What You Should Know About PTSD On PTSD Awareness Day

PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by severe trauma. This mental illness causes hypervigilance, a strong startle response, fear even when nothing dangerous is happening, flashbacks to past traumatic events, anxiety, depression, severe nightmares, dissociation, and many other uncomfortable symptoms. 

People can develop PTSD from many forms of trauma, including war, violence, sexual abuse, traumatic natural disasters, neglect, mental or emotional abuse, or growing up with a narcissistic caregiver. Post-traumatic stress disorder can also stem from a specific event, like traumatic encounters with animals, car accidents, abusive relationships, deaths of close friends or family members, or facing bullying.

I have PTSD from sexual abuse that began at age 2 and continued until age 21. I also have medical PTSD because for 15 years, certain doctors and medical facilities didn’t know how to best treat my mental and physical health.

Both of these types of abuse cause me to be afraid of people and hospitals and unable to go to mental health facilities because I fear that doctors will treat me poorly.

When I’m in settings that remind me of the past abuse and trauma, my PTSD symptoms take over.

Sometimes, though, people aren’t even aware that they have post-traumatic stress disorder. This happens because our brains can section off memories of early childhood abuse and hide them from our consciousness. When we therapy, these memories can resurface, causing confusion, doubt, and an increase in PTSD symptoms. It’s vital that we seek mental health care to process these memories and body sensations so we can cope with these symptoms. 

When abuse or trauma begins before age 8, doctors may sometimes diagnose PTSD as dissociative identity disorder (DID). DID is a condition that causes amnesia, dissociation, and the formation of multiple personalities to protect a person from traumatic memories.

In addition to PTSD, I live with DID due to my childhood.

I have ten different personalities, all with their own identities, likes and dislikes, desires, motives, and roles. Personalities can have their own genders and their own senses of self-image. Oftentimes, none of the personalities is aware of the others until the person who lives with DID does intensive trauma work. One of my personalities has his own diagnosis of DID; he has his own five personalities. Unlike the show “United States of Tara,” DID is often discreet, and personalities only come out when they feel safe. 

Finding the right therapeutic approach for your specific form of PTSD is essential.

Many people with PTSD find eye movement therapy helpful, but it caused me to have more dissociation and flashbacks. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is another form of trauma therapy that some people with PTSD use. IFS works with the idea that all people have different “parts” of themselves (whether they have DID or not). With PTSD, these parts can separate, which can make coming to a consensus difficult. This therapy seeks to unify every part of a person while also treating their trauma.

If you suspect that you have PTSD, it’s important to find a trauma-informed therapist. Trauma-informed therapists have specific trauma training, so they know how to respect all types of trauma and minimize any additional medical trauma. This approach can help clients with PTSD cope with their intense states of terror.

Living with post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t mean that you’re “broken” or “weak.”

PTSD is simply a way that the brain adapts to trauma that’s too severe to remain conscious. People with PTSD often have “body memories,” in which the body responds to triggers by attempting to “get the fear out.” This may present as trembling, vomiting, migraines, seizures, or other forms of physical illness. And not all people who have PTSD have the same triggers. While one person may be triggered by loud noises, such as fireworks, another person may be frightened by a type of person, cars, dogs, sexual advances, or whatever the main trauma was when the person experienced said trauma. It’s important inform ourselves about all varieties of PTSD so that we don’t unintentionally trigger our loved ones

If you suspect you may have PTSD, I urge you to find a trauma-informed therapist or psychiatrist who can best direct treatment. There is nothing wrong with you if you have PTSD. It’s how the brain adapts to horrific events, and everyone who’s struggling deserves help.

Featured Photo by David Besh on Unsplash.

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