Most of my life I had a specific mental picture of what PTSD looked like. I assumed it was a pain that was exclusive to war veterans and terror attack survivors. As time went on I learned that PTSD is actually more common than I ever realized.
Statistics show that 70% of adults will experience at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime. Of those adults, about 20% will develop PTSD. So that means about 1 in 13 people will develop PTSD at some point in their lifespan.
Now when we think of trauma, that can mean a number of things. Domestic violence is a common cause of PTSD, although any event where a person feels like their life is in danger can bring on symptoms. In fact, long term exposure to high levels of stress and anxiety can also trigger symptoms. So in reality, there is a wide range of reasons why PTSD can creep into people’s lives.
The truth is that for people who suffer from some form of PTSD, the hardest part can sometimes be simply explaining it to others. We don’t choose to feel this way. We never made a decision to let the past haunt us years later. We did not consciously allow ourselves to develop these symptoms.
Sometimes we might act in a certain way that doesn’t translate to you. PTSD can make us feel agitated for seemingly no reason, and believe me, it’s very frustrating on our end too. It’s hard for us to maintain concentration. We might sometimes lose track of our thoughts mid-conversation or even have trouble remembering simple things in day to day life. If someone you love is suffering from PTSD, it’s important to be patient with them and understand that we will have bad days. We will have phases of being quiet and on edge. We will sometimes be forgetful. It’s not because we just don’t care, it’s because we can’t always control it.
The scariest part of it all is that we have no control of when and where our triggers will make an appearance in our lives. We can be doing some menial task that seems ordinary, and yet something small can trigger us and bring on panic and anxiety. Understand that it’s not a matter of being dramatic, in fact we actually hate the attention that falls on us during an attack. We don’t always know what triggered us either. When an attack comes on, you cannot force a person to just “snap out of it”, especially in those instances where we don’t even know what is making us feel so panicked.
Triggers are everywhere. It could be a familiar sound from when we experienced trauma. It could be a repeat of a bad feeling we didn’t want to ever face again. Visual images can bring us right back to the moments we went through our bad experiences. Before you know it, we are feeling anxious and sick, or maybe even just defeated.
The best thing you can do for a loved one dealing with PTSD is be patient and show them you care. It would be incredibly damaging to ever question how valid their feelings are or try to downplay their trauma. The good news for both of you is that when treated, PTSD is not necessarily permanent. Many people are able to overcome their trauma responses through different types of therapy. Support your loved one through the process and when you don’t know how to help, the best you can do is listen.
Recovery is a daily process with setbacks and a roller coaster of emotions. We want to recover just as much as you want to see us recover. Do your best to remember this on the bad days and enjoy life with us on our good days. Your loved one will no doubt be thankful for your love and open-minded support.