What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and May is also Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. Given this, there can’t be a better time to share my experience with post-traumatic stress disorder. With this post, I’m also kicking off my ‘PTSD: My Story Project’. It is a safe place for anyone who experienced PTSD to share their story. You can read all about it at the end of the post. So let’s explain first what post-traumatic stress disorder is, and how would you know if you have it?
My experience of post-traumatic stress disorder
Six weeks before the end of last year, I was hit by a van as I was crossing a road. I was in hospital for almost two weeks with three fractured vertebrae. However, as well as the visible physical injuries, my mental health also suffered. I started to get flashbacks a week later. I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t want to admit it. Instead, I tried to suppress it until I couldn’t any longer. It was upon looking out of the window whilst still in hospital and seeing the road, traffic, and ambulances that all the memories of the accident came flooding back. Those were the triggers that activated the memories I had of my trauma.
I was still this cheerful person full of positivity and determination to get better, but this was the outside facade. From the inside, I was experiencing feelings that scared me. But I didn’t want others to see me as weak, as someone who can’t cope with whatever life throws at me. Now, six months later, I know that it wasn’t a weakness. It takes a strong person to reveal their honest emotions, to talk about it.
I was still doing my best to recover, listening to the health professionals and doing whatever was required to get better but at the same time, I was also battling the mental pain that the trauma had caused me. So know that if you are going through something similar, if you are trying to live your daily life as if everything was normal while battling this unimaginable and invisible pain, that you are a warrior. You are stronger than you think.
Post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses
After some conversations with the hospital team that reassured me that professional help would be the best, I was ready to reach out for help. It took about a month till I had my initial appointment with the therapist, and a few weeks later, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I didn’t know much about it, so I started to research about PTSD as much as I could. So what is post-traumatic stress disorder and what isn’t it?
What is post-traumatic stress disorder, and what causes it?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a natural response to a traumatic event. It is a reaction to what has happened to someone. It isn’t about what’s wrong with you rather what has happened to you. Given this, researchers view the symptoms of PTSD as a mental injury rather than a mental illness.
According to Mind, PTSD is a mental health problem that may develop after a life-threatening or harmful event. This may include a severe accident, rape, abuse, harassment, or bullying, being kidnapped, experiencing violence an attack or assault, war, natural disaster, pandemics, traumatic childbirth, or the loss of someone close. In England, it’s estimated that three in 100 people will experience PTSD at some stage in their life.
PTSD UK specifies PTSD as a physiological condition. That is because the trauma that the person experiences cause changes in their brain. Given this, there is a wide range of symptoms of PTSD, both mental and physical.
Types of PTSD
Depending on the level of impact the symptoms have on you, PTSD can be described as mild, moderate or severe.
There are also several types of PTSD, these include:
- Complex PTSD – you may have heard of CPTSD. This is when a person has experienced trauma at an early age, often repeated over a period of time. Physical and sexual abuse of children can cause CPTSD. The symptoms include emotional flashbacks, difficulty to regulate emotions, helplessness, guilt, feelings of shame, trust issues, loss of faith.
- Delayed-onset PTSD – I started to experience my symptoms few days after my accident, however, some people may start to experience their symptoms over six months after the traumatic event. This is then known as delayed-onset or delayed PTSD.
- Birth trauma – this is when PTSD occurs after a traumatic experience of childbirth.
Those are all types of PTSD where the symptoms occur as a response to a traumatic event. However, sometimes a person who supports someone who experienced trauma can experience symptoms of PTSD themselves. This is referred to as secondary trauma or secondary traumatic stress.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
We are all different and therefore react differently to events in life. Given this, the symptoms of PTSD aren’t the same in every person and they can also change over time. I experienced most of the symptoms.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- shock, disbelief, dissociation, and avoidance
- feeling sad, overwhelmed, anxious, scared
- anger, frustration, loss of control and mood swings
- feeling agitated, shaky, sweating
- difficulty in concentring and sleeping, memory problems
- reliving the trauma, flashbacks/nightmares
- negative thoughts, blaming yourself
- physical sensation such as pain in your muscles or joints
- digestion problems and putting on weight
- allergies and skin problems
What does PTSD feel like?
I experienced a lot of anxiety. You wouldn’t think so if you saw me as I was that bubbly girl, happy to talk about anything. However, it was always there, inside my head. I was even scared to leave the hospital as I felt safe there. I felt safe inside. Outside was my enemy. But I also wanted to go home. Given this, I knew that I don’t have any other chance than to face my fears.
However, we needed to do this carefully so that it doesn’t cause even more trauma. The occupational therapists’ team suggested that it would be good to slowly get used to the outside world before I go home. This way, I won’t feel too overwhelmed to go out, then into the car and be driven home, all in one day. Before going out, I took my medication and tried to distract myself. I read some funny messages that I’d received from my colleagues and tried not to think about what comes next. I had still a smile on my face when the therapists came to get me. They wheeled me out in a wheelchair, and we were chatting on our way out.
Inside I felt so anxious and scared. I remember I was squeezing the armrests of the wheelchair on both sides with my hands as if this would be something that would keep me protected from the outside world. As if they would be the connection to my safe place and letting them go would mean something tragic would happen to me again.
As we approached the exit, my symptoms worsened. We had to stop. Luckily my husband arrived at the hospital at that moment. Being in hospital at the time of the pandemic meant visits were not allowed. I was so delighted to see him. After a while, we managed to leave the building together. I was scared but relieved that I was able to do so. And I was proud of myself.
You can also check my video about ‘What can PTSD look like’ on Instagram or on TikTok. I created this to help spread awareness of PTSD and explain what the invisible struggle can look like.
Time to go home
As I was making progress in my recovery, I was able to leave the hospital. However, there was one more test I had to pass to go home – the car test. That was the hardest test, physically and mentally. I remember the screaming and biting on my hands when crossing the road to get to the car as well as getting into the car. However, with the support of the occupational therapists’ team and my husband, I managed it.
Sitting in my car a few hours later on my way home, I felt exhausted, scared, in pain, happy and delighted. And all at the same time. But I was finally on my way home, and I was determined to do whatever it takes to recover. And I knew that to recover fully, I would have to recover from the inside as well as out.
Thank you for reading, and stay tuned. In the next part, I will talk about my journey of recovery. I will give you tips on what helped me to manage the symptoms of PTSD.
Share your experience
‘PTSD: My Story Project’
Do you have experience with PTSD, or do you take care of / live with someone who has? Would you like to share your story in a guest blog post?
I’m not an expert or a health professional, so the aim of this project isn’t to offer professional advice. Neither is it to pity those who experience PTSD. That’s not what I want. My aim is to raise awareness of PTSD.
By sharing your story, you can inspire and empower others. You can highlight the methods that helped you. This way, you can encourage others to reach out for help.
And it may help you as well. Perhaps it’s something you feel like you’re not able to talk about within your closest circle and would like to connect with others in a similar situation. It’s nothing more than bearing an untold story inside you.
The fact is that our society still lacks an understanding of mental health. Therefore, I’ve decided to share my story and invite others to join me in this project and write a blog post about their experience. By working together, we can help destigmatise mental health problems and promote wellbeing.
To be featured
If you would like to join in and share your story on my blog but don’t have the experience of writing a blog post, this isn’t a problem. You can still DM me or send me a message, and I’d be happy to assist you with the writing. And you can use a pseudonym if you wish to stay anonymous. You can share as much of your story as you want in a way you feel comfortable with.
The only thing I ask is that you mention ‘PTSD: My story project’ in your post and briefly state why you have chosen to take part in it. You will be allowed to approve the post before publishing it, should it be edited.