For the Q: What is PTSD?

03 August 2016.

As mentioned in a prior post, one of my major illnesses is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s an almost-common topic now in the U.S., what with the wars raging in the Middle East and the deficits in help for the veterans of both Iraq and Vietnam. My heart goes out to the people who have gone through such hells, but mine stemmed from different hells than theirs.

Currently, PTSD is a big issue for me. It used to run my life, but now it’s basically only a monthly visitor, for probably obvious(?) reasons (as a victim of childhood sexual assault.) I figured I should write about it and describe it clinically. I will talk more about this illness of course and write about the useful things I’ve learned to manage it healthfully, but for now, this is purely just: What is PTSD?

So what do you know about PTSD? I maintain that mental illnesses all affect us differently, and PTSD is one of those that has many different sources. There are common traits that give us the label, sure, but there is only so much likeness from one brain and life to another. For me, a victim* of varied both long-term and short-term abuses, this is what PTSD largely means but is not limited to:

  1. flashbacks
    For me, there are various kinds. How I perceive “traditional” flashbacks are the flashbacks in which I am–in what appears to be 3D, full surround sound–removed from my current reality and thrown back into the events; re-traumatization in which the emotional aftermath of the event(s) overwhelm(s) me again, and while I can acknowledge where I am in both time and place, I feel great distress and cannot psychologically function; and “body memories,” which are physical reminders of what has happened to me.
  2. self-hatred, low self-worth, and/or extreme feelings of inadequacy 
    I think nearly anyone who has undergone abuse(s) experiences this at some point in their lives. One of the results of this for me was starving myself (“restricting”) and forcing myself to vomit after meals (“purging”). An eating disorder not on my own “label list,” and I don’t think it should be. That is another topic for another time.
    Other results included: feelings of worthlessness which led to actions that reflected my lack of self-worth, (which as illustrated in the next bullet can be extremely dangerous), re-traumatizing myself and staying in abusive situations, etc. 
  3. distrust and paranoia
    With Schizoaffective Disorder, it is normal to experience paranoid thoughts. But this distrust and paranoia are different. This is the terror I feel when near (a) group(s) of men, leading me to leave wherever I am. This is the set up for flashbacks. This is the thing that pays unusual and greatly cautious attention to words like “I like you,” “I love you,” “You’re beautiful,” and “Let me help.” This is the pressure and ultimately the resignation I used to feel when approached by a man at a bar, because in my head it was better to agree against my feelings and better judgment than to be raped again. We live in a world where this is an important issue, PTSD or not, but that is a different topic I won’t touch upon at this moment.
  4. numbing, blacking out, and vomiting
    It used to be that whenever I was in a sexual situation, I would literally get numb and black out. After the situation was over, I would go into the bathroom and throw up. This was a painful process that purged nothing, but I guess to my brain, it was the purging of the night. The re-traumatization would still occur so I don’t know exactly why my physiology thought it would be effective.

* The reason I prefer to say “victim” and not “survivor” is because rape, abuse, and war trauma are not things you “survive.” They are things that eat away at you and you must spend your life countering and fighting against. I make it sound hopeless, I guess. It isn’t. But it’s not something you outlive. It is something you live with.  “Victim” is also a word that needs to be repaired. It has connotations of “giving up” or “‘allowing’ to be taken over” etc. when “victim” is a way of saying “Something negative has been done to me.”

These are obviously not all the symptoms, but these have been the most pertinent for me in this lifetime. I would like to add the obligatory “if you identify with these symptoms, seek help from a safe place.” I am not against self-diagnosis, but it’s smarter of course if you do something with it, such as contact a therapist or even just search for and implement healthful ways to cope.

I welcome you to share your experiences with PTSD, regardless of the source and/or trigger. I request you to add a trigger warning in the beginning of your post if you go in-depth with your experiences as to respect visitors, and I advise having coping skills and/or a safe space in place prior to sharing.

Thank you to all readers. I wish you an enriching day!

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