Most people believe that the symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into four main categories, which I will list below, but for me this seems over simplistic of the symptoms that I suffer:
- Intrusive memories: This includes flashbacks, nightmares, and unwanted thoughts about the traumatic event. People with PTSD may feel like they are reliving the event, even though it is over. For me it is not just flashback memories of the event but when I trigger it can be from any of my senses, they go wild with no actual pinpoint element. Smells, touch, emotions and even taste has triggered me, so please do not think it is just ‘visual’ flashbacks. They can be very vivid and realistic, and they may feel like the traumatic event is happening again. I can easily see myself stood back in that room. Nightmares are also common, and they may be just as disturbing as flashbacks, I have woken up screaming, laying in a pool of sweat and even making my partner sleep in another room as I thrash around. Unwanted thoughts about the traumatic event can also be a problem.
- Avoidance: This includes avoiding people, places, activities, or objects that remind them of the traumatic event. People with PTSD may also try to avoid thinking about the event or talking about it. I made a decision that I can no longer deal with any kind of firearm (even typing this my chest feels heavy). I even took the decision to move towns to be away from any potential reminders. This was the best decision that I ever made, and it is now easier to manage the condition. They may also avoid talking about the event or thinking about it. I shout at people to shut up and try to leave the room. Avoidance can significantly interfere with a person’s life, but when I start the feelings of a trigger it will take hours to calm myself so avoidance is better that a full blown melt down.
- Negative changes in thinking and mood: This includes negative thoughts about oneself, the world, or the future. People with PTSD may also feel detached or estranged from others, and they may have difficulty experiencing positive emotions. I become completely numb, I had no emotions and whilst at the beginning of my condition I was trying to be a cop, this was frowned upon and it got me in a heap of trouble. I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety and was told I was abusing alcohol. Over time I have been able to reduce the triggers and I found my emotions and feelings started to return but I am prone to an easy relapse.
- Changes in physical and emotional reactions: This includes being easily startled, having trouble sleeping, and feeling irritable or angry. People with PTSD may also have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, and muscle tension. I can recall surviving on 3-4 hours sleep a night whilst still trying to be a cop. Everything hurt, my weight was in massive flux and reactions to situations was extreme. I can recall plumbing in a toilet at home and it sprung a leak. I could not function and instead of sorting it, I lead on the floor crying having to call out a plumber.
The symptoms of PTSD can vary in severity and may come and go over time. In some cases, the symptoms may be so severe that they interfere with a person’s ability to work, go to school, or have relationships. As with me, I was medically retired from the police as I could no longer do the job. I lost everything, my home, life, family and self respect. But the good news is you can rebuild and manage the condition.
If you think you or someone you know may have PTSD, it is important for them to seek professional help. There can be effective treatments available that can help PTSD sufferers manage their symptoms and live a fuller and productive life. Yet for me, all therapies failed, medication screwed me up and I had to work it out for myself. It can be done but it is hard work and you have to expect relapses as you work through things.
My new life and business is to raise awareness of PTSD, talk openly about the triggers in a bid to show others that there is a way to manage the condition. Although I have PTSD it does not define me.
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