Here's another post from abby jean about mental health. Can you tell I liked this series a whole lot?

eta: this post was previously titled PTSD 101, which incorrectly suggested that it was an authoritative or comprehensive discussion of the topic. it is not. it is a pile of information colored significantly by my own experiences and perspectives.thanks to those who raised this with me.

post traumatic stress disorder, or syndrome as its sometimes called, got a lot of attention in the U.S. during and following the vietnam war, when an estimated 30% of returning veterans experienced symptoms. PTSD is a reaction to significant psychological trauma, including war, physical or sexual assault, or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. although associated with trauma, the majority of people who undergo trauma don’t develop PTSD, whose prevalence in the general (non-soldier) population is estimated around 8%, with women twice as likely to experience it than men. (whether this is because women experience more trauma or are more likely to react to trauma with PTSD is not clear.)

the diagnostic criteria for PTSD are expsure to a seriously traumatic event and “persistent re-experience” of that traumatic event through recurrent and intusive recollections, recurrent distressing dreams, flashbacks creating the feeling that the traumatic event is recurring, and/or distress at exposure to cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event. this then results in persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, which can include dissociation or detachment from nearly all activities. like all mental health diagnoses, this must impair the person’s social, occupational, or other functioning.

so imagine something horribly awful had happened to you. for people i know who experience PTSD, it’s usually a rape or a sexual assault. in one case, it was an attempted murder by a roommate. for some of my immigrant clients, it’s the genocides in el salvador or cambodia, the systemic assassination of all of their friends and family members. or even something like a serious car accident.

PTSD makes it impossible to “move on” from the trauma because your brain makes it keep on happening, over and over again, every single day. you cannot move on because it won’t stop, you can’t stop re-experiencing it whether through flashbacks, dreams, or just thinking about it without cease. sometimes the recollections are associated with specific stimuli, but sometimes they just happen, out of nowhere, and your head is filled with the whole trauma all over again.

i experienced a significant (vague) trauma on july 4, 1993. i now loathe the holiday, because i spend all day thinking about it, and even have trouble with fireworks at baseball games or disneyland. i also have a bad reaction to a specific cologne and have left rooms or gotten off buses to avoid it. i also don’t care for people touching the back of my head and have reacted instantly and violently when someone put their hand there without warning. these have been the trickiest and most long-lasting triggers - i had tons and tons more that i’ve managed to better dissociate from the trauma with time and therapy.

the most frustrating part about PTSD is the inability to move on from and process the trauma itself, especially as those around a person with PTSD often criticize the person for not trying hard enough to move forward and instead dwelling on the problem. “you’ll never feel better if you think about it all the time.” WELL YEAH. and i would have loved to stop thinking about it. would have loved to think about any other thing in the whole goddamn world - except i couldn’t. but people lose patience and eventually start to blame the person for their inability stop thinking about it, to start processing it.

PTSD is a major issue now because of returning soldiers from iraq and afghanistan. prevalence rates are impossible to even guess at with all the politics involved in detecting or diagnosing PTSD in the military, but it’s got to be pretty high. especially combined with the hypervigaliance necessary to stay alive over there, it’s a nasty problem for returning veterans. i’ve heard stories of soldiers driving on the freeway getting stuck in traffic, being unable to overcome the feeling it was an ambush, and getting out and abandoning their cars to run away. because the psychological toll of military service can be so significant, i’m hoping we see more national attention focused on PTSD issues in the near future.

(Originally posted here.)


At Tue Oct 06, 05:16:00 PM Danine said...

This is a really good description of PTSD. I've had it since experiencing a form of locked-in syndrome in 2005. It's really, really hard and this was pretty accurate.

At Tue Oct 06, 09:29:00 PM abby jean said...

thanks! i was describing my experience with PTSD when it was at its absolute worst. thankfully (through a variety of methods including medication, cognitive therapy, blah blah) it's significantly improved now and i can anticipate and plan for my triggers much better. i hope yours improves - it's certainly very very hard.


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