A Beginner’s Guide to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
“Trauma isn’t what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you.”– Gabe Maté
What do you see when you think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
For most of us, the first thing we may picture is a combat veteran, and rightfully so. People who have endured war have likely seen some pretty horrific things.
However, there tends to be a lot of misconceptions about PTSD. Misconceptions such as who is allowed to have it and what can actually cause it.
The truth of the matter is that anyone, anywhere, at any time, and at any age, can develop PTSD.
While we all wish PTSD was something that we would never personally encounter, I believe it’s important to understand that anyone has the potential to get PTSD. Even you.
Without even realizing it, I personally suffered from PTSD for years after living through a tornado. That’s because I thought PTSD was only for those who experienced war.
Boy was I wrong!
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I would be diagnosed with PTSD – many years after the tornado caused it to develop. I often wonder if I had known earlier, would it have changed anything?
Likely not. But without a doubt, I do know I would be able to understand my struggle a little bit better. And potentially develop the necessary tools to manage my PTSD more easily.
So, today we are going to explore what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is, what can cause PTSD, the signs, and symptoms, and how you can get help if you suspect that you may be suffering yourself.
Keep in mind – I’m not a psychiatrist and don’t claim to be.
I’m just a regular girl who suffers from PTSD herself and wants to help others understand this debilitating disorder.
If you feel at any point that you may be suffering from PTSD, please seek out help from a professional. Details on how to get help will be provided at the end of this post to help point you in the right direction.
Until then, keep scrolling to learn all about PTSD and how it can manifest in our everyday lives.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD, is a disorder that develops after someone has seen or endured a traumatic event or a series of events. Usually, these events are observed as terrifying, horrifying, and precarious.
PTSD can stem from a physically dangerous situation, or even an emotional one. Oftentimes, PTSD shows up when someone’s life has been threatened. And that can happen in both a physical and emotional sense.
What Can Cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
As previously stated, the most common picture of PTSD victims are combat veterans. But PTSD can show up in a variety of people.
Victims of natural disasters, car accidents, rape/sexual assault, physical abuse, and emotional/mental abuse can all experience PTSD shortly, or even years, after living through or witnessing a terrifying experience.
The key takeaway is this – trauma does not discriminate.
Like most mental health conditions, PTSD can show up differently between person to person. There are symptoms that may show up more strongly in you than in others and vice versa.
However, there are common signs and symptoms that can help you identify if you may be experiencing PTSD yourself.
Signs and Symptoms of Post-Traumtic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
It’s perfectly normal for someone to feel scared and anxious after a terrifying event.
For some people, they can overcome their trauma and move forward with their life. And for others, they may feel the effects long after the traumatic event or events they experienced.
Whichever the case, there are similar symptoms that we see unfolding in PTSD sufferers. But to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must experience all of the below categories for at least one month:
- One re-experiencing symptom
- One avoidance symptom
- Two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- Two cognition and mood symptoms
Some of these symptom types may very well speak for themselves. However, a couple may not be so clear and may leave you wondering what they mean. We will now explore each symptom type to clarify the meaning behind each of them.
Re-experiencing or Reliving Symptoms
This symptom type pretty much means what it says. A person typically experiences flashbacks, recurring memories, or distressing thoughts of a traumatic event. They may have a racing heartbeat, become sweaty, and show other signs of physical stress.
Personally, I experience every single one of these symptoms on occasion.
For example, I have flashbacks of the night of the tornado, memories of the aftermath that I replay in my head over and over again, as well as repeat, dark thoughts that I would rather wipe from my memory.
Nightmares of the tornado still show up on occasion, even though it’s been 20+ years.
This is another PTSD symptom category that explains itself. But to clarify even further, avoidance symptoms are those in which a person avoids a place, situations, or even people that remind them of their trauma. It may mean avoiding a physical building, a town, or someone close to you.
This category manifests itself in my life in three different ways.
- After the tornado, I would be absolutely terrified to step outside if it was a particularly cloudy day. Even if it wasn’t raining or storming. The clouds themselves scared me enough to make me want to stay at home, especially if they were moving.
- As I got older and had more of a say in where I wanted to go, I avoided going to my grandmother’s home. This is where the tornado occurred and where my family and I were when it happened. It had nothing to do with my grandmother herself. Rather, the memories of the tornado were just too painful and came flooding back anytime I was at her house.
- Lastly, I watched the weather like a hawk for years after the tornado. If there was even a chance that it was going to storm, I would cancel any plans I had and stay home. I wouldn’t dare get caught at someone else’s home who didn’t have a basement or at a place I thought would be unsafe during a tornado, or even just a thunderstorm.
Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms
This is a category that may not be so clear for some and can encompass several different symptoms.
Remember a person must experience two of these symptom types to be diagnosed with PTSD (along with meeting the requirements from the other categories). Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:
- Being easily startled or scared.
- Feeling like you are on edge and have trouble relaxing.
- Being unable to focus and concentrate.
- Having difficulty with sleep.
- Being especially angry or blowing up uncontrollably.
- Feeling particularly irritable or easily annoyed.
- Engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as excessive drinking, drug use, or behaving in a self-destructive manner.
I can honestly say that I’ve hit each of these points in some form or another since the night of the tornado. And while I don’t experience it all anymore, there are still some that I do encounter from time to time.
For example, loud noises are something I continue to struggle with. It can be something falling, or someone putting up the dishes too loudly. Anytime a loud noise occurs, it activates a feeling of chaos within me that leaves me absolutely terrified, even if there is no true danger.
There are also times where I have an extremely hard time focusing and concentrating on the task at hand. My mind can wander to my trauma at any point and oftentimes without warning. And when it does, everything else becomes overshadowed by it.
Cognition and Mood Symptoms
There are so many things that PTSD can make you feel that many times it can seem like you are separate from everyone else. In fact, that’s one of the symptoms in this category, dissociation. You basically feel disconnected or detached from the people in your life.
Some other common cognition and mood symptoms you may encounter are:
- Extreme hopelessness.
- Obsessive and negative thoughts about yourself, those around you, or the world in general.
- Lack of interest in things you once loved.
- Memory issues, especially when it comes to pivotal moments of a trauma.
- Feeling an array of negative emotions, such as irritability, anger, shame, numbness, guilt, and sadness.
- Having difficulty experiencing positive emotions, such as happiness or joy.
- Struggling to maintain social relationships or becoming more reclusive.
And remember – this is another category in which you must experience two of the above behaviors to be diagnosed with PTSD. In addition to meeting the requirements for the previously discussed categories.
Treatment Options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Bear in mind – not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. Some people can overcome their trauma on their own or with the help of their personal support system (family and friends).
However, if you find yourself struggling with any of the symptoms that we’ve discussed above, it’s imperative that you seek out help from a mental health professional, particularly one who has experience treating PTSD.
And when you do, you may encounter the following treatment options.
Also known as “talk therapy” or just simply “therapy”, psychotherapy is when you talk to a mental health professional about your PTSD. With psychotherapy, there are a couple of different options available for PTSD treatment, such as individual therapy and group therapy.
There are also several different forms of psychotherapy that you can try. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), prolonged exposure (PE), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EDMR) are all options that the American Psychological Association (APA) recommends for treatment of PTSD.
Medication is currently a part of my treatment plan for several of my mental health issues, including PTSD. I resisted the idea for a long time as I personally hate taking medicine unless absolutely necessary.
I was also worried I would be on this medication for the rest of my life. However, there came a point where I felt like I was just stuck. And so, I finally decided to give it a try.
While medication helped me, it may not be right for you…
If you’re curious if medication may be a treatment option for your PTSD, talk with your mental health professional to learn more. If they are unable to prescribe medication, they likely can point you in the direction of someone who can.
You can also speak with your primary care doctor about being prescribed medication for your PTSD symptoms if you don’t have a mental health professional established yet.
As far as medication goes, there are currently four different antidepressants that are conditionally recommended for treatment of PTSD symptoms by the APA. They are:
Your provider should help you determine which medication is best for the treatment of your PTSD, in addition to the appropriate dosage.
But do ensure you do your homework on any potential contenders.
Find out any symptoms the medication may have and discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to taking any medication.
Resources for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
You can never have too many resources to help you on your mental health journey. And PTSD is no exception!
Check out the below list for some of my go to online resources whenever I am researching PTSD.
These resources have been invaluable to me over the years. Many of these sites can help you learn more about PTSD, as well as help you locate mental health professionals in your area.
I hope this guide has given you a basic understanding of PTSD and of the different treatment options available. It can get overwhelming with all the information available, but the intent of this post was to easily explain PTSD so that anyone can understand it.
If you think that you may be suffering from PTSD, please don’t delay seeking out help. Take it from me – the longer you wait, the more difficult it will become to manage your PTSD. Feel free to utilize any of the resources provided here to get you started.
Until next time, I wish you peace and healing in your journey.