Guest Blog By Cathy Gabrielsen
When I start asking over and over again if I am OK, if the situation is OK, if the kids, the weather, the roads, are OK, then I am headed for a PTSD episode. When I repeatedly ask if you are OK, if you are sick, if your partner or your kids are sick, then I am PTSD. I need constant reassurance that everything is OK. Because a few times in my life, things were definitely not OK.
I am a regular person: a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend. I am just like you, except I was in a war. The war I survived wasnt on a distant battlefield; instead, it was right here, close to home. Our traumas, our triggers are all unique, but the effects of PTSD are all eerily similar.
One of the many significant challenges of PTSD was the not knowing. Not knowing when I might be triggered, not knowing how long the episode might last, and not knowing how severe it might be. This not knowing was crippling for me. In one moment I was perfectly fine, and the next, I was in a haze, suddenly feeling like I had just time-traveled, I was in this bubble alone, and then came the fear, the shaking, the paranoia, and the tears of despair. What was beginning to surface were emotions from old traumas that were stored deep within me. Trauma like having had my high school boyfriend nearly die in front of me, never to recover; trauma from having had cancer as a young mother, and who knows how many other traumas. Day by day, a part of an old wound would resurface and I would suddenly go PTSD.
What Ptsd Is Not: Debunking The Myths
Due to the popularity of the term PTSD in our popular culture, its easy to develop misconceptions about issues around post-traumatic stress. Some of the most common myths are:
- PTSD is not real; it is all in your head
- PTSD is a sign of mental weakness or fragility
- Everyone with PTSD is violent or will become violent
- PTSD will go away on its own eventually so medical help is not needed
- PTSD happens immediately after experiencing trauma
- People with PTSD are dangerous
- People with PTSD should be able to move on and get over it
- PTSD is not treatable
- Any life event can be considered traumatic
Mind Symptoms Of Ptsd
- You experienced painful emotional or physical trauma in your family growing up.
- Youve suffered emotional or physical trauma in one or more of your relationships.
- There has been an event in your life in which youve been threatened with such serious physical or emotional harm that it would be out of the range of what we consider normal life experience.
- Some examples might be living through war, witnessing an accident with loss of life or limb, experiencing rape or incest, or seeing your children suffer abuse.
- Whatever the trauma youve experienced, you tend to have repeat performances of this painful pattern in one relationship after another, one job after another, and so on. The painful pattern seems to replay over and over in your life like the movie Groundhog Day.
- You have thought patterns of terror, fright, panic, and edginess.
- You have a feeling that you might be hurt or harmed, or that someone might reject or criticize you.
- You believe you wont get the help you need.
- You feel youre incompetent to change the situation.
- You feel like youre going crazy.
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The Stages Of Ptsd Recovery
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that often develops after a devastating event of some kind. It is commonly associated with veterans who have served in active duty and those who have lived through natural disasters or massive violent events; however, it can also develop after the death of a loved one or even after a traumatic hospital stay or vehicle accident.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder recovery can be a completely unique experience for every person. This is primarily because the experiences that led to your PTSD were unique to you, and your reactions to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are also unique to you. There are, however, several common PTSD stages that can help you to better understand how you react and how you can recover.
What Trauma Looks Like In The Brain
When you experience trauma, your brains fear center, the amygdala, sounds the alarm, and your body instinctively responds almost immediately with a;sequence of hormonal and physiological changes. Your brain isnt busy preparing you to think about whats going on. Its getting you ready to run or do battle and ceases all non-essential body and mind processes. Your sympathetic nervous system floods the body with stress hormones and according to fMRI;studies,;parts of the brain shut down.
Ideally, when the immediate threat subsides, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and calms and restores the body. This process would reduce stress hormones and allow the brain to resume the top-down structure of control. However, some trauma survivors brains never fully shift from reactive back to responsive mode. Instead, their brains stay on alert, primed for threat with dysregulated activity.
Neuroanatomical studies have identified changes in brain structures of those with PTSD which can lead to;depression,;substance abuse, personality and other mental disorders, and health problems.
