You don’t have to be a military veteran to suffer from PTSD. As mentioned in the article What is Trauma? there are an infinite number of events that can lead our nervous systems to spark a trauma reaction.
Sometimes, the reaction is temporary. Something horrible happens to us, and for a while we remain “on edge,” have difficulty with the memories, suffer nightmares, or other symptoms of trauma. But for whatever reason, our system is resilient enough to restore our sense of safety and equilibrium after some time has passed.
And sometimes, our reaction just won’t go away on it’s own. Symptoms may even get worse over time, and begin to interfere with our day-to-day lives. It’s at this point that many of us realize we need professional help. This is where a temporary trauma reaction becomes PTSD. It’s similar to a bad allergy attack gaining hold and becoming a bacterial infection. Allergies suck but can be self-treated. A bacterial infection sucks way worse and won’t go away without antibiotics.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The first thing you need to know is that even PTSD is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There are currently two kinds: simple and complex. (Although there’s nothing simple about living with PTSD.)
The difference between the two comes down to the duration of the traumatic event(s) experienced. As you see in the chart below, “simple” PTSD is related to a single event, or even a series of events that happened over a fairly short period of time.
“Complex” PTSD stems from prolonged or repeated trauma. Think months or years of domestic violence. Being held hostage. Growing up in an abusive home. Living in a warzone.
Neither one is “better” or “worse” than the other. They’re just as painful and debilitating to live through. However, Complex PTSD is by nature harder to treat. This is because the long-term duration of the trauma caused more extensive re-wiring of neural connections and of the sympathetic nervous system. (See the article “Your Brain On Trauma” if you haven’t already.)
Especially difficult to overcome is abuse and neglect suffered during childhood, while the brain itself was still developing. Similar to the ancient Japanese practice of foot-binding, the brain is simply not allowed to develop properly.
Difficult, but not impossible. Every day new treatments are being explored, many to great levels of success. We’ll be looking at some of the more promising ones as this website continues to take shape. As I said in the article “What Does It Mean To ‘Heal?‘” we may never reach the place where what happened no longer affects us. But each step forward is a step away from pain.
And as my favorite Beatle is famous for saying, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” (John Lennon)