Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is described as the silent scream because your neighbors or even close family or friends cannot see it, sense it, or know what you are feeling.
The late eighteenth century English nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty explains the sudden feeling of those with PTSD.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a big fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
The Mind, Body, and Emotions of PTSD
The mind, body, and emotions change dramatically after a traumatic event. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5), post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops in reaction after exposure to aversive details to a traumatic or stressful event.
The onset of PTSD can occur after someone has been subjected to one or more of the following:
- Threatened death
- Actual or threatened serious injury
- Actual or threatened sexual violence either directly or witnessed
- Learned that a traumatic or stressful event happened to a relative or a close friend
- Or indirectly usually in the context of first responders.
There are many ways to obtain PTSD including witnessing a violent event, being involved in a car accident, being a target of cyber-bullying, and fighting in combat just to name a few. People of all ages, ethnicities, socioeconomics, and identities can acquire PTSD. It is the great equalizer of all humanity.
Biology of PTSD
From a neurological standpoint, PTSD is not a disorder rather it is a reorder. It is a reordering of the neural networks and pathways and sensory connections of the brain so that it is possible to survive in an extremely dangerous event.
The brain is primal. Its’ main function is for survival. Experience sculpts the brain. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. The brain is constantly taking in information from the environment through our senses using sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
All the brain does is access whether the new data is safe or not. It rates new bits of information with a green light, yellow light or red light. Green means its safe and can go on functioning normal.
Yellow is tolerable stress. Moderate stress is actually good for the immune system and suitable for keeping the mind sharp and focused.
When the brain experiences something in the red zone, the brain changes. The brain is put in a higher alert state. The prefrontal cortex shuts down and cannot take in new information fast enough.
The hippocampus becomes shorter. A smaller hippocampus affects our short-term memory. You can’t remember whether you locked the front door of your house once you leave or if you turned-off the iron later in the day.
The amygdala reacts during a tragedy by releasing stress hormones and neuro-transmitters from the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
Neuro-ephinephrine, cortisol, adrenaline, and glucose move quickly to the body so that you are ready for fight or flight. The release of the stress hormones enables the body to run faster or fight harder without thinking when under extreme stress.
The Five Senses
Our sensory systems become overwhelmed and desensitized after a traumatic event. Sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches begin to go array.
You may see things that may not be there or not see things that are there. You may hear things that aren’t around or not hear things that are heard by others. It’s dangerous especially when driving, in addition cause extra stress on yourself and on those you love and hold dear.
Results of Sensory Overload
When the sensory system is overloaded, hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal is a constant state of affairs. Thus when things aren’t quite to your liking, you lose control and have angry outbursts.
Once you are back to feeling in control, you are fine but those around you may not be.
Other symptoms of an overloaded sensory system include nightmares, night sweats, panic attacks, and insomnia, which also affect short-term memory.
Flashbacks come back at the most inopportune times. Overwhelming emotions astound you and your personality changes. You may have feelings of intense anger, irritability, or detachment where you just want to isolate because any outside experience may be a trigger of a flashback.
Feeling Like An Outsider
It is a tendency of those with PTSD to isolate because any sudden noise, disturbance, or mishap may set off a trigger. You no longer fit into a normal world. You used to but the PTSD has changed your reaction to others and your environment.
Eventually feeling like such an outsider effects how you may think of yourself, how you live, and how you’re perceived in your environment.
PTSD Left Untouched
The brain and the body start to wear-out because of the constant stress. The constant stress weakens the immune system and rates of stroke incidents increases along with heart attacks, hypertension, obesity, ulcers, diabetes, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lack of sleep then affects short-term memory and soon you can’t remember simple things like whether you tied you shoes.
Healing PTSD is partially skill based. You must practice a new way of thinking and acting. It requires at least 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert according to The Role of Deliberate Practice by Anders Ericsson.
Peter Levine, author of Healing Trauma, observes recovering from abuse and trauma requires accessing body memories through the felt sense. Art is a potent experience to access the felt sense and begin to find emotional healing and living fully.
Amongst art, others have found recovery and reparation using one or more of the following methods:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Tai Chi
- Breathing techniques
- Stroking a pet/service dog
In the doing is what will help.
Surviving after PTSD
In spite of those traumatic experiences, you become stronger, you become more grateful, more compassionate, instead of doubting, you become wiser.
“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.” ~ Marcel Proust
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I can not
To change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Photo by Julian Partridge
Photo by hoyasmeg