‘Although I have no problem, most of the time, watching… footage of the [9/11] disaster…, I can no longer listen to ‘God Bless America’… personal recitations, read certain poems or… eulogies without a gut reaction that brings on the tears. I know that I will carry this with me for the rest of my life… And if I am in an enclosed location when that certain combination of sound and vibration hits, it is ‘all over’ for a couple of seconds until…[it] changes enough to not be ‘a threat’. 1
‘The thought [in 19th century America] that physical injury led to PTSD-like symptoms was supported by European reports of “railway spine.” As rail travel became more common, so did railway accidents… Of note, Charles Dickens was involved in a rail accident in 1865 and wrote about symptoms of sleeplessness and anxiety as a result of the trauma’ 2
These days, the terms trauma and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) are familiar to us – but what, actually, are they?
What we do know is that their effects on sufferers, and often their close ones, can be devastating. Despite this some people may not realise they are suffering from the effects of trauma.
A traumatic event can happen to you but it does not mean automatically that PTSD will follow. You may be ‘traumatised’ or ‘stressed’ for some time but for most people life will get back to normal eventually.
‘PTSD is a longer-term condition where one continues to have flashbacks and re-experiences the traumatic event. In addition…there must be a high level of ongoing distress and life impairment.’ 2
This can happen as a result of events including, for example:
- childhood sexual abuse
- physical or sexual assaults
- traumatic births
- medical procedures
- or being witness to traumatic incidents.
‘For individuals with PTSD, the traumatic event remains, sometimes for decades or a lifetime, a dominating psychological experience that retains its power to evoke panic, terror, dread, grief, or despair.’ 2
Sufferers can experience, as if out of the blue, vivid feelings, sounds, sensations and emotions. They may not know why, or may have just the smallest fragment of memory. Their symptoms may be triggered by a voice tone, touch, or a smell, for example. They can also be hyper vigilant, have recurrent nightmares, or ‘intrusive’ daytime images or thoughts.
They may try to block memories, thoughts or feelings associated with the event and avoid reminders like people, places, activities, objects, or situations. Despite these attempts, memories can emerge years later.
Often there can be persistent emotions like anxiety, fear, anger, guilt or shame, with little interest in activities. There may be feelings of detachment, aggressiveness, self-destructive behaviour, hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle, and concentration and sleep problems.
But you don’t have to suffer this alone.
Research and treatment of trauma has made exponential strides in the last three decades. If you have suffered a traumatic/ disturbing event, or are living with PTSD, there are many different treatment options.
No one treatment works for everyone but, in general, those who receive a proven treatment with a good therapist show a noticeable improvement in their symptoms, and some may no longer have PTSD.
Proven treatments include Schema Therapy imagery rescripting , Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR); cognitive processing therapy and Somatic Experiencing.
‘This was an hour each week that became a refuge where I could unravel the mystery of how I had become so damaged and re-construct a sense of myself that was whole, not fragmented, peaceful, not tormented…’ 3
1 Victor Guarnera, former Chief Technical Advisor for Security Systems to the World Trade Department, a survivor of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001
2 Matthew J. Friedman, MD, PhD Senior Advisor and former Executive Director, National Center for PTSD, Virginia, USA.
3 Patient ‘Nancy ’quoted in The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk