Unless you live with post-traumatic stress disorder, it can be hard to understand why an event from the past can still affect someone now. You may wonder why they just can’t “forget about it,” or get confused when seemingly low-stress situations evoke a strong reaction.

But for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, their brain actually changes. They don’t need to be told to forget about their trauma — what they need is support and understanding. To find out what else people with PTSD need from their loved ones, we asked people in our community who have PTSD what their family members or friends can do to support them.

Here’s what they had to say:

1.Don’t assume because I have PTSD I’m mentally weak. I’m actually strong. I have survived.” — Riley Lee

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2. “Just because I haven’t been to war, doesn’t mean I can’t still have PTSD. Keep that in mind.” — Melinda Michelle Tegarden

3. “Respect my space when I decline to do something with you I think will trigger me.” — Ashley Laverdiere

4. “Understand that boundaries are important to me.” — Ashley Brown

5. “Help me make new memories. Focus on the present and finding joy, while being understanding of your symptoms of PTSD.” — Chrissy Borzon Thompson

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6. “Help me ground. Speak softly. If I ask, don’t touch me. I’m trying to get control of it, but PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal trauma.” — Nita Daniel

7. “Understand this type of thing doesn’t find a solution overnight.” — Aris Corvin

8. “I’m accepting this as my reality. I’m trying to learn how to work with it instead of against it. Please try to do the same.” — Miranda Tymoschuk

9. “Understand when I don’t want to open up about the trauma I’ve experienced, that doesn’t mean I’m not suffering.” — Emily Waryck

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10. “Learn about my triggers. Sit with me without opinions or suggestions. Let me cry on your shoulder. Validate my feelings.” — Claire Leedy

11. “Try not to minimize my feelings or symptoms. They’re indeed real and not imagined.” — Lili Rae

12. “Educate yourself about it.” — Stephanie Funke

13. “Simply listen.” — Kimberly Castro Moreno

14. “My PTSD affects every single part of my life. It has changed me and the way I view everything. Support, comfort and compassion is vital.” — Melissa Davis

15. “Allow me to talk about my past without saying, ‘Stop living in the past.’ A listening ear for the moment is all I need.” — Tatauq Helena Muma

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16. “I had a new friend ask me what my triggers were so she could avoid them. She didn’t ask about my traumas out of curiosity, she actually cared and wanted to make sure she doesn’t do or say anything to accidentally trigger me. It was awesome.” — Holly Cooper McNeal

17. “If you don’t understand what it means, please take 10 minutes and look up what it is. Just because my scars aren’t visible doesn’t mean they aren’t there.” — Erin Nichole

18. “Don’t tell me my coping mechanisms are silly or irrational. If I need to sleep with the lights on to avoid flashbacks, let me. If I need to lay on the floor, don’t question me. Allow me to be the judge of what I need. Let me take the lead on where and how I want your support. It may not makes any sense to you, but for me, it’s everything.” — Tori Summerhill Fox

19. “Understand that some situations are scary. I cannot tell you why. It’s just a feeling. If I am emotionally uncomfortable and need to bail, I am not being a baby.” — Marie Duke

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20. “Don’t be afraid to talk to me. My fears and panic attacks aren’t contagious. Just simply be there for me.” — Mandy Ree

21. “Understand that my reactions to you or situations may have nothing to do with what’s going on in the present and everything to do with what happened in my past.” — Kristen Rubart

22. “Believe me.” — Tish Patricia Phillips

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.


On June 27, 2015, nine days after the birth of my daughter, my brain bled. One moment I sat wrapped in a pink robe with my baby at my breast, watching the summer sway from the window. The next, I was losing bladder control during a brain scan. I was a 34-year-old suffering a hemorrhagic.

One stroke took the trust I had in my body, my faith, my family and my world and shattered it into a billion shards, splayed out before my bleeding brain and my broken heart.

Trauma (noun): 1. A deeply distressing or disturbing experience. 2. Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis. 3. Physical injury.

Trauma dragged me to the depths. A friend once said, “The scariest place I’ve ever gone is deep inside myself.” But it’s in the surfacing, the slow swim upward, that can be transformative. With each slow slog from the depths of despair to the warm shallow waters of acceptance, I found joy that propelled me up from the deep to the surface. I began to breathe again.

Here is what the journey looked like for me:

1. Depression and Anxiety

I was waiting for “normal” to return like it would show up in my brain and my body without the slightest effort on my part. Little breakdowns and sporadic outbursts became more frequent. The shackles of guilt, anxiety and depression were beginning to squeeze the hope out of me. My outbursts became more frequent, my pain more prevalent, the light from my eyes went dim. It was at this point I decided to get help. I reached out to a therapist, I joined two support groups, I started medication and began to reveal my illness to my inner circle.  Slowly, not overnight, the chains began to loosen and I was able to slip out of the shackles and begin to swim to the surface.

2. Shame

I was seeking treatment which curbed the outbursts, but the humiliation of my ensuing behavior was the next wave I experienced. I began to push people away. I began to believe no one could possibly love me after watching the way I reacted to my trauma. Treatment was not enough — I had to forgive myself. The event was beyond my control, but for some reason I felt responsible for the wreckage. So I went to work on self-care. I began to be kind to myself, to sleep, to eat well, take deep breathes and be a bit selfish with my time and energy. I took a few wellness classes, spent time reading up on self-care. I began to see a light beyond the darkness and I was inspired to push forward.

