Initially, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was coined for Vets returning from war after experiencing military combat. Most returned without conversing about their horror stories, and instead kept the memories to themselves, likely contributing to their frequent and horrendous nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. Remarkably, many of these symptoms eventually became more manageable after realizing the importance of sharing their stories and developing support and comradery amongst each other.
Since, PTSD has been recognized in numerous other traumatic events, including accidents, assaults, rape, natural disasters and the like. Most of us know someone or even ourselves who have experienced trauma in some form or shape. Oftentimes, people are able to return to equilibrium after a short time, but others continue to struggle to go on. With PTSD, it isn’t about experiencing the trauma, it is about the effects it has that make it diagnosable. The trauma experience becomes part of life, feeling stuck with repeated trauma-induced re-experiences.
Theorists question if PTSD is simply our bodies not yet recovering from its attempt to survive the trauma after being so busy increasing its heart rate, pumping blood to muscles, preparing the body to fight or flee, and using all physical resources and energy to get out of harm’s way. Others, find it a medical condition that needs treatment.
Regardless, those with PTSD experience nightmares that remind them of the trauma, flashbacks of parts of the trauma itself or similar thoughts or memories that invade their mind. Those with PTSD attempt to avoid anything that may remind them of the trauma or don’t even remember what happened. Despite their effort to avoid, they continue to be trapped with anxiety. Oftentimes they blame themselves/others for what happened, see the world through the lens of further danger or negative beliefs about the future, experience ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame, and detach from others and are less interested in usual activities they used to enjoy. They struggle with ongoing negative thoughts and have difficulty thinking positively or enjoying supportive emotions. In addition, those with PTSD are more likely to experience increased irritability or anger outbursts, sleep disturbance, feeling on edge and are easily startled, have concentration difficulties, and may engage in activities that cause them harm. Like other mental health disorders, diagnosable PTSD results in an individual’s inability to function at work or school, at home, and other important areas in daily living. Unfortunately, but understandably, many individuals struggling with PTSD symptoms also struggle with other conditions such as substance use disorders, depression and anxiety.
Though PTSD cannot be cured, it can be treated and managed in several ways. Specifically, Psychotherapy, such as cognitive processing therapy or group therapy, Medications, service animals, and Self-management strategies, such as self-soothing, meditation/mindfulness, prayer, and support and consolation, are all helpful to ground a person and bring them back to reality. The goal is a return to a normal life and move forward, after a tragedy long remembered, but without the effects of being in the midst of it.
Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW
St. Williams Mental Health