Anxiety, Articles, Mental health

Living with PTSD: what is it and how to cope

PTSD is a group of symtoms that occur after a traumatic event

Have you ever had the feeling of running away from everything that surrounds you because in your mind you know life gets better this way? Have you ever moved from one apartment to another, from one city to another, just to discover that your misery is still there, curled up in your soul like a possessive spirit?

If you ever experienced anxiety from toxic relationships or even abuse you know that this is how living with PTSD feels like. You have to ‘run’ from the pain by having addictions, dieting or watching too much TV. You need to change places, cut off more people from your life, fearing that the ‘abuse’ will come back to haunt you. Your goal is to not experience the abuse again or meet people who remind you of it. And you’ll spend a lot of energy doing this.

Since I moved to Finland, I lived through a traumatic experience at work, a relationship with a narcissistic man and few toxic relationships with landlords, roommates, and friends. I know I couldn’t have prevented those relationships from happening but, I still feel guilty sometimes for letting my guard down.

The symptoms

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event, accident, war scenario, physical, emotional or sexual abuse. You can also develop PTSD from witnessing a terrorist attack.

The disorder manifests itself as a disturbance in the person’s life. This person will refuse to relieve the event or talk about it. After that, he or she will want to avoid the place where the event took place. The mere thought of the event makes the person upset. Here are some of the most common symptoms:

-Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event

-Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)

-Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event

-Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event

-Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event

-Avoiding places, activities or people who remind you of the traumatic event

-Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world

-Hopelessness about the future

-Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event

-Difficulty maintaining close relationships

I have developed PTSD from working with a narcissistic boss and a colleague for 5.5 years. The colleague verbally attacked me one day and, instead of being fired by my boss, he was given a ‘warning. When I quit the job, I told my former boss what I thought of this colleague and she defended him like it was her son. The worst part is that he also harassed a younger colleague of ours and my boss thought that is totally OK.

When you go through a traumatic experience and are faced with a complete disregard for human safety, boundaries, and morality, it leaves scars. You will have trouble trusting others and live with the dread that the event is going to happen again.

For example, if you had a bad boss, you will have trouble finding work or even wanting to ever work again. If your partner cheated on you, you’ll not want to date again.

If you were in an airplane and was unlucky to experience a powerful turbulence that knocked your glass to the floor and shook you in your seat for minutes or hours in a row, you’ll probably never fly again.

See how PTSD affects you?

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time

Mark Smith, a therapist I follow on YouTube, told a story of a friend of his who happened to be in her house on the day when a shooting occurred right across the street.

Apparently, one of the neighbors shot his children and himself after finding out his wife cheated on him.

This friend discovered that she wasn’t the only one traumatized by the sounds of the gun and the yelling across the street. A family of birds living in a nest built under her roof suddenly stopped attending to their babies. The parents didn’t fly out to get sticks and hey for the nest anymore. After a few months, the nest collapsed with the babies in it.

Mark’s friend buried the babies and tried to reassemble the nest herself. The bird parents were in such a disturbing mental state that they lost their natural ability to care for their own children. They even forgot how to make a nest.

Fortunately, after a year, the parents got their strength back and started building a new home. This is a story that makes me cry each time I hear it. A tragedy doesn’t affect only the victim or the abuser. It touches everything around.

Don’t blame yourself for living with PTSD

I know that those who struggle with PTSD can blame themselves for what happened to them. Truth is, it was never your fault.

How can you predict that you’re going to be bullied at work by colleagues? How one can know beforehand that your roommate is bad news or that the guy you fell in love with is a psychopath? These things take time. You can’t prevent traumatic events from happening. You were just unlucky or you just couldn’t see that your partner had serious issues.

And sometimes, you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Life is not perfect and neither are you.

The most important thing is to move on from a traumatic situation or not let the abuser continue to affect your life. Move on and take care of yourself with therapy and the support of your friends and family.

I believe that, in a higher sense, these events are good lessons for us to learn.

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6 thoughts on “Living with PTSD: what is it and how to cope

  1. Thanks for sharing, Marlena. Many people only associate PTSD with military but there are countless ways people of all ages experience traumatic events and the effects of PTSD. Talking about it needs to be normalized in every day life.