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What it is, what it isn’t and how to cope.

My naturopath gave me a really great example of how to look at what PTSD is. Imagine you got hit in the arm once. You may get a bruise but after a week or so the bruise goes away. Then maybe a few weeks or even months go by, and you get hit in the arm again. You get another bruise but because there is enough time between hits you heal.

Now imagine you get hit in the arm today and it bruises…and you get hit tomorrow and it bruises…and the next day…and the day after that…and the day after that, and every single day after that. Bruise on top of bruise on top of bruise…over and over, day after day…continuing for years. No time to heal in between hits.

Now everyone is different. Someone could have a traumatic experience just one time and have PTSD. Others might have 2 or 5 or 10 traumas before developing PTSD. Then there are others that live in trauma on a daily basis and their PTSD has ultimately become a part of who they are.

What are the basics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? You feel on edge all of the time. You have recurrent nightmares about a singular event or multiple events from the recent or distant past. A past event or events play over and over in your mind in complete clarity. Sudden noises startle you. People seem to sneak up on you. You stay at home more and more often or find a place that you are comfortable and retreat there more and more often.

If you have experienced severe trauma or a life-threatening event even one time, you may develop symptoms of PTSD. It does not have to be something experienced while in the military or during a time of war. It could be a singular event or multiple events at any point in your life, whether as a child or as an adult. Maybe during the event you felt as if your life or the lives of others were in danger or that you had no control over what was happening.

Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include recurring memories or nightmares of the event, sleeplessness, loss of interest, and feelings of numbness, anger or irritability, or being constantly on guard. Sometimes these symptoms do not surface for months or even years after the event occurred. An individual may have a few symptoms or may have all of these, and each in their own right can disrupt an individual’s life and the lives of friends and family.

Some factors can increase the likelihood of a traumatic event leading to PTSD, such as:

  • The intensity of the trauma
  • Being hurt or losing someone you were close to
  • Being physically close to the traumatic event
  • Feeling you were not in control
  • Having a lack of support after the event

A wide variety of symptoms may be signs that you are experiencing PTSD. The following are some of the most common symptoms of PTSD that you or those around you may have noticed:

  • Feeling upset by things that remind you of what happened
  • Having nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks of the event that make you feel like it’s happening all over again
  • Feeling emotionally cut off from others
  • Feeling numb or losing interest in things you used to care about
  • Feeling constantly on guard
  • Feeling irritated or having angry outbursts
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Being jumpy or easily startled

It’s not just the symptoms of PTSD but also how you may react to them that can disrupt your life. You may:

  • Frequently avoid places or things that remind you of what happened
  • Consistently drink or use drugs to numb your feelings
  • Consider harming yourself or others
  • Start working all the time to occupy your mind
  • Pull away from other people and become isolated

As every person is different so is everyone with PTSD different. There really is no one size fits all and you really need to work with your doctor to figure out what is or is not going to work for you. Mindfulness therapy was offered to me but when the degree of my PTSD was determined they suggested not to do it as it would likely make my PTSD worse. Mindfulness is basically being in the moment, such as being in the moment when you are feeling your PTSD symptoms. Depending on what caused your PTSD, being in that moment is NOT an ideal situation. Reliving a traumatic experience is, in my opinion, causing more trauma, which is also why my therapists suggested against it.

There are many sites that talk about doing different things to help with the symptoms, but as I said, not everyone is the same so you need to decide for yourself what may help. Many sites that have information on what may help often suggest “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors”, but if you are in the know then you realize that they are your garden variety of depression meds. You can have depression with PTSD and the PTSD may actually end up giving you depression, but in my opinion, I do not believe that anti-depression meds should be your only course of action.