I have been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. I used to have frequent, terrible nightmares which were definitely related to my traumas. But after reading a lot of self help books and going through a couple of years of therapy, I can’t remember the last time I had a nightmare. I still have anxiety attacks now and then, and my PTSD is occasionally triggered by a situation that reminds me of one of my traumas. But I don’t have nightmares anymore, thank the Lord!
Nightmares can be caused by many things though, not just by PTSD. This is what happened to my stepdaughter. Several weeks ago, she started having a lot of vivid, bizarre dreams. A few days ago, as she was telling me about yet another freaky dream, I stopped her and asked if she had recently started taking a new medication or health supplement.
Yes, she said. For the previous month — just before her nightmares began — she had been taking a cinnamon capsule every day. It is sold as a supplement for promoting good health.
Cinnamon, as I’m sure you know, is a common spice we put on things like sweet rolls, cookies, and donuts. It does not seem to noticeably affect most people when they eat a small amount of cinnamon sprinkled on toast. But I wondered: could a large amount of cinnamon ingested in a capsule cause mental or mood changes?
I did a quick Google search and sure enough: large quantities of cinnamon can cause nightmares in some people! I told my stepdaughter this and she stopped taking the cinnamon. Within 48 hours of discontinuing the supplement, her bizarre nightmares had completely stopped.
Years ago, my doctor prescribed a beta blocker drug for me, which caused me to have vivid, terrifying dreams. Thankfully, I no longer need to take that drug. Another time, I tried taking the supplement melatonin to help me relax and sleep, but I soon had to stop taking it because of the depression and nightmares it caused. I’ve had similar experiences with some of the over-the-counter supplements used to treat depression and anxiety. St. John’s Wort, SAM-e, GABA, and turmeric are definitely not for me.
I take grape seed extract, fish oil, and collagen health food supplements, which I believe help me to look and feel my best. I am in my 60s, but people think I am in my 40s. I believe the antioxidant grape seed extract, in particular, has a lot to do with this. But in the twenty years since I started taking grape seed extract, I have learned, through trial and error, that many over the counter supplements can cause adverse reactions of various kinds — particularly when taken in combination with other prescription drugs or supplements.
If you have recently started having a lot of nightmares, stop and think: before these nightmares started, did you begin taking a new drug or supplement, or increase the dose of something you were already taking? Did you make a significant change in your diet or your living environment?
We humans are complex creatures and sometimes the smallest, seemingly benign change in what we consume or in the way we live, can have a huge impact on our emotional or physical health. I recently got on a kick of eating roasted pumpkin seeds. Yum, I love those things. But suddenly, my blood sugar started plummeting for no apparent reason, to the point where I was feeling very lightheaded and on the verge of passing out. I am not diabetic, I don’t take diabetic medications, I had not skipped any meals or done an excessive amount of exercise, so what was going on?
I’m sure you’ve guessed it: I did some research and discovered that eating a large quantity of pumpkin seeds can cause your blood sugar to plummet! Other things can cause this to happen, too, some very scary things like certain kinds of cancerous tumors or adrenal disorders. But in my case, when I stopped eating pumpkin seeds by the bag full, my blood sugar stabilized.
DISCLAIMER: Although I used to be a nurse, I am not a medical professional and I cannot diagnose or prescribe, especially not over the internet. Please consult a physician if you are having physical or mental health issues.
The following contains my experiences as the wife of a war veteran with PTSD, along with my ongoing healing from Developmental, or Complex, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder caused by extreme trauma and abuse in my childhood and young adulthood. I am not a mental health professional and nothing on this blog should be taken as an expert opinion. Do not rely on information on this site as a substitute for the advice of a qualified professional.
Remember: YOU are unique. What works for me or for someone else may not work for you.
Please see A WORD OF WARNING near the bottom of this page about the dangers I have found when looking for psychological help online. Also, please understand that while my husband and I have had a lot of healing due to the various treatment methods described below, we are not (yet?) completely cured of PTSD.
WE WERE CREATED TO HEAL. When you cut yourself, your body immediately goes into action to heal the wound. Eventually, unless the wound is very severe or your immune system has been compromised, your injury will be gone, leaving little or no evidence that the cut ever happened. Isn’t that amazing?
