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So Much to Tell You About PTSD, but I Can’t Say a Word

You ask, “What’s it like, living with PTSD?” And suddenly I realize that I have so much to tell you, but I can’t say a word. I tucked the trauma away, a dirty little secret that we trauma survivors keep. Maybe we try to tell a friend, therapist, lover. Maybe they get it, maybe they don’t.

But oh, how you want them to understand about PTSD. You want the words to explain PTSD. And you want to scream, cry, run – from the fear and the pain and the sinking feeling of waking up each day and not being quite sure if it’ll stay today, as flashbacks take you back to that day. But you don’t say that about PTSD. Most of the time you… survive.

When you learn about PTSD, you don't stop to think just how much posttraumatic stress messes with a person's life. Here's a bit about PTSD you may not know.

If you can make it through one week and the next, that’s doing well. And if you can face any of that trauma-caused fear, and find even a touch of safety in each day, you’re doing fabulously.

Because all we trauma survivors really want, any of us – we just want it to stop. The living memories trapped in every cell. That’s what PTSD is all about. It’s a ghost, hanging out in your head.

Therapists call them flashbacks; You’re thrown back in time without warning. Bam. So forgive us if we appear weak, at times. We’re not. We are standing naked, facing a tide that does not stop, no matter our cries, prayers, or panic.

About PTSD Treatment with Medication

PTSD treatment commonly consists of a combination of therapy and medications.

Medications commonly used to treat PTSD include antidepressants (typically SSRI’s, SNRI’s or NaSSS’s).

If antidepressants don’t do the trick, doctors try medications such as atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, beta blockers and/or benzodiazepines. Their success varies pretty widely.

Expectations About PTSD Are Often Unrealistic

Individuals who suffer from PTSD alternate between periods of re-experiencing the trauma (in the form of flashbacks or nightmares) and periods of numbing/dissociation. This often makes treatment complicated, and is why psychotherapy sometimes takes longer than people expect.

People with PTSD cannot just “get over” the trauma. In individuals with PTSD, the traumatic event still needs to be fully processed by the fear centers of the brain, and until that happens the trauma is re-experienced in its full intensity in response to current environmental cues that are associated with it (PTSD Recovery: How to Cope With Triggers).

Anything in the environment which is reminiscent of the emotional reaction experienced by the individual at the time of the original trauma can act as a ‘trigger’. That is, things in the here and now can put someone with PTSD back into the memory of the trauma but it is not experienced with the normal distance of an ordinary memory.

Someone with PTSD may see, hear, feel, taste or smell parts or all of the memory of the traumatic event as if it was happening again, including the same sense of fear/helplessness and terror that occurred at the time. However, the person’s reality testing capacity essentially remains intact so that they do know that the event is not really happening in the present – it ‘just’ feels like it is.

PTSD interferes with a person’s ability to sleep, may make them more prone to anger/irritability and makes them almost constantly alert for danger (hyperarousal or hypervigilance). One of the hallmarks of PTSD is an unusually strong startle response – for example, to loud or unexpected noises.

PTSD has links to physical health. For example, PTSD is more common in people who suffer from chronic migraine headaches and recent research suggests that individuals with PTSD are at higher risk for coronary heart disease.

In most cases the symptoms of PTSD will dissipate in time, though that depends on a number of variables, including:-

  • Initial severity of the condition;
  • Intensity of the original trauma;
  • Whether the individual received appropriate treatment within an adequate time frame;
  • Response to medication and/or psychotherapy;
  • Incidence of co-morbid mental illness or substance abuse issues;
  • Number of traumatic events experienced;
  • Age at which the trauma took place;
  • Whether the sufferer has a reliable support system;
  • Whether the trauma was repeated and/or how long it lasted; and
  • Individual predisposition to a more acute stress reaction.

Understanding PTSD: A Rough Guide

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12 Responses to So Much to Tell You About PTSD, but I Can’t Say a Word

  1. Jaliya says:

    Kate, have you seen Peter Levine’s new book? — It’s called *In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.”

    It’s blowing my mind … There is truly *new* wisdom in this book …

  2. Kate White says:

    that good huh, jaliya? wow. it shall be purchased!

    Xoxo

  3. Jaliya says:

    Yes, yes, yes! :-)

    Check out a post I wrote — I tried to link it here but couldn’t. It’s from Oct. 30th, titled “I always wondered how …”

    xoxo

  4. Hello from Paul

    Thanks for this very moving and informative article.

    I too live with P.T.S.D. Yes I live with it”. every second of every day of my entire life. this sinse my First Major Trauma as a three year old I’m 53 now That’s 50 years worth off permanent by the seond flashbacks they are a constant no matter where I a’m no matter what I’m doing no matter who I’m with no matter if I’m participating in possitive activity with possitive people in a safe enviornment. Only others the some will fully understand/ grasp the enormaty of what I’m saying.

