She jumps at the slightest noise.
Lightning makes him drop to all fours, white-faced with arm extended as if holding a gun.
When stress occurs, his mind blanks.
She remembers the day but not the days before or after.
Change in circumstances or routine causes a high level of anxiety.
These are all signs of a person who suffers from PTSD.
For me? A stressful work situation caused enough shock to trigger a PTSD episode. It felt like this:
The next morning, curled into the corner of our couch in a fetal-like position, I proceeded to call each of the women [on our Restoration Team] and tell them what had happened.
I honestly don’t remember all their responses, other than their promise to pray and willingness to meet with me if I wanted, which I turned down. My decision made, I couldn’t hear other reasoning.
One of the women suggested that I go in on Monday and ask my boss specifically what he wanted me to change. I told her I couldn’t do that, because by saying he didn’t know if he wanted me to stay on, he had, in effect, fired me. I would turn in my resignation first thing Monday morning and clear out my office. There was no reason to stay.
I know now that my physical and emotional reaction was that of a person suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I was traumatized; therefore, my “fight or flight” mechanism triggered and I ran.
Looking back, there is a logical and better way to deal with this situation. But, in my weak, traumatized state I reacted. The counsel I received was solid; my emotions were chaotic.
Never make an important decision when you are emotional.
Today, after counseling and continued coaching, I better understand these triggers. That’s the best news about PTSD—you can learn to overcome.
What used to be called “shell shock” or “combat fatigue” is now PTSD. But, PTSD is not always caused by combat.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder results from many different traumatic events.
Psychologists cannot predict who will experience a traumatic event and develop PTSD. Not everyone who goes through something traumatic develops PTSD. Yet, for those who do, PTSD can debilitate a person for years and even the rest of their life.
So, what do you do if you suspect PTSD in yourself or someone you love?
Encourage the person to get professional help.
A good place to start is your family doctor, pastor, or trusted friend. The worst thing you can do is say nothing. Silence only deepens the trauma. “PTSD keeps sufferers on the perpetual verge of withdrawal from the world and alienation from those who love them,” says Shaili Jain MD. But getting the person to seek and accept such help isn’t always easy. If you think the situation is life-threatening, don’t wait. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
Develop a strong personal network.
This isn’t an online network. A person suffering from PTSD needs people who are supportive, understanding, caring, and willing to tell the truth. (Ideally in person, not online.) We are created to live in community, yet a person with PTSD often isolates themselves or their behaviors push away those closest to them.
For those who experience severe trauma, hope is gone. Unless there is a strong support network in place, addictive behaviors may follow. After my trauma, when I didn’t understand the effects of PTSD, and to protect my wounded heart, I kept silent. Perhaps if I had reached out in the early days after the trauma, some of the accompanying addiction, negative thinking, and destructive behavior would have been avoided. As Dr. Jain says, “A positive social network can not only help PTSD symptoms heal but that receiving social support after surviving a major trauma can prevent the onset of PTSD in the first place. Optimizing social support for trauma survivors thus represents a preventive pathway, an opportunity to intervene and set the survivor on a path to recovery.”
Understand the real emotional battles.
PTSD sufferers experience a wide range of emotions from anger to depression. Their emotions are real, plus the person believes their perceptions are real whether they are or not. Therefore, certain techniques such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy often help the sufferer decode their present.
Mindfulness simply means living in the present moment. The Bible tells us to take every thought captive and to focus on those things that give us purpose and promise. When practicing this technique, the person learns to assess their thoughts and feelings without judgment or condemnation. Too often we tend to live with past fears or future fears instead of the moment. Practicing mindfulness helps conquer the emotional battle.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality and if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them. The key is to identify and dispute the problematic thoughts and develop tools and skills to combat them. It doesn’t deny the emotions but simply teaches you and me to call them what they are and then use other skills to change our thinking.
While in recovery from my PTSD, the support from my husband, family, and a select circle of friends created the safety net necessary to process each trigger.
This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a series of small steps, small victories, and intentional skill development. The triggers are there and rear their heads, but not as many or as much as before, which is the good news.
On June 27, as the United States recognizes the debilitating effects of PTSD, I hope you take the time to learn a little bit more about this real phenomenon. And when you encounter someone suffering from PTSD you can be compassionate and willing to listen. Then, point them to a place of safety.
I am honored to walk alongside those suffering from PTSD and offer practical tools to make that day and all future days better–bit by bit. My heart breaks for the trauma experienced in the first place and the suffocating chains it leaves behind. There is hope. It can get better. I’d be happy to help. Let’s talk.
Smile at a stranger. Hold the door for someone. Extend grace to those around you. You never know what may have hurt them.