I believe our minds were also made to heal. Although I am not completely healed of PTSD, I am a thousand times better than when I was at my worst. (See Feeling Overwhelmed: It’s a PTSD Thing for an example of the ways in which I still struggle.)
What has helped me the most in my healing journey? Talking with caring therapists has been helpful, although uncaring, abusive therapists have caused me a great deal of harm in the past.
Prescribed medications such as antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs, on the other hand, did me more harm than good. For the past several years I have not taken any prescription drugs, with the exception of a daily thyroid replacement and an antibiotic when I had an infection almost a year ago.
IMPORTANT CAUTION: Going off my prescribed psychotropic medications was a horrible, mind-warping, life-threatening experience when I did it too fast. I finally succeeded in getting off the Rx drugs by doing an ultra-slow taper, taking almost a year to gradually cut my doses by a tiny “flea bite” amount, then holding at that level for at least a couple of weeks before tapering down any further. I do not recommend anyone going off their medication without close supervision and the knowledgeable care of a good, medically licensed physician. To do otherwise can have deadly consequences!
Some people may do better taking a prescribed psychotropic. My husband, who has PTSD from combat in Vietnam, seems to do better on an antidepressant — although he struggles with the unfortunate side effects of obesity, diabetes, lethargy, and a deadening of his emotions. Still, he believes the trade-off is worth it.
I do take some non-prescription vitamins and minerals (vitamins D3, K2, and calcium), the powerful antioxidant grape seed extract (which may be why people say I look much younger than my age), and lecithin and mercury-free fish oil, which seems to work great for stabilizing my moods. My favorite supplement supplier is Swanson Vitamins.
In addition to my health supplements, I drink plenty of filtered water, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink alcohol, I try to eat a balanced, mostly vegetarian diet, and I exercise by taking a half-hour walk, riding a recumbent bike, or jumping on a mini trampoline several times a week.
When I go more than a couple of days without exercise, I can definitely feel my mood start to go down!
>>>I have recently eliminated caffeine from my diet, and I am amazed at the difference! I love coffee, tea, colas, and rich, yummy chocolate. But since I’ve gone off all caffeine, I’ve had almost no anxiety. I love having no anxiety even better than I loved drinking coffee and eating chocolate!<<<
Too much of my life was crippled with gut-twisting anxiety and nightmarish panic attacks. Nothing I tried — deep breathing, positive thinking, counting my blessings, listening to music, mindfulness meditation, prayer, or “going to my happy place” — seemed to make much difference. But after I got through the caffeine withdrawal headaches, I felt like a brand new woman!
DRUGS DID NOT CURE ME and talking with therapists, when I finally found a good one, was only helpful up to a point. In my estimation, probably 80% of my healing has happened as a result of reading self-help and psychology books.
I used to think that reading therapeutic books was a poor substitute for professional psychotherapy, but I no longer believe this. The following excerpt from FEELING GOOD: The New Mood Therapyby David D. Burns, MD, explains why:
“One important discovery is that self-help seems to be a key to recovery whether or not you receive treatment. In a series of five remarkable studies published in the prestigious Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and in The Gerontologist, Dr. Forrest Scogin and his colleagues at the University of Alabama studied the effects of simply reading a good self-help book like FEELING GOOD – without any other therapy. The name of this new type of treatment is “bibliotherapy” (reading therapy). They discovered that… bibliotherapy may be as effective as a full course of psychotherapy or treatment with the best antidepressant drugs.” (Emphasis added.)
The following books have helped me the most in my healing journey: (NOTE: Inclusion of a book on this list does not mean I agree with every word in the book. I have read many other excellent books, so this list is by no means exclusive.)
1). COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, a guide and map for recovering from childhood traumaby Pete Walker, MA. ~This is my favorite self-help book. The author is a licensed therapist with over 30 years of experience, plus he also has C-PTSD.
According to Pete Walker, Complex PTSD – which stems from early and repeated childhood trauma and/or neglect – can, in its severest form, cause schizophrenia.
Based on my experience of having been diagnosed with schizophrenia for two years as a teenager, I believe Mr. Walker is exactly right. In the ongoing “nurture vs. nature” debate, there is supporting evidence for both sides. Scientific studies have reportedly found, for example, that 48% of identical twins eventually become schizophrenic if their twin does, whereas the incidence of non-identical siblings both becoming schizophrenic is far lower.
