That was a good piece, Ben, thank you for sharing. I’ve read similar and can offer only my three cents worth, all my own opinion and limited experience, nothing more. Here’s the piece Ben shared in comments just for reader context of my lengthy reply: http://www.salon.com/2011/11/15/how_ptsd_took_over_america/ The questions/points taken from the article are in bold and my responses are in italics as follows:
Defining PTSD: Psychological rupturing is apt for many of us where a steady barrage of abuses/events as I have experienced one on the heels of another for several years running (for some this lasts decades as in a woman I knew who was held captive by her husband/boyfriend for years) is the catalyst for the full-out condition. I was the last person I would ever think of having PTSD. It was always the victims of violence I worked with or the “weak” people who couldn’t cope with life’s speed bumps… or so I thought… until it happened to me. The thing is sometimes when it is happening, you don’t even know it until afterward… when it all hits you at once…
Over diagnosed? What isn’t? You name it. It’s over-diagnosed, over-prescribed, etc. Why is this? Certainly nothing to do with the patients but the lazy medical community who don’t want to spend the time figuring out exactly what the problem(s) is/are. Drive through medical diagnosis is rampant. A cousin of mine died at a young 52 because of it.
Symptoms: Yes, it’s very hard to even understand when it is happening to you, you cannot make sense of why in any way, shape or form. I liken it to system shocks that just won’t stop. Just when you’ve made sense of things and are able to inch forward, here comes another trainload of shocks/abuses/harm and there you go again, your psyche and coping abilities hammered flat down under the wheels of another determined train.
Disempowering: No. For some who are seeking a label as an excuse for their choices/behaviors, perhaps. I know what “victim mentality” is and I do not like it. ie: “I was abused as a child” came up so often in inmate reports when I worked in Corrections as an excuse that I wanted to vomit. I wanted to say: “But you are an adult now, you realize this, so what can you do about it NOW for yourself?” Especially where repeat offences and recidivism was the pattern. You have only to look at what I’ve done in my life and who I am to know that it takes a great deal to disempower me. PTSD achieved that, I didn’t write for a very long time. Sad for one who claimed to be a writer at just age six because I knew what I wanted to do even then. I’m slowly getting there again.
Over medication: This only counts if you take them and/or abuse them. But again, who is doing the over-medicating? I really detest anything that smacks of blaming the victim/survivor in any way for anything. That’s a cop-out and does not help anyone. Least of all the victim/survivor. This is where trust in an authority figure can be violated because if we are in that fragile state, we trust them to make decisions for us because it is all too much for us to think whether we should even wear one sock or two.
Post Traumatic growth: This is the end of the curve when one is healed from the blows, as well as can be, as I understand it. Nobody endures PTSD with the intent of “staying there” but then could we not say the same of “depression?” The studies on the malleability of the brain and the way it functions play a part here, too. Sometimes, it just shuts us down. As in my case. Blackout blinds for eyelids, nothing, nothing, nothing. Then just when I was coming back from that, another blow. Then nothing, nothing, nothing. Then just when I was coming back from that, another blow… and so on and so on and so on. Growth can only really occur when we are at the end of the curve because each blow threw me back down again. Hoping I am nearing the end of the curve soon. That is when I think we can actually move on without the weight of it all pulling us down. Takes a fair amount of learning and processing and application in my limited experience and I feel for those who cannot even get past the processing stage, it is a horrid, horrid, horrid place to be stuck.
PTSD growth/stress together: I think I am proof of this just by sharing my piece yesterday and still processing, processing, processing as I write, live and try to do more each day. Some days I fail at everything, even self-care and manage only to get on here to write something because I don’t want to let anyone down. That’s better than not caring if I let anyone down which is where I was, I went through the social/obligations motions, woodenly, not because I wanted to, I forced myself to accept invites and show up but it did not help at all. It actually made it worse because I felt more alone among people, as if I were inside me looking out with another me inside me looking out and another and so on… wondering how they could all be talking about such inane, airy fairy, just think positive, oh sunshiny shit that they had no clue what it meant to “feel.” Then it dawned on me once, some of them are doing exactly what I used to. Covering it up, putting on their best face. I felt sorry for them because I knew the sparkliest wife in the room had the biggest philanderer for a husband, that the hostess with mostest was the loneliest woman I’ve ever known and that the dynamic executive just wanted everyone’s approval. I knew then I was getting better, that we are all human, doing the best we know how.
Finding meaning: In my opinion, this is NOT the same thing as condoning the event at all. Rather it contextualizes it so that we do NOT internalize and trap ourselves in that place of powerlessness. That is the fight itself. Acceptance is realistic but only if you feel safe enough to do so. Feeling safe enough has been my biggest challenge, personally. Each time I felt safe and came to terms with “this is what my world is and that’s really okay” a new bomb would drop on my psyche.
Moving on: Revisiting what happened is a necessary part of acceptance in my opinion. Especially when it is so shocking you cannot digest it because you were barely done processing the last blow. If it is cruel behaviour of others you are trying to comprehend, sometimes the final answer is to accept that they are simply cruel natured individuals and only then can you move on.
True happiness: Pursuing happiness, in my opinion, contradicts my experience, rather it finds me, often when I least expect it. The definition of happiness is all relative because I once knew a hermit who was the most contented person I’ve ever met. Last night in conversation with a friend, she told me of a friend who just wrote about true happiness. The three things she said we need are: someone to love, something meaningful to do and structure (oh, gee, I think the word wasn’t structure, if I found out I was wrong, I’ll correct it but I think the word means structure). I can’t think of a better definition right now for me so I’ll just say I agree with that totally. But if we have no one to love, if we have nothing meaningful to do and there is no structure as happened to me, I know that it is very, very taxing. Especially when they happen all at once in rapid succession. The hope that true happiness is possible sustains you on the better days.
Culture prone to post-traumatic growth: Again, in my limited view, I’m going to agree that there are. But I would not say they are cultural so much as faith or philosophical beliefs. I don’t want to always single out Buddhism but it is a way of being that is starting to smack of the piety of all the established religions as if it is an elitist group of people who know better than the rest of us. To each his own, I say, but if you are so Buddhist, why are you so “humanly judgemental” of others and their walk… why claim to be all accepting and yet so apparently reactive when it is happening to you (as in one close Buddhist friend who has been so all of his fifty some years) and yet shows signs of fracture at the slightest stress… in his own life, that is… if it is me or someone else, we just need to learn to be more trusting, peaceful and accepting of everything hurled our way but when it’s him… oh boy… so much for Buddhism. So I would again, say I agree where Buddhist and chinese philosophy ideas as well as some ideas in Western religion align but not where the person and the philosophy disconnect. My inherent dislike of anything that says practise what I preach, not what I practise is probably preventing me from delving into this any further.
That and the fact that I am now very exhausted, Ben. But I wanted to respond with something valuable since the article really did make me think. I thank you for sharing it and hope my lengthy reply gives you a better idea of how PTSD really feels for some of us experiencing it.
(c) November 23 2011 JAuroraMorealist
(Image from wikipedia: regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress)