Because things concerning Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be a recurring subject of my blog posts, I’ll take a moment to write down my general take on it. It’s just my two cents, if probably influenced by what I learned from my mom, a psychiatrist.
Clinically PTSD is described as a psychiatric disorder that can follow the experience of traumatic events. It manifests in stress responses such as:
- becoming upset when confronted with stuff that relates to the traumatic event(s)
- shying away from reminders of the traumatic situation(s) or actively avoiding those
- involuntary reliving of the events in dreams or flashbacks
- anxiety, feeling on edge, restless, startling easy or being watchful
- feeling emotionally numb or “tuning out” of situations (dissociating) up to total amnesia of the event(s) or circumstance(s)
This is by far no complete list, just a quick draft to summarize what PTSD is generally understood to be. If you want to learn more, you can check out Wikipedia’s take on PTSD, or Google one of the many websites that provide the diagnostic criteria.
For me PTSD is like a shadow. While it’s there all the time, I may not see it at all in some situations and then, seconds later, with the sun out, it suddenly stands out so much that it’s huge and overpowering. But even on days where it doesn’t give me that much crap, it influences my behavior and my choices.
For example I don’t do “alone” well. It comes in shades, so sometimes I can tolerate to be in a room by myself quite okay, even when nobody is within calling distance, but on other days it’s challenging to even let someone leave my immediate field of vision. I panic in darkness and I have trouble sleeping. Safety is a big issue. I rarely feel totally safe, and if so, I can’t hold on to it, because I usually need help to feel safe, like by my mom, so my feeling of safety depends on her a lot. That pushes me into controlling behavior more often than you care to know.
I also experience flashbacks, in the form of images that appear like series of disturbing stills in strobe light, or physical sensations, such as feeling choked or like I can’t breathe and my heart starts racing. Some things trigger me into a panic response. Other times I react with a shutdown and blank out, unable to process most of what’s happening anymore. The possibility of this happening makes me uncomfortable in unpredictable or busy situations with lots of possible triggers, and also around people who I don’t feel safe with. (Which means pretty much everyone outside my family.)
I’m working on my symptoms and I am getting better at recognizing my triggers, but sometimes it just seems like such a crap burden to carry that I don’t want to think about it at all anymore and wish I could simply stop being me. But I’m sorry, I digress. That’s not so much PTSD as just me being fed up with myself. 😉
Another thing that is a lot more related to PTSD is my tendency to dissociate. Sometimes I can feel it coming on and can hold on to reality by actively focusing on staying in touch, but other times I disengage and drift into what feels like having been in a white fog afterwards, or feel like everything is unreal, like I am a bystander watching myself, disconnected from my body, my thoughts, my actions. I also have a terrible memory. I often don’t recall entire episodes of what I did during any given day, especially when I was emotionally upset at the time.
From my mom I learned how a lot of that has to do with my brain having gotten shaped by the traumatic events of my childhood, like the sexual, physical and emotional abuse, as well as the neglect I survived. She explained to me how PTSD is the result of my brain having done overtime to keep me alive and relatively sane in insane circumstances and how I need to be patient with myself, because in order to get better, my brain needs time to understand it’s really safe now and can relax and let go of the old survival mechanisms. Sounds okay and reasonable.
But also frustrating. Sometimes I wish there was a drug to make me normal. Whatever that is. Well, but I’ve been there and done that and all it achieved was that it made me indifferent towards everything, along with side effects, which wasn’t very normal either. So I don’t go there again and take the hard way out. Who needs normal anyway?!