In light of current problems that I have been struggling through, and to be honest constantly struggling with most of my life, I have decided to write an informational post about something that many, many people struggle with: PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a traumatic event, experienced or witnessed. This can include: combat exposure, child sexual or physical abuse, terrorist attack, sexual or physical assault, serious accidents, and natural disasters.
According to nimh.nih.gov:
“When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened when they’re no longer in danger.
“PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to veterans (then called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents. Currently, many scientists are focusing on genes that play a role in creating fear memories. Understanding how fear memories are created may help refine or find new interventions for reducing the symptoms of PTSD. For example, PTSD researchers have pinpointed genes that make: Stathmin, a protein needed to form fear memories and GRP (gastrin-releasing peptide), a signaling chemical in the brain released during emotional events.
“Individual differences in these genes or brain areas may only set the stage for PTSD without actually causing symptoms. Environmental factors, such as childhood trauma, head injury, or a history of mental illness, may further increase a person’s risk by affecting the early growth of the brain. Also, personality and cognitive factors, such as optimism and tendency to view challenges in a positive or negative way, as well as social factors, such as the availability to use social support, appear to influence how people adjust to trauma. “
When people find out that I have PTSD, I get a variety of responses:
“You’re an adult, just get over it.” Being an adult has nothing to do with trauma and a person’s ability to process through it.
“You’re not old enough to be a veteran.” Trauma doesn’t just happen to veterans.
“That is a very lame excuse.” It is not an excuse.
“You don’t look like you’ve been through a disaster.” My friend asks “Have you ever looked into her eyes?”
There are many things that people do not fully understand about PTSD.
Though I do not feel that it is anyone’s business what exactly happened to me which caused my PTSD, I have experienced more than one of these ‘probable causes’.
Whether or not you get PTSD depends on many things:
- How intense the trauma was or how long it lasted
- If you were injured or lost someone important to you
- How close you were to the event/person
- How strong your reaction were
- How much control you felt you had over the events
- How much help and support you had access to and received after the event (and how long after the event you began to receive assistance)
7-8% of people in the US have PTSD or will struggle with PTSD at some time in their lives. 10% of women develop PTSD and 4% of men. According to ptsd.va.gov, women are more likely to experience sexual assault and sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than most other events. Women are also more likely to blame themselves for trauma events than men.
More about sexual assault: www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/women/sexual-assault-females.asp
Most people with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder repeatedly re-live the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections during the day. The nightmares or recollections may come and go, and a person may be free of them for weeks at a time, only to again experience them daily for no particular reason. Anniversaries of the event are often very difficult. In severe cases, they may have trouble working or socializing as a result of this interruption in their daily lives, which may induce panic attacks, manic episodes, seizures, and/or other intense emotional responses that may be unsuited to social and workplace situations. Ordinary events can serve as reminders of the trauma and trigger flashbacks or intrusive images. A flashback may make the person lose touch with reality and reenact the event for a period of seconds or hours or, very rarely, days. A person having a flashback, which can come in the form of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, usually believes that the traumatic event is in fact happening all over again at that exact moment.
(psychcentral.com) Below is a list of many of the symptoms that those with PTSD can suffer from.
- Symptoms in adults:
- Intrusive memories:
- Distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event (nightmares)
- Severe emotional or physical reactions to something causing recollections of the event.
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event, and therefore not processing it, setting back recovery.
- Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind them of the event
- Negative changes in thinking and mood
- Inability to experience positive emotions
- Severe apathy; feeling emotionally numb
- Lack of interest in activities
- Hopelessness, shame, or despair
- Memory problems, brain fog
- Not remembering important aspects of the event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Employment problems
- Changes in emotional reactions
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Paranoia; always being on guard for danger
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Self-destructive behavior
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Easily startled or frightened
- Feeling jittery
- Hyper-arousal: alert, over-focused on surroundings
- Physical symptoms especially tend to include chronic pain, heart arrhythmia, fainting, strokes, stomach aches, head or back aches, and other psychosomatic (or emotionally-induced) problems.
- Symptoms in children (ptsd.va.gov)
- Upset when parents are not close
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble toilet training
- Act out trauma in play, drawings, or stories.
- Have nightmares
- Become irritable or aggressive
- Will want to avoid school or friends
- Similar to adults
- Reckless behavior (substance abuse, running away, sexual behavior)
Now, these are common symptoms that not many people tend to associate with PTSD. Some people may assume that those exhibiting these symptoms are overreacting or seeking attention. It can cause those inflicted with PTSD to feel like a “freak” or like they are “crazy”.
