Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Getting Your Life Back On Track
By Guest Blogger: Michele Rosenthal
Have you survived a trauma and are still haunted by the after effects? Do you struggle with a bad case of insomnia? Ever feel like you’re literally caught in an instant replay of the moment you felt most helpless while your life was being threatened? Have you noticed that instead of experiencing emotions you are emotionally numb?
If you answer, ‘yes,’ to these questions, you’re not alone! In fact, studies estimate that over 5% of the American population (that’s over 15mm people) struggle with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While posttraumatic stress symptoms are prevalent, many people don’t recognize the presence of them in their own lives. We get so used to being awake all night, having nightmares or suppressing disturbing memories that all of that seems normal. The truth is, though, you don’t have to live that way.
Thirty years ago when I was just thirteen years old I survived an illness so rare none of my doctors had ever seen a case. When I was released from the hospital, I thought the brave, courageous thing to do was look forward, pretend the past had not happened, and breeze headlong into the future. I put in place strict coping mechanisms to block out what I had suffered. In an effort to flee fear, I constricted my life so that I felt safe.
While my behavior caused me to lose friends, jobs, and relationships, it was all very normal for someone struggling with PTSD. I lived in great isolation and enormous physical and emotional pain for twenty-four years. And then I was diagnosed with PTSD and went on a healing rampage! Beginning the process of taking back control over your life and your internal experience begins with understanding symptoms of posttraumatic stress, plus what you can do to eliminate it.
What is PTSD?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a normal reaction to abnormal experience. When a trauma occurs, the mind must organize and understand the event, and then integrate the memories into the larger persona of the whole person. Typically, it takes four to six weeks for the mind to naturally move itself through terror, make meaning and return to normal functioning. During this process many people experience sleep disturbances, extreme emotions and other untypical behavior. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms fall into each of the following three categories, last for more than one month, and cause personal, social and professional dysfunction.
Avoidance is the inability to be in contact with any reminders of the event, this includes people, places, sounds, smells, discussions and any other activity that would put you in touch with the disturbing memories.
Arousal is an increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, plus the feeling of always being in danger, on the alert for danger, or prepared for the next dangerous event. Hypervigilance and an exaggerated startle response are also common signs of the posttraumatic aroused state.
Reexperiencing presents itself in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. In this way, you feel that the event is still very much in the present instead of the past.
How Can You Treat PTSD?
The good news is that while PTSD can become extreme in the aftermath of trauma – and really limit your ability to enjoy your life – it is entirely possible to heal. It took me over two decades to get the proper diagnosis, but you don’t have to wait that long!
PTSD diagnosis begins with recognizing yourself in the symptoms listed above. Next step: contact your primary care provider or therapist so that you can be evaluated by someone familiar with PTSD criteria. When you have your diagnosis, now you’re ready to choose your PTSD treatment method. There are many. Popular modalities fall into two categories:
Traditional methods fall within the usual counseling parameters of talk therapy and cognitive behavior therapy. These techniques stress the value of talking, plus analyzing your behavior and seeing how and when and where to change your actions. Prolonged exposure therapy (facing your fear in a controlled environment) is also very popular. These methods work in the conscious mind. While helpful professionals include psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed social workers, therapists and counselors, the practitioners best trained to help you will be those with specific training in trauma.
Alternative methods are what many survivors turn to as a way to complement the benefits of traditional approaches. These out-of-the-box methods include somatic experiencing, hypnosis, Neuro-
Linguistic Programming, and such information processing therapies as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Emotional Freedom Technique and Thought Field Therapy. The benefits of alternative methods is that they relieve you of having to talk about the details of your trauma. They work to resolve trauma held in the subconscious mind. Based on the process of changing, eliminating and recreating neural pathways or releasing somatic energies, many alternative techniques allow you to heal without the triggers detailed discussion can bring.
The road to recovery is not a straight line, nor is it one that can be traveled quickly. Unfortunately, there is no single prescription that works for everyone. However, with the right amount of professional and personal support, plus commitment and self-empowered actions, symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome can be reduced, reversed and eliminated so that you can conquer the past and create the future you wish to live.
Michele Rosenthal is a PTSD Coach and the founder of www.healmyptsd.com, a site devoted to PTSD education and support. Her PTSD recovery memoir will be pubished in 2012.
Michele Rosenthal, Author, Speaker, PTSD Coach
A site for PTSD awareness, education, treatment & self-empowered healing.
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