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Column: Taking charge of wellbeing with post-traumatic stress disorder

BY VENI FIELDS

VIRGINIA BEACH — A row of inch-long needles glinted in my hairline, their exposed ends wrapped in a gleaming strand of copper.

My acupuncturist and I giggled together before I left her office. She instructed me to leave the needles in until they fell out on their own. I was headed out for errands, and I couldn’t wait to see people’s reactions in the grocery store and post office.  

In my determination to beat an unexpected diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or CPTSD, several years before, my arsenal against it was growing.  

My first stop after finding a psychotherapist was with a skilled hypnotherapist. In years past, I had stumbled on the amazing ability of hypnosis to tap directly into issues that eluded conscious awareness, and I had been able to conquer migraines and a gastrointestinal disorder, without using medication.

The hypnotherapist I found was also trained in acupuncture, and she suggested it might help with the physical symptoms that had plagued me. I had also been advised by several specialists to try yoga and meditation, so I checked the wellness center in a local hospital. I was surprised to learn the hospital also offered a holistic treatment called Healing Touch, administered by staff nurses trained in the technique. The literature on the modality stated it offered relaxation as one of its benefits, so I couldn’t pass it up.  

Almost all my physical symptoms had disappeared within a month of adding bimonthly acupuncture and Healing Touch to therapy with an anxiety specialist. The ones that remained were mild and temporary. After roughly a year, I was on maintenance treatments for acupuncture and Healing Touch. As I saw it, I was getting my life back.

Then the bottom fell out.

Unexpectedly, I was faced with divorce and a move from Annapolis back to Virginia.  Within a few months, my life had changed completely.

All my symptoms returned with a vengeance.  I was back to square one.

The difference was that now I had almost two years’ worth of education, insight, and healing defenses at my disposal. I had learned when to fight through symptoms and how to recognize when to let them force me to take a time out. I learned how to cope with new limitations, how to ask for help, and to know when I needed it. They were the faltering first steps of beginning to manage a life-changing injury as my recovery was being put to its first serious test.

The chaos of the next several years required me to seek additional means of getting control of my condition, rather than having it control me.  I refused medication. I wanted to conquer this thing from its source.

After moving back to Virginia Beach in 2012, I sought new practitioners for the treatments I had already been receiving, and added new ones — Neural Linguistic Programming and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing to overcome neural pathways that had been damaged during trauma; deep tissue bodywork combined with steams to address untreated physical trauma and release toxins; assorted meditation techniques; and a complete nutritional overhaul with the help of a professional nutritionist to strengthen my immune system, while I tried adding various kinds of physical exercise. 

It was as grueling as it was empowering to take charge of my wellbeing. Some things worked better than others, but the combined effect was learning that I was capable of managing something that some mental health and medical professionals still struggle to understand and treat successfully in some cases.

While it was troubling to understand that my life never would be the same as it was before my diagnosis, there were many moments of awe and freedom as I overcame things I could never have imagined would be a part of my life. Walking around with copper-bound needles protruding from my scalp for two days was definitely one of the hilarious highlights.

In 2009, my therapist told me I could be in recovery for “years.”  I found it discouraging. I was determined to prove her wrong. I was the one who turned out to be wrong.  But the things I’ve learned in this process are invaluable.  The life I live now is in many ways much better than the one I had before.


This is the third in an occasional series of columns by Fields, a Virginia Beach resident and regular contributor to The Independent News. She has worked for The Virginian-Pilot and Military Newspapers of Virginia, and she has written for a number of local publications. Fields, a New Jersey native, is also a Navy veteran. Reach her via venisa.fields@gmail.com or call (757) 754-7923.


To read previous columns, click on this link.


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