These days it seems we hear a great deal about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the media and particularly how it relates to those returning from combat. The phrase “PTSD” has become so commonplace we sometimes don’t think about the severity of the condition or realize anyone (even those outside the military) can suffer from the disorder. So, let’s take this opportunity to look beyond the catchword and discuss some of the facts of PTSD as well as the difficulties that come from living with this condition.
What Causes PTSD?
PTSD can occur when you have gone through or witnessed an extremely disturbing or life-threatening event. For instance, you or a loved one may have experienced an automobile accident, natural disaster, mugging, rape, kidnapping, child abuse, or the horrors of war. However, it’s important to note that traumatic events are subjective, which means you may consider an incident only mildly upsetting while someone else finds it completely shocking. That is why it’s crucial not to compare two people’s reactions to the same experience and wonder why you or a family member can’t just “get over it” like “so-and-so.”
Signs of PTSD
While it’s normal to feel stressed or frightened immediately following a traumatic experience, if these feelings last for months or years after the incident (or unexpectedly pop up a long time later) then you may be experiencing PTSD. You might feel jumpy, have trouble sleeping, be irritable, have persistent upsetting memories, and suffer general uneasiness. These emotions may confuse you — especially if you believed you’d gotten past the incident or if you were merely a witness to the harmful event — but, for the sake of healing, it’s vital not to ignore or hide these feelings.
In addition to carrying around the stress of the trauma for an extended period of time, another sign of PTSD is if these reactions disrupt your daily home or work life.
What’s life like with PTSD?
Living with PTSD is a constant struggle. For some, symptoms are always at the surface, and for others, negative effects come and go. Regardless, managing this inner battle (especially without help) can take a huge toll on every aspect of your existence.
Some of the things you may face on a daily basis are:
- Reliving the trauma – Vivid nightmares or flashbacks can cause you to re-experience the ordeal. Even ordinary noises, smells, or sounds can trigger the memories.
- Avoidance – To prevent memory “triggers,” you may avoid people, places, and things you formerly enjoyed.
- Change in perception of self or others – You may feel negatively about yourself, avoid people, or have a pessimistic attitude about the world in general.
- Constant jitters – You may have a hard time relaxing, feel always on edge, and constantly on the lookout for danger. Sudden noises or an unexpected touch can cause unnecessary alarm.
These daily struggles can add up to serious long-term complications that can prevent you from living a whole, fulfilling life. Some of the more far-reaching effects of PTSD are:
- Mental health problems – PTSD puts you at higher risk for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
- Physical health problems – The stress and unhealthy behaviors often caused by PTSD put you at greater risk for heart problems, diabetes, obesity, pain, sexual dysfunction, and more.
- Work difficulties – Many of the symptoms of PTSD make it incredibly difficult to function properly in a work environment. You may find it hard to perform at work or even hold down a job.
- Relationship issues – Friends and family members may not understand the changes in your behavior, and you may find yourself growing more distant. These emotional strains, along with the other stresses that come with the disease, can cause relationships to suffer.
If you have an extreme case of PTSD, you may find it impossible to cope with “normal” life or society. If left untreated, you can become increasingly withdrawn and detach yourself from home, family, and work.
Having one relatively short-term event negatively impact the rest of your life is truly an injustice. The good news is there are several types of treatments available today that can help you break free of the trauma and live the life you deserve. If you have symptoms that last over a month, you should consider seeking the advice of a professional doctor or counselor.
Although tackling your PTSD may seem like you’re re-opening a wound, dealing with the issue and talking to a therapist is often the best way to learn how to control your thoughts and feelings about the ordeal and get past the pain once and for all.