What is PTSD? In the Words of Survivors….

Kicking off a month of PTSD Awareness (leading up to June 27th, the national day set aside for PTSD awareness) let’s begin with giving survivors everywhere a VOICE!

How do you define PTSD???

Having a clinical definition of posttraumatic stress disorder and being able to identify ptsd symptoms is important, but the “professional” perspective of PTSD can’t get down to or substantially express what it feels like to live the PTSD lifestyle of anxiety, insomnia, panic, hypervigilance, fear, pain, grief, anger, numbness, dissociation and emotional dysregulation.

To truly answer the question, What is PTSD? you have to ask a survivor. I have asked many; here are the answers they allowed me to share with you.

(Feel free to share your personal definition in the comments.)

PTSD is….

Continuously scanning and evaluating multiple sounds, near and far, day and night, awake or asleep, for anything that might be a threat. Deep exhaustion. Waking up at night in a state of alarm, soaked with sweat from intense dreams with thick clammy atmospheres that stay with me through the next day. In a permanent state of alarm. Like being trapped in a nether-world, or a spider’s web, where normal social functioning has become a distant memory.

For me PTSD is the road to Infinity, once you start there is no end and there is no turning back, all you can do is take the same trip over and over and after enough laps around the same road I realized there is no end and this is something I am just going to have to deal with and I can’t..over and over and over again.

…a completely life shattering event and one which would leave me stranded between life and death, somewhere resembling “no-mans land”. It has far wider implications and complexities than any text book definition or clinical classification can grasp or  stranger “looking in” could possibly understand. I liken it to a creeping ivy which is slow to take its hold in the beginning but with time invades every aspect of your life. Left to its own devices and in time, it flourishes and can outcompete its host which is left stranded and slowly diminishes. If left unmanaged it can become quite overwhelming by then you are well and truly under its control. Before you know it your life is totally eclipsed and all that remains is an exterior shell whereby you co-exist but you cease to live.

PTSD is like having a wound that is always open and that certain situation can possibly make worse. You don’t want to get back into the game because you feel so vulnerable. You fracture-blue-outfeel your psyche being drained by social situations, you feel your soul being dimmed and your spirit being lost. Emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually if your lucky can just have intense feelings. Other results they may feel like they are dead. You usually feel weak and like a coward because you can’t function and when you do, you feel like a hurt animal waiting to be picked off for good.

I am unable to accept and process what has happened.

PTSD is all about being STUCK. Stuck in the moment of horror, unable to move past it. The feeling is very much like being trapped in a nightmare, unable to wake up; or like a computer that’s “frozen” and incapable of functioning.

 A ‘fracture’ in your experience of life, caused by a traumatic event. This fracture is caused in your mind, by you (and no one else). It’s a response for attempting to cope with what happened. But unfortunately, it’s an ill-informed response. And it’s one that makes you feel like something is being done ‘to you’ instead of what’s really going on, which is that your own mind is causing you to re-live your trauma over and over again.

A sense of being STUCK in the trauma, like being in a nightmare and unable to wake up.

Feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, depleted by trauma.

Easily overwhelmed by life, often unable to function, even at performing simple tasks, like a bogged-down or “frozen” computer .

A seriously curtailed life due to instinctive “guarding” behavior, through avoiding situations/people that could cause further trauma or a trigger.

Unbearable emotional pain, i.e.: debilitating depression, overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety, and terrifying rages that may induce fear of “becoming like the abuser.”

A sense of having no personal identity.

Psychological and physical symptoms, such as an extreme Startle Reflex, Recurring Nightmares, Flashbacks, Phobias, and Disturbed Sleep Patterns.

PTSD is, in a nutshell, not being able to differentiate in your mind the past, present and future.

In the present, people, situations, smells and noises merge and trigger into those things from the past.

PTSD… is being frozen and waiting for the sun to rise.

despair-vat-i-canBeing stuck in a fog..and sometimes even like sinking into a dark abyss.

