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LIVING ON THE EDGE: Life with Non-Combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD-non-combat-on edge-tree dangling

Bob’s family and friends notice that he can easily become agitated. Certain situations trigger a reaction in Bob that those around him don’t understand. He doesn’t “warm-up” to people easily and often keeps to himself. It’s difficult for Bob to adjust to changes in his life. For instance, when meeting a new manager, Bob appears guarded and instinctively withdraws. Bob “checks out” every new person he meets. Often, his emotions don’t appear to match the challenges of interpersonal relationships. He “bristles” when receiving feedback on his job. Bob is “edgy.” He says he’s waiting for “the other shoe to drop,” which impairs his ability to get promoted. The people who know Bob best believe that he doesn’t live up to his full potential. This causes Bob significant distress. What people don’t know is that Bob was abused as a child by someone he should have been able to trust. He’s never told anyone about the abuse because he feels shamed by the experience. This has left Bob feeling uneasy, distrustful, and anxious of people in authority over him.

Susan doesn’t like to drive. She only makes short trips around town to do her errands, so she doesn’t get out of the house much. Her neighbors describe her as “reclusive.” She doesn’t attend many social events if the invitation means she has to drive at night or on a highway. Susan gets anxious and uneasy even when riding with someone else she knows to be a good driver. She can’t explain it but she her body begins to shake uncontrollably when she buckles her seatbelt. She experiences heart palpitations, begins to sweat, feels dizzy, and reports having a strange “out-of-body” experience as the car begins to move. This is distressing to her. She wants to be able to drive herself. She wants to have friends. She craves her independence. What makes it worse for her is when she hears people say, “What’s the big deal? All normal adults drive.” And she becomes frustrated when she perceives herself as a burden to her friends and family because she must rely on them to take her to appointments or grocery shopping. What many people don’t know is that Susan was in a car accident several years ago. Since then it’s been difficult for her to feel safe when riding in a car and she reports that the anxiety is overwhelming and embarrassing to her.

Who Has PTSD?

You may know someone who has had a traumatic experience similar to Bob’s or Susan’s. Often people live with untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Their friends and family know something is different about them. They may even know about a traumatic experience in that person’s life but haven’t made the connection between the trauma and PTSD. Why? Well, the symptoms of PTSD that have been popularized in the media and in movies have created a stereotypical view of what PTSD is supposed to look like. When you think of a person having PTSD your mind may have an image of a soldier who, after having been in combat, drinks heavily, has flash-backs at the sound of a car backfiring, wanders the streets homeless, or perpetrates violence toward others. However, there are people with PTSD who have never been in a combat situation or served in the military. These people may not have symptoms of PTSD that are as extreme as those observed in some combat veterans. Yet, they have had experiences in their lives that put them at a high risk for developing PTSD. Other traumas that are associated PTSD include:

  • sexual assault

  • motor-vehicle accidents

  • witnessing the death of someone else

  • witnessing a natural disaster or providing aid during a natural disaster

  • hearing of the death of a close friend or relative who died as a result of a trauma

  • being the victim of domestic violence

  • being in a situation where one fears they may lose their life.

PTSD-a common mental health disorder

PTSD is a common mental health disorder affecting 8.7% of people during their lifetime. Up to one in three people who experience a traumatic event develop PTSD. PTSD causes different people to react in different ways and it can be very disabling. Yet when treated appropriately, around 50% of adults with PTSD may recover within 3 months. In the case of more complex trauma, some may be in treatment for over a year.

What to look for

The core symptoms of PTSD are:

  • re-experiencing a trauma psychologically such as memories that put one in a “fight, flight or freeze” state

  • avoiding reminders of the trauma that might trigger re-experiencing

  • emotional numbing using destructive coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol

  • hyper-arousal manifested through irritability, being jumpy, constantly "on alert" or feeling like one is “on edge”

  • de-personalization and de-realization such as the feeling that one is looking down on themselves from above or feeling like they are “not themselves”

  • an overwhelming sense of guilt such as questioning “Why me? Why did I survive?”

If believe that you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD and considering working with a mental health counselor or therapist. You can give us a call at Olive Branch Family Therapy, PLLC at (919) 428-7746 where we have can help you get the skills you need to cope with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We want you to feel like you are on solid ground instead of living on the edge of life. We will help you get back to a healthy, happy and successful life.

Blog Author: James L. Machado Workman is a License Marriage & Family Therapist and Board Certified Chaplain.

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