What is PTSD?
- Re-experiencing type symptoms, such as recurring, involuntary and intrusive distressing memories, which can include flashbacks of the trauma, bad dreams and intrusive thoughts.
- Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person might actively avoid a place or person that might activate overwhelming symptoms.
- Cognitive and mood symptoms, which can include trouble recalling the event, negative thoughts about one’s self. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed and have difficulty remembering the traumatic event. Cognitive symptoms can in some instances extend to include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is "not real" (derealization).
- Arousal symptoms, such as hypervigilance. Examples might include being intensely startled by stimuli that resembles the trauma, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
PTSD is directly connected to our evolutionary survival instincts, which allowed us to identify a threat and be prepared to fight it or run away from it. Once this alarm goes off, a potent cocktail of hormones rush our system, getting us ready to "survive". Most people will metabolize this cocktail within 12-30 hours and go on about their lives.
Everyone has a threshold for how much of this "fight or fight cocktail" their body can experience without a problem.
Unfortunately, while the average person may experience 4 of these traumatic events in their lifetime, the average first responder experiences over 200 in their careers.
Once an individual has passed their particular threshold, their body begins re-wiring their nervous system to prepare for the higher frequency of threats the body now perceives as likely to occur. The body believes it is doing what is best to keep you alive! Unfortunately, this highly active threat perception system is now activated whether the individual is in a threatening situation or not.
Unfortunately, time does not heal PTSD. Your brain has literally rewired the nervous system and one could argue that time makes untreated PTSD worst. Even the most strong willed trauma survivors aren't able to "will their way away" from PTSD. This is why it is particularly important to seek help.
This brings us to the good news! There are treatment options that exist to allow an individual to bring their nervous system back into balance. You don’t have to feel this way forever!
WHERE TO GET HELP
The first step is reaching out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step.
Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor or state/county mental health authority for more resources.
Contact the NAMI HelpLine (https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-HelpLine) to find out what services and supports are available in your community.
To speak with a VA coach, call 888-823-7458, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.