Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is classified as an anxiety disorder that develops after a person has gone through a traumatic event. We are hearing more and more about PTSD in recent times due to the conflict in the Middle East. However, PTSD is not limited to war veterans. In addition to military combat, other traumatic events in a person’s life can cause this disorder. These include but are not limited to: sexual abuse, terrorist attacks, natural disasters (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc), and even a car accident.
When a person goes through a traumatic, life-changing experience, the emotions that surface can alter the way we process the event. Often times the person is left reliving the event in their mind and has trouble getting past it. Most people that experience such events react with strong emotions, but in time, these strong emotions subside and the person is able to move on. This is not the case for an individual with PTSD.
1. Reliving the event: nightmares, daydreams, thought life.
2. Avoiding situations which may trigger memories of the event: the person will attempt to bypass any situation that may remind them of the event (i.e. news footage, places, conversation).
3. Inability to express your feelings: the person may become numb and unable to communicate their emotions. They may also forget certain details about the event.
4. Hyperarousal: constantly being on guard, jittery, paranoid, sensitive to sound, lack of concentration.
PTSD can lead to other problems as well. Mental Health America has published the following list of additional symptoms:
1. Panic attacks: a feeling of intense fear, with shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea and racing heart.
2. Physical symptoms: chronic pain, headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, tightness or burning in the chest, muscle cramps or low back pain.
3. Feelings of mistrust: losing trust in others and thinking the world is a dangerous place.
4. Problems in daily living: having problems functioning in your job, at school, or in social situations.
5. Substance abuse: using drugs or alcohol to cope with the emotional pain.
6. Relationship problems: having problems with intimacy, or feeling detached from your family and friends.
7. Depression: persistent sad, anxious or empty mood; loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities; feelings of guilt and shame; or hopelessness about the future. Other symptoms of depression may also develop.
8. Suicidal thoughts: thoughts about taking one’s own life.
PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy, support groups, medication, and the support of loved ones. Being able to talk with your healthcare provider and working through the traumatic events can bring healing and recovery. It is essential that those who suffer, or think they may suffer, from PTSD, seek help as soon as possible. It can be treated, and with time and a little patience, the anxiety and pain associated with the traumatic event can be alleviated.
My Personal Story about PTSD
I have personal experience with PTSD, for I am currently working through the process of overcoming it myself. There are two events that have happened in my life that completely changed my life. The first event was 9/11. I remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. I felt as though the world was going to cave in on me. I was so utterly devastated by that event, that I cannot watch footage of 9/11 to this day. I refuse to look at the television if there is footage playing, and I become extremely antsy and uncomfortable.
The second event was Hurricane Katrina. Almost five years ago, my world changed. I lived just minutes from New Orleans. I evacuated to Arkansas with family and friends from church while my husband stayed behind. He is in the National Guard and rode out the storm at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans. I watched the news in horror as the place I called home was destroyed. I felt as though I was in a dream. I lost contact with my husband and did not know if he was dead or alive.
After the storm passed, the news just got worse. Seeing the dead bodies floating on the streets was too much to bear. Stories coming out of the Superdome were unbelievable and caused me to panic and question our humanity. I finally reached my husband who was eventually helicoptered out of Jackson Barracks and taken to the Superdome. He confirmed many of the horrible stories that I was hearing on the news. My insides felt like they would just spill out onto the floor.
Two days after the storm, I decided I was going back. I left my children with family and began my drive home. The further south I got, the more trees I saw lying down. When I finally reached my home, I saw that it was one of the few in my neighborhood that did not flood and the structure was intact. I made my way to the church and found that my pastor’s were already there. We embraced and just cried. We immediately began putting together a relief center.
Miraculously, supplies began pouring in, as did volunteers from around the country. We began giving out supplies to the community and offering prayer and support. It was incredible. The car line that came through the church parking lot was over a mile long, constantly, every day. There would be no end for over a year! It was the single most life-changing event ever.
A week or two into the relief effort, I remember going into the church coffee house and just falling to the floor and sobbing. People were hurting. Most had lost everything they owned. As I write, I feel heaviness in my gut and a lump in my throat. I cannot watch footage of Hurricane Katrina. It rips my heart out.
My husband was transferred, and ultimately ended up in central Louisiana. We were separated for ten months before we decided to sell our house so I and the children could relocate as well. I have come to terms with where I am, although it was an excruciating process. There were times, many times, I literally felt like I was going crazy. But I am here, with a sound mind, and I am working on getting past the strong emotional response to these events.
There is life after a traumatic experience. However, the event that caused us so much pain will rob us of a life full of joy and peace. There is no shame in PTSD; no weakness, just an opportunity to overcome something awful and become stronger in the process. If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, please, get help and start living again. Life is way too precious to let fear and anxiety have its way. And finally, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Mental Health America (2010). Factsheet: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.nmha.org/go/ptsd