Saturday, August 18, 2012

PTSD Explanation

So, my friend/beta/editor Ray--who you know as LA Knight--wanted me to explain about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, aka PTSD. I have had PTSD since I was a freshman in high school, though I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19. We knew I had it because my dad’s had it since he was 28 or so, and my brother was having the same issues at the exact same time.

PTSD is basically when a person is so traumatized by an event that they cannot get over it. Often, their mind blanks the event out entirely, and over time, it returns to them. This is especially true when it wasn’t just one thing that happened, but a sequence of events that could drive you crazy if you continued to deal with it all at once. One person who had this was Jessica Lynche, who had three hours lost to her memory, but in an interview two years later, she said she was starting to remember some things that had happened. This also happened to my dad, who gained the memories back over the course of two decades, and my brother who is still remembering things very slowly. One time, my brother had a bunch of memories come back at once, and he literally passed out.

Many soldiers get PTSD due to war, though my father has it due to a series of attacks that happened in high school that were so gruesome that all involved ended up in jail, and several others were killed. My brother, my best friends, and me all have PTSD due to "bullying," though we prefer to call it what it really was: torture. I’m not going to go into details, as I could fill several novels with what I experienced alone, but I will explain just how PTSD affects me in everyday life.

When you have PTSD, what happens is that you are affected by a trigger of some kind, and go into a flashback. A trigger can be anything that reminds you of what happened. In a comic that I love, ElfQuest, a character flashes back due to an earring that she wore when she was raped. She pulls away from the earring, curls into a ball and begins sobbing hysterically, while in her mind, she relives the rape moment by moment for several minutes. A big trigger for soldiers is fireworks. The big boom reminds them of cannon fire, and the ones that are a bunch of little explosions sound like rapid gunfire. A big trigger for me is schools. Any school. If it looks like a school, I go into this strange sensation where I feel like I’m a little kid again.

So, a trigger is just something that reminds you. A sound. A sight. Smell is a BIG one. Even a touch. The biggest one for me and my friend Scott is touch. If someone comes up behind us and grabs us, or touches Scott’s hair, we go into attack mode. For both of us, a lot of kids would come up behind us, grab us, and start hitting. They’d get her long hair especially, since when you have someone by the hair and jerk them around, they can’t see. Once, a guy I was dating thought it would be funny to come up behind me and scared me. I literally thought I was being attacked again, as I have been hundreds of times. I was reading at the time, and I began hitting him with the book, and couldn’t stop myself until I worked it out of my system. I was screaming at him, too. When I ran out of energy, I sat back down and began sobbing hysterically, until I got myself under control. The poor guy didn’t even know what was wrong for several minutes. Scott has a similar reaction with her hair. But she’s been trained more than I, and can really hurt someone.

When you are flashing back, you are immersed so deeply into a memory that you forget what is going on and who the person in front of you is, or where you are. The present is gone. Entirely. Only through training can you force your mind to pull out of it enough to return to the present, and sometimes, stop whatever it is you are doing--like hitting someone with a book. The way you think, the way you feel, what you see, all of it is in the past, sometimes a decade or more gone. Several years ago my dad flashed back while driving (luckily it was a straight road, or we would’ve gotten lost). He had trouble reminding himself he was 50 years old, and not 15. He also had to remind himself that he was speaking to me and a friend, not his buddies from high school. But at that point, my dad had been dealing with it for more than 20 years, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. But for my friends who are still dealing with it, it is very hard to pull out of it. Often, if the memory is a feeling, they don’t even realize it until they’ve been in the memory for several hours, and we’ve been fighting over something that never happened.

It’s not easy to describe the feeling of flashing back, but LA does a great job of it in chapter 72 of Once Upon a Time, her Hellboy 2 fanfic. Dylan goes through flashbacks A LOT. In 72, you can really see what it does to the psyche. Dylan has been trained, and is in fact a psychiatrist who knows all about how to do it, to pull herself out of the past, though when Nuada is there it all goes out the window because she cares for him so much. That is what a flashback does to you. You don’t know who you’re dealing with (Dylan couldn’t remember that Balor was NOT Westenra), and you don’t really remember where you are (Dylan tells herself she’s not in the asylum), or even who you are (Dylan had to remind herself that she wasn’t a child anymore, that she was strong enough to handle this).

Now, this may seem a little extreme or crazy if you’ve never experienced this, but let me put it in perspective. In the state of Arizona, where I live, when you have really bad PTSD (I think it’s in classes of extremity, 1-5), like class 3+, it is considered a SMI, Serious Mental Illness. Another SMI is Schizophrenia. That means that you can apply to the state for aid in paying for your medication--yes, there is medication, though I’ve never been bad enough for it, like legal marijuana and antidepressants.

Also, the way that you are diagnosed isn’t that there’s one thing that you have, like flashbacks, and you have PTSD. Nope. It’s because you have EVERY type of anxiety disorder there is, as well as (often serious) depression, audile and visual hallucinations, manic-depressive moods swings, intense nightmares, insomnia, body pain due to muscle tension, OCD, temporary amnesia, and probably more that I and LA can’t think of.

So to recap, PTSD is a serious mental illness that can lead to other illnesses. What happens is that something will trigger a flashback, during which the person cannot be in the present and will react to something that isn’t happening. The reaction is often violent. With therapy, a person can learn how to pull out of a flashback, though the stronger the flashback the harder it is. It is dangerous to touch a person with PTSD during flashbacks, and you should always learn the triggers of someone’s flashbacks so as to avoid issues. Any major traumatic event can cause PTSD, and it is very common in victims of violence, and especially soldiers.

Does that make sense?

If you have any further questions, you can comment here, hit me up on twitter, or pm LA, as she also has it and can answer questions also.


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