Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops after a terrifying ordeal that involves physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The individual suffering from PTSD may have experienced the trauma firsthand, witnessed the trauma of a loved one or stranger, or suffers as a reaction to hearing the story of someone’s traumatic experience.
When it comes to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it is typically associated with war veterans. We seldom hear of other victims of PTSD nor do we receive explanations of what the disorder truly is and how exactly it can affect someone. I knew a little about PTSD growing up, but I never did extensive research until I was diagnosed with it myself. Unfortunately, I have encountered a lot of common misconceptions about PTSD from friends, family, and anyone whom chooses to listen to my story. I felt a post was necessary to help bring awareness and to hopefully address some of the misunderstandings involving this disorder.
Myth: Only weak people suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When I was first diagnosed and began treatment, my therapist asked me how the event had made me feel; my response was, “weak.” I would compare myself to others wondering how they were able to cope with a situation so well while I hit rock bottom. I felt weak because I could not move on as quickly as some were able to. I felt weak because I allowed strangers to take control over my life. My therapist had to explain to me that PTSD was neurological; therefore, it had nothing to do with me being weak or strong as an individual. When faced with a traumatic experience, the amygdala hypersensitizes to danger which results in a state of increased fear and paranoia. The hippocampus, which is adjacent to the amygdala, is responsible for receiving and storing memories but when a traumatic event occurs it is unable to process the memories to lessen the emotional response. My brain was unable to process what happened, because the situation triggered past traumatic experiences that I had blocked out over the years. I tried too hard to ignore the pain and I distanced myself so much that I forgot to take care of my mental health. I had suppressed the past so far within myself that I was surprised it still held any relevance. Sometimes we have to face our inner demons head on and to me, that has been something I had to do once I was diagnosed. I had to acknowledge the past events by searching within myself and reliving the moments before I could overcome the emotional roller coaster infused with fear and paranoia triggered by recent incidents. So no, you are not weak for suffering; you are a human being. Everyone copes differently and sometimes, we need a little outside help to guide us down the right path to recovery.
Myth: It’s been too long, I should have moved on from my trauma by now.
There is no timeline when it comes to recovery for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some individuals are capable of recovering within six months meanwhile, others develop chronic symptoms. When I began therapy, I expected to address a situation that occurred months prior but instead I ended up dealing with a situation that took place seven years earlier. In order to work on yourself, you have to discover the underlying causes to your reactions. My therapist made me aware of the fact that the incident from years before had never been processed by my hippocampus, so when I experienced a similar situation all of the emotions I suppressed before had resurfaced. Do not allow anyone to make you feel bad for taking longer to heal than they may have. Ignore the “just get over it” or “it’s not that serious” remarks, because those looking in from the outside have not endured the pain you have endured. The best thing you can do for yourself when dealing with PTSD is to seek out a support system to assist with treatment. It may be a lifelong process or it could be a brief recovery; try to remain patient.
Myth: Only war veterans can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
If you are currently suffering from PTSD, then I am sure you have dealt with people questioning the validity of your diagnosis. “Were you in the military?” “How could you have PTSD if you have never fought in a war?” “That is only for soldiers.” Yes, soldiers brought awareness to the public about PTSD but they are not the only ones who suffer from the disorder. Individuals who have been mugged, raped, tortured, kidnapped, abused as a child, involved in automobile accidents, or natural disasters can all suffer from PTSD because these are harmful events (Nimh.nih.gov, 2013). In the United States 5-10% of men are affected by PTSD and 7-14% of women, beyond the military (Charles, 2013). End the stigma about who is capable or incapable of suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Myth: People who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are violent and dangerous.
When I first heard of PTSD, it was typically associated with a veteran who unknowingly harmed someone else or themselves. I used to think PTSD would result in a psychotic break from those who suffered from it and I would fear my own father because of that misconception. My dad was a war veteran and he was never the same; each time he returned home more pieces of him were lost. I saw his behavior change gradually and I feared that he would be like the soldiers we heard about on the news, but not everyone dealing with PTSD is violent. To be honest, violent outbreaks are less common than you would think. Society has a way of accepting false ideologies when it comes to mental illness; viewing all mentally ill persons as dangerous. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is more of an emotional response derived from fear rather than violence; an anxiety disorder.
I read a really good book over the summer titled Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story which is a memoir of Mac McClelland, a human rights journalist. McClelland provides insight to her experience suffering from PTSD as she frequently traveled and resided in places filled with trauma, such as Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, to retrieve content for her stories. She also discusses the affect PTSD can have on loved ones, because it can be contagious which had never occurred to me. I recommend this book because McClelland provides factual statements and greatly details her recovery. This book helped me to better understand myself and my symptoms, because I did not know how to express these new feelings and emotions in a way people could understand. I felt very alone, but this book made me realize that there are others out there who can relate. I hope this post gave people a better understanding of the true affects of PTSD. Most people do not realize how hurtful it is to struggle so much and constantly have others minimizing your feelings. Try not to believe the myths that surround PTSD, because most of them are made up by people who are very opinionated but not informed.
Charles, K. (2013). PTSD affects many people beyond the military. M.nydailynews.com. Retrieved 16 December 2015, from http://m.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/ptsd-affects-people-military-article-1.1393098
Nimh.nih.gov,. (2013). NIMH » Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved 16 December 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml