Kelly was happy and popular in high school. She was a cheerleader, starred in two school musicals, had been crowned homecoming queen. She even consistently made the honor roll, paving the way for the scholarship she was awarded to a major university several hours away. A year and a half later, and she was almost unrecognizable. She appeared thin, found it very difficult to focus at school or work, had trouble sleeping, lost touch with most of her high school friends, and had stopped participating in clubs/sports she was once so excited about. Even the friends she had made at the university, including her sorority sisters, said Kelly had grown more and more distant over the last 6 months. One friend thought it might have had something to do with a mutual male friend, who had walked her home one night from a party at the beginning of the school year. The next morning, Kelly had been visibly upset, but told her friends she was “just hung over.” After many declined invitations, her friends were able to talk her into going the movies with them. Halfway through the film, Kelly started crying and ran to the bathroom during a rape scene. Her friends couldn’t deny their suspicions any longer.
The Midwestern suburbs where David grew up were known for having a “small town” feel. His parents and siblings seemed like the perfect family on the outside, but inside it didn’t feel so perfect. David’s father drank, and the family never knew what might happen when he did. Usually he got angry, though some nights were worse than others. David was always thinking about his father’s next drunken rage and worried that he, his mother, or siblings would be injured seriously next time. Near the end of his senior year, David’s mother was in the hospital for days after a particularly bad night. She told the doctor and nurses that she had just “fallen down the steps,” and it broke his heart. The next fall, he decided on a college out of state, which he believed was a necessary survival tactic. While there, David had trouble enjoying himself because he felt so guilty for leaving his mother and siblings to fend for themselves. Now, he was almost thirty years old, and he felt like his life was going nowhere. He job-hopped from one dead end job to another. He often self-sabotaged, by skipping out on work for no reason at all, or by drinking too much the night before early workdays. He sensed that his unhappiness came from his experience growing up, though he hadn’t been home in many years.
Miguel had wanted to be an EMT for as long as he could remember. After six years on the job, he was sure he’d responded to hundreds of traumas, accidents, and crimes. He had seen a lot. His friends and families often commented on his ability to keep it cool under pressure and to be able to stomach anything. Recently, Miguel was called to an accident where a little girl died at the scene. Something was different about this accident. For several weeks now, he hasn’t been able to get the image of the accident out of his head. Most nights he can’t sleep because he sees the image of the young girl in his head when he closes his eyes. When he does manage to fall asleep, he often has nightmares about that night. He finds himself worrying about his own daughter, who is around the same age, and worries seemingly irrationally that she isn’t safe. He’s felt anxious at work too, and yesterday he yelled at a co-worker for no reason. He knows he can’t continue to pretend he’s fine.
Trauma can impact people differently
People in Nashville experiencing trauma may respond differently altogether, or differently at different times in their lives, or in differently in response to certain kinds of events. Some people have little or no distress after a traumatic event. Others might develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. There are many factors that may influence your response to trauma. No matter what your response might be, it’s important for you to know — having trouble coping with trauma is not a sign of failure or weakness. Early experiences in childhood, genetics, previous instances of trauma, and many other factors can all impact what you experience after a traumatic event.
Defining Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (often referred to as PTSD) may develop after a “terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm.” PTSD may occur after being harmed, after the harm of a loved one, or by witnessing the harm of others (either loved ones or strangers).
PTSD is typically characterized by mental and emotional discomfort. Some of the symptoms are listed below.
How do I know if I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
No matter how one might feel during a trauma (or serious of traumatic experiences), it’s what happens after the event that determines if additional support in Nashville might be needed. The following behaviors could be indicators of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Avoidance: This refers to ways people may try to mentally or physically get some “distance” from the event. Someone with PTSD in Nashville may avoid going out at the time of day in which the trauma occurred or avoid a particular neighborhood or area where the event took place. Individuals might find themselves trying to avoid memories or feeling, or even trying to numb or distract themselves by excessive eating, drinking, or use of drugs or other substances. These may actually work as a short-term solution to forget how they are feeling or what happened, but long-term, they tend to cause as many problems as they fix.
- Re-experiencing the trauma: This can include bad dreams, nightmares, repetitive unwanted thoughts about the event, or flashbacks. Flashbacks are vivid, intense memories that are experienced so that the individual feels like they are back experiencing the traumatic event all over again, although in reality they are at home, work, or other safe place.
- Changes in cognitions and/or mood: Sudden symptoms of anxiety (excessive worry) or depression (low mood, isolation, loss of interest in usual activities or social networks) can be signs of trauma. An individual with PTSD might blame others or themselves for an event. They may begin to worry that something terrible they witnessed might happen to themselves or someone they love. This is normal to one degree or another, but for persons with PTSD, the worry is excessive, irrational, or clearly out of proportion with reality in some way. On the other hand, persons suffering from PTSD may have trouble remembering the event completely or specific details of the event.
- Arousal: Increases in arousal might be described as self-destructive, hyper-vigilant (constant feeling of being on guard), or aggressiveness. Often, those experiencing PTSD find their “fight or flight” response has been activated, which is the body’s automatic response to a perceived threat. This rush of adrenaline literally prepares the body to attack a threat or run from it. This is a functional, healthy response when you are really in a life-threatening situation, but when that switch is flipped “on” all the time, it can become virtually impossible to concentrate or relax. In children, trauma responses may look very similar to ADHD.
What if I think I might be experiencing PTSD?
If you have experienced some sort of trauma in Nashville and the symptoms we’ve outlined above sound familiar, we can help! A variety of successful treatments for PTSD have been developed in recent years, and Change, Inc. therapists are equipped with many. While treatment length can vary from one person to the next, we’ve compiled a list of things you can begin doing on your own as a road to recovery now:
- Practice relaxation – One key component of therapy for trauma includes re-learning self-regulation. Self-regulation is quite simply the act of self-soothing (emphasis on “self”). It’s how we manage the many thoughts, feelings, and incoming stimuli (sights, sounds, and interactions) throughout the day. You can practice self-regulation on your own, but keep in mind that regular practice is key. One of the easiest ways to relax and soothe yourself, is to slow down and deepen your breathing. Deep breathing can be done anywhere. Start by exhaling for a slow count of five, and then slowly inhale for the same count. Repeat this several times. Usually by the third or fourth breath, you’ll notice a difference. Even if you don’t, keep going.
- Get back in your body – When we are feeling really anxious, and especially after something traumatic, it’s common to feel “disconnected” from our bodies. Feeling “disconnected” is simply the result of another one of our mind’s natural defense mechanisms — a way to enact the phrase, “this can’t be happening.” If this sounds familiar, you might try practicing the following:
- Begin to bring awareness to your senses. Say to yourself (in your mind or aloud) three things you see, hear, and feel right now. You might see the baseball game playing on the television, the sun setting out the window, and your dog napping next to your feet. You might hear the announcers from the game, your neighbors playing outside, and your dog snoring. You might feel the softness of the couch cushion you are sitting on, the coolness of the hardwood floors against your bare feet, and the warmth of your dog’s belly when you pet him.
- Next, name two of each (sight, sound, touch). Narrow your field of awareness to just a few of the things you can see, hear, and touch.
- Finally, name just one of each.
This is an exercise known as “grounding,” like connecting a live electrical wire to a “ground” (which dispels the charge). It helps you return to the immediate moment and your immediate surroundings, and can help lower the risk of flashbacks or dissociation by bringing you into the present moment.
- Talk to a professional – Friends and family can be a great support after a trauma. Still, that might not be enough to start feeling like you again. Consider contacting a professional in Nashville who is trained and experienced with helping clients get their life back after a traumatic experience. We know it might seem scary to reach out for help, but not as scary as what you’re going through right now. You don’t have to do this alone. We’re here and we can help.
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