    2 of my childhood traumas involved loudly exploding fireworks as they burned my body inflicted upon me delibrately by very not nice individuals. Now think of Hyper vigilence and startle reaction. in relation to loud explosions/noise. think of Obsessive compulsive thoughts O.C.D. And Bipolar like Manic Highs in relation to constant flashbacks. I’m now attempting to describe my constant state of mind.

    My extreme hyper vigilence/Alertness in the past has actually saved my Life in the most astounding way My do I cry out”.

    I have actually been denied a chance to talk with any form of therapist as it is deemed to traumatic for me to talk about my traumas. yet still I was kicked out Mental Health Services with no recognition of my trauma so great no support of any kind just to be left all alone with my trauma.

    Some people will probably think I’m feeling sorry for myself too right I do. as my trauma is Oh so real and so very very permanently etched on my mind body and soul.

    I guess they call this P.T.S.D.

    Paul at http://www.odesofsurvival.co.uk

  5. Svasti says:

    Love your video, you’re so cute!

    You’ve given me food for thought re: possible future recurrences. And PTSD definitely runs in my family, dammit!

  6. Kate White says:

    Hehe Ta, Svast.
    Yeah, unfortunately it does tend to sort of stick about in some form but hey, there are plenty of diseases like autoimmune diseases and the like which only ever really go into remission rather than are “cured” as such. But that people will only ever experience one severe bout with… and the rest, perhaps some lingering effects or a few sporadic symptoms now and then. So here’s hoping you’re about as cured as cured gets with PTSD, hun. I think with the level of awareness you’ve developed, and just maintaining that and keeping as true to you as you can (and I know you’re doing that) then that’s the bulk of it right there.

    Xx

  7. Kate White says:

    Hi Paul,

    Gosh, your comment made me think of the fireworks that have been going off round here in the UK about every night this week. Can’t be an easy time of year for you! And I definitely understand the hypervigilance. An ambulance siren started up right behind me tonight and I must’ve looked a sight. LOL Oh dear. It isn’t really funny of course but I can see the lighter side of it once I’m out of the situation at least.

    It definitely isn’t easy to live with though. Thank you for being brave enough to comment like this, and to share some of your experiences with PTSD/trauma. The more you can tell your story, even if it’s just in little pieces like this, the better.

    Kate

  8. Tikbalang says:

    Thanks for posting this it made me feel better about myself o: i tried telling my family i had ptsd and they just laughed at me and said i diddnt but im pretty sure i have it

    i was alone for 4 years of high school getting picked on and another 2 years in college because i had to move out at 16 ._. and i had trouble learning to live alone responsibly and I would be alone all the time

    and around where i live 4 neighbors got killed and my uncle was shot too and one close friend was stabbed 4 times when he tried to stop a fight
    everything was ok till my dog died and my grades went downhill and i just started cutting classes because i diddnt want to be around anyone
    and i couldn’t take it anymore i had to transfer

    i cope with nightmares by writing all the things i see in a dream journal and i also paint and do Freestyle popping and when i express myself it makes me feel better about everything

  9. Laurie says:

    Hi everyone,
    Thank you Paul for your post. I too suffer from PTSD. I was diagnosed in 2006. I was sexually abused by my Father from age 5 to about age 14. I was 42 years old when I got PTSD and have two children who witnessed my Flashbacks and they are still affected today, even though I’m in recovery now. I didnt have support from the system, my family or friends. I was so alone and so scared. You described the PTSD symptoms exactly how it is. Thank you…..eventually with no support and an ex-husband & his mother calling me CRAZY and teaching my kids that I was insane, I got sicker, and in 2009 I was diagnosed with Schizo-affective Disorder. I am now on meds and in recovery. Thank you for listening to my story.

  10. Survivor says:

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks so much for the article and the very well done video.

    Blessings and wellness to you.

  11. Thank you for this article. I am a PTSD-er and insomnia keeps me in the zone. I am a fighter though and never stop looking for the right technique that will heal me. I will be looking the book up for sure Jalayi. . Good to see everyone out and about helping and supporting each other through this very painful illness. Love, Peace and hugs .<3

  12. julie turac says:

    I lost my 23 yrs old son last year to melanoma & am suffering so much, Tom suffered 2 brain bleeds in Feb & April 2013 with only myself present & then I sat with him for his last 48 hours on earth I just cannot get it out of my head what I have seen & heard. My dr has given me numerous anti depressants but nothing is working all I want is to go to sleep 7 not have to wake up to this reality. I am heartbroken & traumatised.

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