A Day In The Life Of A Ptsd Patient: Flashbacks Discomfort And Hope
Traumatic life-threatening events often leave emotional scars, which, like physical scars, remain with an individual for the rest of their lives. Although we all go through a healing period following trauma, for some, the emotional scars are so deep they interfere with their ability to function normally. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder where flashbacks and memories of a traumatic event significantly disrupt patients everyday lives.
In a World Health Organization survey, it found that around 3.6 percent of the worlds population suffered from PTSD over the past 12 months. The underlying factors that lead to the development of PTSD are complex and still poorly understood however, as new research emerges, scientists are gaining a better understanding. For example, they’ve already found genetics may play a role.
Recently, Medical Daily had the chance to speak with Ruska, a 23-year-old American college student who developed PTSD after experiencing repeated physical, sexual, and emotional abuse through most of her life. Ruska, who chose to conceal her identity by using a different name, hopes that her first-hand account of what its like to live with PTSD will not only help remove some of the stigma attached to it, but also give hope to other people living with the oftentimes debilitating condition.
What were some of your earliest symptoms of PTSD and when were you diagnosed?
How does your condition affect your everyday life?
This Is What My Ptsd/cptsd Looks Like
Every morning I wake up and begin my day with limited emotional energy.
My children are my priority so I do everything I can to work around my limitations with PTSD to be available for them.
I carefully plan my schedule to avoid crowds when I have to shop.
I can make myself to go to one of my boys sporting events or a band concert, but I attend knowing that I am likely to panic and have to leave early.
One crowded, overwhelming event can sideline me for several days afterwards, so I choose my activities carefully, mindful of the probable fallout.
Still, 5 1/2 years after escaping my abusive marriage, I have nightmares and panic attacks, on almost a daily basis.
I have huge gaps in my memories of the 27 years I was married.
I avoid eating out.
I avoid places where bad things happened to me in the past.
I havent been able to sit through a whole church service in several years, partially due to the spiritual abuse that we all were subjected to.
CPTSD is basically an emotional injury ~ an invisible illness. Since it isnt as tangible as a broken bone I frequently have to remind myself that living so much of my life on high alert and in panic mode is both emotionally and physically exhausting. I am learning to be compassionate with myself.
Being triggered is like that train. I dont usually know in advance what will trigger me and when it happens, Im totally overwhelmed and consumed by the panic of past events.
Support Is Important For Recovery
Many people experience some of the symptoms of PTSD in the first two weeks after a traumatic event, but most recover with the help of family and friends. For this reason, for a diagnosis of PTSD is not made until a month after the event. Treatment does not usually start for at least two or more weeks after a traumatic experience. However if the event is very distressing and emotions and reactions are intense, it is advisable to seek help as early as possible to understand what is happening and help recovery to start.
It is important during the first few days and weeks after a traumatic event to get whatever help is needed. This may include accessing information, people and resources that can help you to recover. Support from family and friends may be all that is needed. Otherwise, a doctor is the best place to start to get further help.
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Arousal And Reactivity Symptoms Include:
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or on edge
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Having angry outbursts
Arousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic events. These symptoms can make the person feel stressed and angry. They may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
Common External Ptsd Triggers
- Sights, sounds, or smells associated with the trauma.
- People, locations, or things that recall the trauma.
- Significant dates or times, such as anniversaries or a specific time of day.
- Conversations or media coverage about trauma or negative news events.
- Situations that feel confining .
- Relationship, family, school, work, or money pressures or arguments.
- Funerals, hospitals, or medical treatment.
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What Can I Do If Im Not Happy With My Treatment
If you arent happy with your treatment you can:
- talk to your doctor about your treatment options,
- ask for a second opinion,
- get an advocate to help you speak to your doctor,
- contact Patient Advice and Liaison Service , or
- make a complaint.
There is more information about these options below.
How can I speak to my doctor about my treatment options?
You can speak to your doctor about your treatment. Explain why you arent happy with it. You could ask what other treatments you could try.
Tell your doctor if there is a type of treatment that you would like to try. Doctors should listen to your preference. If you arent given this treatment, ask your doctor to explain why it isnt suitable for you.
Whats a second opinion?
A second opinion means that you would like a different doctor to give their opinion about what treatment you should have. You can also ask for a second opinion if you disagree with your diagnosis.
You dont have a right to a second opinion. But your doctor should listen to your reason for wanting a second opinion.
