you. I am currently in “trauma therapy” using the technique somatic therapy. I am always interested in new ways. And yes. The damn truth right there on actually acknowledging these veterans that there is something wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess that is why they have the corrections business for about 80% of people in that. The real prisoners are the tax payers in economic incarceration

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      • I have been following/reading your recent post and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to post and get some of the stress and memories out to the world. I wish more survivors would blog, it is excellent therapy.

        I am hoping you and Ms. Riley are going to have a wonderful Tuesday.

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      • Thank you! I wish they would too. I’m not sure why more don’t tell their stories but when I find them and read them it is very helpful to see that so many have the same feelings as I do. I have many followers of my blog that have broken the silence and it takes real courage to do that. So much stigma is attached, so much shame, so much secondary victimization it is shocking!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t begin to understand abuse survivors but I also can’t understand those of the human race who would not gladly assist them in telling their stories, helping them to get the message out to the public.

        It could help every single human to be informed and know the survivor’s story.

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  3. Oh my gosh that all sounds so horrible. I’m glad you were able to use meditation to work through your symptoms. I think you’re amazingly brave to open up about this.

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  4. Ugh! The “Snowball Effect” or “Snowballing” as my twin sister loves to call it is a complicated situation. For some reason my sister loves to tell me that I am “snowballing”. This is never a positive thing to hear. Movies have always allowed me to release feelings I can’t seem to on my own. I do have triggers that give me lovely vivid dreams that are more like memories where I wake up crying. When this happens my entire day is shot. I am constantly told that I live in the past. The problem is on bad days I have a loop of memories and words that were all devastating in some way. I’ve tried everything to try to stop the loop. The only thing that works is if I take a sleeping pill and knock myself out. No one should live that way. Thank you for sharing your story, it really helps me to know that other people feel some of what I feel.

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    • People are assholes. No one gets the right to tell YOU what YOU are experiencing as if you don’t know damn well what is going on in the first place!!!
      Really!
      I hate that!
      “You seem angry today bethany. You need to let that go bethany” yeah. That does not help at all. So they need to shut their mouths unless they are in my body or in yours living through this whole nightmare of an aftermath because we are doing the best we can and if we could fix it we darn sure would!!!!
      Thankfully no one has every said I was snowballing. Last night was the first night I have ever experienced that kind of thing and acknowledged it. I didn’t even know others had the same kind of experiences. But they are our own. We don’t need them labeled by others. You deserve better than that.

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      • Thanks. If I had a $1 for every time I was told I was “snowballing” I wouldn’t need Disability. She learned the term in therapy which she had “great success” with, while I never have because I have never tried hard enough with the 12 to 15 therapists I’ve been to over 20 years. Some of them court ordered. lol

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      • Gosh I sure hope my blog post didn’t upset you with the snowballing word. I had actually never heard it used. No one has told me that. I just kind of felt that was what was happening.
        But just because she knows the word doesnt mean she gets to apply it to you! I really hate it when someone tells me how to feel , how not to feel, or what they THINK is happening to me or what they THINK I am going through! No one knows but the person who is experiencing it.
        Do you have a therapist now you like? I have my first one EVER that I love. She is very very good. Finally feel like I am getting somewhere!

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      • I don’t have a therapist. After going through so many I stopped looking. It’s the least of my worries right now. I understand that she’ll never really understand what I’m going through or what I’ve been through. I have to accept that to have a relationship with her and my nephews.

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  5. PTSD and anxiety are the worse! I have it as well and been fighting with PTSD since my medical event last year. The thing I hate is that attacks can happen without any notice and not thinking about a thing. They are scary. Keep your head up, you will and can do it just like me. -Bruce

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    • Thank you so much for reading , understanding, being supportive. It does freaking suck doesnt. It just no warning. Bam. Hit you in the face with PTSD/anxiety. I will keep moving forward. It is hard but Ikeep trying. Thanks!

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  6. Pingback: Boundless Challenge #5 – Confessions of a Reborn Girl

  7. Super interesting thing to me is right now I’m living outside of the U.S. in a Spanish-speaking country and my symptoms are easy to isolate. As in, when my anxiety is rape-related and not another stressor. My PTSD is always triggered by other people. I have no idea how to predict yet who nor when nor how.

