“I started to lose confidence in myself and the people around me. I saw myself looking for danger in my surroundings. I lost my purpose in life, lost my direction, life lost its value.”
Individuals living in a post-traumatic state, or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often face persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal. They can feel anxious, depressed, fearful and angry; there may be changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional responses to environment.
Often resulting in a sense of vulnerability and a lack of joy, trauma can significantly strain the emotional and mental health of the affected individual – as well as their relationships with loved ones and friends.
In this personal account, an individual with PTSD outlines the limiting and isolating feelings which can be symptomatic.
“Sleep is frequently disrupted by repetitive thoughts. Always analysing how I could had done things differently in those situations I was exposed to. Dreams of past events repeat themselves. [Upon] waking up, there can be anxiety and sadness. Normal situations like running in the park could trigger fear or anxiety. Hearing loud sounds will bring negative emotions. Being at a public event, surrounded by a crowd, is not possible as anxiety starts to build. Having the feeling something terrible is going to happen.”
Trauma affects everyone differently – an effective treatment for one, may not work for another. For some, talking about traumatic events can be a healthy step forward. This act of communicating how we feel can help us deal with the experience. Talking about feelings can be a needed release for the family and friends of individuals working through trauma, as well.
Clinical social worker and counsellor, Brian MacAulay, says PTSD can develop after experiencing circumstances that are personally traumatic, or terrifying.
“Experiencing a traumatic incident can happen through employment: front line first responders such as police, fire fighters, military personnel, correctional officers, or EHS staff. [We can] experience a horrific incident as a witness, or as a victim.”
He adds, it is possible to be traumatized from repeated second-hand descriptions of horrific incidents.
“For example, this can happen to those who hear about, or review, evidence in criminal trials – such as judges, court clerks, lawyers, probation officers.”
A form of psychotherapy, termed “talk therapy”, defines the problem and explores the individual’s experiences, feelings and behavior. MacAulay says that while friends and family cannot replace this clinical treatment, they can provide a non-judgmental support system.
“It is invaluable to have support from friends, family and community when healing from trauma. Although friends and family play a key role in healing, the therapy provided by a trained professional is not something that can be replaced at home- especially when working with individuals effected by trauma.”
As noted in this account, psychological trauma – such as PTSD – can be deeply embedded.
“I had the opportunity to move on and change my environment of work and place. I was able, with some help, to bury all those experiences in the past. But although the experiences were buried, they were still there – some place in my ‘unconscious reality’.”
This form of ‘talking therapy’ is a joint effort between therapist and client. MacAulay says, in psychotherapy, the client is the expert in their own life. The therapist brings developmental tools to facilitate healthy coping mechanisms and encourage behavioral changes.
“When there is an experience, positive or negative, that stands out in our lives, it has a significant impact on our world view. [Affecting] our interpretation of the world around us, as well as our feelings and actions.”
Self-actualization and healthy coping skills have prompted this individual, living with PTSD, to direct his mind towards positive thinking.
“I need to switch my motivation in life. I concentrate on my family, my beautiful wife and my wonderful children; they are always there. I feel secure being with them, they are my escape from my thoughts. I closed the door to the world and friends, but my heart is still open to my family. They are my medicine that brings back joy, happiness and strength to continue fighting against my PTSD.”