Describing PTSD for me, is like trying to claw my way up and out of the deep hole that I have fallen into. I get so far and then something will happen. I will witness a similar tragedy, I hear sirens, or helicopters, drive by an accident, etc., and I slowly slide right back down into the hole. I then realize that I am safe there and don’t really want to leave.

My experience of PTSD is complete exhaustion, easily overwhelmed by “normal” life and getting through a day. I find that I am angry at most people now because I can’t stand this pervasive sense of entitlement that society seems to have and the selfishness that goes with it. I never felt this way before the traumatic event. I used to be compassionate, understanding and selfless. Now I am hateful, disgusted and intolerant. I feel like I don’t care anymore about anyone but my own immediate family. This is not who I used to be and not who I want to be. I feel as if something pure has been taken from me.

PTSD is like being frozen in the moment the trauma happened. You can not break the cycle. Sleep is impossible, and I became an agoraphobic. I can only hope one day to not relive what happened to me.

Complex PTSD is as close to death as you can possibly imagine; you actually believe you’re not going to make it. It’s like something bigger than the universe stole your identity and soul and your left as a shell, stuck on repeat that beats you down further. Horror. You lose yourself and fight every moment to get her back until you realize she’s gone, you have to create a new life, a new identity. It’s years of soul-depleting loss and then years of soul-nourishing work and patience. Then you realize PTSD is a GIFT for a broken soul, because you become a whole soul. After the despair comes a GREAT FAITH, and you see the world with new eyes. You count your blessings every day and most importantly–you live in and for the moment.

PTSD, to me, is like running away from a bad guy in a dark forest and jumping into the bushes to hide. After the man is gone and you are ready to get out of the bushes, you realize that the bush is full of thorns and is stuck in your clothes and hair and you just can’t escape.

I feel like I am stuck on a roller coaster. Sometimes the ride is smooth and most of the time its rough, too fast, scary and out of control. I can not get off this ride.

PTSD for me is trying to escape a dark power dwelling around me. Then when I am able to step into the light one small thing slows me down. When the darkness catches back up to me I feel like “Why try to escape again?” It’s such a part of me, I don’t even know how to live without it.

I imagine that in my amygldyla, the deepest part of the brain, a highjacker, who has successfully severed communication to the rest of my mind, leaving me in the blinding hell of only FIGHT, FRIGHT or FREEZE. Every part of my body FEELS this message down to smallest hairs covering my skin that have become thousands of little eyes and ears -constantly scanning the environment – translating every “normal” sound and movement into a threat to my life.antartic-the-mighty-jimbo

PTSD to me is an echo that seems to follow me wherever I go. It is a solitude that embraces my everyday. A battle that at times I think it is over until I realize it is effecting me again in yet a different way. It is as though the person I once was has vanished and those that surround me do not understand where I have gone. Clouded by misunderstandings, frustration, and a battle that I want to win. Daily life can be a challenge and one day I know that in the end the battle will be worth the journey.

PTSD is like being loaded down with fear, anger, distrust and hypervigilance. Being hypervigilant is the norm, and sleep is non-existent without medicine (in my case). Shell-shocked is a good way to describe it. Reliving movies in my mind of abusive moments, or dreaming of bad things happening to me. Being afraid of just about anything, having no trust, feeling angry over just about everything.

There is a delicate porcelain figure. It is not the beautiful kind you see on a shelf, it is ugly beyond description. The slightest wind will knock it over and break it forever. So it is locked inside a great double-walled brick box. It must never see or be seen. It therefor will not experience pain of any kind. Nor will it, however, experience anything. Not love, affection, the wind in her hair, nothing. To protect this creature is the one and only goal.In spite of being protected from breakage, it is, in fact, already destroyed. And dead.

The world is a hostile, scary place to many of us with PTSD. I spend most of my time at home, where I’m safe and nobody is judging me. I’d love to have friends but as I get older, they are few and far between so I stopped socializing.

Share your definition of PTSD in the comments….

(Photos: Blue Out, vat_i_can, The Mighty Jimbo)


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