Friday, July 20, 2007

What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Per the National Center for PTSD:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening.

They go on to say that:

Many people who go through a traumatic event don't get PTSD. It isn't clear why some people develop PTSD and others don't. How likely you are to get PTSD depends on many things. These include:

  • How intense the trauma was
  • If you lost a loved one or were hurt
  • How close you were to the event
  • How strong your reaction was
  • How much you felt in control of events
  • How much help and support you got after the event
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years.

What I think it leaves out in the bullets above is the duration of time spent in a situation. Would I have PTSD if say, I was taken away from my mother before I ended it myself in my twenties? If someone, any one had helped me, how would I be today? I had no control over my life, thoughts, or actions for so many years. In fact, for most of my life the only thing I could do was react, never act. I reacted to her moods, to her actions. It was pure torture for those 18 years I lived directly with her, and to think I didn’t cut ties until I was twenty-something!

No one knows for sure why some people get PTSD and others don’t. Is it brain chemistry? A hormone, a release of some chemical when trauma happens? There is a lot of controversy still about an experimental PTSD drug. I think it’s still in clinical trials. What it does is deaden the emotions during a traumatic event. Thus, if say something explodes like happened Wednesday, and you take the pill it won’t attach the fear to the memory so the theory is later in life if something like that happens again you won’t experience PTSD symptoms.

So what are PTSD symptoms? They vary a lot. The DSM-IV lists three different groups of symptoms, the first are intrusive:

  • Distressing memories of the event
  • Distressing dreams of the event
  • Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring
  • Intense psychological distress when reminded of the event
  • Physiological reactivity (sweating, heart racing, etc.) when reminded of the event.
But leaves out the symptoms associated with each of these. For instance, when memories starting coming back that cause ‘distress’ or ‘anxiety’ one can feel dizzy, faint, light-headed, confused, start to shake, get chills, have stomach cramps or nausea, etc. I suppose some of this is listed under Physiological reactivity. I always thought the dizziness was from something else, but had a clean bill of health. Yet when I start to remember or something happens my mind swims. Like all things, symptoms differ with people.

Others are listed as ‘numbing’ symptoms:

  • Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
  • Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people which arouse recollections of the trauma
  • Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Feelings of detachment from others
  • Restricted range of affect and emotional responsiveness
  • Sense of a foreshortened future
Which really blew me out of the water. I thought my personality was gloom and doom, even though I remembered fighting against my mother to not watch COPS and other such programs about the worst in society all the time. My favorite color was yellow for a long time and then suddenly I wanted the world in black. I felt every one of those above so strongly, especially the last. I never thought I’d live past age 21 and when I did, didn’t know what the hell was going on. I still have problems with feelings of detachment, like I don’t belong anywhere and can’t connect with people. And of course the third on the list – inability to recall an aspect of the trauma – there are a lot of black holes in my memory. But considering what I do recall, it’s probably best they stay that way.

Lastly are the ‘hyperarousal’ symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance for signs of danger
  • Exaggerated startle response
I always know something is up when my sleep patterns change, because damn, I love to sleep.

There are many theories on treatment and I am doing what is called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT. Per Wikipedia, “The particular therapeutic techniques vary according to the particular kind of client or issue, but commonly include keeping a diary of significant events and associated feelings, thoughts and behaviors; questioning and testing assumptions or habits of thoughts that might be unhelpful and unrealistic; gradually facing activities which may have been avoided; and trying out new ways of behaving and reacting. Relaxation and distraction techniques are also commonly included. CBT is widely accepted as an evidence-based, cost-effective psychotherapy for many disorders.”

So I have a checklist of symptoms that once a month we check. When a traumatic event happens, I go through and see my reactions. I do feel like a computer doing a system check, but since neither my body nor thoughts were ever really mine growing up, I’m just beginning to learn how I work. She goes through relaxation exercises with me and we talk about situations and how I feel during them. It may sound simplistic to some, but it is so hard for me to understand how I’m feeling at times and with everything, once it has a name, you can begin to control the beast.

I hope to post more information and get more links up soon. I’m new at this and still feeling my way around.

That great painting above is from painted by Dmitriy Kedren


Amel's Realm said...

THANKS for writing it down, Vic!!!

Yeah, it must've been hard living for years by blocking away your emotions. I had to learn to block my emotions every now and then when I had a long-distance relationship, and it was tough. It was tougher when the dam broke down and I felt all the burst of emotions at once flooding me.

Yeah, that's what I admire from you. You're trying to conquer your beasts one by one, Vic. GOOD LUCK and GAMBATTE KUDASAI!!! (Never give up in Japanese)

dawn said...

Hi Victorya, I found you thru Chewy, I too work a few blocks from the blast(40th bet mad and park)It really amazes me how resilent NY'ers are. I have changed since 9/11. I think it took me 5 or 6 months to even go thru a tunnel. I didn't have flashbacks this time just a feeling of sadness that our world will never be the same and that my children will never know the security I had growing up. I've had some hard times ion the past years my best friend son was murdered he was 22 and it thru me into a tailspin and depression for a very long time. I'm glad to see you working on the ptsd. So if you'd like a new friend stop my blog advice always free

Victorya said...

Amel - You are just awesome. Always so positive! It really is inspiring.

It wasn't hard at the time because I had no choice. But your dam of emotions is what I'm going through now, so much I never knew I could feel and the fight to stay in the moment when something happens.

DAwn- nice of you to drop by and glad to hear you are doing okay. NYC is tough, but I think every place has its own struggles.

Amel's Realm said...

Hey, Vic!!!

Well, one mission that I would like to carry out (that I chose when I moved here) is to send out a positive vibe. Glad it's working. :-D

Ah, yeah, you just did it "automatically" at that time as self-defense. I know how hard it is when the dam breaks, and I guess harder for you 'coz your dam's bigger than mine. However, KEEP UP THE GOOD and HARD WORK, Girl!!! One step at a time and don't be too hard on yourself, OK?

"What doesn't kill you will make you stronger" - I believe in that he he he he...

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

You've come through so much Victorya, you'll get this hon.((hugs))

david mcmahon said...

The power of this post will live with me and other readers for a long time, Victorya.

You can count on my support, always


Victorya said...

Thanks david and shrink! hope it was more informative as well.