What is PTSD and why it's not just confined to the battlefield
I write in my book How To Heal From Trauma And PTSD about not just the effects of trauma, but also what quantifies as PTSD. In the extract below you will read that PTSD is something that can happen to anyone.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has only recently started to be recognised by the mainstream medical profession, yet remains relatively unheard of. People associate post-trauma with soldiers coming back from war. The truth is that trauma is not confined by the hedgerows of battlefields. It can happen to anyone at any time. People in the emergency services, for instance, are involved in dealing with highly stressful and traumatic experiences on an almost daily basis. Constant abuse or bullying can also trigger someone to go into fight-or-flight. It can happen at any age and manifests over time, it is not instant. PTSD can be triggered by anything that challenges your sense of safety, security and survival. Symptoms often develop shortly after the event, but in some instances it may be years after the initial trauma or the accumulation of events following before PTSD is recognised.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, is not one thing, it is an amalgamation of many things all clumped on top of eachother, I describe it in the book as having many aspects. What does this mean? Well depression can be a part of what makes up PTSD, so too can: anxiety, anger, feeling unworthy, isolation, apathy, and many other aspects. If you go in to a warzone you can understand feeling anxious and constantly on-edge. A person will adapt to cope in the environment they have been placed, if there long enough they will transform – be re-programmed – to survive in those conditions. If the environment is changed suddenly or a person's roots or Comfort Zone is threatened PTSD may result.
Living in the fear response is what can be deemed as PTSD, in my view of it.
What is the Fear Response
The fear response is the fight-or-flight mechanism that is inbuilt into our nervous system, without it you might die. When our ancestors went hunting for food this mechanism was useful because they would either fight or flee danger. Once the threat or hunt was over their nervous system would dis-engage the fight-or-flight fear response and the body would return to its natural state of equilibrium and balance, to continue living in harmony with Mother Nature.
When danger was perceived the fight-or-flight fear response would engage and the body would pump out stress hormones – primarily cortisol – making it anxious and ready to run and seek out potential threats, or engage in combat.
It's when we stay in fight-or-flight mode, and it never reaches a conclusion, returning to equilibrium, we never fight back or run away, that PTSD becomes an issue. I called this part of un-concluded fight-or-flight, the 'freeze' response because we don't know what to do and just become immobilised, thus staying agitated as stress hormones continue cycling around the body not being expended in the manor intended.
I explain this in more detail in the book but primarily PTSD and all of its associated aspects are as a result of an over-abundance of stress in the body. We need some stress in the body, this good stress is called eustress. If we had no stress in the body and just became docile we might get run over because we didn't look to cross the road, or not be competitive at sports, for example. So some stress is good for you, too much stress is bad for you. The answer to this problem how I see it is to manage your stress levels. I explore stress management techniques in my book How To Heal From Trauma And PTSD
The earlier in life a person experiences trauma the less they have created their foundations in the world and know who they are. When a child's world is rocked or torn apart by trauma their reference point to return back to may not be ingrained in their nervous system so they will not know who or what they are, and spend a lifetime trying to figure that out. As Helen explains in the TED talk presentation below she was so busy being a human doing, not a human being she didn't know what was happening to her. Her roots and foundations were ripped apart as a refugee child, as a result, in later life she developed PTSD; but didn't let that stop her.