What is PTSD and how does it affect us?

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June is ‘PTSD Awareness Month’, and in order to raise awareness about PTSD and allow people to heal from it, we need to understand what it is. PTSD is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that occurs following the experience (through first-hand or witnessing) of something traumatic: military combat, natural disasters, accidents, or physical and sexual abuse to name a few.

Individuals who survive trauma and have stress reactions (or re-traumatization) can develop PTSD, and it can have a damaging effect both physically and mentally. The effects of PTSD can range from flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, detachment, etc. However, many people with PTSD develop additional disorders such as depression, addiction and various other physical and mental health issues.

If some of these things sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. Trauma is an epidemic. Whether it’s you, or someone you know, it affects us all.

But there is hope in healing.

“In healing from trauma, it’s not so much what happened to you, but how you deal with it that has the most impact on how you cope. I used to work with a veteran who had just returned from Afghanistan. He told me he believed he would be better when he no longer remembered his trauma. And I said, “And then you’ll be dead.” It’s impossible to erase the memory of trauma; it’s how you deal with it that matters.” — Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

PTSD manifests itself in three major categories for sufferers: hyper-arousal, re-traumatization and numbness.

  • Hyper-arousal: this is when a person’s physiology is in high-gear, not being able to “reset”. Symptoms of this include: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, irritability, anger, panic and agitation.
  • Re-traumatization: symptoms of this include nightmares or flashbacks, over-exaggerated reactions to triggers, and completely re-experiencing the trauma whether physically or mentally.
  • Numbness: experiencing numbness looks like: loss of interest in passions/life, hopelessness, isolation and avoidance of your thoughts or feelings.

People with prolonged symptoms resulting from trauma, will oftentimes develop mental illness, which comes with its own set of symptoms as well. So what can we do when something like trauma is taking over our minds? Simply put, we change our minds.

“We change our minds by putting feelings into words. Doing this develops important neural networks in the brain that help to integrate trauma. Understanding our feelings, tolerating our feelings, and being able to communicate them with significant people in our lives is often a culmination of all the steps of healing.” — Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

Barthel and Theo Fleury explore this topic in detail in Chapter three of ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’Healing Conversations, where Theo explains how these practices have helped him. And it’s been encouraging to see that so many trauma survivors are finding solace and guidance in reading ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’, and we encourage those of you who have to share your stories with us on social media.

— Written by Amber Craig

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