Brandon tries to swallow but his throat is parched. He can feel his heart pounding, the poor thing slamming against his ribs like an animal wanting to break free. Something wrong is about to happen. Something very, very wrong. He wants to run but he knows he’s cornered. It’s too late. His palms sweat as the door creaks open. He braces himself for the worst.
In comes his mother, bringing with her two bags of groceries. Wait, what?
It turns out Brandon’s fear isn’t called for. It’s not another intruder coming to get him – it’s just his mom. No, Brandon isn’t simply overreacting. In fact, there is only one thing he hates almost as much as his door creaking open: histrionics. Someone did break into his house. He was gagged with his own underwear, bound, and threatened with a sharp knife. That was more than a year ago.
What it is
A violent, terrifying ordeal can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that messes up the fight-or-flight response. In Brandon’s case, fear, considered a healthy reaction that alerts him to life’s many threats, becomes a threat – a threat to his peace of mind, to his sanity, and to his life the way he knows it.
What it isn’t
Many conditions are stigmatized simply because they involve the mental and emotional spheres of health. I believe it’s unnecessary, not to mention unfair. It’s a good thing that we have the power to reduce the stigma associated with post-traumatic stress disorder!
We can start by dispelling some of the most common misconceptions surrounding PTSD.
Myth #1: It’s exclusive to war veterans - PTSD isn’t just for people who survived war. In fact, it’s not just for people who are victims of violence. Witnesses are victims, too. Seeing something horrible happen to a loved one – or even a stranger – can be enough to put someone in a constant state of stress.
Myth #2: It’s a sign of weak character - I would put this in the same vault of archaic misconceptions as, “Men don’t cry.” Even the strongest, bravest soldiers can suffer from PTSD.
Myth #3: It can be triggered by any traumatic incident - Not every traumatic experience can lead to PTSD. According to the fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), one must have been exposed to serious injury, sexual violence, or death (actual or threatened).
Myth #4: It occurs right after the trauma – and should go away on its own - Trauma has no shelf-life. Something traumatic that happened when you were a kid is still a traumatic incident in your adult years. Conversely, there may be some delay before signs and symptoms become evident.
Myth #5: It always comes in the form of fear - Although fear is common, it isn’t always the dominant emotion. Manifestations of post-traumatic stress are categorized into four clusters:
- Re-experiencing – reliving the dreaded moment while either awake or asleep (in the form of dreams)
- Negative alterations in both thought and emotion – stubbornly thinking you’re to blame for what happened
- Avoidance – avoiding anything (conversation, places) that serves as a reminder
- Alterations in reactivity and arousal – hyper vigilance destructive or aggressive behavior, sleep disturbances, and recklessness.
Myth #6: It will always keep you from doing your work - Always is such a strong word and quite inaccurate. Just like many other health conditions, PTSD is something that can be treated and managed.
People who suffer from PTSD are victims of something violent enough to traumatize, only to feel victimized yet again by being subjected to the unfair misconceptions surrounding their condition. Because of the associated stigma, they may hesitate before seeking treatment. More people with PTSD will get professional help if they don’t dread the diagnosis. This makes it important for you, me, and everyone else to help ensure that the post-traumatic stress doesn’t come with a corresponding dose of shame.