Most of us have experienced a traumatic event in our lives and have likely heard of the term PTSD. What exactly is PTSD, though? How do you know if you have it, and what effect does it have on your everyday life?
PTSD is a complex psychological disorder and will require a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist to diagnose. However, if you think this might be something you are going through, then this article will help you better understand how people develop PTSD, what the symptoms look like, and how you can get help.
PTSD is complex and can be difficult to understand, both for the person who has it, and their loved ones. The effects of PTSD can seep into all areas of our lives and make everything much harder. The path to healing can be arduous, but the work you do to help yourself heal can have long-lasting effects too!
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health condition that happens after exposure to severe trauma. These traumatic events might include a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat. It can also include other violent events like being threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury. It can also result from childhood trauma like emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
‘Shell shock’ was a term used to describe PTSD in veterans, but people who are not veterans of war also experience PTSD symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association claims that “PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD.” The symptoms for PTSD include (according to Jayne Leonard, a writer for Medical News Today):
- reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares
- avoiding situations that remind them of the trauma
- dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma
- hyperarousal, which means being in a continual state of high alert
- the belief that the world is a dangerous place
- a loss of trust in the self or others
- difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- being startled by loud noises
- detachment from the trauma
- emotional regulation difficulties
Besides PTSD, many trauma survivors also live with anxiety or affective disorders. They might also develop chronic pain either from physical injuries or ailments like fibromyalgia. Depression can also prolong physical disabilities longer than expected, and a physical injury can prolong psychological injuries such as PTSD by constantly triggering memories of the trauma and its consequences (Jenewein et al, 2009).
Someone who lived through a traumatic event might also experience symptoms but not reach the clinical diagnosis threshold. That does not mean that they are not experiencing real symptoms or that the trauma did not impact them. These symptoms can still be severe and disabling. Terms such as “partial PTSD” or “sub-clinical” PTSD are used to describe these conditions.
“Abuse really is its own alphabet. Those who have not gone through it cannot understand it fully. The echoes of violence hang in subconscious long after the threat is gone.” ― Michelle Franklin
How does PTSD affect your life?
PTSD can lead to a lifelong struggle with addiction. People commonly use alcohol, or other drugs, to help numb the emotional pain that their traumatic experiences trigger with them. These emotional scars are not visible, like a physical injury, but they are real and change the way your brain functions.
The Body Keeps the Score is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about how trauma rewrites the neuropathways in your brain and changes the way your brain functions. While alcohol and drugs might seem like a successful way to block out some of the emotional pain a person feels, they obviously lead to other problems in your life.
PTSD by itself can affect your ability to work, perform routine daily activities, or cultivate relationships with your family and friends. People with PTSD often appear disinterested or distant as they focus their energy on blocking out emotional pain, or remove themselves from situations that trigger their memories. When you add in a drug or alcohol addiction, those areas are affected even more.
A traumatic event can influence your life in ways you don’t expect. Someone close to me, who already has PTSD from childhood trauma, and suffers from drug addiction, worked really hard with a therapist to help her heal. She has been clean for years and had recently got a job as an assistant manager in a 24-hour restaurant, where she frequently worked overnights. On her way home each morning, she had to travel down a dark and isolated road.
One morning (it was early morning, so it was dark still), her car died and all the electric components, including the headlights, went out. She sat in the car for a moment, before getting out, and just a few moments later a lady rear-ended her car. The woman spoke to her for a few moments to make sure she was ok and went back to the car to call the police.
My friend heard something dripping on the other side of her car, toward the back, and walked around to check it out. Just a moment or so later, a big giant rock truck smashed into the side of the car she had been standing on. Her car was completely demolished and had she not moved it would have killed her.
This was incredibly traumatic, but it didn’t just end there. She tried to go back to work but would have flashbacks and panic attacks when she tried to go home. Driving itself had become hard for her, but traveling that same route, at the same time of the accident, was not good for her mental health. Eventually, she left her position because she could not work there any longer. Her PTSD from past traumas and this accident were all too much.
However, leaving her job did not solve her problems, as now she had a financial burden to contend with. As well as feeling as she had taken a step back in all the progress she has made. This led to even more depression, and she will probably need professional help to overcome her struggles.
“Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot. You can’t process it because it doesn’t fit with what came before or what comes afterwards.” ― Jessica Stern
Recognizing you need help
There is no shame in getting help from a trained mental health professional. If at any point you feel you need someone to talk to or the PTSD symptoms are taking control of your life, please seek treatment. Treating PTSD can ease most, if not all, PTSD symptoms The method of treatment used is best left between you and your therapist.
There are many PTSD treatment options your mental health professional can use to help you. There are several methods of treatment you can talk to a therapist about. Psychotherapy, or more commonly referred to as “talk therapy,” can be helpful in overcoming your PTSD symptoms. A therapist might also recommend some Cognitive Processing Therapy and/or Prolonged Exposure.
With a CPT plan, the therapist will help you learn new skills to aid in understanding how the traumatic event changed or altered your thoughts or feelings regarding the trauma. Altering how you perceive the trauma can change how you feel about it and enable you to take control of the PTSD symptoms.
When using the PE method of treatment, therapists ask the patient to repeatedly speak about their trauma. This helps the memories become less debilitating. This puts control of the trauma back into the hands of the patient, along with the ability to master their thoughts and feelings.
When I first saw my therapist, I wondered if there was really any point in dredging up things I had long-buried and dealt with. She told me that handling is just another form of control and is not the same thing as acceptance or healing. I honestly doubted the validity of her statements, but after two years, I can’t help but agree that she was right.
If you think you might be experiencing PTSD or other illnesses like anxiety and depression from your trauma, please seek help! You don’t have to suffer alone, and it doesn’t have to wreck your life before you seek some guidance. If it has already affected your life, that doesn’t mean it is too late to get some help!
It is never too late to reclaim your life and focus on your mental health. Don’t let your trauma hold you back from being the best version of yourself. It can be a scary process, but you are worth it. There is hope and treatment available for PTSD, and it can make all the difference in reaching your goals and dreams.
“Healing trauma involves tears. The tears release our pain. The tears are part of our recovery. My friend, please let your tears flow.” ― Dana Arcuri