Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-PTSD~
Thank you for coming back to read part two of POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER- PTSD. Today I’ll describe what it’s like for me, living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You’ve probably heard of PTSD, but if not, here is a definition that explains PTSD simply and in plain language.
An Anxiety Disorder
This comes from ADAVIC, Anxiety Disorders of Victoria, Inc. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that an individual may develop after seeing or experiencing a dangerous event, such as physical injury or severe mental and emotional distress. In the face of imminent danger the fear response is triggered, alerting the body to prepare for, defend or avoid the danger. This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is a normal reaction that primes the body to protect itself from harm. Over time, however, this reaction to fear is changed or damaged in sufferers of PTSD, rendering them hypersensitive to stress and fear even when they are no longer in danger. Given this, it comes as no surprise that those who have experienced military combat, violent assault, natural disasters or life-threatening events are at a higher risk in developing PTSD. Sometimes, PTSD may develop after witnessing a friend or family member being harmed.”
Here is part of my story. It’s very frightening even talking about this, let alone writing about it. Sometimes I’m afraid that I will be found, and hurt. Worse, I’m afraid that people I love will be hurt.
I was stalked by an ex-boyfriend. He did everything from calling my house and hanging up (no cell phones back then), sneaking around my bedroom window, following me, threatening to kill me and a former boyfriend who I had not seen in a year. A home invasion- an angry outburst that required police intervention. There was a suicide attempt, and it was arranged so that I would find him.
Weeks later with no warning, the “altercation”. As I sat in my car to leave my house he punched me through the glass of my closed car window, stole my car as I tried to protect my mom, then he tried to run us over with my own car. He entered my house, found my dad’s hunting rifles and let loose on my family home, neighbouring homes and cars. We took shelter in a neighbour’s house for hours. I hid my mother, because I knew he was going to kill me. I hoped that if he got me, he would leave her alone. Later, the TRU Team (Tactical Response Unit) arrived, now called the Emergency Response Unit.
On that day, I lost my ability to trust.
That night, after it was all over, and the police took him away, even though I logically knew he was behind bars, I was afraid to go with my family to my grandparent’s house, because he knew where they lived. In my mind, he might escape and find me. I went to a beloved friend’s home because they had just moved and he didn’t know where they lived. I didn’t sleep that night, not even one second. Every time I nodded off, I shook myself awake, forever on alert, afraid that he would find me. Every noise from neighbouring apartments, the hallway and the parking lot scared the shit out of me.
How Does PTSD Affect Daily Life?
Sometimes I feel totally safe. I just get on with life, and don’t allow PTSD to take hold and control my life. Even so, I live with a constant fear of divulging too much information, especially to strangers. And yet here I am, doing just that. I am suspicious and hypervigilant, meaning that I notice (and question, and am suspicious of) tiny little things; anything that’s different from the norm, or what I deem to be “normal behavior”, anything that seems to be a little sketchy-because that is how a PTSD brain assesses the possibility of danger. If you behave differently from how I know you, I will take note, because in the mind of someone with PTSD, that could be a sign of danger. I mean, if you part your hair slightly different, I’m going to notice!
It’s exhausting to be constantly on alert for danger. I have a much exagerated startle response, especially if someone appears suddenly on my left. Generally if I’m startled to that degree, I lash out with my arms as a way to protect myself. It’s an instant reaction. Gunshots or cars backfiring or any extremely loud or sudden noises make my heart race, my palms sweat and if I’m startled or scared, I can burst into tears instantly. If people I love are late coming over, late getting back home or late meeting me, I have to squelch the fear that something bad happened to them.
To this day, I don’t sleep well. I continue to have nightmares; nasty, violent, vivid nightmares, at least 2-3 times per month, down from nightly nightmares in the first few years. At a restaurant or just in a room of any kind, I prefer not to have my back to the door or window. I need to see who comes in the door, if at all possible. One of the most disturbing things that has happened to me, is that I have amnesia about certain parts of the trauma, and sometimes I can’t remember which event happened first. I’m sure my brain is protecting me from something. These are just some of the things that affect me on a daily basis.
