Understanding PTSD

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by RI Editors

This guest essay in our Peculiar Minds series is by Robin Grosland. 

PhoenixI have PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wonder what this means to you. I wonder what image is conjured in your mind. Let me tell you what it means to me.

Usually, it means nothing. For a majority of the time I am just fine. I am as stable and normal as everyone else. But occasionally I am taken hostage by adrenaline. Something will happen that is similar in some way to a traumatic experience from my past and I am back in that moment.

But not really. I know I am not there. I am aware of my surroundings. I see what’s real. But I am filled with fear.

No matter whom I am with or where I am, I do not feel safe. A primal survival programming kicks in. Adrenaline takes over to save my life. Even though in this moment it isn’t really in danger.

My primary reaction is to hide. To get away. Maybe I will go to my room. Maybe I will drive in my car. Maybe I will back up against the wall or wrap my coat tightly around myself or pull my knees in tight in an effort to keep myself safe.

I will probably be agitated and short-tempered. I will be selfish. I might cry. And no one can touch me. All the nerves in my skin are on fire. It feels like if you touch me, something bad will happen. If you come near me in an effort to touch me I will likely pull away or cringe.

If I am in a public situation and am trying not to let others know what’s happening, I may not react when you reach out to touch me. I may smile and pretend everything is alright. But I’ll be white-knuckling it. Holding on with all I’ve got to keep some semblance of normalcy. I do this so neither of us will be embarrassed or uncomfortable.

Sometimes I don’t know why I’m feeling the way I am. I don’t realize I’ve been triggered and I lash out or get upset about things that shouldn’t matter. To me, they do. Because there’s danger (even though there isn’t). It’s taken me a long time to learn to recognize what’s happening.

You would think that would help. You would think knowing what is going on, why I am so scared, would enable me to shrug it off. You would think that when I know I’m reacting to a past experience and not a current danger I could relax and move on. But you’d be wrong.

Even knowing what it is and why it’s happening doesn’t make it go away. Even when my brain knows I’m safe my body doesn’t. Because it’s chemical. Once I realize what’s going on I can work through the coping strategies I’ve been taught in therapy and try to calm down. But even when everything goes well and I notice it and am strong enough to fight my way through, it still takes time. Once you quit feeding an adrenaline situation it takes about 20 minutes for the adrenaline to start to clear your system. My brain and instinct fight each other for control. And they each take their turn winning.

But sometimes it’s so intense and hits me out of nowhere. Those times I usually forget the new healthy ways I’ve learned to deal with it and revert to the ones that got me through in the past. I avoid people. I take sedatives. I hurt myself. Anything to stop the pain. Because the adrenaline is painful. The fear hurts.

Most people who meet me will never know of my diagnosis. They will never see me terrified and sobbing. They will never see the scars on my arms from slicing my own skin open. They will never see the way my heart races. Because most of the time I am not that person. Most of the time I am normal.

I am not ashamed of who I am and what I have. PTSD means I went through something horrible and survived. It means I am strong. And the fact that most people don’t know about it means it doesn’t control me.

PTSD isn’t who I am, but it is a piece of me. And I’m okay with that. I don’t hide it. In fact, I talk about it whenever appropriate. I write about it. I own it. Because it needs to be known. People need to understand it. Sufferers need to not be afraid of it. To not be ashamed of it. And that won’t happen if we don’t drag it out of the dark.

I have PTSD. This is what PTSD is like for me. But please don’t think reading this means you understand what people with PTSD are like. People with PTSD are still people. We are still individuals. And just like each person with a cold experiences it somewhat differently, so do we experience PTSD differently.

If you want to understand it, talk to people who struggle with it. Ask questions. Listen. We are all strengthened when we understand each other better. And a person with PTSD isn’t someone to be afraid of.

Robin Grosland has PTSD and blogs here.


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8 Responses to Understanding PTSD

  1. Becca says:

    “PTSD means I went through something horrible and survived.”

    You are amazing and wonderful to write this. I hope we will all talk to people about these kinds of things. Or rather, I hope we will listen more.

    Thank you for your courage and strength.

  2. Missy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I think that PTSD is one of the most misunderstood conditions around. My Husband suffers from it due to his military service and certain smells or sounds can set it off. It is certainly a life long challenge. Thank you for talking about it and sharing, educating so that we can all become more supportive of those who have this. So we can all be more understanding of what is really happening. Great post!

  3. templegoer says:

    So brave and constructive. We only grow in intimacy, and therefore in safety, when we are able to share the most secret parts of ourselves. And we are honoured when someone can do that.

  4. OneMommy says:

    My husband likes to say, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”
    I never thought of my panic attacks possibly being related to what has happened to me in the past, I have kept much of it hidden. Your post, your sharing, shows great strength.

    Thank you.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Thanks Robin. I’ll never forget you writing on the chalkboard for me, and adding a steadying hand when my grip was slipping. I appreciate your daily work to overcome, the peace you’ve gained, and your friendship. Well-spoken words.

  6. Thanks for sharing this Robin. I’m a huge fan of Robin’s blog and you’ll see how honest she is about everything. She’s a very brave writer.

  7. Paul says:

    Awesome. Thanks for this.

  8. Ali says:

    Thank you so much for this…. I’ve been battling exactly what you’ve described and I haven’t been able to describe it to friends or family in any way as exact as this. After my inpatient stay I’ll be doing this weekend ( very scared but hopeful for tools ) I want to try and spread the word as this fun thing called adrenaline and ptsd is so misunderstood. I’ve lost a lot of friends, this hurts but doesn’t own us. Thank you again.

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