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Memorygaps & Concentration Issues
Due to the continuous pumping of stress hormones in their nervous system, there can be impacts on memory. This can look like a trauma victim forgetting the whole occurrence after its happened. Their brain is pushed to a point where remembering isnt possible.
Along with memory gaps, they can have a reduced attention span. It may be difficult for their brain to absorb new information or merely be present, which is often a cause of frustration and anger for the trauma victim.
Where To Find Treatment
There are a variety of treatment options available, with new and innovative techniques emerging and being researched for their effectiveness. The key to accessing treatment is to acknowledge that these resources could be helpful to you or your loved one. People who struggle with PTSD often experience feelings of shame and fear, finding it difficult to initiate seeking help. Many struggle in isolation with hope that the symptoms they are experiencing will go away on their own.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
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Dissociation In Ptsd As A Coping Mechanism Through The Assistance Of Binding Factors
Binding factors help diffuse the high energy charge of traumatic emotional stress, but simultaneously keep those stress levels active, which often causes them to become focal points in themselves.
It is vital to see it from this perspective; that they are the outcome of trauma and part of a dissociation process. This will help take away the importance placed on shame, blame, guilt, and self-reproach, which in turn helps you to contain those things and allows you to approach the next question:
What is/are the underlying emotion that give rise to those binding, dissociative factors?
How I Healed From Ptsd And How You Can Too:
Healing from PTSD is possible I know, because I healed. You can too!
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How Is It Diagnosed
CPTSD is still a relatively new condition, so some doctors arent aware of it. This can make it hard to get an official diagnosis, and you might be diagnosed with PTSD instead of CPTSD. Theres no specific test for determining whether you have CPTSD, but keeping a detailed log of your symptoms can help your doctor make a more accurate diagnosis. Try to keep track of when your symptoms started as well as any changes in them over time.
Once you find a doctor, theyll start by asking about your symptoms, as well as any traumatic events in your past. For the initial diagnosis, you likely wont need to go into too much detail if it makes you uncomfortable.
Next, they may ask about any family history of mental illness or other risk factors. Make sure to tell them about any medications or supplements you take, as well as any recreational drugs you use. Try to be as honest as you can with them so they can make the best recommendations for you.
If youve had symptoms of post-traumatic stress for at least a month and they interfere with your daily life, your doctor will likely start with a diagnosis of PTSD. Depending on the traumatic event and whether you have additional symptoms, such as ongoing relationship problems or trouble controlling your emotions, they may diagnose you with CPTSD.
Keep in mind that you may need to see a few doctors before you find someone you feel comfortable with. This is very normal, especially for people dealing with post-traumatic stress.
Cognition And Mood Symptoms Include:
- Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
- Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
Cognition and mood symptoms can begin or worsen after the traumatic event, but are not due to injury or substance use. These symptoms can make the person feel alienated or detached from friends or family members.
It is natural to have some of these symptoms for a few weeks after a dangerous event. When the symptoms last more than a month, seriously affect ones ability to function, and are not due to substance use, medical illness, or anything except the event itself, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD dont show any symptoms for weeks or months. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders.
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Build A Support Network
Having a PTSD support network can also be beneficial for coping with this mental health condition. Having friends, family members, or a coworker who knows about your PTSD and is available to talk can be important for recovery. A PTSD network can be available to listen and offer solutions during difficult times.
Social support has been found to be especially critical for people who have been exposed to multiple traumatic events. One study found that the risk of PTSD was 17 times greater in women who had been subjected to both child abuse and rape, but the severity of PTSD was lower in those who had more social support. Social support can therefore alleviate some of the symptoms associated with trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitisation And Reprocessing
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing is a psychological treatment that’s been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
It involves recalling the traumatic incident in detail while making eye movements, usually by following the movement of your therapist’s finger.;
Other methods;may include;the therapist tapping their finger or playing a tone.
It’s not clear exactly how EMDR works,;but it may help you change the negative way you think about a traumatic experience.
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What Happens If Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Goes Untreated
While post traumatic stress has become more visible and discussed in recent years, especially in the aftermath of the Iraq War, thousands of people still struggle with undiagnosed and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.