Here are some examples of real situations that I have witnessed or experienced myself.
- Someone was walking down a hall snapping a belt that was folded in half. They were bored and it did not occur to them that they might cause anyone distress. H relived a scene from their childhood. H’s father had whipped them with a belt on several occasions. H, Upon hearing the snapping of the belt, regressed into childhood memories and re-lived the abuse of their father. H hid in a corner, rocking and crying until the flashback subsided.
- R spent several years living in untidiness to extreme. R lived in mold, animal excrement, and bugs. Over a year after being moved to a clean environment, R found a spider on their clothes. Later that day a door was left open and R had a panic attack. Their mind was back in the mess that they had left behind. Uncontrollable fear led to petrification, followed by a deep need to escape the situation.
- Sexual Assault:Too Many people have experienced this. In the case that a person has been traumatically sexually assaulted, any sexual act may trigger physical and emotional recall. The afflicted may be sent into intense panic and mistakenly confuse their current partner with their attacker. In these cases their partner needs to be very understanding and patient.
- Child Abuse:In the case of someone who had been abused as a child, any time they are awakened by a noise or by someone unexpectedly, their body may surge with adrenalin. They may believe they are being attacked and will “defend” themselves with–possibly–deadly force before they realize they are awake. Throughout the next several hours, an afflicted person may experience irritability with heightened stress throughout the day.
Flashbacks like this can occur with varying severity, depending on each individual’s situation.
“Sometimes large numbers of people are affected by the same event. Most people will have some PTSD symptoms in the first few weeks after events like these. This is a normal and expected response to serious trauma, and for most people, symptoms generally lessen with time. Most people can be helped with basic support, such as:
Getting to a safe place
Seeing a doctor if injured
Getting food and water
Contacting loved ones or friends
Learning what is being done to help
But some people do not get better on their own. Posttraumatic stress disorder can be treated usually with a combination of psychotherapy and medications.” – psychcentral.com
Treatments can include:
- Cognitive therapy
- Exposure therapy
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Prazosin (sometimes for nightmares)
- Sometimes Antipsychotics
The current treatments that I am using include: Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and EMDR. Now, EMDR can take a long time to work through Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. If you have PTSD and you give up—on any kind of treatment—early, it will be no help to you at all.
Most people do not understand just how much PTSD and the growing understanding of it means to me. Not only do I suffer with it, but many people I know and love suffer with it for several different reasons. I know people who have survived wars, either as a refugee or as a part of the military. I also know people who have lived through child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual assault, and battery. And even that list is not all-inclusice.
There are so many people that have a negative view of PTSD and treat those that suffer with it like they are liars or attention seekers. These people downplay the trauma that PTSD sufferers have gone through. I have been told several times that I blow my stories out of proportion when I am actually leaving out the worst parts.
I hope to help people understand PTSD better.
If you know someone with PTSD there are several things that you can do to help them through a flashback and come back to the present. Not all of these work 100% of the time, and some PTSD types can have dangerous repercussions. So be safe and cautious.
Remind them that they are going to be okay and that they are safe. (If you are currently in a dangerous situation, it is not ethical to lie to them, but if they are in danger of hurting themselves or others, do what you can to keep them calm). Reassure them that they have not done anything wrong.
One of the best things that I learned from therapy was to activate my senses, or to try to find something to stimulate each one of the senses to help refocus on the present.
I have found that taste and smell usually go together, a strong taste will usually be strong enough to smell. Popular flavors to use as a taste-smell combo include mints, cinnamon, horehound, and root bear. Really anything with a strong taste that you enjoy should work. Sight and touch usually work together as well. I have found objects with an interesting texture, such as a stress ball or a small stuffed animal. Take the time to look at all the details of it while you run it through your hands. You may also use sound in the sight/touch method, focusing on a person talking, rattling keys in your hand, tapping a surface, or listening to music. Getting as many senses active as possible is key.
For example, put a piece of hard candy in your mouth. You can taste and smell the flavor, and you can feel it inside your mouth. You can also focus on the sound that your mouth makes with the candy. Does it click against your teeth? The only sense missing in this example is sight. Look around focus on what is around you; try to keep yourself—or the person that you are helping—in the moment.
Remember that during the PTSD episodes, we cannot be logical, we are not doing it for attention, it is not childish, and we cannot just “get over it.” These are very real memories that our minds make real to us again. We did nothing to deserve this, and we only want to be healed. Help spread the truth about PTSD.
The Resident Femme