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PTSD Awareness Month: Recognize the Symptoms and Seek Help

PTSD. These four letters mean many things to many people--most of them troubling, and justifiably so.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops in some people who have “experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Symptoms can show themselves within three months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes it can take years for them to manifest themselves. Most important in this context is they must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD.

For New Yorkers and much of the country, September 11, 2001 was such an event. And in the aftermath I know that I was not alone in having some of the symptoms described by NIMH. Two things come to mind immediately:

  • For the next year, I became nervous on beautiful, blue-sky days. Watching planes fly - an activity that was a thrill for me from childhood - became an anxiety inducing venture;

  • I locked my keys in my car…four separate times. I had never done it before, and it has never happened since. It got to a point where I had to beg AAA not to charge me $150 for the tow truck guy coming to save the day for me that last time.

There are far less “spectacular” events in life that can have a devastating impact on one’s psyche. The death of a loved one, divorce (one’s own or that of their parents), the loss of a job, sudden illness - all of these things can trigger a Fight or Flight response that we may not be able to control. Most important in this context is, what we do to minimize the damage when tragedy strikes, and how do we deal with people who lack empathy or “don’t get it.”

“Just get over it” is a phrase uttered by well-meaning people all the time when dealing with such matters. They believe there is some arbitrary time limit on your healing process. This makes sense to the external world because there is supposed to be logic, rhyme, and reason that take control of such things. But the voices that we hear inside our head when all else is quiet are not necessarily placated by the mere passage of time. That is because emotions are not rational by definition, and the way we feel may not be connected to any set of facts that someone may use to get you to “snap out of it.”

In my view, the most important action that you can take is to acknowledge your own pain in a substantial way. Oftentimes, we put on a happy face for family, friends, and co-workers, even as we struggle to heal the psychological and spiritual damage that has impacted us to our core. Take a stand: own your feelings and take stock of yourself and your actions.

Are you avoiding people or places because they are too closely associated with your trauma? Are you losing sleep, feeling tense, or getting extremely angry in situations that warrant a milder response? If so, maybe it is time to speak with a trusted friend, an elder, or even go for the assessment of a professional. This won’t be easy because you will then have to confront the demon(s) that have taken up residence in your internal command and control center. You will also have to be extremely patient with yourself as you work through the event/events that have troubled your soul so deeply.

Remember, you are not alone. There are people and resources available for you, if you are willing to open yourself up and let positive energy in to quell the turmoil or fill the void that is in your heart. It may take more time than some folks believe appropriate, but so be it. It is YOU who must value self-care to heal yourself; so, please grab a hold of every opportunity to make it happen.

With recent initiatives by The National Center for PTSD and the Federal Government, greater attention is being drawn on this subject. June is designated as PTSD Awareness Month, and June 27th PTSD Awareness Day.

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