A lot of people have a misunderstanding of the term PTSD. PTSD means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This is not meant to be a clinical study on the subject but a more direct dialogue delving into the subject in everyday terms. If you want clinical language, studies or statistics, there are plenty to be found. This is just a conversation.
Before I get into the guts of this, let me give full disclosure that I have PTSD, myself. When people hear this and know that I am a veteran, they too often automatically assume that my PTSD is caused by military service. That is a mistaken assumption. My military service involved some experiences which were dangerous, potentially life threatening but not what I consider traumatic. Just eye opening. I went through two bomb scares during my time in the military and was active duty in West Germany the day the Berlin Wall came down. Nobody was injured or killed in any of that.
My own PTSD comes from being through two live shooter events, once on a bus and once in a bar. I have also been through two abusive relationships, sometimes involving physical violence and twice where my life was subversively threatened. In addition, I have been mugged where my scalp was split open with a pry bar, been stabbed, shot at, through physical fights and been on the wrong end of a gun 2 more times aside from the shooting events. Trust me when I say the cumulative experiences can have an effect on a person.
It is not arrogance which makes me tend to speak of my own past experiences. It is the fact that I am very open and not private about my thoughts and experiences. What I will not do is speak of any individual I know or have known without their permission. I find that to be an invasion of privacy which they may not appreciate, even if I offer no identifiable information. My friends, acquaintances, coworkers and patients know their confidential information remains confidential with me. I do very much welcome others to share their own experiences, perspectives and feelings on the subject.
PTSD can occur from any form of trauma. It does not have to include warfare. People that have been through abusive relationships, of whom I know many, often have PTSD. People who have been through live shooter events of any kind can have PTSD and it does not have to be a mass shooting event. Witnesses to severe beatings can develop PTSD just as well. In fact, nobody has to die at all and you do not have to directly witness an event to develop PTSD.
What is generally perceived as violence also does not have to be involved for PTSD to develop. I have previously stated that I consider racism, sexism, any form of prejudice and poverty to be forms of violence. One form of violence which can definitely result in PTSD is hunger or food insecurity.
PTSD is any form of emotional trauma which results in a person having a negative emotional correlation and response to certain conditions. Any form of threat to one’s physical or emotional well-being can result in PTSD.
When most people think of PTSD, they think of the sufferer having responses such as vivid nightmares, shaking in a corner, screaming, possibly becoming disoriented and violent themselves. The actual fact of the matter is that, while these can absolutely be responses to PTSD, they are not what is most common. More common responses to PTSD are the sufferer experiencing extreme anxiety under certain conditions, often resulting in increased pulse, hyperventilating, etc. When possible, a person with PTSD will avoid any circumstances which may potentially elicit such a response.
People that have PTSD from abusive relationships may avoid relationships altogether. Or they are extremely cautious when beginning a relationship. In subsequent relationships, what may seem like small actions or words can spark reactions ranging up to an anxiety attack or violent response which is not intended. Others can shut down and draw into themselves at physical intimidation, harsh words or raised voices. These are reflexes which develop over time to repeated abuse.
Those who have suffered long term or repeated periods of food insecurity can often stockpile food when they have the opportunity, even if they become financially wealthy. The ready availability is a security blanket for them.
Responses vary from one person to another and can take many forms. In my own case, I was always rather introverted and had hermit tendencies before any of the traumatic experiences. Now, the most overt signs of PTSD for me is the fact that I avoid disorganized crowded spaces. As a nurse, I am completely focused during an emergency, no matter how crowded the work space may be. Once the critical phase has subsided, I have often looked up, found myself crowded into a corner with people blocking the path to the door and that is when I make rapid leave of the room. Or throw others out that don’t need to be there if I cannot leave. None of this involves losing my composure but some coworkers can see the anxiety if they know me well enough. When I enter a building I always know the path to the exits, though I don’t generally think about it consciously. No nightmares, no tears, no shaking, no yelling, no violent outbursts, no shutting down. Just don’t get between me and the door in a crowd. People have been known to ignore my request to move out of the way and were surprised to find themselves unharmed but suddenly standing in a different spot, unsure how they got there.
In general, I think PTSD is quite common, far more than it is diagnosed. However, the diagnosis is not necessary unless it becomes in some way disabling to normal activities. If it is not in some way disabling, then it is of no clinical concern. If not disabling, I advise against having such a diagnosis placed in your medical records because it can be limiting for professional, insurance and credit purposes. You will not find PTSD in my medical records, it is simply an aspect of myself I am highly aware of and compensate accordingly.
If you know someone with PTSD as a partner, coworker, acquaintance, etc, try and be understanding in the circumstances which elicit a response in them. Offer emotional support and help them avoid those circumstances when possible and continue offering support afterward to help them recover if they need it. Compassion costs nothing.
Have your own experience with PTSD? Feel free to share it if you care to.