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).
“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).
“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).
“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.