Last Friday, December 20th, I had the opportunity to give the speech “What is PTSD, Anyway?” at my Toastmasters meeting. Many people were moved by it, which gives me hope that one day I’ll be able to become a more visible and sought-after public speaker on this issue. It is my hope to reach as many people as possible with this information. I included my speech transition markers, such as “OPENING” and “1st MAIN POINT,” so that you can follow the logic of the organization. Documentation for this speech was not required in order to satisfy the Toastmasters assignment, but my sources are as follows: Trauma and Recovery by Dr. Judith Herman; The Trauma Spectrum by Dr. Robert Scaer; In an Unspoken Voice by Dr. Peter Levine; and Waking the Tiger, another book by Dr. Levine.
OPENING: WHAT IS PTSD, ANYWAY?
In the news, we hear a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder with regard to veterans of the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. Returning soldiers are suffering in large numbers. But how many of us realize that many people suffer from PTSD for a plethora of reasons? How many of us really know what PTSD is and that it can be transformed and healed?
1st MAIN POINT: MANY PEOPLE SUFFER FROM PTSD FOR MANY DIFFERENT REASONS
- car accidents
- injury accidents in general
- sudden death of a loved one, including shootings
- war, which takes a toll on citizens in the war zone and on refugees who flee their countries
- rape victims (the largest population of people with PTSD)
- victims of child abuse, physical and sexual – a very large population, the number of which is not known, for it is often not reported
- survivors of invasive medical procedures, especially those that occur in infancy or childhood
- witnessing trauma, for example, domestic violence
- survivors of invasive medical procedures, especially those that occur in infancy and childhood
- urban life in poor communities, for example, east Oakland, California
- natural disasters, such as flood, earthquakes, and tornadoes
- victims of crime
Note: (1) Many people have Post Traumatic-Stress Disorder and do not realize it, which was the case for me. I didn’t realize that I had it until I was 50 years old. I’m 61 now! (2) Not all war veterans who’ve experienced the horrors of the battlefield get PTSD. Dr. Peter Levine finds that only those who have had violent or traumatic childhoods become traumatized. (3) According to Dr. Bob Murray, psychologist and author, nearly 8% of Americans have PTSD at any give time. (I believe that if the true number of people who suffered childhood physical and sexual abuse were known, the number would be more like 15 or 20%.)
2nd MAIN POINT: WHAT IS PTSD?
Let’s look at some of its symptoms, which I hope will illustrate what post-traumatic stress is and help us understand it. These symptoms interrupt a person’s present experience. As a survivor of pyloric stenosis surgery, or a belly operation, without anesthesia or pain control as a month-old infant, I have experienced all of the following symptoms of PTSD at one time in my life or other.
Symptoms of INTRUSION:
- body sensations (increased heart rate, teeth grinding, numbness, tense muscles)
- voices telling you to harm yourself (suicide attempts)
- confusion or inability to concentrate
Symptoms of NUMBING or CONSTRICTION:
- increased pain threshold
- self-injury – cutting, burning, hair pulling, etc.
- emotional detachment and difficulty attaching to others
- loss of conscious connection to emotions
Symptoms of HYPERAROUSAL:
- sleep disturbance
- state of hypervigilance, in which one is always on the alert to protect oneself
- exaggerated startle or easily startled
- outbursts of rage
SO WHAT IS PTSD ANYWAY? It’s an injury to your nervous system that has yet to be healed or transformed. PTSD is not only a mental disorder but a physical disorder. It is a response of the brain, body, and mind to helplessness in the face of a life-threatening event or an event that one perceives as such. If one can’t fight to stop a threat or can’t run to escape, then one freezes; in a way, one become stuck in the event. Consequently, the nervous system of an individual with PTSD becomes hypersensitized, which may result in behavior that is hyperaroused or hypoaroused (examples: hypervigilant or numb). As a result, when a trigger arises–some non-threatening noise, smell, sight or touch–a person with PTSD perceives this trigger as threatening and his or her trauma response kicks in physically, emotionally, and mentally.
3rd MAIN POINT: CONTRARY TO WHAT YOU MAY THINK, PTSD CAN BE TRANSFORMED AND HEALED
- desensitize in increments or steps – over time, intensity of symptoms can be diminished or disappear
- learn to defuse triggers
- example: how I defused one of my PTSD triggers–a round, intensely bright light overhead. Please see my previous blog post Newly Wired or The PTSD Moment I Didn’t Have for this story.
TO SUM UP, THERE ARE MANY CAUSES OF PTSD AND MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE COPING WITH SYMPTOMS.
Given this reality, I challenge you to give everyone you come into contact with the benefit of the doubt. Be kind to everyone, for you just don’t know what people might be going through.
Wendy, Thank you for sharing your Toastmaster speech. I was particularly moved by your closing remark about being “kind to everyone, for you just don’t know what people might be going through.” I have a friend who is an accomplished musician working for a nationally renowned radio show that tours the country. His life is quite glamorous in many ways but he has shared with me that he is daily haunted by the traumatic impact of his infant circumcision. I share his misery as do millions of men in the U.S., the only country in the world that routinely circumcises a majority of its newborn baby boys for so-called “medical” reasons. Since most men are in denial about the lifelong impact of this needless surgery, the culture at large is almost completely unaware of the psychological cost this practice is having on its male population. Psychologist Ronald Goldman addresses this problem in his important book, “Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma.” The work you are doing to heighten awareness of all sorts of hidden traumas is extremely important, Wendy, and to be applauded.
Thank you, Robert! For the most part, whenever I read about PTSD, invasive medical procedures and surgeries are not mentioned as causes. I find this outrageous. Circumcision, so-called routine tonsillectomies, multiple tries at a teaching hospital in order to do a successful lumbar puncture, the probing and pestering of preemies, neonates, and older infants with multiple technologies, etc., etc.,–I think it’s high time that these types of invasive procedures, with and without anesthetic, are listed as causes of PTSD and trauma. Thanks for getting the word out about Goldman’s book. I’m hoping to get hold of a copy of it myself. Let’s continue to get the word out in as many ways as possible!
Ah, Wendy, it’s well over a month since your Toastmaster’s speech, and although I cheered you on via Facebook (and also silently from a great distance), our southern summer sunshine and what comes with it (family holidays, travel, relaxed times, etc) have affected me. So although I’ve read your recent posts I haven’t responded to them.
Thanks for sharing this beautifully clear and concise overview of PTSD here. I can well understand that some of your hearers would have been deeply touched by what they heard and by what they learnt about your story. Robert’s comments here add to that for your blog readers. Thank you both. Was there any discussion or private feedback?
I’d like to think that I detect a slowly rising level of awareness of the reality and urgency of the PTSD issue in relation to medical “procedures”. It seems that not only do most of the online information pages about infant pyloric stenosis now actually mention that the surgery is done under a general anesthetic, but growing numbers also note that there is an alternative of medical treatment which is reported as being successful in other countries. Ten years ago the first was hardly ever mentioned and the second not at all.
Could it be that our hard work online and yours in different circles is starting to have a trickle down effect?
Wow, Fred, I sure hope so. I’ll take trickle down. It’s actually amazing that you are seeing a change. Maybe it’s the 100th monkey phenomenon. Enough people are understanding the repercussions of infant surgery with and without anesthesia medically, psychologically, physiologically, intellectually, etc, and so a wave is traveling forward. I just did another TV show, Local Talent Showcase, in which I was interviewed more explicitly about my infant surgery, PTSD, and my blog. So I’m behind on my blogs, but I’m still getting the word out!! If enough of us keep talking about this issue and making waves, I think we are headed for some really big awareness. Great to hear from you!!!
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