My Battle with PTSD and Anxiety

By: Claudia Drake (@msclaudiadrake)

Content warning: PTSD, anxiety

When I was three years old, my beautiful baby brother was born. Throughout the first few years of his life, he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and a very rare form of epilepsy, causing severe brain damage. When I was ten, Ryan was diagnosed with cancer. Four weeks later he got an infection and passed away.

The following four years I struggled significantly. Not to say that I didn’t have amazing moments and experiences within those years, however, that was by far the most difficult period of my life. I was so confused as to why I felt so somber regularly. I didn’t understand why every time I would go out with my friends I would have this painful feeling of guilt inside of me. A trip to the doctor felt like a journey to hell. It was like there was a gray cloud following me, and each time the sun started to peek through, the darkness would swallow it up again. The guilt was consuming me.

I dealt with this feeling for so long, until eighth grade when I couldn’t even sleep in bed alone because I was terrified something would happen to my parents or me. What if I died? How would my parents deal with losing their last child? I missed multiple days in a row of school because of having a panic attack right before heading out the door. Being in this constant state of anxiety made me very depressed. As my now-therapist told me a while back, “anxiety and depression can go hand in hand.” I decided that this was enough. No more constant head and heartaches. I found the courage to tell my parents it was time to go back to therapy. I’d been to grief counseling in the past, but this time, it was different. This time, my brain was the problem. 

Therapy changed my life. The kind and gentle woman helped me figure out I had an anxiety disorder, stemming from the trauma of my brother dying. I realized that the “guilt” I felt from being out was my fear of my parents dying while I wasn’t with them. I was horrified by a trip to the doctor because I had such a bad connotation with hospitals, from my brother being in and out of them throughout his entire life, not just when he had cancer. This was the first time in years I felt like I could breathe enough to blow a hole in the gray cloud, and see the sun start to poke through again. Granted, like many mental illnesses, my anxiety and PTSD don't go. Just last week I had a panic attack because I had to get shots at the doctor's office. But you know what? It had been two months since my last panic attack. 

I will probably always continue to have my moments. Grief doesn't go away; it just gets more manageable. Depending on your situation, the same can go for mental illness. I hope that my story will inspire others to reach out for help, and if anyone went/is going through something similar to me, I hope that this story shows you that you are not alone.