What is PTSD?
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental Illness that can develop in some people after a traumatic experience. If you’ve experienced prolonged repetitive trauma, it’s called Complex PTSD.
Most People recover naturally after a traumatic event, but some people ‘freeze’ and stay in a fight or flight stage. These people will start developing symptoms of PTSD; this can happen shortly after the traumatic event or years later.
People with PTSD may experience the following symptoms:
- Hypervigilance. Experiencing anxiety and stress when you’re not in a dangerous situation.
- Flashbacks and intrusive memories. Repeatedly seeing images of the traumatic experience and unwanted thoughts about the traumatic experience.
- Trouble remembering the trauma. Not being able to remember specific or all parts of the traumatic experience.
- Trouble sleeping. Having trouble going to sleep or sleeping through the night. Some people also experience anxiety going to sleep because they don’t want to deal with the nightmares.
- Nightmares. Recurring nightmares from the trauma, these can look so real that it’s hard to see the difference between a nightmare and real life.
- Avoidance. Avoiding any situation that reminds you of the traumatic event. This can be a place, people or anything else that triggers you.
- Feelings of guilt. Experiencing horrible feelings of guilt towards yourself or others.
- Self-doubt and negative self-image. Doubting your thoughts and actions and having a core belief that you are ugly, bad or anything else negative.
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior. Being impulsive, not thinking about the consequences or otherwise dangerous behavior that hurts you.
- Difficulty concentrating. Having trouble concentrating on a task or even losing your thoughts in a conversation.
- Dissociation. Detachment from your surroundings or your own body. Feeling that you’re looking at yourself rather than being there yourself.
- Easily irritated or aggressive. Experiencing sudden mood swing for the smallest reasons.
- Easily startled. Being so on edge that any sound can make you jump up.
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EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy
People with PTSD still think and act as if the traumatic experience is still going on, and in a way it is. Every time they are confronted with a trigger they react out of anxiety. This therapy helps you to ‘unfreeze’ from the traumatic experience and develop new ways to respond to similar situations.
This therapy can be done in different ways but for me, it went like this: In front of me was a device that emitted a red light. The red light went from the left to the right and so on. In my hands, I was holding 2 little devices that would vibrate whenever the light hit that side, so if the red light was on the left, the device in my left hand would vibrate and vice versa. During this, my therapist would ask me to think about the worst image of the traumatic experience and the feelings I was experiencing now.
After a few sessions, my feelings about the traumatic experience had changed. The image from the trauma was less clear and I no longer experienced severe anxiety. This therapy has been a real lifesaver for me; it’s one of the best PTSD treatments available.
Schema therapy focusses on changing the way that we deal with everyday life. The theory behind schema therapy is that we all have schemas that we keep repeating in our lives. These schemas develop in early childhood. If your emotional needs are not met you can develop coping styles that hurt you in adult life. You might have needed that coping method when you were younger, but it’s no longer useful, so you have to develop a new coping method.
Schema therapy helps you to find a new better coping style by looking at your nonfunctional schemas. In my case, for example, My dad left when I was 6 years old. As a result, I don’t let people in easy because I’m afraid they will leave, and whenever I feel that someone is going to leave I will overcompensate to make them stay. Schema therapy helped me realize that no situation is the same and I don’t have to react the same way as that 6-year-old girl. Instead, if I think that someone is going to leave, I comfort that 6-year-old inside of me and remember myself that this is a different situation.
Schema therapy is a great way to deal with unwanted behavior, and core believes. It’s not the first recommend therapy for PTSD treatment, but it’s beneficial, primarily if you’ve dealt with childhood trauma.
CBT. cognitive Behavioral therapy
CBT is an excellent therapy for anyone who wants to improve mental health. This therapy focusses on changing coping strategies and unhelpful thoughts and behavior. CBT is based on the idea that Thoughts influence our emotions and behavior. If you can change your thoughts, then you can change your emotions and behavior.
