How to help someone with PTSD – By Haven Strange
Post Traumatic Stress can affect your mind and body for years after an event. It is not limited to a soldier who suffered a horrific war wound. It does not only happen to people who experienced a physical trauma firsthand. It can stem from witnessing a terrible event- such as watching a person commit suicide by jumping off the building before you, or passing an accident scene at the wrong moment and catching a glimpse of a mangled body. It can happen to people who suffer emotional and mental abuse. If you’re wondering how to help someone with ptsd — you’re not alone
It is important to understand that the brain treats mental and physical trauma the same when it comes to Post Traumatic Stress. I hesitate to use the D in PTSD- *disorder* implies a “state of confusion” as the dictionary defines it; hinting that there is something wrong with the person, not the actual survival instinct presented by the brain to ensure the human does not get into that perceived life threatening situation again. The brain cannot distinguish between a physical near death experience and a frightening mental one as the same chemicals were released by the body and the same feelings felt during the event.
I was involved in a horrible car wreck in February; hit by a number of vehicles from all sides in a tiny tunnel. It was unavoidable due to the construction of the tunnel, zero visibility, and 70 MPH conditions. In fact, the wreck I was in was the first of three that day in the same spot, and they have a hundred a year. And I saw how unavoidable it was as I felt and watched the carnage unfold in slow motion. 16 of my bones were jarred into other parts of my body, and I am currently having procedures done three times a week to put them back into their original places. I am healing physically. But the mental ramifications are intense and will take longer to heal.
The mind does a lot of strange things when you experience a trauma. Immediately after, I felt as if I were dreaming. I wandered about the tunnel, willing myself to wake up from this nightmare. The colors were sharp but wavery like under a sheet of water, and… wrong. That evening, I found myself crying freely at no provocation. For days I could not eat more than a couple forced bites at a time. I lost words and could not find them. I would forget the very thing I was talking about. But worst of all were the images.
Movies portray PTS visions like mini films playing in front of your eyes. They almost have it right, and probably portray it about as well as they can.
I was doing a phenomenal job of distracting from the flashes of what happened to me in the tunnel playing on repeat in my brain in the hours after. It was as I was slipping into sleep where the problems arose.
The worst part of the wreck was when I pushed my 911 assist button on my rearview and saw three semi trucks tearing around the corner outside the tunnel entrance. The first one jackknifed, taking up the entire two lanes, flying straight at the two of us already stuck in the tunnel. I was crunched against the cement wall by another vehicle. Many thoughts flew through my mind as I watched it coming in slow motion. I knew there was nowhere to go. My Jeep would be hit again and again by everything coming- it’s not like I could get pushed away into a median- crunching it further and further into the concrete wall.
That was the image the first day. I kept seeing the semi coming at me fast in my minds eye. But I was successful at distracting away and picturing pleasant things. But the moment I fell asleep, the image played freely, so vivid that when the truck hit me in my dream, the impact jolted my entire body so hard that I hit my head on the headboard and woke with a jump and sharp inhale. And a concussion.
The following day, after not much sleep, I had to rent a car and drive through the tunnel. It was the hardest thing I had ever forced myself to do. If I did not have a close person talking me down, even if only on the phone, the panic would have overtaken me.
That night the visions of the semi left me alone for the most part. But the image of an accident victim haunted me.
It was below 20 degrees in the tunnel, and taking hours to clear the wreckage from both sides, so a few of us were placed in the heated cab of a dually. Which was right beside where firemen were cutting into a car to extract the woman inside. I could not help to catch glimpses of her in the three hours we were stuck there.
There is no telling what will happen to your brain after a trauma. You will not be able to control things sometimes, and many of the mental side effects will bring about physical reactions such as loss of eyesight, heavy breathing, a raise in blood pressure, nausea, and even physical pain.
The scariest part about it is I did not even know how bad my physical injuries were until 6 days after the accident. Due to the extensive complications of the accident, my insurance was at a standstill while waiting for the small town Highway Patrol to write reports. And I had to return my rental car that next day- it was too soon after the car wreck and the entire time I drove I suffered a debilitating and frightening non stop panic attack, so it took me four days to get home. The Doctors tell me I did not feel pain for those four days because my mind knew I was not in a position to relax, so it kept the adrenaline pumping until I was home in a comfy, stress free environment. This surely has not helped the PTS; only time will tell how extensive the mental and emotional turmoil will be.
It has been two weeks, and I have yet to get behind the wheel. I will be replacing my Jeep as soon as the insurance company sends the check, but I have plans to drive with a loved one in the passenger seat at first.
The most important thing for you to do after a trauma, be it mental or physical, is to be checked out by a medical doctor- no matter how small the trauma may seem or how good you believe you feel.
I should have gotten checked out after the wreck but I thought I was ok. When I finally got home I was x-rayed the next day when I awoke in major pain. They found that the accident had shifted my bones large degrees, and that tissue was forming in place. It would have been easier and less painful to begin moving my bones back immediately. Now, all the new tissue must be ripped away while replacing my bones.
And the sooner you begin healing the mental aspect, the faster you can expect a full recovery. CBT and EMDR are excellent in the recovery of Post Traumatic Stress. Visiting a licensed therapist is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength. Of knowing you are human and the mind effects are a natural survival instinct. The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep both your body and mind healthy. A therapist is a doctor of the mind, and without the mind being healthy the body will also suffer.
If you are a loved one of someone who has been in an accident, or witnessed or went through any traumatic event, the most important thing you can do is be there for them. First, insist they visit a doctor if necessary, I know I am stubborn when it comes to that and need my loved ones to give me that push. And if anything seems off or wrong, do not hesitate and consult a professional. Then just be there for them without judgment or expectation. Be there night and day as you never know when the mental effects will strike.
Also, anyone in a physical accident, no matter how small, needs to take it easy for at least one day. They need to lie down and be lazy. And one of the best things you can do is offer food. Good, nutritious meals. I am a healthy eater and cook homemade meals, but had it not been for my loved ones feeding me after the accident I would have gone hungry. It was just too much effort to prepare and clean up after meals that I would have happily just not eaten. Make your loved ones eat good, home cooked meals! They need it, especially while healing body and mind.
Keep in mind that one cannot understand what another is feeling and experiencing unless they too have experienced a similar circumstance. Be patient, kind, and understanding, and keep lights and volume to a minimum. The mind is processing a lot of things- lights and sounds just add to the mental noise and inhibit healing.
By simply being there with gentle words of compassion and encouragement, you are the greatest and most healing thing that you can give your post trauma loved one.