Women of Strength: Sara ~ The Journey when PTSD and Resilience Connect
Posted on July 17 2018
Not everyone can see a person's wounds, most are invisible. In this feature of Women of Strength, Sara opens up about her journey with PTSD, her life with it, raising a family, and the way she has managed to remain resilient in a world where triggers can hit at any time. Thank you Sara for sharing your remarkable story!
My name is Sara Perez. I am a mother of 4 beautiful children; Tommy, III – 9, Sophia – 7, Mila – 5 and Jameson – 4. I was born, adopted and raised in Houston, Texas before marrying my husband, an active duty marine, 10 years ago and moving all over the world. We have moved to California, Japan, Virginia and now are calling South Carolina home. I previously worked in corporate America for a large insurance company, however, I made a decision to focus primarily on my mental health and my family and opted to quit and move from Virginia with all 4 kids and our dog while my husband was deployed to South Carolina. I look like your “typical” person and in reality I am. However, I have faced multiple traumas in my life, which has made me who I am today. I have dealt with physical, emotional, mental, sexual, and verbal forms of abuse at some point in my life from strangers, friends, family and more. I have abandonment issues from birth essentially due to having my biological family give me up at 2 days old on Christmas day. (note: my biological family did what they found to be best and could not have foreseen the future ramifications so there is no resentment, this is simply a chapter in my story) I found my adopted mother deceased at the age of 14 years old, which seemed to throttle the traumas. I am an attempted suicide survivor twice. I am a part of the “#metoo” movement with far too many stories ending in “#metoo.” All of these events have taken their toll on me physically, emotionally and mentally. However, I am not a quitter. These traumas do not dictate my life and I am fighting to overcome them all. I received my first diagnosis at the age of 22 of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That diagnosis was reevaluated and changed to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the age of 29. This small overview of my life shows you who I am. I am also an open-book. I am not scared to talk about the “unspoken” things. If my story can motivate even ONE person to fight for themselves, their family, etc. then it is worth it. Suicide, anxiety, depression and PTSD NEEDS to be talked about and I am willing to talk about it. I am a warrior and this is my journey on taking control of anxiety, depression and PTSD.
- Being an active family while fun, it can require a mother to have mad organization skills. How do you manage your family’s active lifestyle?
Ironic enough, I have quite the Type-A personality type. Having control of things actually allows me to feel somewhat calm and less anxious in my day-to-day life. Being a mother of 4 kids whom all do extracurricular activities and are also faced with multiple doctor and therapy appointments and then adding in that dash of military life like deployments, detachments, etc. things can get a bit crazy. I have multiple ‘lists’ around my house that contains a schedule, chore expectations, attitude/behavior expectations etc. I have learned that LIFE HAPPENS and have focused on making these a “loose” guide for our day-to-day routines. However, when life seems to be out of control and I’m struggling with anxiety or depression and needing to feel the floor beneath my feet to gain some sort of control this has become a great place to land. My older children and husband are great at following the schedule and/or rules and guiding the younger ones to do the same. As with any big life event, when the husband is called to deploy, there is a bit of insanity directly after. This helps give a consistent and “expected” routine to our day when we transfer from a 2-parent household to just one. Lists and routines are my best friend. There is no struggle attempting to remember everything and feeling as though I’ve failed or am forgetting something (hello, anxiety and depression not so nice to see you again) sending me into a spiral and potentially triggering me into an episode depending on how intense the feelings and emotions when I have everything written out clearly. I have recently become accustomed to Bullet Journals. I am able to spend some therapeutic time decorating them and keep everything in one journal instead of having multiple spirals, planners, etc. to carry with me.
- In the past, you’ve opened up about PTSD, which is often misunderstood. How would you describe it to those who don’t know what it is?
The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
The thing about PTSD is while there are a lot of commonalities between diagnosed people; there are also a lot of differences. What is a “terrifying event” to one person could be no big deal to another. What will trigger one person may not affect another person. The easiest way I can explain PTSD is it effects every decision you make and can take control every single thought you have in a day. I have to choose to not only be optimistic but to focus and will myself to believe that the worst will NOT happen. Daily life is drastically different when faced with PTSD for some people while others are good at masking it and keeping it under wraps. I want to be loud and put a face on PTSD so it is not as uncommon because far too many give up this fight and end in suicide or hurting others. A quick synopsis, PTSD is severe anxiety that can trigger immense depression over daily miniscule tasks but is prompted based on traumatic and/or terrifying events that have occurred in one’s life.
- What effects has PTSD have on your everyday life?
