What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
A real life story
PTSD is something we hear of often. On TV shows, Netflix and in the News. But would you be able to notice Post Traumatic Stress Disorder present in someone you know or in yourself?
I stumbled across Betty on her blog Betty’s Battleground and from the first paragraph I knew she was someone whose story I wanted to share. Not only is Betty unbelievably strong in facing and challenging her PTSD but she is brave enough to share her struggles and her story publicly.
I am so pleased that Betty accepted my request for her to write for us and explain her story and the reality of PTSD.
Hello. My name is Elizabeth Brico. You can also call me Betty Mama. I am, like Michal, a mama. A mama to three brilliant, lovely, and sometimes totally obnoxious kiddos. I live in Seattle, Washington. Yep, that rain-drenched city in the States where Kurt Cobain and Microsoft came from. I also have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I am honored to guest blog on AllThingsMomSydney today and tell you a little bit about what it’s like to live with this disorder, and what signs to watch out for in case you or a loved one encounter trauma.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder which arises after a person experiences, witnesses, or hears about a life threatening or sexual trauma.
Hearing about a trauma
Wait, back up! Does that say “hears about” a trauma?
Yes, but don’t worry. You’re probably not going to get PTSD because of that tragic news segment you saw during breakfast. The ‘hearing’ criterion usually applies to learning about trauma which happened to a loved one.
Children are especially susceptible to this type of PTSD. If you discover that one of your child’s friends has experienced a trauma, be extra sensitive. Monitor your child and be aware of your child during the following months.
Witnessing A Trauma
Similarly public service workers, such as police officers or paramedics, are at high risk for developing witnessed PTSD. Bystanders who witness a violent crime may also develop symptoms.
The most common way to develop PTSD, however, is to live through a trauma.
The 4 Trauma Categories
The American Psychiatric Association divides PTSD-inducing traumas into four categories:
- Combative such as fighting in a war.
- Criminal such as being assaulted
- Accidental being in a bad car wreck)
- Natural disaster surviving a flood, hurricane, earthquake
I developed PTSD from domestic abuse.
I met The Ex when I was fourteen. He was seven years my senior which made the relationship itself illegal.
I fell wildly in love with him, in that beautiful and terrifying way to which teenagers are prone.
A few months into the relationship, he began to abuse me. It began with pushing. The pushing quickly escalated into very harmful, life-threatening behavior. He abused me physically, sexually, verbally, and emotionally. It was truly across-the-board abuse.
The abuse was way too much for me to handle. But I continued to stay with him.
The reasons why I stayed, and why women so often stay in abusive relationships, are far too complex to cover here. The point is that he was my first love, and I stayed for four years. Until I had a child by him. Only then, when I realized that my son’s life was in jeopardy, did I find the courage to testify against him and send him to prison.
My Trauma lives with me
Of course, after four years of abuse, my mind and body had accrued a lot of trauma to process.
When a person experiences trauma, that trauma becomes a part of her corporeal memory. Just as a master athlete knows the movements of her sport within her body, a trauma survivor remembers the huddle and flinch of survival.
Without a strong support system to help the survivor re-learn both the physical and psychological feeling of being safe, she is at risk for developing PTSD. In my case, my family was really focused on making sure my son was okay.
I am grateful that my family took such great care to support of my son, but my needs were, by default, pushed to the background. As a result, I developed PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
You can find a comprehensive list of the symptoms of PTSD on my blog’s About Me page, or on any number of online resources such as the U.S. Veteran’s Affairs website or the website for Pheonix Australia: Centre for Posttraumatic Health.
The most severe symptoms I experienced I will touch on briefly below.
1. Intrusive thoughts related to the trauma
Basically, I can’t stop thinking about what happened, even though I really want to forget it.
2. Emotional reactivity
I think of this as overreacting on hyperdrive. I become extremely sensitive to slights which I would previously have been able to laugh off.
3. Trauma flashbacks
Flashbacks can happen anytime, anywhere, and can be triggered by very unexpected things, such as a certain smell or a spoken phrase.
When experiencing a flashback, I lose sense of where I am in real life. I feel as though I have returned to the moment of trauma. On a few occasions I have even hallucinated that The Ex was in the room with me. Flashbacks are pure terror.
The best way that I have learned to help myself out of a flashback is to find a way to anchor myself to the present moment. If I am wearing a new pair of shoes, for example, I will focus on them and even touch them while reminding myself when I bought those shoes and that I was not wearing them when I was assaulted. This helps me remember that I am no longer in the past.
When a person has PTSD, his biological arousal processes become stuck. Known colloquially as the ‘fight or flight response,’ humans evolved these functions as a necessary survival mechanism.
With PTSD, however, the body becomes confused and keeps the mechanism ‘on’ even when it is no longer needed. This leads to nervousness and fatigue, which is a pretty trying combination.
This is also the main reason why so many PTSD sufferers have co-occuring substance abuse disorders. Alcohol and other ‘downers’ are able to manually switch off those arousal mechanisms which the PTSD-affected body has unlearned how to turn off on its own.
Dissociation can come in the form of depersonalization or derealization. I experience both.
Depersonalization, essentially, is the feeling that I am not really me; the events which I experience are detached from myself, almost as if I am in a dream. Derealization is the feeling that the world around me is not real. The dissociated experience is a very uncanny world to live in.
PTSD is a serious disorder. When left untreated, it can completely overrule your life. If you believe that you may have PTSD, please seek professional help. There is no known cure for PTSD, but the symptoms can be managed, with help. Life can become bearable again.
How should you react to someone who you think may have PTSD
If you think that someone you love has PTSD, please treat her gently.
She may react in unusual ways. You may get pushed away. She may even lash out at you when you’ve done nothing wrong. But take it from a survivor: She needs your love.
She needs to know that you will stay no matter what. It’s okay to tell her that you will not accept abusive behavior from her, but also make sure she knows that you love her, and that you’re not going anywhere.
Remember: A single moment of compassion will accomplish far more than a month’s worth of shaming.
Betty is speculative fiction writer, playwright, occasional poet, and feminist blogger from Seattle, WA. She earned her M.F.A. in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. Read more from Betty on her blog, Betty’s Battleground. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter too.
Betty is also currently writing a play about addiction. If you are a former or current addict who would like to submit a monologue please reach out to her at [email protected].