I feel that before I start writing about today’s topic, I should throw up a quick reminder that I am not a doctor. I have no formal training in any medical field, and everything I write about has been researched and has a source, or is something I have directly experienced or have trained in personally. So if anything I’ve written feels incorrect, please feel free to reach out on the “Contact Me” link on my Home page and feel free to voice your concerns. I’m definitely not above, nor do I object, to being corrected.
I think the title speaks for itself, and this is the topic of today’s post. This topic hits close to home for me. Much like Diabetes, this condition has affected many people I know and care about and I have in fact been affected by PTSD, myself. There has been a significant increase in attention on PTSD in the past two decades, and it has started to be recognized as a genuine mental health condition and not simply a passing thought process that the sufferer has the option of ignoring. Previously known as “shell shock” during the World Wars, it was originally associated mostly to combat veterans who had seen active military service, especially during times of war, and were exposed to the traumatic aspects of said war. This is no longer the case, and research has come to show that PTSD can affect anyone, based on their specific circumstances.
I’ll start with my usual, which is to define PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder so that we can all be on the same page about what’s being discussed. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is defined as “a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.”
Although accurate, this definition is certainly a broad and generalized one. And whether or not something is traumatic is usually subjective to the sufferer. But the symptoms are generally pretty universal, which can include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, anger and irritability, hyper vigilance and aversion to social gatherings or constant noise. According to an article posted by the Mayo Clinic, it may even be possible to develop PTSD without having personally suffered the trauma. For some people, just learning about the event can be enough to cause the damage. Like I said before, it can be pretty subjective to the sufferer.
At the outset, it can also be a condition that the sufferer isn’t even aware that he/she has. I can recall the story of a law enforcement colleague from years ago, who had been initiating a traffic stop along a busy highway. He walked towards the stopped vehicle and he saw something small sitting on the edge of the roadway. When he stopped and looked at the object, he identified it as a small child’s sneaker. He immediately threw up and went into convulsions, got vivid flashbacks of an investigation he had been working on that involved a small child who had been killed. Although he had coped well to that point, the sight of the child’s sneaker brought all the traumatic memories to the surface and he basically shut down, right on the edge of the highway.
Although it isn’t always to that extreme, I’ve heard a lot of stories like this one. And have had plenty of colleagues who have suffered in silence. The ultimate symptom of PTSD and the one that often takes hold before friends and family become aware that there’s a problem, is suicide. Because of the stigma associated with PTSD in previous decades, many people choose to stay silent about their condition and try to self-medicate or isolate from others. When that fails, many often feel the only remaining option is to end their own lives.
For myself, nightmares and insomnia have certainly been the prevalent symptoms. But hyper vigilance, irritability and anger are high on the list as well. I have difficulty being in large crowds and will often find myself with increased sense of anxiety and shaking when I’m surrounded by people, especially if it’s a room full of conversation and noise. I’m quick to anger when consistent loud noise is happening in my immediate environment, which makes my days difficult considering I have an infant in the house.
There is a lot a person can do to lessen and help treat symptoms of PTSD. I find meditation helps, although having the time and opportunity to do so has been far less in recent years. A rigorous fitness regime and plenty of fresh air. From a medical standpoint, there are many therapies and medications that can help manage and lessen, if not eliminate PTSD. I’m not a big fan of the medications route myself, but I’ve known folks that have benefited from it.
I think the big thing is to talk about it. There’s no shame and no embarrassment to having PTSD. It’s part of who you are and certainly isn’t your fault. And talking about it to family and loved ones can be a powerful means of treating PTSD, in and of itself. And if your family at least understands what’s happening, it can go a long way towards preserving those relationships in the face of the difficulties you’re facing. And if you or someone you know may be thinking of harming themselves, the Suicide Prevention Hotline is always available at 1-833-456-4566. That’s a Canadian line, of course. If you’re one of my readers from out-of-country, you’ll have to search for whatever equivalent number you may have in your country.
We’ve come a long way from the time when friends, family or employers would say, “you’re just making excuses” or “you’re just being lazy.” But there’s still a long road to travel. There’s plenty of research and articles on the diagnosis, treatment and assumed causes of PTSD. So feel free to have a read and educate yourself. And be certain that if someone you know says they have PTSD, don’t take it as a passing thing; they’re likely dealing with it as best they can. ☯