When I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) I was shocked, truly. I had never thought someone like me could have something like PTSD. I remember my therapist sitting there and reviewing my test, a 392 question test which had question after question which seemed like the same 50 questions reworked in different ways. He kept nodding and scoring on his computer. Finally, he looks up and tells me I have a TEXTBOOK case of PTSD. Not just yes I have it, but I have a textbook case of it. He started using words like, “classic case” and “textbook symptoms.” All the while I sat there trying to focus, but struggling because I was lost in the whirl of thoughts circling in my brain. I was experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, negative association, brain fog, inability to focus, severe anxiety, and depression. I left the office trying to digest my new diagnosis and what it meant for my life. I decided I needed to learn about PTSD and began doing some research at home, and asking questions in therapy. I was shocked at what I would come to learn about trauma, PTSD, and the way society treats people with a PTSD diagnosis which are not military.
As I started learning more about my diagnosis of PTSD I began to learn how much PTSD impacts the brain. Trauma literally changes your brain. I had no idea. I was shocked. Trauma impacts several areas of the brain, including the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. Trauma causes an increase in cortisol production and in norepinephrin response. Essentially, trauma changes your brain. Think about that. It literally, physically, changes your brain. When we can understand this concept, we can then understand why it is so frustrating to PTSD sufferers to be told things like, “You just need to get over it,” or any variation of the same sentiment. It’s like telling someone who lost a limb, “You just need to forget you ever had that arm,” or, “You should pretend you never had two legs.” Not only would people find that to be insensitive and rude, but the person who said it would probably catch a verbal beat down for having been so callous.
Meanwhile, in the world of mental health, it is completely normal, and acceptable, to most to speak like this to people with not only PTSD, but also, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders as well. Ignorance to mental health issues is certainly to blame, but in today’s technology day and age, it does not hold water for long. Finding information on mental health issues is relatively easy to locate online, and it takes but a simple search to find. The wealth of information available is vast, and most of it is reputable and easy to understand. Knowledge is power, and the more we know, the more we can express empathy to those dealing with mental health disorders and contribute to helping instead of increasing the burden. A small glimpse into the life of someone who’s been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc., offers a wealth of answers as to why their behavior is what it is, and why. Have you ever known someone who spoke of feeling lonely all the time, despite being surrounded by people? Perhaps he is suffering from depression. If he is, the last thing that is helpful for him mentally is to be told to get over it, or to join the mass of people around him at any given time.
Trauma occurs and leaves people devastated. It is not the type of devastation you necessarily see. Whether someone loses a home, a spouse, or causes an accident. Perhaps childhood abuse, or an abusive marriage, or childhood illness is what precipitated their PTSD. The truth is you may never know or understand what CAUSED someone’s PTSD, but you do not have to understand how to show empathy and compassion for what they are going through. In addition, it is not uncommon for traumatized people to have several instances in which traumatic events happen to them, only for people to label them as “drama,” and walk, or run, away. When we understand how trauma impacts the brain, and the emotional and mental states of someone, we can see why these things happen. It is as easy as having compassion and empathy. Look at people the way you want to be looked upon. Care for a stranger in need as you wish to be cared for, and do unto others as you want done unto you.