Medical PTSD

Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I am going to be talking about trauma and how that can impact those of us with chronic illnesses.

In the beginning there is trauma. Something terrible that happened. Something that marked the person deeply in a way that holds on. In many ways, that fight or flight response doesn’t turn off. It just keeps humming in the back ground; certain that something terrible could happen again at any moment. It is an experience that lingers and interferes with their everyday lives. It bites and gnaws; just not letting go.

It doesn’t happen to just those who’ve gone to war. It happens to anyone who has been through something terrible. To those who’ve been raped, beaten, in an accident, seen someone die and many other such things. It is estimated that 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience one traumatic event at some point in their lives, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they will develop PTSD.

Like everything in life, people present differently. Sometimes symptoms don’t show up right away and for others the symptoms occur right after the trauma. There are two types of PTSD. There’s short-term or acute, from which a person can recover after a few months, and chronic or ongoing, where symptoms tend to persist throughout a longer period of time. But with treatment, both kinds can recover and heal.

Nearly 8 million American adults suffer from PTSD in a given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Additionally, about 8 percent of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. These are not small groups of people, yet they seem to be hiding in the shadows all the same. Like most mental illnesses, people with PTSD are often plagued by negative stereotypes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, only 25 percent of people with mental illness feel like others are understanding about their condition. This is a huge problem since stigma often prevents people from seeking proper treatment.

So please offer compassion. It is not all in their heads. The mind is the most complex organ in the body, and related illnesses should be treated as such. Research shows that traumatic stress impacts regions in the brain. In other words, the condition is not something a person can just “get over” or an attitude they adopt just to seek attention. It is a real struggle.

One of the potential causes of PTSD is having a traumatic medical event. This can be a near death experience, a significant conflict with a provider, or having a difficult hospital experience. It’s difficult to define what counts as trauma because it is as unique as the people that it effects. This means that something can be traumatic to you even when other people are not bothered by similar events. The other piece to this is that trauma can be cumulative. This means that the events stack up onto each other and combine to create a larger scheme in our experiences.

When it comes to having chronic illnesses there is plenty of risk for having trauma. Many of us have had significant medical events that have greatly altered out lives. We’ve all experienced conflicts and gas lighting with our providers. Most of us struggled for years before getting our diagnoses. Having pain, injury, serious illness, medical procedures and frightening treatment experiences are just par for the course. Each of these alone is enough, but they can also stack together to create a much more complex picture.

What does this mean for us Zebras and Spoonies? The first thing that it means is that all of us need to be paying attention to how we are doing. Especially given the additional stress that the last two years has added to everything else. Make sure that you are taking care of your mental health along with your physical health. If you think that you might be having symptoms from having experienced trauma, it is important that you see a mental health professional and get assessed. This is essential because PTSD increased the risk for suicide so it is important to know if that’s what’s going on so you can get the proper treatment.

The thing about trauma is that it is like cutting our skin. It’s an injury and it will heal. But like our healed skin, there will be a scar. That scarred place is not as strong as the original tissue was. It is more likely to become reinjured in the future. Our trauma is the same way and these reinjuries are the triggers that we experience. It is important to know your psychological triggers. Just like the triggers for our physical symptoms, we cannot always avoid them, but knowing what they are gives us more options for managing our self care.

The last thing that it means is that we are likely to be triggered while we are receiving the care that we need to manage our illnesses. It can be helpful to have this conversation with your providers so they are aware and can provide trauma informed care. Talking with your support people can help too. They are often the people that take things over when we are out of spoons. It can be helpful for them to have the insight as to why we are struggling. Often times, just understanding why going to the doctors is so hard can make it easier for them to support us.

Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. I hope that you all find peace and wellness. Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

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