Before the death of my 14-month-old daughter, I was familiar with PTSD. I had heard about it mostly in association with war veterans. Their experience had such an effect on them that even years later, they continue to deal with it. I think that is probably the same understanding that most people have about PTSD; it’s dealing with and event long after it actually happened. Wrong.
What the world sees when someone has PTSD:
Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
- You may have nightmares.
- You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
- You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event. This is called a trigger. News reports, seeing an accident, or hearing a car backfire are examples of triggers.
Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
- You may avoid crowds, because they feel dangerous.
- You may avoid driving if you were in a car accident or if your military convoy was bombed.
- If you were in an earthquake, you may avoid watching movies about earthquakes.
- You may keep very busy or avoid seeking help because it keeps you from having to think or talk about the event.
Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
- You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships.
- You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them.
- You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.
Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)
You may have a hard time sleeping.
You may have trouble concentrating.
You may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.
You might want to have your back to a wall in a restaurant or waiting room.
They say you should seek help if symptoms:
- Last longer than three months
- Cause you great distress
- Disrupt your work or home life
Symptoms. That word runs through my head. Symptoms. That is all the world can see. Symptoms. If you see that I have a runny nose, I’m coughing, and I am sneezing, you see the symptoms of a virus. You don’t see the virus. If you see me barfing my guts out and running for the toilet, you see the symptoms of food poisoning. You don’t see the poison. When you see me staring into space, taking deep breaths, sweating and trembling, being afraid of seemingly nothing, avoiding people, avoiding plans, avoiding places, you see some of the symptoms of PSTD. You don’t see the havoc the disorder is wreaking inside my mind and body. All you see are the indicators that I have it, the effects of the thing, the marks of someone who is tortured daily by events in their life that has forever changed them. You don’t see the torture. You can’t, so don’t feel bad.
Like most momentous experiences, good or bad, PTSD leaves a lasting mark. Like most momentous experiences, good or bad, PTSD changes who you are. And like most momentous experiences, good or bad, you will never understand PTSD until you live it.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is real. It hurts. It is all the time. I have written about grief and the effect it has had on me. PTSD is completely separate. All who loved my daughter are suffering grief. Grief never leaves you and it’s awful and overwhelming and powerful. However, not all of those same people are suffering from PTSD (though some are and don’t know it). PSTD is a different animal. One of them, grief or PTSD, by itself can bring you to your knees, to your breaking point to, the depths of a horribly dark place. But BOTH? Are you fucking kidding me????? How am I supposed to live? How am I supposed to support my family? How am I supposed to be a human? And unless you live it, you have no idea what I am trying to help you understand. I don’t blame you. It is impossible for you to understand, just as it is impossible for me to truly explain what is going on inside my mind, body, and soul. I mentioned the word torture. That’s just the tip of this ugly, painful, mean, bastard of an iceberg.