When I first thought I may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I wasn’t taken seriously. To be fair, I was seeing a military doctor. I’m from a military family, and married into the military as well. The soldiers are the ones who get PTSD, the men who go to war. Their wives can’t possibly get it.
What, you got yourself some PTSD from cutting yourself while washing the dishes? Get back in the kitchen where you belong and stop being hysterical.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, anyone can get PTSD, at any time in their lives, including childhood. In fact, women are more likely to suffer from PTSD than men. If someone in your family suffers from it, you’re more likely to develop it. You don’t even have to experience a dangerous event yourself. Just watching a friend or a family member experience danger or being harmed is enough. The sudden, unexpected death of a loved one is enough.
I imagine going through five separate traumatic, near-death experiences with my children over a six-year span was probably enough.
I’ve wanted children for longer than I can remember. After I actually had them–after over ten years of infertility struggles–I suddenly didn’t want them anymore. At the time, I didn’t realize that almost losing them twice while I was pregnant was the beginning of where I am today.
When we’re in danger, or someone we love is in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers split-second changes in the body to prepare against the danger, or to avoid it. Otherwise known as “fight-or-flight,” this reaction served us rather well back in the cavemen days. When we had to run from big things that wanted to eat us. Stress was short lived, and if you didn’t overcome it, well, you were short lived, too. Nowadays, we’ve got chronic stress that Mother Nature couldn’t possibly have foreseen. Our stress response is pinged constantly, for stupid things like getting cut off in traffic, or missing the holiday deadline at the post office. Chronic stress can lead to all types of disorders. Traumatic stress is a little different.
Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder (ASD). When the symptoms last longer than that and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months after the event. Some suffer for years from symptoms and don’t realize what’s going on. In PTSD the fight-or-flight response is super fucked up–it never gets turned off. People with PTSD feel stressed out, frightened, anxious, or panicky even when the actual danger is long gone. It permeates every aspect of their life eventually, from their dreams to their interactions with others.
Click here for a full list of PTSD symptoms, which include flashbacks, nightmares, frightening thoughts, avoiding things that remind you of the experience, and feeling strong guilt. Hyperarousal symptoms like being easily startled, feeling tense, and having angry outbursts are usually constant.
Everyone has heard of PTSD in relation to war veterans, and most people realize that it can also occur from a wide variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, child abuse, car accidents, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters. Some people may not realize that PTSD can occur for other reasons. Reasons that may not seem obvious or valid, or may be completely irrelevant for some of us.
We’re all unique snowflakes, after all. What makes each of us tick is completely different. That doesn’t make my triggers any less real or valid than anyone else’s, or anyone else’s triggers any less real or valid than mine.
It doesn’t matter what I have, or what it’s called. At this point, I honestly don’t care. I just want to feel better, all the time. The way I used to feel, before all this started. The conventional treatment for most mental illnesses, PTSD, acute stress disorder (ASD), and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the same: a combination of drugs and therapy. I’m not opting for the former, and the latter…well, this is therapy for me. I am much better at expressing myself through writing. Telling my story and getting it out there is therapeutic for me. However, when I get back from this trip, I imagine I’ll go see someone and do a bit more talking, too. It never hurts to share.
If you’re feeling like there could be something wrong with you, the first thing I suggest is reaching out for help. If it’s serious, please talk to a doctor. This is a tough one, since most people with anxiety disorders are often afraid to come forward and admit there’s something wrong. Please read the risk and resilience factors at the bottom of this post, and see where you fit. I wish I had reached out for help earlier. I wish I could have seen what was going on, and taken steps to fix it before I had a breakdown.
But hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it. What’s important now is that I am on the road to recovery.
Tomorrow, I’ll start outlining the steps I’m taking on that road. I mentioned them on Monday –nature, tranquility, movement, orgasm, bonding, play, sleep, and attention–but what those words mean to me may not be the same thing they mean to you. I’ll explain the scientific method I’m going to use, so that you can start your own experiments if you’re not sure where to start. It’ll be a while before I have some data to present, so you’ll have to be patient. It’s one thing to feel better when I’m on the road, surrounded by trees and water, and another to feel better when I’m back home, surrounded by stressful situations once again.
Because I am coming home. But first, I’m taking the advice of every flight attendant I’ve ever met: put the mask on yourself before attempting to put it on anyone else.
Risk and Resilience Factors
Risk factors for PTSD include:
- Living through dangerous events and traumas
- Having a history of mental illness
- Getting hurt
- Seeing people hurt or killed
- Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
- Having little or no social support after the event
- Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home.
Resilience factors that may reduce the risk of PTSD include:
- Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
- Finding a support group after a traumatic event
- Feeling good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
- Having a coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
- Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear.
From The National Institute for Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml