Mental Health: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Living with Complex PTSD
When you hear the words, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or as it’s more commonly known, “PTSD“, what do you think of? For me, I think of soldiers, veterans, I think of mental health, awareness, I think of… me.
In May 2018, I was officially diagnosed with Complex PTSD and GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) after a very tough and trying two year of battle with my mental health. I have discussed this before, which you can find, here.
I’m not a qualified medical professional; this post will not constitute a medical diagnosis. It is merely to raise awareness, there will be further posts on living with PTSD on a daily basis, both from me and other guest features.
PTSD – An Overview
A traumatic event – such as assault, military combat, sexual/emotional/physical abuse, witnessing a natural disaster and/or accident. There is also being a victim of a natural disaster and/or accident. PTSD seems most commonly known as something that soldiers or veterans suffer with after returning from war. However, as with everything else, further research and awareness have been brought to light that there is a lot of other individual’s suffering from PTSD as a result of a traumatic event.
The traumatic events can have lasting effects on an individual’s mental health. Many people will (hopefully or luckily) suffer from short term symptoms to these events. Others, (like me) will develop longer-term symptoms that would lead to the diagnosis of PTSD.
PTSD often “lives” alongside other mental health conditions, for me, it’s GAD, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Other disorders such as depression, anxiety and addictive personality disorder. It’s recommended that treatment is sought.
Other Related Conditions
An individual with PTSD may have additional disorders, as well as thoughts of or attempts at suicide:
- Anxiety Disorders, including Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Substance Abuse
These other illnesses can make it challenging to treat PTSD. For example, medications used to treat OCD or depression may worsen symptoms of PTSD. Successfully treating PTSD almost always improves these related illnesses and successful treatment of depression, anxiety or substance abuse usually improves PTSD symptoms.
As mentioned previously, I was diagnosed in May of 2018, I had been diagnosed by a lovely, no bullshit and amazing psychiatrist from Old See House, Antrim Road, Belfast. I had known before I was referred to my psychiatrist that I was suffering from symptoms of PTSD, but would often have the inner struggle of thinking, “no, I can’t possibly have it. People have been through so much worse than I could ever imagine, I just need to suck it up and get a grip.” Seem familiar to you? If so, go to your GP and just have a chat.
There are several symptoms of PTSD which usually fall into these very broad categories:
These can be anything from recurring, intrusive, involuntary and distressing memories. Think of movies you’ve seen where a person has a terrifying flashback, or if you are int he military or know of someone in the military, you’ll know that there are several educational videos that show soldiers depicted by actors (for the most part) suffering flashbacks of the war.
For me, my flashbacks included memories of terrible things that were said to me by my biological mother, my rape at the hands of a female family member, several flashbacks of distressing events, such as my uncles funeral, which I discussed in this post. I also constantly suffer from night terrors, I don’t always know this is happening, but my partner often tells me when I scream, cry or yell in my sleep. Night terrors and intrusive thoughts are other symptoms of PTSD.
This can be anything from refraining from attending certain events, buildings, or steering away from objects that are reminders of a traumatic event. An individual will actively avoid a place or person that could activate overwhelming symptoms.
I’m somewhat unlucky, the area where I live has several places that I would need to visit, or pass on a regular basis. In the beginning, I found this really distressing, I’d often burst into tears driving past said places, or suffer from flashbacks, panic attacks and left me feeling very shaken and upset. I’m a lot stronger now, a place is just a place. It’s the person that did the deed, I’ve had to learn to try and separate the two.
Cognitive symptoms (mood symptoms)
This can be anything from trouble recalling the event (I mentioned this as a coping mechanism in a previous post, but it’s also a symptom), negative thoughts of themselves (self-deprecating behaviours, overly critical of themselves and so on). An individual may also feel numb (a regular occurrence for me), guilty, worried, depressed and have difficulty remembering certain things. Cognitive symptoms could also include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is “not real” (derealisation which is common with veterans of war).
Not what you might be thinking you cheeky monkey. Arousal symptoms could have been anything from hypervigilance, such as being surprised/scared/shocked by anything that resembles the trauma they might have suffered. It also can cause insomnia/trouble sleeping (common symptom for me, hence my random 4 am Snapchats) or outbursts of anger for no apparent reason.
Symptoms in children are different from those in adults, this is something that has come to life recently, thanks to the amazing work by child psychologists and the willing participants. It’s vital a child is assessed professionally, it would have to be an assessment with a specialist such as a child psychologist or child psychiatrist.
What causes PTSD?
PTSD can occur at any age and is directly associated with exposure to trauma, as mentioned above. Adults and children who suffer from PTSD represent a relatively small portion of those who have been exposed to trauma. This difference is not yet well understood but what is known is that there are risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood to develop PTSD. Risk factors can include prior experiences of trauma, and factors that may promote resilience, such as social support. This is also an ongoing area of research.
Fight – or – Flight?
Our “fight-or-flight” instincts, which can be life-saving during a crisis, can leave us with ongoing symptoms. This is because the body is busy increasing its heart rate, pumping blood to muscles, preparing the body to literally “fight or flight“, all the body’s physical resources and energy are focused on getting out of harm’s way.
According to the research I have done, PTSD symptoms usually begin within three months after experiencing or having been exposed to a traumatic event. However, there are also other “sections” as part of the disorder. For me, it was complex and delayed onset PTSD, which I will discuss further in a second. For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last more than one month. Symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance abuse can often accompany PTSD.
More than just Four Simple Letters
As I mentioned above, there is more than just one type or section of the PTSD diagnosis. This is why it is so vital to see a professional and not to just self-diagnose.
This is usually diagnosed in adults of children who were victims of prolonged, repeated trauma such as childhood sexual, emotional and/or physical abuse.
PTSD that occurs after a traumatic childbirth experience. Not all pregnancies run smoothly (as we know), the same could be said for the birth itself. For most, it’s an incredibly painful, but rewarding experience, but for others, it can become traumatic. Whether it be due to having to have an emergency C section, stillbirth or birthing a miscarried baby, all of these and more can have a huge impact on the mother (and their partner in some instances)
Which can be used to refer to symptoms which develop later (as opposed to immediately, or shortly) following a traumatic event.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PTSD, but it can be treated and managed in several ways.
- Psychotherapy, such as cognitive processing therapy or group therapy
- Medications that have been prescribed by specialised mental health professional.
- Self-management strategies, such as self-soothing and mindfulness.
- Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD (lucky me!)
Talk to your GP or another healthcare professional if you are worried about yourself or others. Please remember this is merely for information, it is in no way a self-diagnosis tool.
As always, if you have any questions that I haven’t answered here, please contact me and I’ll see what I can do to help answer them.
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