PTSD Changes you…
After my traumatic event, the world was no longer a safe place. PTSD changes you forever. There is no getting away from that. But it can be managed. Before the “incident” I trusted people easily. I was happy and bubbly and I had ambitious plans for my life. I was such an extrovert. In one afternoon all that changed.
There is much more to the story, but even this much information is frightening for me to put out there. For years I didn’t talk about this because I was embarassed. I grew up in a happy, sweet, normal family on a quiet, perfect little street. This stuff only happened in movies. I felt like I was treated as though I was a bad person, as though I did something wrong, or like I was part of a bad crowd. I assure you, my family and my life was like the t.v. show “Leave It To Beaver”. For anyone not of my generation-the Cleaver’s were a simple, hardworking, good family.
There are so many symptoms of PTSD, and I continue to be plagued by most of the common ones, things like:
- Extreme startle response
- Inability to trust
- Feeling unsafe
- Flashbacks/Intrusive thoughts of the incident
- Triggers such as the anniversary date, certain words, objects, smells, or situations, people who look like “him”
- Sounds that remind me of that day, gun shots, cars backfiring, police sirens, police radios in movies, sound of racing cars
- Sweating, dizziness, nausea, angry outbursts that seem like an over-reaction, usually because something has scared me and I go into protective mode
- Avoidance (of the place, a similar place, a certain time, certain people, crowds, certain situations)
- Reluctance to discuss the trauma
- Guilt (assuming somehow it was my fault, guilt over him ruining my parent’s home)
- Low self-esteem, inability to enjoy things you used to enjoy
- Relationship difficulties, usually due to lack of trust, fear of opening up, fear of being hurt
- Panic attacks
For me, the effects of PTSD have improved somewhat over the years, but every once in a while something rears its ugly head and I struggle to regain that sense of normalcy, of safety, and trust that the world is not as bad as my brain and nervous system wants me to believe it is.
PTSD Is Different For Everyone
I’m sure there are many more symptoms and reactions. Every person is different. I have read some personal accounts of men and women who’ve fought in the war, police officers, first responders, doctors and nurses, other people who have been attacked violently, victims of sexual abuse, emotional abuse at home and at work, people who have been in or witnessed a serious accident, or seen someone die. Most people will endure some sort of traumatic event in his/her life. Most will recover, however some of us, for some reason, are damaged by trauma. I hate that it’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wish it was called Post Traumatic Stress Injury. For more information on how to cope with PTSD, check out HelpGuide.org.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE~
What you need to know is that PTSD can be managed. Sometimes I go weeks or months without feeling afraid, or unsure of trusting someone. I learned recently though, that you may be happily going along in life with relatively few symptoms and then something can happen that triggers you. It’s called a PTSD Attack. Essentially, a trigger by something similar, or another traumatic or unsettling event, or something that evokes a strong sense of danger, real or perceived, can cause an upheavel if you will, of those nicely buried emotions.
The Strange Ways PTSD Shows Up
For me right now, the latest upheavel is having to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. I’m all for receiving a vaccine, don’t get me wrong. I just have to work really hard at downplaying the hype about the rare side effect of blood clots from this particular vaccine. I have to trust that I won’t be one of those people who gets a blood clot and dies from this vaccine. Silly? Not if you’ve had your life threatened, and not if your brain is hyper-alert to any and all possibilities of danger. I have an appointment for Wednesday. I’m scared to death, but I know that I have to learn to trust.
I have to trust that I will be okay. For me, trust is probably the biggest mountain I have to climb. For me, trusting someone means I need proof. Proof of their feelings, proof of their good behaviour; but, that is not part of the definition of trust, is it? Trust means having faith.
Thank you for reading part two of POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER~PTSD. Check back next week when I discuss ways to help in your recovery, how to forgive,and how to understand someone living with PTSD.
Carol Paino~ Parts Of Ourselves