An individual with PTSD also experiences intrusive thoughts or memories related to their trauma, e.g. nightmares, flashbacks. They usually avoid doing things or talking about things that bring those memories to the surface.
Jonathon* wakes abruptly in the night. He reaches for the KA-BAR (knife) he keeps under his pillow and lunges up. He frantically looks around in the dark trying to make sense of what he sees around him. His heart is pounding as he takes almost gasping breathes to keep up. He’s inside a room of some kind. Keeping his back against the wall he looks around as recognition starts to sink in.
He is at home, alone in his bedroom. He starts to relax a little – if you can even call it that. He continues to look around the room straining every sense to assure himself that his mind is telling him accurate information. Slowly, he moves through his apartment, checking for signs of an intruder, i.e. verifying windows are locked, checking the doors, looking in every room and every corner.
He checks his security cameras as well… just in case. Jonathon is a 31-year-old veteran with PTSD. Jonathon only gets a few hours of sleep a night. He doesn’t’ have nightmares every night, but he does wake frequently and check to see if there are any intruders or threats of intruders. He is living on disability because his symptoms are so severe that he cannot keep a job in the civilian world. This fact makes him feel worthless and ashamed.
What is PTSD?
PTSD Stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. This condition is diagnosed after an individual meets certain criteria. The first of which is that they experience a traumatic event. This could be anything from combat to sexual assault to a car accident. Basically, trauma is any event that impacted you where your well-being or that of another was threatened or harmed.
An individual with PTSD also experiences intrusive thoughts or memories related to their trauma, e.g. nightmares, flashbacks. They usually avoid doing things or talking about things that bring those memories to the surface. This can include avoiding crowds, public places, events where loud noises will be experienced.
They struggle with feeling depressed, anxious, or angry, and frequently feel worthlessness, guilt, or shame related to their trauma. This can all lead to a feeling of alienation. Jonathon was diagnosed with PTSD after leaving the army and had a few meetings with therapists and psychiatrists. He didn’t feel like any of these people were helping him so he stopped going. His symptoms seemed to increase over time, leading to his being unable to work and feeling trapped in his condition.
What PTSD is not
PTSD has been portrayed in films and television for years and has led to some inaccurate ideas about what PTSD is and is not. First of all, not everyone who experiences trauma ends up with PTSD. In some cases, individuals who are traumatized experience a relatively short period of time where they find themselves jumpy and hyper-aware of their surroundings. This fades in about a month. Second, PTSD is not just a veteran’s condition. Any traumatic experience can lead to PTSD symptoms. This means men, women, children adults, anyone can develop PTSD.
Does therapy help PTSD?
Jonathon had attempted to get some help, although he had little belief that anything would work. He found the few meetings he had with therapists and psychiatrists kind of useless. He concluded that therapy doesn’t work and stopped going.
My own experience in working with those who have PTSD is that these therapies really do work. I have watched my patients move from feeling trapped by PTSD to feel free to live their lives. Decades of research have shown that PTSD can be successfully treated, particularly with therapies such as prolonged-exposure therapy (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT).
These therapies help patients process their trauma so that their minds will stop bringing it back up in disturbing ways. They also reduce or stop trauma-related disturbances like reliving experiences, nightmares, anxiety, etc. After completing such therapies, patients describe being more confident and able to do things that used to cause them too much anxiety.
Furthermore, this therapy helps them learn the difference between safe and unsafe situations instead of feeling unsafe in all situations. Having these kinds of results does require finding a therapist who is specially trained in how to do these types of therapies with trauma survivors.
Will PTSD last forever?
After some time struggling with PTSD, Jonathon caught up with an old army buddy, Mike*. It would be more accurate to say that Mike caught up with him since he was still avoiding everyone, including old army buddies. Jonathon almost enjoyed talking to Mike, who had also struggled with PTSD. It was nice not having to explain himself. Mike seemed to be doing better, though. He shared that he had gone through some prolonged-exposure therapy for a few months and was able to go back to work.
He was even able to go to a basketball game and enjoy himself. “It wasn’t easy,” Mike said, “but I’m so glad I did it.” They parted ways and Mike went home to his wife and little girl. Jonathon sat on the sofa in his living room staring at the wall and not seeing it. He wanted things to change, but h he dreaded having to deal with his experiences in therapy. If it would allow him to be able to work again, it would be worth it… so he decided to give it a try. He called Mike up and asked for the therapist’s number. Now, it’s Jonathon’s turn to reclaim his life.
*Jonathon and Mike are characters whose experiences represent the real-life struggles and solutions faced by individuals with PTSD.
Lillian Hood is a therapist offering Online Therapy services to adults throughout the state of North Carolina. Her office is located in Wilmington, NC. She offers PTSD therapy, anxiety therapy, binge eating therapy, OCD therapy, and phobia therapy. Text 910.742.0433 to schedule a free phone consultation, or visit our Contact Us.