• There’s No T or D in PTSD

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    Lynn’s nightmares woke her in terror every night until she was forty-eight years old. Even after highly successful trauma treatment a number of years ago, she still has trouble sleeping. Although her nightmares are gone, she still sometimes fights anxiety and insomnia. Her body kicks and flails in her sleep as she fights inner battles.

    Although she navigates life without her former raging addictions, she still struggles with food addiction. Starved and abandoned as a child to forage for nourishment for herself and her siblings, and tortured with food, she still feels the ravenous pain of the child within her.

    Although Lynn, like thousands of other people who struggle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has experienced successful trauma treatment that has exponentially changed her life, she is not fully healed.

    There is no true “post” in post traumatic stress disorder.

    To some degree or another, those of us who live with this alteration in our brain’s wiring will bear some degree of reside of traumatic stress throughout our lives.

    Even after successful trauma treatment.

    But trauma treatment equips us with the skills to manage the triggers that come when they do occur.

    Traumatic Stress is also not a “disorder.”

    I have diabetes. It is an illness of my endocrine system and pancreas.  I also have multiple sclerosis. MS is an illness of my auto-immune system. Diabetes and MS are not disorders; they are illnesses.

    Traumatic Stress is an illness that occurs in the functioning of my brain. My brain is an organ that operates based on chemical, biological, and electrical  processes in the same way my other organs function.

    Traumatic stress is the body’s natural protective response to any event that overwhelms the brain.

    Staff Sergeant and Medal of Honor winner Ty Carter explains it this way: “It’s our body’s and mind’s natural reaction to try and remember and avoid those situations.”

    How does this information change our understanding of men, women, and children who struggle with PTSD?

    1. It helps us understand their battle.  They witnessed or experienced something so horrifying to their psyche that one side of their brain (the linear, sequencing beginning-middle-end side) shut down to protect them. The snapshot of that event is scrambled and is zinging through their brain looking for sequence, significance, and the right memory file cabinet drawer to slip into for resolution.
    2. It helps us understand that Traumatic Stress affects everyone. Everyone will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime. Traumatic Stress is not limited to soldiers and sexual abuse victims. Someone you know battles with Traumatic Stress–they just may not know it. Treatment usually requires rewiring distorted images and thoughts resulting from the traumatic events. These events can include childbirth, medical procedures, the death of a loved one, a car accident, domestic violence, or even witnessing an event.
    3. It makes sense that the level of trauma is based upon the subjective perception of the individual. What traumatizes you may not traumatize me, and vice versa. It’s important to respect a person’s experience and honor their journey toward healing. They need support, compassion, and friends and family willing to learn about trauma and rewiring the brain.

    We may never feel fully comfortable in a room of a thousand or dread passing a certain location or hearing a certain song.

    We may always react, although at a diminished level, to the sound of a thumping clothes dryer or rumble of a passing semi-truck or a ringing phone. Or we may be sixty and still prefer to sleep with a nightlight or become nauseous at the smell of hospital disinfectant.

    Processing trauma can take a lifetime. It seldom ever becomes “post” to the traumatized person, but we often find great growth, healing, and peace and move forward in life.

    If you or someone you know battles with the symptoms of traumatic stress: reliving the event (flashbacks, nightmares, triggers) avoidance (people, places, or events that remind you of the experience), negative changes in beliefs or feelings, or feeling wound up (hard time sleeping, concentrating, hyper vigilant, easily startled), see your physician or find a trauma therapist.

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