The consequences of untreated post traumatic stress disorder can be severe and can impact an individuals mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical health. The risks of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder include:
Ongoing stress and anxiety
- Individuals with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder may suffer from chronic episodes of traumatic stress, anxiety, or flashbacks, often triggered by sights, sounds, or sensations associated with the traumatic event. Over time, this stress response can lead to a deterioration of physical health, as well.
Difficulty managing personal and professional relationships
- Post-traumatic stress disorder can often lead individuals to isolate themselves away from family, friends, and colleagues as a way of coping with intrusive thoughts and feelings. When left untreated over a long period of time, the disorder can cause rifts within families and lead to lost jobs, missed school, and other complications.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to other health issues, including difficulty sleeping, long-term pain, challenges with blood flow or the heart, and muscular or skeletal injuries. Psychologically, PTSD sufferers are more likely to struggle with anxiety and panic disorders.
Longer Time To Recuperate
Just like progress at the gym or learning a new skill, healing, too, takes time. When you add PTSD to the mix, it adds a good deal of time. But when you add years of abuse and Complex PTSD, there is no longer a separation between persons lives and the trauma they endured. They are the same, which makes healing a longer and more complicated process.
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Healing The Brain After Trauma
The good news is that the changes in the brain can be reversed. The amygdala can learn to relax again; the hippocampus can resume proper memory consolidation, and the nervous system can heal to flow between the reactive and restorative modes again.
Medications, hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, neurofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing , and other brain-related modalities even virtual reality, ketamine, and methylenedioxymethamphetamine have proven helpful in treating PTSD. The bottom line is that the mind has to reframe and release the trauma so that the brain can reset itself.
Recovery is a gradual process accomplished over time with successful methods of treatment being as varied as individual trauma survivors. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but evidence suggests that when people commit to a process of exploring and testing treatment options they can, reduce the effects of trauma and even eliminate symptoms of PTSD. Studies show therapies to be most effective when;applied during the disorders critical first few months.
Ensure Your Personal Safety
If you are in a dangerous situation healing is not likely until you deal with the current emergency. Make a safety plan and execute it. You need to feel safe and have reliable food clothing and shelter before you think about other aspects of recovery. But dont put off recovery waiting for the day you will miraculously feel safe. Get started on the safety part first. Just taking steps to move to a safe place can be empowering.
Challenges to your safety dont only come from outside. You may be a big part of the danger. Avoid, control, or work on urges and cravings. Confront any urges to commit suicide and seek help immediately if you have thoughts of suicide. Recognize and deal with non-suicidal self-injury, substance abuse, eating disorders, and the urge to try out risky behaviors. Dont put yourself at risk to be victimized anymore.
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How Long Does It Take To Heal Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
We all want to know how long it takes to heal posttraumatic stress disorder . I know you want to heal yesterday, but the truth about PTSD, according to its diagnostic criteria, is that it doesnt clear up overnight like a bad rash. Instead, we each have our own healing journey that has its own timeline. Settle in now for the long haul. Be realistic about what you are attempting to do. Give yourself permission to take the time you need. Decide you will be patient. And remember, how long it takes to heal posttraumatic stress disorder varies.
How To Find The Right Art Therapist
To find an art therapist qualified to work with PTSD, look for a trauma-informed therapist. This means the therapist is an art expert but also has other tools to support survivors on their recovery journey, like talk therapy and CBT. Art will always remain the centerpiece of treatment.
When seeking art therapy for trauma, its important to seek a therapist who is specifically knowledgeable in the integration of trauma-based approaches and theories, advises Curtis. Its important to note that any intervention done with visual and sensory materials can also be triggering to the client and should therefore only be used by a trained art therapist.
A trained art therapist will have at least a masters degree in psychotherapy with an additional art therapy credential. Many therapists may advertise they do art therapy. Only those with certified credentials have gone through the rigorous training essential for PTSD treatment. The Art Therapy Credential Boards Find A Credentialed Art Therapist feature can help you find a qualified counselor.
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