Last week, we talked about the importance of talking to the people you love, if you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD. For the person who has gone through the trauma, it can be difficult to talk about what they’re feeling, or even put a finger on what is troubling them. Family members and friends can get frustrated and feel helpless. That’s one of the primary reasons I wrote my book—to bring awareness to this invisible illness, because people often don’t understand it.
It might help to know what symptoms to look for, because when you spot your loved one struggling (or feel that way yourself), you can offer help and support. Being educated is the key to making a change, and eventually, changing the world.
PTSD symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. No one person has the same symptoms at the same time; as with anything, they vary over time and with each individual.
Intrusive memories: These are nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event. These moments can have a profound effect on a person. It can be helpful to talk or reach out for help if you or someone you care about is experiencing this. There were many times during my recovery when a sound or a story on the news would bring what happened to me rushing back to my mind.
Avoidance: It’s understandable that people who have been through a traumatic event don’t want to talk about it, or think about what happened. But complete avoidance is unhealthy, because it just delays dealing with the trauma and its impact on your life. Trust me, I know this from experience.
Negative Thinking and Moods: For people with PTSD, these negative thoughts are more than just having a bad day. It affects their ability to maintain close relationships, creates detachment, and leaves them with a feeling of hopelessness and self-criticism. This may also manifest as feeling numb.
Physical and Emotional Reactions: PTSD is often triggered by something that reminds the sufferer of the trauma they endured, whether that’s a car backfiring or someone shouting. The brain tries to protect the person from more trauma, which can make them easily startled, or constantly on guard. This kind of continual fight-or-flight response can affect sleep, moods, and concentration.
Read up on PTSD, and approach your loved one with compassion and grace. They are undoubtedly struggling, and sometimes just knowing someone is there during the tough days is enough to make the burden easier. This holiday season, give the people in your life the gift of your heart and a shoulder to lean on. For more on my story, please check out my book, You've Got Some Nerve.