What is advocacy?
An advocate is independent from the mental health service. They are free to use. They can be useful if you find it difficult to get your views heard.
There are different types of advocates available. Community advocates can support you to get a health professional to listen to your concerns. And help you to get the treatment that you would like. NHS complaints advocates can help you if you want to complain about the NHS.
Supporting A Loved One With Ptsd
When someones friend, partner or family member has PTSD, the mental illness affects them, too. While they face different challenges than their loved one, those challenges are significant. Acknowledging those difficulties doesnt diminish the trauma the survivor experienced but is an important part of setting boundaries and helping the individual recover.
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Avoidance And Emotional Numbing
Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD.
This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.
Many people with PTSD try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.
Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing.
This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing activities they used to enjoy.
Free Brochures And Shareable Resources
- Helping Children and Adolescents Cope With Traumatic Events: This fact sheet presents information on how children and adolescents respond to traumatic events, and what family, friends, and trusted adults can do to help. Also available en español.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This brochure provides information about post-traumatic stress disorder including what it is, who develops PTSD, symptoms, treatment options, and how to find help for yourself or someone else who may have PTSD. Also available en español.
- : Help support PTSD awareness and education in your community. Use these digital resources, including graphics and messages, to spread the word about PTSD.
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What Does Ptsd Feel Like
Again, knowing about the causes and symptoms of PTSD is one thing. but having the experience of actually living with PTSD is entirely another. What does it feel like to live with PTSD symptoms on a day-to-day basis?
Here are four in-depth descriptions of what life with PTSD actually feels like for many people.
Does Trauma Always Cause Ptsd
Traumas can lead to PTSD, but not always. Not everyone who has been through a trauma will have PTSD. In fact, most young people who go through trauma will not have PTSD.
But most will feel the effects of trauma. Its natural to react to a deeply stressful event. Most people will feel upset, have thoughts of the trauma, and other signs of distress. These may be called PTSD-like symptoms.
Most people do find ways to cope with what theyve been through. Some will get past trauma quickly on their own. It helps to have extra comfort and support from people in their lives. Therapy can also help. As people cope and adjust, their symptoms get better.
PTSD develops when a trauma overwhelms a persons ability to cope. The deep stress of trauma keeps the brains threat sensors too active. That makes it hard for the person to feel safe again. People with PTSD need extra help to move through the coping process. Therapy helps them do that.
Whether or not a person will have PTSD partly depends on:
- how severe the trauma was, or how harmful
- the help and support they get
- if they have a lot of other stress in their life
- if they have been through past trauma
- if they have depression or anxiety
- inherited risks like family history of depression and anxiety
After a trauma, a person may have PTSD-like symptoms that last for a short while, sometimes days or weeks. This may be called a stress reaction. Only if symptoms last longer than a month can it be diagnosed as PTSD.
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We Each Have A Unique Story And Recovery Timeline
Please dont compare your story to mine and be discouraged that I am still struggling this much, 5 1/2 years out. Ive been told repeatedly that in many ways my situation was somewhat extreme and unique.
- I was tremendously isolated for 26 years
- I was pregnant 14 times , had 12 children ~ *please know this: as challenging as a large family is, I wouldnt change a thing about the size of my family though.
- the nature of my abuse was not only all-encompassing but extremely insidious as well, which left me constantly questioning my perception of reality.
- When I first left my abusive husband, I still had 10 children living at home with me.
- 6 of my 12 children have been diagnosed with serious anxiety disorders, fallout from so many years of abuse by their father. I have spent a huge amount of time and energy the past 5 years trying to obtain help for them.
- One of my boys almost died in a suicide attempt last fall. Thankfully he is recovering, but that has been horrifically stressful in ways that I cant even begin to articulate here.
I dont say this to point out how terrible my unique situation is, but rather to offer hope and encouragement and suggest that you give yourself grace as you recover.
Your timeline for recovery will be as unique as your story.
What Its Like To Have Ptsd
PTSD can be a jarring, terrifying experience in some cases. People relive their trauma to the point where they cant function. If you have PTSD, you know the feelings can last long after the traumatic incident ended.
Many U.S. military veterans describe PTSD in stark terms.
U.S. Air Force veteran Stacy L. Pearsall said, Even just falling asleep was tough. The minute I would start dozing off, I would get a surge of adrenaline or anxiety and wake up. And even when I did fall asleep, I would wake up with night terrors or sweats.
