Denial, it is one of the most dangerous mental thought process action that anyone faces. And, believe me when I say it is even more dangerous when it is coupled with PTSD. How you ask, can it be dangerous to anyone? Well, it is and I will try to show just how dangerous it can be as it pertains to the PTSD journey and by extension life in general.
Almost immediately before a traumatic incident, you begin to enter the world of denial. As the incident rolls out before you, your mind starts to question if what is happening is real. The question then leads to a health dose of doubt, “this can’t be real” or “there is no way this is happening right now”. But sadly, the reality is that it is happening, it is real and your mind is trying to protect you by saying that it isn’t.
Once you get hit with the reality that the traumatic incident that you didn’t believe was actually happening had actually happened, you enter into a whole other level of denial. And, I think in many ways, this is where the true danger resides for a person with PTSD. You first begin to doubt that you were affected by the trauma. I know for myself, this was huge. There was no way the things that were happening for me had anything to do with the trauma, even though the physical symptoms began to show almost exactly one year after the trauma. I remember telling myself that there is no way that this is related. And heck, I did it for a second time when I was being hit physically with the repercussions of my denial.
The denial can become so intense that even when you are diagnosed with PTSD, you question the reality and validity of the diagnosis. “There is no fucking way in hell that I have PTSD.” It is the point in which many people avoid getting help. They isolate themselves trying to convince themselves that their PTSD isn’t real or that it isn’t as bad as what they are saying. “PTSD isn’t any big deal, I’ll get through this with ease.” But, what’s really happening is that the denial has decided to bring along its really good friend and lover, FEAR. Together, the two welcome the darkness where they can flourish without hesitation. You begin to agree with the denial and almost feel like you have a handle on things because “its not that bad”.
These are the times when you start keeping your PTSD a secret from everyone, including your loved ones. You have denied it’s existence and therefore, you don’t have it and you definitely don’t need to tell anyone about it. Your denial pushed by fear tells you things like “people will think you’re crazy” or “you will be stigmatized for life” and my favourite, “no one is going to want to be with you / around you if you have PTSD”. The denial gets stronger and stronger and so does the isolation because your mind knows that eventually you will be found out. Your fake smile and happy disposition is about to come down all around you.
And when you finally have no choice but to admit that you have PTSD and seek help, the denial still hangs around. Lots of times, whether it be in therapy or a peer support group, you will continue to use denial as a coping mechanism. You hold back from your therapist because if you are honest about what’s really going on, you are afraid you won’t be able to handle reality. You deny yourself the chance to get better. In peer settings, you cater your narrative to present as someone who has everything together. You deny yourself the chance to get the support you need and deserve. Denial is very dangerous.
The Other Side
For all intent and purpose, you’ve broken through the darkness. You are back into the light and are feeling pretty good. Life seems to be getting better and you are beginning to see the positives from all your hard work. But, and this is a big but, you begin to question it. Much like how you questioned the trauma actually happening, you now begin to question if you made it through. You deny that you are on the road to recovery. Out of fear that what you are experiencing is true, you doubt yourself. You start to plan for the next shoe to drop again, for a trigger to set you back and for your life to go to shit once again. You begin to deny yourself the life you worked so fucking hard to achieve. And, if you’re not careful, this doubt will turn into a massive pitfall for you.
So, what can you do to battle against Denial? Embrace it, accept it, label it, shelve it, deal with it and put it to bed. You need to recognize that you are in denial about your PTSD, about the power that it holds over you and the control that you have granted it. If you continue to deny the existence of denial, you are simply setting yourself to continue in the darkness. It becomes one of the choices that you have to make and the sooner you make it, the easier it will get. When you sit down with your therapist, think of it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to deal with all those skeletons in your closet. Open up and share. When you are in a peer support group, be honest. If you are struggling, tell people, ask for help. Push beyond the denial.
Don’t deny it, lean into it.