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.