What Is It Like to Live with PTSD?
In short – it’s like living on constant, never-ending, incessant alert.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with soldiers, police officers, and first responders. However, 20% of people who witness or suffer a traumatic event will develop PTSD. It is estimated that one out of thirteen people will develop some form of PTSD at some point in their lives.
Let’s examine what living with PTSD is like and what you can do to help your loved one who has been struck down by it.
What Causes PTSD?
PTSD is caused by a traumatic event in a person’s life, and it can also be the result of witnessing a traumatic event. This event can be a car crash, a traumatic injury, a physical attack, and so on. But it can also be caused by the death of a loved one, divorce, and basically any event that presents trauma in someone’s life.
What Does PTSD Feel Like?
Much like anxiety and panic attacks, PTSD will feel different for everyone.
The most common feelings are that of constant alertness, never being able to relax, not being able to take your mind off the traumatic event, and feelings of constant fear. A person suffering from PTSD can experience a whole host of different symptoms, including:
- Recurrent memories of the traumatic event
- Nightmares and trouble sleeping
- Avoiding the places, people, or activities that you associate with the event
- Negative thoughts
- Feelings of detachment from family, friends, and the world
- Emotional numbness
- Lack of interest in hobbies and life itself
- Memory issues
- Concentration issues
- Guilt or shame
- Being on guard constantly
The onset of PTSD can be especially overwhelming, and the longer it persists, the more difficult it will be to shake. The brain starts making new associations and learns new behaviors that are then difficult to unravel.
What Can You Do to Help?
Helping someone overcome PTSD will take time, patience, and perseverance.
While it may sound (and be) incredibly scary, urge your friend or family member to seek professional help. If they are reluctant and frightened by the prospect, especially as they will have to relive some of their trauma, allow them more time. Speaking to a professional is often the best course of action, but only once the person in question is ready.
The worst thing you can say to someone suffering from PTSD is to ask them to “snap out of it,” “get over it,” or “forget about it.” PTSD is not solved by “being brave” or “being positive” or “not thinking about it.”
As with other mental disorders (such as anxiety and panic attacks), telling someone that they can fix the issue if they just try will make them feel much, much worse. If you have not suffered from PTSD yourself (or have not had a series of panic attacks, for instance), keep your opinions to yourself. Do your best to help without voicing them. Here’s how:
- Provide tangible support without judgment. You don’t have to talk about the event, how they are feeling, or what they want to be doing, if that is not something they’re up to. Try to get them to do what they want to do – whether it is going for a walk, playing a video game, or cooking dinner together. If, at any point, they want to stop, go home, or need you to leave – do whatever makes them comfortable, without a word or comment. Don’t bring up the issue again later either, and make them feel safe and secure in your presence.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about the thoughts and feelings someone is going through, the better you will be able to provide support. For starters, you can read up on PTSD and the symptoms and treatments. Talk to people who have battled it and worked through it, listen to the advice of experts, and take note of how your friend or family member responds to different stimuli.
- Listen to them if they need you to. A person suffering from PTSD might need to go over and over the traumatic event. They might also tell you things you don’t want to hear and that might be uncomfortable. If you are truly there to help them, listen to them, even if you already know what they’re going to say. Don’t take over the conversation and make it about yourself.
- Don’t take over their life. Even if you think you’re doing them a favor, don’t take every task off their hands. Be there with them if they need you, but try to encourage them to do basic everyday things on their own as long as it doesn’t cause additional trauma. Realizing that they’re able to make their own meals, take a shower, and get out of the house will be meaningful for them.
PTSD is a difficult and draining condition that won’t go away overnight and untreated. The best thing you can do for someone who suffers from it is to provide the support they need, and not the support you think they need. Listen to them and watch their behavior, and mold yours to their needs.