I know, I know… That’s a cheesy title.
I didn’t want to just title this post, “What is PTSD?”, because that would imply that I’m going to rattle off a list of diagnostic criteria. And I’m not doing that in this post. Today, we’ll talk about the different layers of where PTSD comes from and how it develops.
– The first ingredient in PTSD is a survival reflex that is hard-wired into the brain of every animal. This reflex drives our response to perceived threat, both in terms of how our body reacts, as well as by producing specific emotional reactions. We’ll break down the discussion of this instinct into a number of posts, because it’s a bunch of information. Don’t skip over this stuff – it’s important, and it’ll help you understand what makes your PTSD “tick”. Some of these posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.
– The second ingredient is one that you don’t get in your average, garden-variety, civilian PTSD. That ingredient is your military training. Although civilians get PTSD, and theirs can be just as severe as yours – the flavour of yours is different because of your training. Since PTSD is based on your response to threat, your training gives you a lot more to work with in that department as compared to the average civi.
– These first two ingredients on their own aren’t enough to cause PTSD. For that to happen, you need the third ingredient – and that’s trauma, or a threat to your safety or that of someone else. Trauma overwhelms your ability to respond. After a trauma has happened, it also changes what we see as a threat (for instance, fireworks or crowds may start to feel threatening after you’ve been exposed to combat).
The icing on the cake as it were – what keeps feeding the PTSD once you have it – includes things like a lack of good information; not having the proper tools for coping with your symptoms; and blaming yourself for not being able to “just get over it”. This is what keeps you trapped and makes it hard to get a leg up on your PTSD.
Once you know what PTSD is made of, it gets easier to take it apart, and that’s really where we’re going with this: PTSD is an enemy that you weren’t trained to fight. Once you have a good sense of what it’s made of and how it works, you’re in a much better position to defend yourself and to fight back.
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.