Have you wondered why there needs to be days commemorating different mental health issues that we as humans struggle with? What is there to celebrate one may ask, or why is there a need to remember them? Isn’t it obvious when people suffer or struggle with mental health difficulties?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or otherwise commonly known as PTSD is one of the many mental health struggles that one cannot visibly see. It develops due to a person experiencing one or many traumatic events which may include physical or sexual abuse and assault, war-related experiences, motor vehicle accidents, man-made or natural occurring disasters and any other threats that may lead to fear or loss in a person’s life.
June is PTSD Awareness month, and it is important to highlight and showcase the presence of “invisible” struggles to reduce the stigma that may surround individuals who are trying to live courageously through their experiences.
In working with individuals who have struggled with PTSD, I constantly find myself wondering why these things happened to them and if it was so painful, why do our brains and bodies constantly remind us of what had happened? It feels like we are stuck in this time loop – a Groundhog Day experience. Individuals have shared intrusive thoughts and flashbacks when speaking about past traumatic relationships which pulls them back into scary spaces. I’ve witnessed individuals cry and regress into “child-like” states or stay frozen, almost as if they are re-experiencing that one impactful moment.
In my experience, I recognise that though it is scary, our brains and bodies are not here to hurt us or put us in danger. In fact, they try to do the very opposite. Our brains and bodies tend to remind us of our past experiences so that we don’t get anywhere close to engaging in the same behaviours or putting ourselves through the same experiences. However, as one would imagine, this can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, we feel “protected and safe” on the other hand, we don’t allow ourselves to experience or get through the problems which may lead to a restriction on our lives. Not being able to drive after a car accident may increase our traumatic memories, reducing our mobility and hence having a negative impact on our lives.
If you are an individual working through PTSD, please know that you are not “crazy” and your body is not “mad” for putting you through this. You did not ask for it and neither are you reinforcing it on purpose. We know that you would want to get through this.
As a clinician working with individuals with PTSD, one of the ways to get through the stuck image is to revisit the traumatic experience whilst pairing it with a different mental picture. We would encourage our clients to think about how they may have wanted to experience that difficult moment and what they may have needed someone to say or do for them at the time. Imagery rescripting can be a helpful skill to develop and work with your clinician to help one get through that stuck image. It is also important to recognise that you have lived THROUGH the experience – that is, you are not stuck in that space and factually many things have happened since then. Allowing yourself to complete the story or the narrative can also help the body and brain reorientate to the present moment which helps to reduce the intensity of the fear or anxiety that comes with feeling helpless and stuck.
Aside from playing a professional role as a clinician, we can be humans who show up for our fellow friends / community who may be experiencing these symptoms. As a caregiver or a friend, it may help to provide space for the person who is struggling with PTSD to have time to reconnect with the things that they may be trying to avoid. Whether it is a relationship or a tangible issue, it may require some gentle and compassionate conversations to help get the person back into their lives. It is also important to pace with them rather than feel like we need to push them into getting over their experience. Sometimes, we want them to get over their problems so that we feel better and less helpless. So, notice that if this is happening, pull back and see where your friend or loved one is at and truly practise BEING WITH or ALONGSIDE them to work through their difficulties.
With support, care and rapport, one can work towards preventing PTSD symptoms from getting bad to worse. May we continue to build a more inclusive and supportive community for all who struggle with mental health difficulties.
To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org.