Saturday, December 22, 2012

Educating loved ones about PTSD

Visit http://ptsd-home.ca/ptsd-facts/
Recently, I received several messages from others struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), wondering how they can help their families and friends develop more of an understanding to  increase their support network and reduce feelings of isolation.

When we don't understand something, feel helpless to solve an issue, or unable to comprehend how someone is feeling, us humans have a tendency to pull away at times. It is common for those with PTSD to feel misunderstood when those they love pull away. PTSD is a serious and debilitating condition for many. Studies have concluded those suffering from PTSD have increased health risks along with early mortality rates.

PTSD most commonly manifests when an individual has experienced or witnessed "threat or loss of life" that can be caused by war, violent crime, sexual assault, captivity, car accidents, and even natural disasters. Those with Chronic PTSD (C-PTSD) can develop additional symptoms and most commonly caused by a prolonged or repeated exposure to trauma (months to years).


The first thing I recommend is an effort to educate. I explain it like this. PTSD is like a fracture to the brain, an injury that leaves visible scarring. We can compare it to a fracture to a femur, the bone may heal but there remains a scar, and one may even limp for the rest of their life. At times bones may ache due to external conditions like humidity in the air. Similarly, those with PTSD can also ache by simply hearing a noise, a smell, experiencing increased stress, and a host of other triggers resulting in "flashbacks" and severe anxiety.

I've had people say to me during difficult times, "Buck up! We have all had bad things happen to us." It is true we all have frightening and painful experiences. I like to think "all pain is relevant regardless of the cause" but it is important not to minimize another's life experiences by comparing. My reaction to statements like this was to isolate myself in an effort to reduce pain. A very unhealthy reaction but also very common. Though not intended, the statement made me feel weak and I experienced a loss of hope. I know for me, if someone wants to get close to me they must make an effort to understand me.  

A support network of friends and family to provide encouragement and support is highly recommended by the medical community. Those that love us need to realize PTSD cannot simply be alleviated by "letting things go" which sadly is a common statement made by others and can be very hurtful. The imprint of the trauma has been seared into the limbic system of the brain. Simply, our brain no longer process experiences and stress as it did prior to the trauma and live in heightened state of awareness described as fight, flight, or freeze response - exhausting to the mind, body, and soul. It therefor becomes very important to practice self-care.

The good news is we are "resilient beings" and we can develop coping strategies that enable us to adapt, reduce, and sometimes even eliminate symptoms. Here is a link to one of my favorite resources for education and support PTSD Support and Global Awareness (they also have a FB group).

I encourage everyone with PTSD to remember there is always hope. Like Chiron, the son of the Olympian God Kronos, his pain enabled him to become a Wounded Healer - helping others, helps heal thyself. ~ Kym L. Pasqualini