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    • Being able to isolate triggers would be so helpful to me. To separate it all. What do you think being outside of the US helped most with this? Do you speak Spanish?
      Im so sorry you have ptsd and triggers too

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  8. My boss and my host family have been relatively supportive in creating a safe and secure environment. Even though they have no idea I was raped, the sensitivity they’ve shown to creating a safe environment to bridge culture shock has been essential in my identifying PTSD triggers. Quite a blessing. I am quite certain PTSD can be overcome. I’ve been through counseling for two years now and will be in Guatemala for at least two, receiving counseling here also. Clearly the psychology behind overcoming PTSD is a lot to write about now, but safe environment and supportive relationships are reversing the damage. Science is saying this is true. My Ph.D. friend showed me PTSD research saying that actual brain damage from PTSD is reversible foremost with support from others. WOW.

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  9. This is so powerful. I can really relate to this. Thank you for sharing. Personally, I have found a little respite in vigorous exercise. I exhaust my mind, and release endorphins. However, vigorous exercise can become a self-destructive behavior.

    Anyways–I hope you’re doing alright. Take care.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment and for understanding.
      I used to RUN it off. It was so helpful. I would go to the gym and do squats. I do think the endorphins help calm the body. But since I now have a muscle disease I am stuck. I agree that anything could become unhealthy like if you went crazy at the gym all the time but shoot if I could go run a mile I SO would!

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      • Of course! I’m so sorry to hear about your muscle disease!
        I’m sure that many people have also suggested this, but practicing yoga can be helpful. It really connects your mind and body. When I practice yoga, it feels like I am really taking care of myself. But keep in mind that since many of the positions are submissive, it can be triggering. I normally practice at home on my own for that reason (or choose classes taught by women and stay in the back corner of the room, if I choose to take a class). There are free apps online like “down dog” and “calm” that are for yoga and meditation, as well as videos on guided yoga on Youtube. Yoga With Adriene is a great resource. Another activity that helped me (as strange as it sounds) was adopting a plant-based diet. When I adopted a plant-based diet, I was forced to really pay attention to what I fed my body. As a result, I developed an entirely new relationship with my body. I began to care for it better than I had ever before, and I suddenly desired to take care of it even better. It felt like I was finally treating my body the way that I deserved. Now, I’m not promoting plant-based diets as superior or anything, but it really helped me. Keep that in mind. 🙂

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      • Thank you for the suggestion.I have been doing yoga most of my life. Have been a vegetarian most of my life. Recently eating vegan with my daughter and eating mostly raw foods, nothing boxed, no gluten, no sugar, etc.
        after I was diagnosed with the muscle disease I started eating some fish but it is rare. Being mindful is so important. I mostly love the breathing in yoga. I miss being able to go to the classes but I do yoga in my front yard in the grass as often as I can.

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      • Oh I always have. Organic food and if eggs, from a neighbor free range. I just made my daughter a vegan pot pie. It is delicious. I DID go through a period last year where I went crazy with all of the foods I felt I had deprived myself of. And felt awful. Gained a ton of weight. On thanksgiving threw it all out or gave it away and started again! Lost 15 lbs right off the bat. My body is used to “clean”food. We use no chemicals in our house to clean with, just vinegar, and dr bronners organic baby soap to bathe. I do the best I can to keep us living as purely as we can. I can’t imagine how much sicker I would be with the illnesses I have if I constantly loaded my environment with junk

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      • That’s so cool! I’m very impressed! I am on that track myself… I try to live as sustainable as possible. I’ve also stopped buying most products, and begun making my own. I really enjoy it! It’s neat to hear that you’re doing similar things!

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      • I’m not sure where you live, if it’s in the US but there is a bakery that I buy from if I need gluten free bread calls Sami’s bakery in Tampa Florida. I would make it myself but with my muscle disease, there are just some things I can’t do. I have found some wonderful recipes from scratch like pancakes. My daughter is gluten free but I like sprouted grain Ezekiel bread myself. Good luck on your journey!!!I’m always excited when others are on a similar path

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      • You know, my family really enjoys making pizza from scratch! We have pizza Wednesdays, and all of the immediate family comes together and has fun making various individualized pizzas.

        Thank you! Good luck to you too, dear!

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      • Yum! I put all sorts of vegetables on mine…Whatever I have around the house. Spinach is a favorite. I also do peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, crushed red pepper flakes… I experimented with my first cauliflower crust the other day and that was really fun! It was nice and light.

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