I do understand that it makes sense to address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through the lens of war veterans given the context of the readings, but I would like to raise attention to the fact that it is a common misconception that PTSD is mainly a “veteran’s disorder.” This disorder can take hold after any traumatic event or string of events in which one is the victim or witness of life-threatening circumstances, which are usually of a manmade nature. The most common types of events that could lead to one developing PTSD are serious car accidents, assault or abuse, and combat. The prevalence rate of PTSD in cases of natural disasters is actually very low, which is also a common misconception. Not everyone who suffers a traumatic experience will develop PTSD either, because people can be rather resilient despite impossible odds. Likewise, when the trauma is of a persistent nature in such cases as people in combat, children living in abusive or neglectful homes, or in cases of domestic violence relationships for example, these sufferers of repeated traumatic events are far more susceptible and may become less resilient over time as they learn to be helpless against the constant onslaught of actual or threatened harm or death. There is also a higher risk of comorbidity with other mental disorders in cases of prolonged exposure to trauma and/ or lack of proper treatment for PTSD.
I personally suffer from moderate to severe PTSD, so I would like to explain the symptoms from my own perspective, because while every case is different from the next, the actual experience of this disorder is far more intricate than the text lets on. My disorder stems from numerous traumatic events, but mostly from an abusive relationship/ marriage that, although I left it about five times only to be pulled back in, it essentially lasted ten years, and has continued to cause distress and re-traumatization for three more, because we have a child together. I do suffer from insomnia (and chronic fatigue as a result) and nightmares, as well as flashbacks (or day-mares as I call them), in which I am re-experiencing emotional and physical sensations that accompanied the traumatic experiences that are either being replayed in my mind or the possible outcomes that I am envisioning and am fearful of. These day-mares are out of my control. I try very hard to never think about my traumatic experiences if not in therapy or a very safe environment, but they are frequently triggered by people, events, or experiences in the environment. I use avoidant behavior to try to keep these re-experiencing moments at bay, to the point that I have developed phobias in some cases. I feel very alone and misunderstood, therefore I have withdrawn from most social activities, and when I am around people I feel very detached and unable to adjust to the situation comfortably or relate to them. Public places are especially terrifying, as I feel very exposed and vulnerable, sometimes even crushingly fearful of impending doom. I am most comfortable at home because it is the only place where I can control the environment to reduce potential triggers. I have good days and I have bad days, and on the bad days I am very jumpy, more than usual at least. Just about any sudden loud noise or broken silence can physically trigger my body’s fight or flight response. I have difficulty concentrating and can get very confused when interrupted. I experience an uncanny need to be hyper-vigilant about just about everything, but especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships. To others who don’t understand PTSD, it can be perceived as submissiveness, people-pleasing behavior, victim mentality, or at worst as spite or disdain for them, but it is merely a fear reaction to psychological triggers. I suffer from intense misplaced guilt. I apologize for everything and am fearful of others lashing out at me, which is mainly what will cause me to be hyper-vigilant in the first place. People who do not understand this about me often get angry with me or take it personally, which can send me into a tailspin of guilt for making them feel bad or uncomfortable, which leads to hyper-vigilance, which offends them. I’ve been stigmatized by others at times because they think that I am acting like they are attacking me, which can make it even harder to explain to the person what it is like to have PTSD and that it isn’t their fault that I react the way I do, nor is it mine. If they lash out at me and refuse to be understanding, I can suffer for days in a nervous breakdown and dissociation, where I am unable to connect to reality due to the re-traumatization of being blamed for something beyond my control.
I do not have PTSD because I did something wrong, I have PTSD because there are people in this world that have done terrible things to me. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, here are some links to further reading that may help you to be more understanding and to better cope with the symptoms of this disorder.