Today’s post is a bit of a long one.
As we are in the midst of June, it’s time to talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) awareness month.
A lot of people right now will be living with PTSD and from the sounds of it, a lot of people do not know that there is help out there for them. According to PTSD UK, 70% of people who live with PTSD (in the UK) are not receiving any professional help. This is a massive shame considering how effective PTSD treatments can be.
But, this month helps us spread the word!
I was told about my diagnosis of PTSD whilst under CAMHS in 2011, but I’m not actually sure when it was given. My diagnosis actually falls under Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD) owing to more than one traumatic event happening at a young age. This is always the diagnosis I speak least openly about, which is silly really considering how common it is, how much it can affect your life, and how much it helps to talk about it. I am my own worst enemy for trying to downplay the experiences that have happened to me, I think I do it so people don’t think I’m overreacting or constantly talking about myself.
Turns out I’m not doing either of those, trauma can happen to any of us, and PTSD is just our body’s reaction to it. The majority of people will experience short-term distress – which resolves itself without the need for professional intervention. It is important to note, anyone who experiences trauma could develop PTSD – but not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD.
It is normal to experience upsetting memories, have trouble sleeping, or feel ‘on edge’ after a traumatic event. At first, it can feel hard to do normal things, like go to work or school, or spend time with the people you care about. But if it’s lasting a long time, is still very upsetting to you, and disrupts your daily life – it’s worth doing something about it.
WHAT IS A TRAUMATIC EVENT?
A traumatic event could be something that has happened to you or something you saw/found out is happening to someone else. Traumatic events are not rare. It could be a situation in which you have no control over what is happening, which makes you feel very afraid or unsafe.
- Military and Services experiences.
- Serious accidents.
- Natural disasters.
- Sexual or physical abuse.
- Terrorist attacks.
- Being told you have a life-threatening illness.
- Child sexual or physical abuse.
- Being a victim of crime.
- Learning about the sexual/ violent or accidental abuse/ injury or death of a loved one.
- Miscarriage, abortion, or traumatic childbirth.
- Prolonged bullying.
- Childhood neglect.
After someone is exposed to something intensely fearful, their brain may change the way it copes to protect itself. The memories formed of the event, the emotions associated with the trauma, the sensations (touch, taste, sound, vision, movement, smell) can be presented in the form of nightmares, intrusive thoughts, or flashbacks. The brain tries to re-experience it to process the distressing memories, but as they are unpleasant, it can upset the person as they are exposed again.
This can make it difficult to control your emotions and you can feel very anxious. Anxiety can present itself as both physical (sweating, shaking, dizziness) and psychological symptoms (panic, fear, sleeping problems). With PTSD, you can experience hyper-arousal which increases your emotional response by feeling numb and having issues communicating with others – it can make you feel more irritable, anxious, and less likely to seek help.
The feelings associated with PTSD are often so uncomfortable, you begin to avoid anything linked to the original trauma(s). This can consume a lot of your day-to-day life and preoccupy your thoughts a lot. However, suppressing the processing of memories often leads to subconscious attempts – in the form of nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks – which then starts the cycle all over again.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PTSD?
For some people, it might be years after the event before symptoms arise. To be diagnosed, the symptoms must affect your daily life and/or have been going on for several months.
- Vivid recollections of the event. PTSD sufferers can experience unwelcome memories at any time. These can be very real and very scary – it’s as if the whole event is happening all over again. This happens largely because of a trigger; something that reminds you of that event.
- Intense feelings of distress when reminded of the event.
- Extreme physical reactions to reminders of the trauma. This can involve nausea, sweating, elevated heart rate…
- Avoiding things that remind you of the event. Avoiding certain people and/or certain situations which remind you of what happened. You may also try to stay busy all.the.time so you don’t have to think or talk about it anymore as a way to cope.
- Experiencing more negative thoughts and feelings than before. Your thoughts and feelings are more negative than before the trauma. You may feel sad or emotionally numb. You may lose interest in things you used to enjoy. You may perceive the world as dangerous. No one can be trusted. It may be difficult for you to feel happy or other positive emotions. You may be overwhelmed with feelings of shame or guilt, especially about the event. You may feel out of control of your mood.
- Feeling on edge. You may feel jittery. It may be hard for you to relax. You’re in a constant state of hyper-arousal. You may have trouble sleeping or concentrating. You’re always on the look-out for danger. You feel angry or irritable. You startle easily when surprised. You’ve turned to unhealthy ways to cope – smoking, eating more than usual, abusing drugs and alcohol.
- I get laughed at a lot when I startle easily. It’s something to this day I can’t explain why it happens but it still does. Balloons popping, loud noises, motorcycles driving past me in the car, being snuck up on, being touched when I’m not expecting – it shocks me more than it probably should.
- Feeling like you are not living a normal life.
- Having difficulty remembering certain aspects of the event.
HOW PEOPLE DESCRIBE THEIR PTSD:
The symptoms I’ve just described can seem a bit vague, so here are some phrases people might use to let you know they’re not okay…
- “I don’t want to think about it.”
- “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
- “I don’t want to talk about it.”
- “I can’t get it out of my head.”
- “I feel like it’s happening all over again.”
- “I keep having panic attacks.”
- “I just feel numb.”
- “I keep having nightmares.”
- “My life is not mine anymore.”
- “I don’t want to go out [see/visit/do] X.”
- “My life is not normal anymore.”
- “I can’t remember what happened.”
- “I’m scared.”
WHY SHOULD I GET HELP?
Life with PTSD can be hard. Your life is not your own. It feels like you are being haunted by your past every day. Getting treatment for PTSD, or any mental health condition can lead to a better quality of life. You can stop it causing problems in your relationships. You can stop it from controlling your career or your education. You can get your life back, and live it the way you want to.
The fact is, when PTSD isn’t treated, it usually doesn’t get better. It may even get worse. It’s common to think that your symptoms will go away with time, but this is unlikely. Even if you feel like you can handle what’s going on right now, it may get worse over time. It is never, ever too late to get help.
HOW DO I GET HELP?
If you seek help through the NHS, your GP will conduct the initial assessment with you. This is to find out a bit more about your symptoms and how best they can help you. Following this, you may be referred to a mental health specialist; especially if your symptoms have been going on for a long time.
If your symptoms have been lasting around four weeks, you may be asked to do ‘watchful waiting’. This is where you would monitor your symptoms yourself to see if they improve or get worse over time. This is not because you do not deserve help, it is because some people can get better in a few weeks without assistance.
Alternatively, there is psychotherapy. I’ve done my fair share of this. It is on the basis that you cannot forget the experience(s), but you can learn to think differently about what has happened. In the UK the most common techniques are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) – I’ve never tried the latter but it sounds pretty cool.
There are medication options available, sometimes even alongside therapy, but therapy is effective. For some, treatment can help to get rid of PTSD entirely! For others, it can make the symptoms less intense. The great thing about therapy is it can give you the tools to be able to manage your symptoms, I’m such an advocate of being active in your recovery.
Talk to your mental health care provider. If you don’t have one, start with your GP. Have a look on the NHS website. Talk about what happened to you, what it feels like now and any other problems which are bothering you. Just simply talk. There’s someone out there going through the same thing and you are not on your own.
SO, I HEAR YOU ASK, CAN A THERAPIST REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH?
Not gonna lie, I’ve thought this to myself before. A therapist is able to treat your symptoms whether or not they’ve experienced trauma themselves. This is why it is so important for you to communicate how you think about it and how you feel about it so that they can really understand and to teach you the skills to manage your symptoms. If they don’t know what it was like, you can show them.
DO I HAVE PTSD?
I’m not a medical professional, and I’ve never tried to be one. But if you are feeling unhappy with the way things, it might be worth talking to someone.
PTSD is more common amongst women than men, but only because more women seek help for it. Men may find it difficult to come forward to address the issue.
A good place to start is to ask yourself these questions…
- Have you had any nightmares about the event(s) or thought about the event(s) when you didn’t want to?
- Have you tried hard not to talk about the event(s) or went out of your way to avoid situations which reminded you of the event(s)?
- Do you feel like you’ve been constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled?
- Have you felt numb or detached from the people around you, your usual activities or your surroundings?
- Have you felt guilty or unable to stop blaming yourself or others for the event(s) or any further problems the event(s) may have caused?
It may be useful to write your answers down so you don’t forget anything when you speak to someone.
Sometimes going to the doctors can seem daunting, but there are plenty of useful organisations who would love to help you get the support you need.
As always, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 999.
- ASSIST (Assistance Support and Self Help in Surviving Trauma) – helpline: 0178 856 0800, telephone: 0178 855 1919
- First Person Plural – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Combat Stress – 0800 138 1619 – free 24/7 helpline for ex-services. telephone: 0137 284 1600.
- Rape Crisis – 0808 802 9999, get help
- Victim Support – helpline: 0845 303 0900.
- CRUSE Bereavement Care – helpline: 0844 477 9400. telephone: 0208 940 1671.
- The Compassionate Friends – helpline: 0845 123 2304.
- PTSD Resolution
- Samaritans – for an immediate response, call them on 116 123.
- Counselling Directory
- Traumatic Stress Service – 0203 228 2969