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June 27th was National PTSD Awareness Day!

Rather than post this piece last Wednesday on National PTSD Awareness Day, I wanted to leave Melissa Matheney’s powerful story, One Person Can Make a Difference, front and center for a few more days. I am so grateful to know her and be able to share her work. Moving on, in the spirit of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) Day, here are a few quotes to think about from Dr. Judith Herman’s classic book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror:

“The many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder fall into three main categories: These are called ‘hyperarousal,’ ‘intrusion,’ and ‘constriction.’  Hyperarousal reflects the persistent expectation of danger; intrusion reflects the indelible imprint of the traumatic moment; constriction reflects the numbing response of surrender” (35).

Hyperarousal

“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment. Physiological arousal continues unabated. In this state of hyperarousal, which is the first cardinal symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, the traumatized person startles easily, reacts irritably to small provocations, and sleeps poorly (35) . . . Patients suffer from a combination of generalized anxiety symptoms and specific fears . . . their bodies are always on the alert for danger” (36).

Intrusion

“Long after the danger is past, traumatized people relive the event as though it were continually recurring in the present. They cannot resume the normal course of their lives, for the trauma repeatedly interrupts” (37).

“Adults as well as children often feel impelled to re-create the moment of terror, either in literal or in disguised form. Sometimes people reenact the traumatic moment with a fantasy of changing the outcome of the dangerous encounter. In their attempts to undo the traumatic moment, survivors may even put themselves at rick of further harm” (39).

Constriction

“When a person is completely powerless, and any form of resistance is futile, she may go into a state of surrender. The system of self-defense shuts down entirely. . . . A rape survivor describes her experience of this state of surrender: ‘Did you ever see a rabbit stuck in the glare of your headlights when you were going down a road at night. Transfixed–like it knew it was going to get it–that’s what happened” (42).

“. . . traumatized people run a high risk of compounding their difficulties by developing dependence on alcohol or other drugs” (44).

“In an attempt to create some sense of safety and to control their pervasive fear, traumatized people restrict their lives” (46).

PTSD is a disorder that many people endure: combat veterans; rape survivors; victims of domestic violence; witnesses of drive-by killings; car crash survivors; those who have experienced invasive medical procedures, especially if administered without adequate pain relief; the list goes on and on.  Do you have PTSD?  You may and not even know it. Or someone you know may be suffering from its symptoms but be entirely unaware of their source.

I believe the brain can heal from this disorder. In any case, awareness is the first step in coping in a positive way. Let’s help each other.

0 Responses to June 27th was National PTSD Awareness Day!

  1. OK, I dunno about you guys, but I think National PTSD day requires cake. I am baking and you’re all welcome to drop by and enjoy!

  2. Another informative post. I feel like I understand PTSD more from the quotes you used. The one mentioning developing a dependence on alcohol or drugs really drew my attention because of my own life. Every time I talk to another alcoholic or drug addict I think of how it isn’t normal to love to use substances/drink to make the mind feel different. There is something deeper to it and this post gives us who have substance dependency issues another avenue to look down to find out what makes us do what we do. Thanks!

  3. I’m so glad you commented, Margaret, and wrote what you did. I suspect that a lot of addictions are the result of PTSD, and I included that quote because it seems that this possibility often gets overlooked when one is seeking help. For instance, when I finally got into therapy with a psychologist I clicked with at age twenty-six and realized that a lot of my problems had to do with unresolved feelings about my surgery, I was able to quit smoking once and for all, something I struggled with for years. And I was no longer craving food and overeating, which had been a major problem. I was given permission to cry and to feel all the repressed feelings I’d held in for so many years. Emotional balance became a part of my life. I’m not saying that everyone who has addiction problems has PTSD. I’m saying that it should be common knowledge that a person might be suffering from this condition because a trauma in that person’s life needs resolution or attention of some kind.

  4. I’m so glad that PTSD and its effect on countless people’s lives is so much better understood and more openly described, discussed and dealt with. Thanks, Wendy, for marking its special day.

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