It can be difficult to think of having PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). What I really dislike about the diagnosis all are the negative connotations that surround it. For many people, the thought of PTSD is one of broken people who who will suffer for the rest of their lives. Having PTSD can come with feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness. None of this is true.
Simply put, PTSD is simply a set of symptoms around an unresolved trauma. Our brains naturally process the things that happen to us, even the unpleasant and painful ones, and over time they lose their visceral nature (the feelings are less present and painful). The human brain is built to forget pain. Unfortunately, with some traumatic experiences, this system breaks down and the memory remains as real and as painful and does not diminish over time. This is what we refer to an an unresolved trauma.
This type of trauma can affect everyday life. The term PTSD is used to describe the effects of unresolved traumas. The symptoms of PTSD break down into four categories:
Reliving the Event – nightmares, flashbacks, & sensitivity to triggers (signs, sounds, smells, etc. that cause one to relive the event).
Avoiding of Situations That Remind You of the Trauma – this may be such things as avoiding crowds or being alone with someone, riding in a car, or being in a certain type of environment (restaurant, bar etc.).
Negative Beliefs and Feelings – may include lack of positive or loving feelings toward ones self or other people, avoiding relationships, forgetting about parts of the traumatic event or inability to talk about it, or feeling that the world is completely dangerous and that no one can be trusted.
Hyperarousal (Feeling on edge or “keyed up”) - feeling anxious or jittery, always being alert and on the lookout for danger, or being angry or irritable. This feelings may lead to things such as social anxiety, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and/or being startled easily.
Making the situation worse, many people end up trying to manage these symptoms with drugs and alcohol, self-harm (cutting, etc), or isolation. These behaviors sometimes provide short term relief from symptoms, but aggravate the condition over time. Additionally, many people struggling with addiction, eating disorders, and similar issues are also struggling with trauma and PTSD.
All of this sounds pretty bleak and depressing, but PTSD does not have to be a life sentence. This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but if PTSD is a set of symptoms around an unresolved trauma, the answer is to deal with the trauma. This may sound daunting, but there are effective and clinically proven ways to deal with trauma (such as EMDR therapy).
Many people see results quickly when they engage in this type of therapy. Asking for help may be the hardest part. Talking about trauma can be difficult and the effects of the trauma can make it hard to open up and let someone in to help, but it is worth it. Dealing with trauma isn’t easy and may take some hard work, but I guarantee that it is easier than living with it.
Thrive Counseling & Trauma Therapy
Suicide Prevention and Crisis Hotline: (800) 273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline: Call 1-800-656-4673