But you dont have to be a combat veteran to experience PTSD. Anyone can get it. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that up to six percent of the population has symptoms in any given year.
PTSD is most clearly described in terms of its symptoms. Theyre mostly grouped into four kinds: intrusive memories, avoidance, adverse changes in thinking and mood, and fluctuations in emotional and physical reactions. Symptoms can change over time or differ from person to person.
Besides recognizing the symptoms, the first step in possible recovery often means reaching out to your doctor or family and friends for support.
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What Is It Like To Live With Ptsd
Living with PTSD means living in a constant state of fear. Feeling overwhelmed is common. Its like no matter how happy you appear on the outside or try to convince yourself that you are, theres something really sad and negative hiding just below the surface. People living with PTSD often blame themselves for the trauma they experienced or berate themselves for not being able to get over the trauma. They may ask themselves, Why cant they just move on? Why cant I just forget the trauma? Sometimes the future seems hopeless. A person with PTSD may feel like its a challenge just to get out of bed in the morning.
When To Seek Help For Ptsd
A person who has experienced a traumatic event should seek professional help if they:
- donât feel any better after two weeks
- feel highly anxious or distressed
- have reactions to the traumatic event that are interfering with home, work and/or relationships
- are thinking of harming themselves or someone else.
Some of the signs that a problem may be developing are:
- being constantly on edge or irritable
- having difficulty performing tasks at home or at work
- being unable to respond emotionally to others
- being unusually busy to avoid issues
- taking risks or not caring what happens to oneself
- using alcohol, drugs or gambling to cope
- having severe sleeping difficulties.
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It Can Be Difficult To Recognise
Likewise the symptoms vary widely, and are often mistaken for other common mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
“PTSD is made up of various clusters of symptoms, and some of those symptoms within those clusters actually mimic other conditions, which leads to a lot of misdiagnosis,” explains clinical psychologist Dr Claudia Herbert, director of The Oxford Development Centre and The Cotswold Centre for Trauma Healing, and author of Overcoming Traumatic Stress.
Flashbacks, or intrusive traumatic memories, are probably the best known of these symptoms. Other symptoms include: hypervigilance , panic attacks, phobias, irritability or angry outbursts, dissociation , nightmares and trouble sleeping, depression and anxiety, self-destructive or reckless behaviour like substance abuse or self-harm, and feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame.
People affected by PTSD may also experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as muscle tension, heart racing, nausea, or sweating. Avoidance of distressing situations or subjects is another key symptom which, Herbert explains, adds to the difficulty of diagnosis.
“Often it’s too painful to people even to talk about, so they’re avoiding it, and their GP may not be aware of the traumatic experience.”
Do Children React Differently Than Adults
Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but some of their symptoms may not be the same as adults. Symptoms sometimes seen in very young children , these symptoms can include:
- Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet
- Forgetting how to or being unable to talk
- Acting out the scary event during playtime
- Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult
Older children and teens are more likely to show symptoms similar to those seen in adults. They may also develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.
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Talking To Your Loved One About Ptsd Triggers
Ask your loved one about things theyve done in the past to respond to a trigger that seemed to help . Then come up with a joint game plan for how you will respond in future.
Decide with your loved one how you should respond when they have a nightmare, flashback, or panic attack. Having a plan in place will make the situation less scary for both of you. Youll also be in a much better position to help your loved one calm down.
How to help someone having a flashback or panic attack
During a flashback, people often feel a sense of disassociation, as if theyre detached from their own body. Anything you can do to ground them will help.
- Tell your loved one theyre having a flashback and that even though it feels real, the event is not actually happening again.
- Help remind them of their surroundings .
- Encourage them to take deep, slow breaths .
- Avoid sudden movements or anything that might startle them.
- Ask before you touch them. Touching or putting your arms around the person might make them feel trapped, which can lead to greater agitation and even violence.
I Think I Might Have Ptsd
If you think you might have PTSD talking through what happened with a family member, friend, or teacher can be helpful. They will be able to chat things over at a pace that is right for you and its ok if you get upset when youre telling them just take a deep breath and start again when youre ready.
The next step will be to speak to your doctor, who will be able to talk to you about what youre experiencing, and then decide what treatment option will be best for you. Perhaps ask your parents, another member of your family or a friend to go with you. You can find out more about treatment for PTSD in people under 18 here.