I've had several people over the past few days contact me and tell me about trauma-related incidents. First of all, for those of you who did contact me, thank you for trusting me. I respect you for your strength, and want you to know that your trust in me and your confidentiality is and will be honored.
That said, it seems that the posts around coping may have opened a door for talking about how to deal with trauma and PTSD. For those of you who don't know much about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) beyond what you've heard about veterans, let me fill you in. PTSD is a reaction to dealing with extreme or long-standing traumatic stress. The classic example we most hear about is that of soldiers experiencing PTSD as a reaction to the horrific things they witness in combat and/or military activities. I'm NOT going to minimize those experiences at all - from what we've heard in the news, PTSD is - if anything - on the rise especially in current military personnel and veterans of the recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, PTSD is also found in many people who experience other traumatic injuries and insults - both physical and psychological. Rape victims and victims of physical abuse may experience PTSD, people who are victims of emotional and psychological abuse also experience PTSD. The abuse or insult does not have to be an ongoing issue, either - people who have experienced a single episode of a traumatic event can also experience PTSD. Those involved in car or other vehicle accidents, victims of crimes, those who have had a family member hurt, those who have been victims of robberies or break-ins..the list of possibilities for who can experience this is nearly endless. Another thing to keep in mind is that what is traumatic and triggers PTSD in one person may or may not trigger it in someone else - we are all unique people with our own strengths and weaknesses and areas of resilience and vulnerability.
So, what is PTSD? Generally speaking, to receive a diagnosis of PTSD, one must have "experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with" something that risked death or severe injury, or a threat to the someone's physical or psychological wholeness. The other major piece of this is that the person's response involved "intense fear, helplessness, or horror" (I'm quoting from our clinician's book of diagnosis information, the DSM-IV-TR). These are the two most basic things that have to be met. Beyond that, the trauma is re-experienced in a multitude of ways such as flashbacks, nightmares, not being able to get it out of your mind, or reacting disproportionately to things that remind the person of the trauma. In PTSD, the victim will also go out of her/his way to avoid things that remind them of the trauma, or may seem numbed or non-responsive to things that would normally cause a reaction. Finally, the person will experience other emotional and/or physical difficulties such as depression, difficulty concentrating or controlling their emotions, not being able to fall asleep, or startling at even little things. For true PTSD, these symptoms last longer than a month (in the cases of symptoms being less than a month, we call it "Acute Stress Disorder," but except for the duration of symptoms, they are generally the same thing.)
So, if you've been dealing with something in your life that has triggered these symptoms, what do you do? The first thing I would recommend, honestly, is working with a good psychologist or therapist. As I've mentioned before (and firmly believe from experience as well as training), seeing a therapist and/or getting help really IS a sign of strength and of hope, NOT a sign of weakness. We have such an unfortunate stigma in our society - you are NOT "crazy" if you seek out help. If anything, you're showing how sane you are. These traumatic things that happen sap our strength, and test our abilities to function and live life - we have a right to be free of and heal from the traumatic things that happened, and a right to recover and live fully.
Seeing your doctor about medications might help as well - I and many other people view using medication for anxiety, depression and other disorders as being the same as using medication to treat diabetes or heart disease. The main difference is that you're working with brain chemicals that you can't see. Otherwise, there is a medical aspect to these conditions and working on that as well as the psychological is important.
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don't have to be alone in facing these things - there are people who care and who will help.