What is PTSD?

Well, the obvious answer is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But what exactly is that? I suppose it would be useful to get that somewhere in this blog.

I could just post lots of links from amongst the thousands available. But I wanted to define it in my own words. The experts amongst you reading this, please excuse any inaccuracies and feel free to correct me!

First and foremost it’s a real shit. It is not at all how it is often portrayed in TV dramas etc. So often it is shown as a normal and short term normal reaction to a traumatic event. That may be post traumatic stress but it’s not really a massively intrusive disorder. I think that symptoms have to be present for at least a month for a diagnosis of PTSD. And they rarely seem to portray flashbacks with anything approaching accuracy.

My re-occurrence of symptoms this time round occurred nearly 18 years after the initial event. It is something I found particularly frustrating as I thought it was something I had long dealt with. That also increased the feelings of hopelessness associated with the depression, I believe.

So, what is it? It’s a disorder that can occur after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. This would usually be something that is life-threatening (or threat of serious injury) to oneself or others. The event would be accompanied by a feeling of fear, horror or helplessness. These were certainly things apparent during my experience at the Baltic Exchange. I think possibly exacerbated by the fact that attending an incident we don’t expect to become “victims” ourselves. I think the likelihood and severity of symptoms can be increased when the incident is a deliberate act of harm. I’m not sure of why that is but I know it was a catalyst for me.

The symptoms? These are many and varied but are largely involved in re-experiencing and re-processing the incident. So lots of very unpleasant thoughts and memories of the event. Dreams/nightmares featuring the event. One of the most distressing things are flashbacks. These are not simple memories of the event but very much like being back at the event at the time. I find these very hard to describe to anybody who has not experienced them. But the feeling of being there and actually experiencing it is very real. I believe that, sometimes, during these it can appear to others with you that you have just switched off. However, the psychological and physical reaction is very real and frequently I demonstated very real, and out of control, emotions during and after flashbacks. I know this can be very hard for others to witness and deal with. I also suffered from a feature which is often called non-epileptic seizures. I know these are very frightening for people who witness them.

All of this leads you to avoid anything that reminds you of the incident. (Or maybe it’s the avoidance of dealing with the incident that leads to the PTSD; more on that another time.) But this includes avoiding thoughts, feelings, conversation, people places etc that could lead to a reminder. I found that I could not remember things about the incident but I had an uneasy feeling that whatever it was it was important. All of this begins to impact on your feelings about everything. You become disinterested, you see no hope and no future, you can not feel pleasure or love etc.

Further symptoms are also massively intrusive. These fall into a category of increased arousal (stop sniggering at the back of the class!!). So, difficulty sleeping. This was a massive feature for me. My sleep is still not great but when I was very ill it was almost non existent. This was hugely distressing and difficulty and made any progress virtually impossible. I craved sleep; I’m sure this was a provoking feature of suicidal thoughts I had. Anger and irritability is another feature. I can remember going into rages about quite trivial things. Worst of all this anger tends to be aimed at the people closest to you; who are the very people trying their hardest to help you. Hyper-vigilance is prevalent; ie being constantly on the lookout for danger. This leads to a hugely exaggerated startle response. I would jump and go into panics and the smallest thing sometimes. I also found it very difficult to concentrate. There were many times I couldn’t complete a simple sentence because I just could not remember words.

Add severe depression into the mix and you have a quite miserable set of symptoms.

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One response to “What is PTSD?

  1. This is really useful, Guy, and will give your readers a much better insight into the impact of your experiences. I honestly believe that people who experience a particular condition are much more equipped to defined it! With PTSD, for me at least, the scariest part is your description of the flashbacks – having to live through those thoughts and feelings again . . . . .

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