This is the Worst Part of PTSD
Most people think that PTSD is all about suffering from flashbacks. Through Mrs. Dalloway’s war veteran Septimus Warren Smith and The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s troubled teenager Charlie, audiences have been fed a very specific portrayal of this illness for over 100 years. These characters are important in that they’ve helped to foster an awareness of this disorder, but their creators haven’t painted the whole picture.
I’m here to confidently tell you that flashbacks are not all there is to PTSD. It comes with many consequences. There is one symptom that causes me much more grief than my flashbacks, and that is the constant feeling of blood-curdling fear that surrounds much of my days.
Imagine living a life where you feel afraid all of the time and everything (yes, everything) is a reason to be scared of something. Imagine obsessing about the infinitesimally small probability of bad outcomes during even the best experiences and situations. Try to imagine that your feelings of fear are not tied to any singular event but instead have permeated every aspect in your life.
With this malady, almost everything is deteriorated by “what if”.
For PTSD sufferers, there is no enchantment tied to “what if”. Everything we do, think, and say is steeped in it, and it makes us deeply uncomfortable and afraid. The most troubling part of this thinking is that it usually defies logic in favor of worrying. Irrational fear often outright controls PTSD sufferers.
For a great example of this, I can talk a little bit about my romantic life. My partner has never been crass or mean to me, but my love for him is constantly reduced by “what if” because of the bad experiences I’ve had with other people. Instead of living and playing in the moment, the voices in my head ask: “What if the good times are temporary? What if he starts being mean to you? What if he starts hitting you?” These thoughts usually hit me while we’re having a great time together. I become stifled and immediately go silent, removed from the joy of whatever moment we’re having.
Of course, I have absolutely no reason to think these things about him except for traumatic things that have happened with other people in the past. Instead of basing my ideas on realities of the here and now, I base them on my trauma.
Fear breeds anger. A life of constantly being on the edge of your seat and anticipating the worst doesn’t just make a person grumpy, it causes them to become hysterically outraged by “what if”. And when “what if” surrounds everything we do, it turns us into a ticking time bomb.
On most mornings, I wake up alone because my boyfriend goes to work much earlier than I do. When I first wake up, I usually jolt upright and begin inspecting my surroundings while I call out to see if anyone is around. Before I’ve so much as used the bathroom or lit a cigarette, I begin a thorough scrutiny of my apartment and turn on all of the lights. I fidget with the lock on the front door to make sure that it’s secure. No matter how early it is or how little I’ve slept, I’ve now startled myself so much that I cannot go back to sleep. This often happens in the small hours of the night, and it’s turned me into an exceptionally restless person. From the moment I wake up, I am flooded with “what if”.
Fear is what wakes me up on most days, and it sets the stage for what is often hours of inner turmoil. I spend my mornings performing a whole recon of my triggers, and find solace only in therapeutic exercises to realign myself. The only thing that will improve my life is constant work to escape my fear, and it makes me different from others. I often feel isolated because of my priorities, but I do what I must to try and live a happy and healthy life.
I think that it’s important that people know about this symptom because those of us living with this condition deserve to feel understood. While it isn’t easy for everyone to be open about their mental health, individuals from every walk of life and every mindset can fine-tune their outlook on others to be compassionate. We don’t know what other people are going through, and sometimes knowing a diagnosis doesn’t mean that we understand the full scope of someone’s ailments.
If you can relate to this article, then I hope that you are taking the time to get the help you deserve. It’s your right to try and be happy. If you know or suspect that a loved one is suffering from PTSD or a similar comorbidity, I hope that you are able to move forward with this information to think, speak, and act with empathy.