Today is post traumatic stress disorder day, and June has been post traumatic stress disorder month. The most dramatic kind of PTSD that we often see portrayed is the kind of someone who has lived through great trauma having a flashback of the event. There’s much more to PTSD than that. If you follow the link down the internet rabbit hole, you’ll see the two kinds of PTSD that affect my life the most.
Avoiding situations that remind you of the event. You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
I continually try to avoid putting myself at risk. This is a natural reaction. There have even been times in my life when I have had emotional outbursts or engaged in inappropriate behavior to drive people who made me feel uncomfortable out of my life. Not that I was really doing this consciously, but it was what I did in hindsight. This was the reason I cut my family out of my life, and could explain a couple of events of inconsistent behavior from a relatively nice person.
Having more negative beliefs and feelings. The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel guilt or shame. Or, you may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. You may feel that the world is dangerous and you can’t trust anyone. You might be numb, or find it hard to feel happy.
I used to have more trouble with this one, but I’ve been very lucky in my friends. I have gone from suspicion and fear and numbness to occasional feelings of isolation with the very occasional outburst based in suspicion and fear, which relates to the first problem, trying to make sure you are bullet proof in terms of being hurt again. Impossible, I know, but PTSD doesn’t think so.
I don’t know what to say, really, about PTSD, except that, like any other kind of illness, there are symptoms. The responsibility is still on me for the way I act under its influence, but it is one of those things you have to consider in your interactions with others. Why does anyone act the way they act? I think we understand aspects of people better than we used to, such as autism, Asperger’s, anxiety, depression, or alcoholism. Of course, a person’s make up can make it harder to be around them.
That said, I would like to offer up a challenge. When interacting with someone, if their behavior seems atypical to what you’re used to, or what other people’s interaction is, you should probably figure there is something going on. There is a quote that says, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.” But guess what? In this case, we are NOT showing you who we are. We are showing you we’re afraid.
And here’s a thoughtful quote.
It’s hard not to take the symptoms of PTSD personally, but it’s important to remember that a person with PTSD may not always have control over their behavior. Your loved one’s nervous system is “stuck” in a state of constant alert, making them continually feel vulnerable and unsafe. This can lead to anger, irritability, depression, mistrust, and other PTSD symptoms that your loved one can’t simply choose to turn off. With the right support from friends and family, though, your loved one’s nervous system can become “unstuck” and he or she can finally move on from the traumatic event.
As a person with PTSD, sometimes I need to be reminded when I need to step back and take a look at what I’m doing, and maybe what I’m doing is not about you, although it might seem like it. It’s really about me and my protective mechanisms. You might need to give me some time to understand that you are not going to slam my fingers in the door, once I decide I am going to get to know you, once I get beyond that pleasant front of acquaintance, once I decide to risk sinking roots. I am not a good friend for people who don’t have patience with skittish horses, shy dogs, or cats going to the vet. 😀 I am a hard person to get to know, but my friends tell me I am worth the effort. I’ll go with it.
The world is rough because I am trust challenged. Because I am running scared. Because I am reminded of what has gone before. It is not your fault I am these things. PTSD doesn’t come with a label that flashes warnings at you. I am risky business.
You need to know I am doing the best I can. We all are. I recognize you also bring your own baggage to any interaction. My experience helps me think about that, which is a hidden blessing. I want to encourage you to do the same.