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Living with Trauma and PTSD

Living With PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD affects millions of people around the globe. Some people recover quickly, while others cope with it for many years. There are many ways to experience PTSD, but people often have nightmares, flashbacks to the original trauma, difficulty coping with daily tasks, and other physical symptoms such as headaches or even migraines. But, PTSD can be treated, and there are many positive ways of doing so. In this brief article, the reader will be introduced to the experiences of living with PTSD.

Personal Histories of PTSD from a Variety of Traumas

“I get nightmares and night terrors especially when a memory comes to the surface. My heart begins to race. I sweat, and my vision blurs.   I feel as if I have to be constantly on guard; nervous, anxious, and stressed.”

“I’d heard of PTSD, but honestly, I thought it was something that only happened to people in the military. You know, they have flashbacks to being under fire. I never thought it could happen to me. But then I had that horrible car accident. This drunk driver ploughed right into me. Ended up in hospital, two surgeries, and needed a ton of morphine to handle the pain. Now? I’m so nervous all the time. I can’t drive anymore, because I shake when I get into the car. I used to love driving, and now I don’t want to go anywhere in a car. It brings up too many bad memories.”

“The school counsellor says my kid’s been traumatized. Some teenager came running into the school waving a gun. Luckily, they caught him before he could hurt anyone. Still, my son Jeffrey is terrified of going back to school. He’s complaining of headaches and stomach aches, which he never had before. And, he can’t seem to concentrate on anything. We’re looking into some kind of therapy for him, but the poor kid is really in a bad state.”

“I was in my neighbourhood grocery store. I’ve been going there for years. But, since I was mugged a few weeks ago, I don’t want to go anywhere. This one day, I was inside the store, and all of a sudden, I didn’t know where I was! And then, I thought I saw the guy coming at me. It wasn’t him. It was a man asking me if I was okay. I completely blanked out. I was so embarrassed, and now I’m thinking of ordering my groceries. No matter how hard I try to block it out, the event, the trauma is always with me. I see the guy. I hear his voice, and I can even smell him around me, in my house, and everywhere I go. I can’t get away from it.”

“It all goes back to that horrible day two years ago when I tripped and fell down the stairs in my office building. I hit my head, but the doctors say I don’t have a head injury. There were bruises up and down my legs, back, shoulders, and neck. I had to wear one of the neck braces for what seemed like forever. I can’t take those stairs anymore, which is tough because that’s the fire exit. I told my boss this was going to happen because the cleaners leave it wet all the time. He won’t do anything about it. I still have pain, and even nightmares about hearing my body slam into the stairs. I just wish they’d go away.”

“I told my husband this was going to happen. He drives way too fast. Now, I’ve got searing back pain all the time because I was the one injured in the accident, not him. It’s his fault. Everything. I’m so angry at him all the time; I just want to hurt him back for what he’s done to me. We fight all the time now, and I just want to be left alone.”

“I hate going to bed because everything happened at night. This intruder got into our house. He didn’t hurt anyone, but he stole a ton of our stuff, expensive things that we love. Then, he wrote vile messages on our living room wall. Now, when I go to bed, I keep worrying that’s what we’ll wake up to. I can’t sleep and it’s so bed, I’m going to ask my doctor for pills. I need to get my rest. I’m so angry with everyone, but especially my husband. He says the alarm system was on, but I know he’s lying. How did an intruder get into the house if our alarm system was on?”

“I know it happened a long time ago, but it still feels very real for me. It’s not that I want to think about it. The thoughts just intrude all on their own. Of course, I’ve tried telling myself to just get over it, but that doesn’t work. So, I’m seeing a therapist, and she’s developing me. I have PTSD, and I guess it’s going to take a while to recover. My therapist says I will recover, but doesn’t how long that’ll take. Sometimes, when a memory surfaces, I start to shake, my hands sweat, and I get this pounding headache with nausea. It’s like a migraine. I fight with everyone all the time – my kids, my husband, and even my parents. I want everyone to know what this feels like!”

“A week ago, I had a complete meltdown in my cooking class. I don’t know why. Tears began rolling down my face. My body shook, and I felt terrified of everything and everyone. Now, I don’t want to go back to the class. I started smoking marijuana for the anxiety, but not sure if I should be doing this or not. I’m thinking I need to see someone, but I don’t really want to talk about what happened.”

“I haven’t felt safe since it all happened a few months ago.  This guy in our office went crazy and started screaming. He basically had a meltdown. The office hasn’t been the same since. We all used to get along really well, but now everyone’s watching behind their back, and checking to see who’s doing what. The place doesn’t feel normal anymore. Our boss has said he’s going to bring someone in to do a few counseling sessions with us, and I think that’s a great idea.”

Therapy Can Help PTSD

If any of these experiences resonate with you, the first step is to seek professional help. There are excellent resources available in almost every country in the world. As well, there are wonderful resources on the Internet. You can go here for excellent information and support from the Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/#.Wbf0_siGPIU and the National Institute on Mental Health in the U.S.: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

By its very unexpected and uncontrolled nature, traumatic events cannot be avoided. Domestic violence, rape, car accidents, tornadoes, violent crime, terrorism, hurricanes, victims of war or miltary combat and a range of others. Communities very publically and individuals completely alone around the globe are dealing with the potentially massive effects of trauma.

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event and the impact can be too overwhelming to deal with right away. So the mind and body, with the wisdom of Nature, put into motion the shock response, or a “fight or flight” reaction, as a survival mechanism, to block the full impact of the traumatic event. That shocking or scary event triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. It is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm.