While this indicates that genes play a role, genetics cannot be the whole story, otherwise the rate of identical twins both having schizophrenia would be 100%. I believe the answer will ultimately be found in epigenetics, which has more to do with our environment than our blueprint.
2). WHY DO CHRISTIANS SHOOT THEIR WOUNDED? Helping (Not Hurting) Those with Emotional Difficultiesby Dwight L. Carlson, MD. ~This is a wonderful, enlightening, HEALING book. I love it so much, I just bought a copy for one of my friends.
3). HOPE AND HELP FOR YOUR NERVESby Dr. Claire Weekes. ~Although this wonderful classic is written in an old-fashioned style, its pages contain a timeless treasure of help, healing, and enlightenment. I needed to read this forty years ago!
4). TRAUMA AND RECOVERY: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Lewis Herman, MD. ~This landmark book, written by a Harvard psychiatrist, was recommended to me by one of my doctors. While not an easy read, it makes sense of the “insanity” in my life. Dr. Herman, who coined the term “Complex PTSD,” states in this book that persons with C-PTSD are often misdiagnosed with other mental illness labels, including personality disorders and schizophrenia.
5). IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT: How Healing Relationships Change Your Brain and Can Help You Overcome a Painful Pastby Patricia Romano McGraw. ~Modern brain imaging technologies have revealed that early childhood neglect and abandonment, as well as severe trauma occurring at any age, can damage the brain – by actually changing the brain’s structure and function.
This is why we can’t “just get over” certain types of trauma. Like a person paralyzed in a car crash, the traumatic event may be in the distant past, but the injury it caused is still present.
HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS: As Ms. McGraw explains in this excellent book, brain imaging technologies have also proven that the injured brain CAN HEAL – literally rewire itself – in the context of loving and affirming relationships!
Shaming, shunning, or browbeating someone who is psychologically injured will only make matters worse. Would you whip a quadriplegic to get him to walk again? Of course not! The only humane and truly effective way to treat mental health issues is with compassion, respect, and loving care.
6). HEALING DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationshipby Laurence Heller, PhD, and Aline Lapierre, PsyD. ~This book explains why a crazy childhood will put you on the path to a crazy adulthood – and what to do about it.
7). THE NARCISSISTIC FAMILY: Diagnosis and Treatmentby Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman. ~According to this brilliant book, a family can be narcissistic even if none of its members are personality disordered.
For example, a mother dying of cancer cannot adequately nurture her young child. While a parent may not be guilty of deliberately neglecting, abandoning, or injuring a child, the effect on the child’s developing psyche is no less damaging.
Being run over by a truck will injure your body, regardless of whether it is done accidentally or maliciously. Psychological injuries work the same way. This is why it is not very helpful for a parent to tell an injured child: “I did the best I could!” The Pressmans’ book contains practical advice that does help.
8). TOXIC PARENTS: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward, PhD. ~The focus of Dr. Forward’s book is not on blaming parents for being less than perfect, but simply to address the reality that many parents, for various reasons, do not have the ability to raise their children in a healthy environment.
9). WILL I EVER BE GOOD ENOUGH? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothersby Karyl McBride, PhD. ~Dr. McBride writes from the perspective of having a narcissistic mother, as well as from her years of experience as a therapist treating the adult children of narcissistic parents.
10). FEELING GOOD: The New Mood Therapyby David D. Burns, MD. ~In my opinion, FEELING GOOD isn’t nearly as effective for people with PTSD as it is for those who suffer from depression alone. However, I did get a lot out of this book, as long as I resisted the unhealthy impulse to beat myself up for not being 100% cured by his Cognitive Behavioral Therapy methods.
~When you grow up in a toxic family, you tend to have toxic relationships as an adult. This is what happened in my case. My unhealthy way of handling relationships was turned upside-down by the following books:
11). WOMEN WHO LOVE TOO MUCH: When You Keep Wishing and Hoping He’ll Changeby Robin Norwood. ~I saw myself and my failed relationships on almost every page!
12). WHY DOES HE DO THAT? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Menby Lundy Bancroft. ~This book is both disturbing and a potential lifesaver. Highly recommended, especially if you are currently in a verbally or physically abusive relationship, or in a situation where your rights, desires, and needs are routinely discounted or ignored.