PTSD has effected me in every aspect of my life from self-esteem/confidence to my marriage to parenting to friendships to relationships with family, etc. I have participated in invivo-therapy (which is also known as real life exposure therapy) to overcome a lot of my daily thought processes and issues based on PTSD. A trip to a grocery store was filled with decisions like which kids do I bring. Make sure to call them by their birth order number not their actual name cause someone crazy is going to steal them. When parking make sure you can back out and pull straight forward in case someone attempts to block you in. Always park next to the cart return. Cell phone better be 100% charged so I can send updates to someone (usually my husband) at every step of the trip. For example, I just got here. We just walked in. We are in the produce section. We are at checkout. We are walking to the car. I just got in the car. Etc. These were normal texts for me. Do not get me started on the amount of panic and anxiety that overcomes you faster than a tidal wave when for one brief moment one child stayed on the last aisle too long OR you run into the same person more than once in the aisles so you take a pic to ensure you have one of your “captor” etc. in the event something happens which you’re almost certain it will based on your past. All of this anxiety, hyper-vigilance, etc. of course created a super overwhelmed and short tempered mama which never bodes well for the kiddos which then would start the cycle of depression because once I was finally home safe and all groceries put away the reality would set in that this is what my children think is normal and I know it is NOT. I wish I could say it was just grocery shopping effected but this effects everything from amusement parks, any other sort of errand, letting my kids nap as babies, having a babysitter, etc. Yes, you read that right. Part of my invivo therapy was putting my children IN DAYCARE or WITH A BABYSITTER to TRUST that my worst-case scenario is not going to happen. I have practiced hard on this since I had 2 children and received my first diagnosis. Last night, my youngest spent the night with essentially family whom I adore and trust each and every one of them in that house. However, it was his first sleepover somewhere alone minus when my oldest broke his femur and dad was away with the Marine Corps. I hardly slept. I had to talk myself down from an attack. Guess what? He’s perfectly fine sleeping like a little angel and had a blast doing a “sleepover” at his aunt and uncles house with his cousins! This can get quite exhausting! This is why I am fighting to take my life back. I have taken medications such as Xanax, Zoloft and more. This throttled me into a deep depression as I was essentially a walking zombie. Through the help of close friends and lots of research I have some oils I use on really hard nights, sleep hypnosis videos and a weighted blanket. I prefer to not utilize medications but in fairness when I was given the prescription at that time I truly did need them and could not stop spiraling so I am grateful for them but I am also glad that I am past that chapter.
- Do you have a support system/group that helps you cope with PTSD?
I do have a strong group of friends and some family members that I speak openly with about my PTSD. I have been very cautious and up until beginning of last year I didn’t really actively speak openly about my PTSD. That has since changed. I also am a huge advocate of therapy or counseling. I think every person should go and every relationship.
- How can we help those around us who suffer from it?
This is such a great question! Honestly, it is different for every single person. Some may have PTSD; some may have Combat PTSD while others have Complex PTSD. I would never speak on behalf of Combat PTSD, as I have not endured that. For myself, I like when people ask questions and truly try to understand. I can guarantee you whatever judgment you make on me, I’ve made one worse on myself. So having support around you that builds you up personally (cause I can boss mode taking care of others; family, friends, husband but somehow suck at taking care of me) is a true blessing. You know, those friends that don’t ask if you need help they just pick up a broom, swing by and grab a couple kids or just show up in the afternoon for some daytime mom time. Yep, those friends! Be those friends! You don’t have to do it every single day but even if it’s just every now and again. You don’t even have to physically do anything but sometimes just a friendly reminder of “hey you’re killing this game called life way to be a great mom” etc. can stop a spiral in it’s tracks and turn that nasty cycle of anxiety and depression and sometimes harmful thoughts into positivity and confidence!
- What do you think have been the top three things that have helped you thrive in life?
The top three things that have helped me thrive in life are my children, my traumas and my support system. My children reinvigorated my soul. They give me the will to fight when I feel I cannot anymore. They’ve helped me grow personally, mentally, emotionally and more. I have pushed myself to overcome so many past obstacles and maintain a solid foundation even when everything was uncertain. Everything I do is because of them. They have taught me how to stand on my own, how to handle the extreme situations we can be faced with during this military life and have taught me to have a light attitude about life. Each day is filled with someone saying something silly and another one looking as cute as the day they were born. My traumas, while could easily be something I hate has actually made me who I am. I work hard to be a true and HONEST friend with those around me. I will give the shirt off my back and talk through ANY situation with no judgment. I want to be a person that makes a difference in other peoples lives. Without my traumas, I don’t know that I’d have the confidence to do that. While I hear often, I don’t know how you do it and I can’t believe you’ve been through that, what I feel when I hear that is I have gone through a lot and overcome a lot to get where I am and I can be of assistance to others during those dark and alone times to help them overcome their own traumas in life. My support system is amazing. My husband leads the group with having dealt with all my quirks and realizing I needed help. He took me to my first counseling appointment that he set up for me in Japan. That’s when I was diagnosed. He’s a huge cheerleader for me through life especially with PTSD. My friends who have taken the time to truly ask questions and get to know me and why I operate the way I do have become a great sounding board. They listen when I’m working on overcoming another obstacle and when I want to give up on overcoming it they don’t blindly support it they actually have no problem saying “nope, sorry. You’re not giving up. Not sorry.” I need that. I’m a strong-willed person and can shut down pretty quick but without my support I would not be typing this today. I am blessed that I have some of “those friends” I mentioned in a previous question who come over unannounced and have no problem telling me that my room has become a prison and forcing me to get out of bed and eat. They have pulled me from the darkest times of my life. I am eternally grateful and aspire to be of such help to those around me.