Long-term reactions to trauma can include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, nightmares, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches. While these feelings are normal, and most people get over them naturally, some individuals  have difficulty moving on with their lives.

Those who experience continued denial, the pushing away of the trauma, will suffer because denial doesn’t erase it. The trauma lingers, stored in our brain and body, like a powder keg ready to explode when a psychological trigger, or even a physical trigger like a scent, can set it off.

Those who continue to experience problems resulting from a traumatic event may be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.

A person suffering the after-effects of a traumatic event or dealing with PTSD requires compassion from family and friends, and guidance from a trusted mental health professional. Knowledge, understanding and proper treatment are critical elements in reducing the impact and intensity of the disruptive nature of trauma, which can cause fear, isolation and difficulty carrying on with the basic activities of daily life. Psychotherapists can help people suffering from trauma find constructive ways to manage their emotions.

Trauma and Risk of Suicide

Research indicates that there is a correlation between many types of trauma and suicidal behaviors, according to The National Center for PTSD. The results of a study published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect showed evidence that traumatic events such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, loss of a family caregiver or exposure to family violence are associated with an increased risk of suicide.

One study found strong evidence that among veterans who experienced combat trauma, the highest relative suicide risk is in those who were wounded multiple times or hospitalized for a wound.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that develops in relation to any events that create psychological trauma. The person directly experienced the trauma or witnessed it occurring. PTSD can result from learning of an actual or threatened death of a close family member or friend, or repeated first-hand exposure to the details of the event. A formal diagnosis of PTSD is made when the symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social or occupational situations for a period of at least one month. With a PTSD diagnosis, the symptoms are not due to a medical condition, medication, drugs or alcohol.

The results of a national study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease found that out of six different anxiety disorders, PTSD was significantly associated with thoughts of suicide or attempts at suicide.

Military Veterans and PTSD

Awareness of PTSD has become more common with the unfortunate increase in numbers of military personnel who have witnessed extreme levels of horror close-up. Many military veterans diagnosed with PTSD have seen, at close range, one or many members of their unit blown up by improvised explosive devices. Many have returned home with life-changing injuries. And while eagerly trying to embrace home, family and community, some of these veterans with PTSD struggle desperately to make the transition from the horrors of combat to common activities like Saturday afternoon shopping at the mall with their family.

Treatment Options for Trauma and PTSD

There is no one treatment that is right for everyone when it comes to healing from trauma or PTSD. The most important factor is working with a professional therapist who has the experience, vision and compassion to create an individualized plan that may include a combination of strategies. These are some of the most common therapies:

Behavior Therapy

 *Exposure: The most common form of behavior therapy is exposure, where a person gradually faces a fear. In this way, the memories of a traumatic event can be brought to light gently without the consequences of the original trauma.

*Relaxation training: Learning relaxation techniques can help a person decrease the intensity of the trauma by managing stress and anxiety.

*Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps a person learn skills to replace negative, incorrect or irrational thoughts with more accurate, positive and healthy thoughts.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): The person focuses on the traumatic experience while tracking a moving light or the therapist’s moving finger. It has been shown to be effective for decreasing the symptoms of trauma.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is paying attention to the moment, accepting thoughts and emotions, and allowing them to exist without judgement. It is gaining increasing support among mental health professionals as a treatment, or part of a treatment plan, for trauma and PTSD. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy has been found to be helpful for people dealing with PTSD and depression.

Medication: The right medication can help make the symptoms or trauma or PTSD less intense and more manageable. Medication can help lessen symptoms such as irritability or depression.

When collaborating with a mental health professional, the goal of trauma-focused therapy is to integrate the traumatic event into your life, so the effects of trauma are manageable and eventually minimized. That allows for continued healing on the path to a healthier and more peaceful life.

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***If you or a loved one are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(1-800-273-8255). This call can save a life.

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References

Friedman, Matthew J., MD, “Trauma and Stress Related Disorders in  DSM-5,” National Center for PTSD, Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College
https://www.istss.org/ISTSS_Main/media/Webinar_Recordings/RECFREE01/slides.pdf

Hudenko, William, “The Relationship between PTSD and Suicide,” National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, March 28, 2017
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/ptsd-suicide.asp

American Psychological Association, “Trauma,” 2017
http://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/

Dillmann, Susanne M., “Common Therapy Approaches to Help You Heal from Trauma,” GoodTherapy.org, March 9, 2011
https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/common-therapy-approaches-to-help-you-heal-from-trauma

Vujanovic, Niles, Pietrefesa, Potter, & Schmertz, “Potential of Mindfulness in Treating Trauma Reactions,” National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Feb. 23, 2016
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treatment/overview/mindful-ptsd.asp

Patrick Lee, LMHC

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Works with:
Children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families.

Therapy Approach:
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing

Specialties:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Drug and alcohol problems
  • Chronic psychiatric conditions
  • Cross-cultural issues

Professional Training:
Carnegie Mellon University, B.A. Psychology
University of Massachusetts Boston, M.S. Mental Health Counseling

Get to Know:

Everyone, at least once in their life, finds themselves struggling with life events that feel insurmountable or with emotions that feel outside of their control. I believe that therapy can help with that and bring out your own resilience and capacity to learn. My guiding principle is to provide an open and accepting environment where people can explore their personal experiences and reinforce their well-being.

I view therapy as a collaborative process and use acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to emphasize mindfulness and awareness of self. Working together, we can identify barriers to success, maladaptive responses and strategies to help you find the change you’re looking for. I enjoy working with a diverse and multicultural population of clientele, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

For more information, please contact me at 857-242-6160 or patrick@bostoneveningtherapy.com.

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