13). LOVE IS A CHOICE: The Definitive Book on Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationshipsby Dr. Robert Hemfelt, Dr. Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier, MD. ~Dr. Paul Meier is a psychiatrist and founder of the national chain of Meier New Life Clinics, as well as a best-selling author or co-author of more than one hundred books. He holds five degrees in the fields of medicine, psychiatry, and theology. Dr. Meier personally evaluated me and diagnosed my PTSD in 2003. I owe my life to Dr. Paul Meier and his wonderful staff at the clinic in Richardson, Texas.
~Trauma and loss can cause you to question the meaning and purpose of life. I found healing answers here:
14). MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANINGby Viktor E. Frankl, MD, PhD. ~What Dr. Frankl, a neurologist and a psychiatrist, discovered during his 3-year imprisonment in a World War II Nazi concentration camp – despite losing his beloved wife and all but one family member in that evil holocaust – is inspirational and life-affirming.
15). 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN: A True Story of Death and Lifeby Capt. Don Piper, PhD. ~I love this book because I, too, briefly “died” years ago and stood on the threshold of heaven, where an indescribable LOVE, peace, and joy flooded my soul.
I was agnostic for many years, primarily because of the cruel abuses and self-seeking hypocrisy I’ve encountered in some “Christians.” However, I am far from perfect myself. I continue to struggle with my faith at times, because some of the tenets of Christianity do not make sense to my Mensa-tested IQ of 156. But despite my intellectual doubts, the fact remains that when I encountered a God of Love and Light all those years ago, His wonderful presence was as real to me as anything I have ever experienced. This, along with the evidence of Intelligent Design, are just two of the many reasons why I am now a Christian believer.
16). MY GLIMPSE OF ETERNITYby Betty Malz. ~This beautiful book had me crying tears of joy by the end.
>>>I respect everyone’s right to believe, or not, as each person sees fit. Some of my favorite people are agnostic or practitioners of non-Christian religions. However, based on the preponderance of the evidence in my life, I have decided to follow Christ Jesus as my Savior and Lord.<<<
17). Although I am leaving the best for last, The Holy Bible is first on my list, especially: Psalm 23:1-6; Psalm 30:1-12; Psalm 103:1-22; Isaiah 49:15-16; John 3:1-21; Romans 8:1-39; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Revelation 3:19-20; and many other verses, most notably the spoken words of Christ.
~Important Caution: It seems to me that much of the Bible has suffered from gross misinterpretations and bad translations over the years. In my opinion — which I realize may be wrong — I believe that God is the only One Who is infallible. I worship God, not a collection of ancient books. Calling the Bible “infallible” is, I believe, tantamount to making it into an idol. However, like I said, I may be wrong!In any case, I still believe that the Christian Bible is the most important book, when read carefully and prayerfully, under the guidance and discernment of the Holy Spirit.
A WORD OF WARNING ABOUT ONLINE GROUPS:
Between 2009 and early 2013 I tried a number of online support groups, such as PTSD forums, blogs for ACONS (the adult children of narcissistic parents), and sites proclaiming healing of wounded emotions and guidance on how to “emerge” from being “broken.”
Most of these sites seemed wonderful – at first. But sooner or later, I was dismayed to see a few “outcast” people being verbally attacked by other members of the forums, in some cases coming under attack by administrators of the site. There were also times when commenters who came across as very mentally ill or “needy” were coldly ignored until they gave up and stopped posting.
This is why I will never allow “snarky” or abusive comments here. Respectful disagreement is always welcome; abuse is not. My goal is for my blog to be a healing place, never a hurting place. Life can be hard enough without people who have never walked in your shoes sitting in judgment of you.
We are all at different places in our journey.
>>>I firmly believe that most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can with what they have. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. People who are in a lot of pain are sometimes prone to hurt others, often without being consciously aware of it.<<<
Whenever possible, I try to live in grace and give people the benefit of the doubt.
However, I will not allow anyone to disrespect or abuse me ever again, nor will I stand silently by and witness anyone else being abused, either overtly or covertly.
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Treat PTSD with CARE: Compassion, Acceptance, Respect, and Encouragement.