Tuesday was National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day. I know this because I have a bookmark saved to my browser that lists all of the “national celebratory days.” I use this page so that I can track with the really important holidays, like National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day (March 1st), National Fruitcake Toss Day (January 3rd), and National Lost Sock Memorial Day (May 9th).
Seriously folks, I didn’t even make any of those up. If you’re not yet hip with the vast number of “holidays” technically on the calendar, you are missing out on how exciting your days could be! Today for instance is “National Bomb Pop Day.” I have no clue what that even is, but you could be celebrating it!
More seriously though, back to PTSD Awareness Day. I was contemplating the topic last night around 1am when I was busy not sleeping. Really I was being royally pissed off about not sleeping. About how frustratingly important sleep is, and still how impossible it is for me. How I cannot remember a time when sleep was not a challenge, when nighttime was not scary, or when going to bed at night ever led to waking up feeling refreshed in the morning. And sometimes that just fucking infuriates me.
So it was as I was allowing myself twenty-minutes of rage at the injustice of the world that I decided to write this blog post. I experience, and have experienced for years, many of the typical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The value I find in identifying with this diagnosis/label is varied: for me it has been helpful in validating the way I experience the world, particularly when I struggle with grace and patience for myself and the number of things that are harder for me than for others. Officially naming my experience, regardless of the words you use to label it, has also opened up a variety of resources for me to utilize in dealing with my experience -and doing what I can to change or cope with that experience.
Yet there is a level to which the experience of surviving something harmful, and how that in turn shapes the way you interact with the world around you, is still very isolating. This is a struggle I most often just resign myself to not being able to conquer, and I capitulate to living with a gripping sense of loneliness and isolation, because there is simply no way to put my experience into words much of the time. And the trying to explain feels so very frustrating, exhausting and, ultimately, futile.
But, in honor of loosely official “holidays” (seriously, there’s a National Ampersand Day?), let’s participate in a belated acknowledgement of National PTSD Awareness Day by learning a few facts. Because knowledge lends itself to understanding, and thus to wider compassion. Let’s be compassionate together. 🙂
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “sexual assault is more likely to result in symptoms of PTSD than are other types of trauma, including combat.” (1) Given that women are victims of sexual assault and abuse at a higher rate than men, it makes sense that women and girls are more likely to experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: “of the children and teens who have had a trauma, 3% to 15% of girls and 1% to 6% of boys develop PTSD.” (2) And “an estimated 1 out of 10 women will get PTSD at some time in their lives. Women are about twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.” (3)
Key symptoms of PTSD include: trouble sleeping, recurring nightmares, insomnia, edginess, being overly alert, trouble with concentration, being easily startled, irritability or anger, intrusive thoughts or flashbacks, intense panic when triggered, experiencing emotional detachment or numbing, dissociation from the trauma and sometimes from self, as well as increased difficulty in interpersonal relationships and a higher likelihood of substance abuse and self-destructive behavior. (3) These symptoms may start soon after the trauma, and can continue for years. Some symptoms may never entirely resolve.
PTSD also often has physical manifestations. (3)
It is also important to note that the symptoms of PTSD can look very different for kids than they do for adults: “children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults.” (4) In very young children particularly, kids aged six and under, a trauma response may include these symptoms: regression in learned tasks, like potty-training and bed-wetting, losing previously developed verbal skills, becoming unusually clingy, becoming socially withdrawn, trouble sleeping, increased nightmares, throwing more frequent or more extreme temper tantrums, showing a “persistent reduction in expression of positive emotions,” and sometimes reenacting the trauma through play. (5),(2)
So what now? Now that I have shared a random, potentially overwhelming, assortment of information with you? Well, it is more than likely that you have someone in your life who is a trauma survivor of some sort, and potentially someone who daily navigates life amidst the experience of PTSD. Practice kindness for those individuals by taking the initiative to learn about PTSD -in general, as well as about their experience particularly. Ask what you can do to alleviate some of the burden they carry. I know personally that I am not great at asking for what I need, or even knowing what I need when someone else asks how to help. I do know though that there are things that those around me could do to reduce the stressors and triggers in my day-to-day environment. Sometimes you just need someone else to extend an offering hand first.
Finally, the biggest help I know of is prayer. Your prayer, my own prayer, especially in the sleepless or fitful nights, when the shadows are alive and the air itself is breathing down my neck. Pray fiercely. Pray regularly for anyone you know in a similar situation. Pray for peace. For stillness. Pray when you yourself awake at odd hours -that might be just the right moment when someone is needing a little help.
And if you’re interested in just a bit more reading, I appreciated this list of 20 Things You Know if You Have PTSD
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “27 Things You Should Know About PTSD,” https://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2013/june/27-things-you-should-know-about-ptsd.asp
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “PTSD in Children and Teens,” https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/ptsd-children-adolescents.asp
- Sidran Institute, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fact Sheet,” https://www.sidran.org/resources/for-survivors-and-loved-ones/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-fact-sheet-2/
- National Institute of Mental Health, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “PTSD Symptoms in Children Age Six and Younger,” https://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms