PTSD is a common ‘disorder,’ that affects people who have survived severely traumatic events: not every survivor of a traumatic event will feel the effects of PTSD, but one should not discount a traumatic effects on the rest of an individual’s mindset. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and while it’s commonly covered in the news as a terrible side affect of combat traumas, natural and man-made events notwithstanding war can deeply traumatized an individual. One doesn’t even need a noticeable sign of physical trauma to have their psyches injured. About one-quarter of survivors of heavy combat and two-thirds of POWs (Prisoners of War) feel the lingering, eternal ways a trauma can affect everything else in one’s life. While folks who have survived natural disasters and other sudden, unexpected violent events do also feel the sting of PTSD, the likelihood of developing an acute case of PTSD will not be as prominent. Unfortunately for some people, it is more difficult to shake the detriments of trauma on the electrical and chemical makeup of a brain and because of it, for some people, the same anxious feelings of flight-or-fight never go away–or at least not for a long time.
While an individual does not have to be directly affected by a traumatic event, the likelihood of PTSD develop grows exponentially if that’s the case. The most commonly accepted traits needed to quantify PTSD, according to DSM-IV MADE EASY, THE CLINICIAN’S GUIDE TO DIAGNOSIS by James Morrison (Guilford Press, 2001) the experience for the traumatized needs to include both of these elements:
- The event involved a real or actual threat of death or serious injury
- The individual needs to feel intense fear, horror and/or hopelessness.
PTSD, to my understanding, is just one of those handy dandy ways a brain helps cope with a terrible situation. When one gets distressed, scared and intensely scared thanks to a violent and/or unexpected event, a part of their brain works a little harder to help balance out the system. To help ensure that the stress and distress of a sitatuion won’t literally kill a person, the brain works with the body to flood it with chemicals like endorphins to help regulate heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing rate. It works pretty well and for many, many people, after the distressing event has passed, the ability to regain serenity and internal balance is restored. But for a few, that hypocampus gets kicked into overdrive and basically just never really turns off.
In the situations where the brain isn’t able to turn off the anxious and distressing endorphins, the person begins to develop PTSD. Our bodies aren’t “meant” to cope with the degree of anxious hormones over long periods of time. Over time, the heart and from personal experience I’ll add, THE SOUL, get utterly exhausted from the need to always be ON. Referring back to Morrison’s text, other components to the diagnosis of PTSD include:
- Intrusive, distressing memories/recollections (guilty as charged)
- Repeated, distressing dreams (yup, that too)
- Flashbacks (yep, I do), hallucinations (I don’t think so?) or illusions of feeling like the events were reoccurring (not so much, thankfully I guess)
- Marked mental distress in external (or talk about pain in the rear end: INTERNAL) cues
- Random psychological responses such as rapid heart beats and heightened blood pressure
- One will also diligently work to avoid trauma-related stimuli and emotions
- for example, they may literally work to avoid the feelings, thoughts and conditions that got them into the traumatizing situation in the first place, so in my case, I get wildly anxious in agricultural feilds at night
- Avoiding people, places, events connected with the event (I guess vowing to never go back to AL would be that…)
- Forgetting aspects of the event (unfortunately SUPER not my case, I could sometimes go without remembering so much)
- Deep feelings of detachment and isolation from others (I’m sorry all those who love me)
- Loss of interest in things once loved (talk about mental torture!)
- Feels restricted ability to feel any emotions including love (again, sorry those who love me)
- Feelings of deep dissatisfaction and/or lack of fulfillment in life (marriage, career, family) <this one is a real TRIP for me, because nothing promotes self-loathing like feeling like an ingrate>
- Patients also end up feeling a sense of “hyperarrousal,” which means that they are easily excitable–JUMPY, have you. (Super an issue with me, you should see how much I can jump at a sound that comes out of the dark, it probably takes me 10 minutes to regain my breath….
- Random traits of insomnia
- Inability to concentrate
- IMPAREMENT to work, social, personal and emotional functions of life (this one is really rough and again, doesn’t help the nasty voice shut up)
Interestingly, something new to me that was approached in this book by Morrison is the idea of SITUATIONAL ADJUSTMENT DISORDER which also includes an element of brain injury–so clearly there’s more resarch to do in that domain for me.
Unfortunately, PTSD just isn’t a standalone problem: it pretty much always is accompanied by CO-MORBIDities…that is to say, other disorders. It only makes sense though, in my understanding: how could one not feel waves of overwhelming depression when confronting the prospect of never being at peace and finding themselves continually screwing up their lives….folks with depressive issues are more likely to resort to substances to help control their feelings: which lead to their own issues. Me, personally, of what I know? I know I have PTSD and some executive function deficits that could very well be related to the PTSD or the multiple brain injuries…or the fact that it could have just been the way I was born in the first place–I am treated for ADHD which along with the anxiety often times leave me feeling utterly….paralyzed…which again leads to more depressive thoughts. It’s all very complicated. …
I suppose that this process of dispersing information and relating it to personal experiences is part of the greater vision of MsUnderstood, which is really intended to be a conduit of empathy and respect for not only the people who have to deal with individuals but the individuals themselves. It’s painful, to feel bad all the time: constantly anxious about the impermanence of life and all semblance of stability. While I have worked my hardest to not allow my traumas, pains and disabilities burden others, I do find with time that in my efforts to keep people from fretting over me that I forgot to take care of my own damn feelings.