For example, take my case, I’m anxious for traveling by train. I think that traveling by train is dangerous and therefore I avoid it. If I examine my thought about trains I realize that it’s pretty exaggerated. What is the chance that something will happen on a train? Probably lower than 000.1%. So there is no reason for me to avoid it.
This might seem easy, but it takes a lot of practice. You can’t just change the way you think, you also have to change your behavior accordingly, and experience that your former thoughts aren’t right and your new believe is. Read my guide for emotion regulation if you want to start changing your emotions and behavior.
With exposure therapy, you expose yourself to the source of the anxiety. This can be a traumatic experience or anything else that you try to avoid. By slowly exposing yourself to the source you can overcome fear. You’re teaching your brain that there is nothing to be scared of.
I’ve done this therapy to overcome my fear of leaving the house. I took it step by step; first I imagined myself leaving my home, then I left the house and walked ten steps. Every day I took more steps outside until I was no longer anxious to leave the house.
This is probably one of the hardest therapies because you are facing your fears head-on. But it’s also a useful therapy if you manage to stick with it.
My own PTSD experience
*warning this story might be triggering*
My parents had lost a child before they had me. My mom wasn’t able to deal with the situation. She started drinking a lot and in combination with her untreated bipolar disorder things became a mess. My dad left us when I was 6-years-old, so there I was, taking care of my mom.
Some weeks my mom wouldn’t get out of bed, other weeks she was euphoric and got herself into trouble. I never knew what mom I would wake up to, but one thing was always the same, she was still drunk. She had horrible hallucinations, and the whole town knew of her condition. Parents didn’t allow their children to socialize with me. Children and parents bullied me, and I became very lonely and depressed.
At age 11 child services decided to get me away from my mom. First I spend some time with family, but because my mom threatened and stalked them, they felt it was better to send me to a foster home.
After a few months in a foster home, I went to live with my dad and his girlfriend. At first, things seemed great, but after a while, she started to put my dad and me against each other. She was very manipulative, and the situation was very tense. One day she sends us a text saying she was going to kill herself. We were all worried about her, but at the end of the day, she came back home as nothing had happened. This became a habit for her until my dad decided he had enough and ended the relationship.
I continued to see my mom once a week together with a social worker. My mom wasn’t allowed to contact me outside those hours, but she often did. She would ask for money and when I wouldn’t give it she said horrible things to me like “Your not my daughter, I hope you die’. After a while, I couldn’t take her behavior anymore and I decided to change my number and break all contact with her.
6 months later my dad woke me up with the message that my mom had passed. I felt so much guilt like I had given up on her. I always had this idea that if I turned 18 I could help her, force her to accept help, unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance.
Start PTSD symptoms
4 months after my mother passed I started experiencing PTSD symptoms. One night I woke up and I saw my dad strangling me, I fought him and ran out the house yelling at my neighbors to help me. It took 30 minutes and several people to calm me down, and help me realize it was just a nightmare. I think the nightmare was triggered because I remember seeing my dad strangling my mom when I was a child. From that night things went downhill quick. I struggled with depression, I was easily startled and I had massive panic attacks.
My dad sends me to a specialized clinic. A psychologist diagnosed me with C-PTSD, general anxiety, and depression. I spend 1,5 years in the clinic. When I completed my therapies, the PTSD was manageable.
PTSD in my daily life
A lot has happened since, I’m 27 now, but I’ve only been in a ‘safe situation’ for four years. I’ve been hospitalized multiple times and spend years in therapy. I feel like I’m finally doing well. I still have trouble sleeping and concentrating, and I’m still anxious, but the worst PTSD symptoms are gone.
My PTSD developed due to years of neglect, mental abuse, being in an unsafe situation and chronic stress. I realized that it’s essential to take good care of yourself, communicate boundaries and ask for help if needed.
Now It’s time for me to help others through these kinds of situations because I know it can be done. I’ve been through hell and back more than once, but I came out so much stronger, more grateful and motivated to change my life and hopefully I can do the same for others.
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