According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger and avoid it. This "fight-or-flight" response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger."
There are variations of PTSD within its onset and duration. The event triggering PTSD may be dangerous, but also may be sudden, such as the loss of a loved one. PTSD can be long-term (chronic) or short-term (acute) and the onset of symptoms may begin within the first few months of trauma or occur many years later. Only a doctor who has experience helping people with mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist may diagnose PTSD.
An adult must exhibit all of the following symptoms for at least one month in order to be diagnosed with PTSD:
1. At least one re-experiencing symptom
2. At least one avoidance symptom
3. At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
4. At least two cognition and mood symptoms
Re-experiencing symptoms include:
3. Scary thoughts
Avoidance symptoms include:
1. Avoiding places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
2. Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:
1. Being easily startled
2. Feelings of anxiety
3. Difficulty sleeping
4. Angry outbursts
Cognition and mood symptoms include:
1. Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
2. Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
3. Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
4. Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
If you believe you have PTSD, it is important to seek the help of a professional doctor immediately.
*For more information about PTSD, please refer to https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
As a survivor of rape and domestic violence who has been recovering for over twenty years, I've often asked myself the question, "Will I ever heal?" Sometimes I've answered "nope" and sometimes I say "Yes, I'm healed." But I never fail from teeter-tottering back and forth on that answer. And oh the pain that comes when I realize that I wasn't so "healed" as I thought I was. This is what I've come to learn.
1. Healing is a Journey
Too many people think of healing as a black and white thing. I'm either healed or not healed from PTSD. As long as you make yourself stand on one side of the line or the other, you will never really get to see the truth. The hard part of healing is that it is not a yes or a no. It is not black or white. Nor is it good or bad. Healing is more like one bendy line that curves upward on a graph. Sometimes it dips down and sometimes it soars, but slowly you see the results.
2. Pain Does Subside
Even as I write this, I can't say that I've stopped crying about my rape, because I know all it takes is one weird trigger and I'm back to crying again. I know people in recovery don't want to hear this, but it's the truth. What happened for me was that the nights of crying got farther and farther apart. The pain eased. My coping mechanisms got better through therapy and other resources. So, instead of it affecting me all of the time, it only affected me sometimes. And for me, it is not even that often. And that's what I consider another "H" word- healthy.
3. Forgive yourself
When that time comes when everything seems to have come back to you. When the memories are vivid. When you did something and you know it was a PTSD reaction. Guess what? Forgive yourself! I'm sorry to say this, but you are a human being. All human beings fail. As I recovered, I blamed a lot of things on my PTSD and rape. About midway through my recovery, I started learning to let the blame go. So what, you cried. So what, you started shaking in front of a man. I began to say something important: "I forgive you." In the last few years, I started realizing that I can't blame my rape on certain things any longer. I started realizing that other people had seen me as a victim and were using that as their excuse. It wasn't my PTSD's fault anymore and I started calling people out on it. That's when I began changing my world.
So, do you heal from PTSD?
If you are at the beginning of your healing journey, you might think I am healed. At the end of your journey, you will only see the path ahead. You have a bright life to live. Things can come up from time to time, sure, but that won't stop you from living. And you will live.