3. Setback

There were days, then weeks, where I wouldn’t fall apart. I assumed I was “cured.” Then along came a few life stressors, and I was hurled back down to the depression I fought to escape. I felt worthless all over again. I was exhausted. But I thought about my children; I had to fight for the woman they needed me to be. So I bootstrapped myself back to therapy, support programs and self-care. I found it easier to get out of the muck the second time around because I knew the formula. I just had to plug it in. I still have setbacks. We all do, trauma or not. But as survivors we have an advantage. We can plug in the formula of our healing when life hits hard, and begin to swim to shore with our tools and the experience to push us forward.

4. Acceptance

Moving through the event, then the depression, the shame and then the setbacks, there was still something missing: acceptance. When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone completely different than who I was before the light was stolen from my eyes. I did not think “I” was ever going to come back. But there was this newer version of myself that was emerging. Once all your hope and trust is stripped away, you become very self-aware, and if you aim that awareness towards a positive place, the trauma can actually transform you into a deeper version of yourself. I was coming into a new sense of self. I began to accept my scars and used my experience to help others.

5. Love

Trauma is a thief. It robs joy. But it can also be a teacher. I started to encounter others who had been though trauma. The empathy I felt was palpable. Trauma taught me to love. To love my children because their need helped me push forward, love my spouse who allowed me to land in the soft net of his patience and to love others going through similar circumstances. Trauma also taught me love myself. In our brokenness we are all looking for connection, patience and forgiveness — all attributes of true love. My understanding of love for self and for others was the final push to get me to the surface where I could take my first breath of fresh air. The trouble with trauma for survivors is that although our experience of the event might be understood, the struggle beneath the surface goes under acknowledged. The world is not a safe place for the trauma survivor, at least for a little while. In taking the steps towards healing, by reaching out, accepting the tragedy, forgiveness, self-care and love I was able to grow into a brighter version of who I was once. Trauma became my teacher and I hope to use its lessons to make my world a safe and secure place where love can be nurtured from past into the future.

Follow this journey on Q’s Kitchen.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

When you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are all kinds of little things that can set off a trigger. A phrase. A sound. A touch. A smell. I certainly experience these on a fairly regular basis, and each time, I’m frustrated. Even though I know the triggers themselves are beyond my control, I just simply have to focus on what I do have control over and manage my reaction to said trigger.

But as with all things in life, there is one that gets me every time. Needles. I have always been afraid of needles. I was the child who had to be held down by four dads for my kindergarten shots, and who locked myself in the bathroom at the doctor’s office at age 9 because I didn’t want to do a blood draw. Over time, I started to at least tolerate this fear… until suddenly I couldn’t. Perhaps this phobia was exasperated by my PTSD, but since I started experiencing my PTSD symptoms, I have continued to struggle.

I still allow shots and give blood, etc. I just handle it to varying degrees. Shots make me extremely shaky. Giving blood for tests often makes me pass out. But when it comes to an IV, checkmate. It’s not the fact that it’s getting put in but that it’s still there that gets me. Like a violation of the very substance that makes my physical being. I try so hard to tough it out, but I usually don’t make it too long before breaking down into hysterical sobbing. It’s not fun for me, and it’s not fun for whoever is placing said IV.

I’ve had over 10 medical procedures in the last six years that have required the use of an IV, and much to my incredible embarrassment and humiliation, I have reacted this way. Every. Single. Time. Any time I interact with a medical professional and the use of a needle is required, I warn them. But when it comes to an IV, I still don’t think they’re fully prepared. Their reactions have varied. Some surgeons were wonderful and allowed me to be put out before the IV was placed. Others would chastise me and comment on how this is what happens to spoiled children, as if my PTSD was a byproduct of my upbringing. I even had an anesthesiologist attempt to make me reschedule to a different facility, as if I wasn’t humiliated enough.

But for my most recent procedure, I had a different experience, and it was all because of you. When I explained my predicament, you listened without judgment. Understanding my fears, you brought me something for the anxiety. You held my hand and asked me if I would be OK to proceed. I made it further into the whole procedure before crying than I ever had before, and when the sobbing began, you kept your composure and encouraged me. I know that type of bedside manner is often reserved for children, or at least that’s how I feel. Regardless of what you actually felt about administering to a sobbing 20-something woman over an IV, you made the procedure far less traumatic then it could have been.

So even if you went back to the nursing station and exclaimed to your co-workers about the hysterical woman in bed 12 or complained to your husband later that night, I still will never be able to tell you how much your understanding and compassion in those moments meant to me. Just know on that day, you made such a huge difference to me, and getting me safely through a trigger is no small feat. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Follow this journey on Alyce’s blog.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

I went to you, not for my trauma, but for my seizures. You are not a psychiatrist or a mental health worker. But, you still showed me that I am human, too.

We drove four hours to see you, the very best in your field. After meeting for the first time, we went over my medical history. You saw the file from my psychiatrist and the laundry list of medicines we’ve tried over the past eight years. You saw the extensive list of my mental health diagnoses, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Then, you flat out asked why I had all of these problems — why I had PTSD.

I froze. My body started to quiver; I slid down in my chair. But, you seemed genuine; you exuded a sense of security. You started asking questions I couldn’t muster the strength to answer out loud. With tears welling in my eyes, my head hung low, I tried to answer with just a nod of my head. Yes, I was sexually abused as a child. Yes, I knew my abuser. No, it didn’t happen just once…it went on for years. As I answered your questions of the who, what and when you became visibly upset. But, I understood you were not upset with me. You became increasingly upset and gritted your teeth because you knew the effects of my childhood abuse had taken control of my life. You apologized I had been through hell, and that I hadn’t come back yet.

You also explained that my physical symptoms were not all in my head. There are types of seizures associated with PTSD. You know that my trauma could very well be the medical reason I’ve been in so much pain. You knew I had wounds that would never go away. But, I felt it — you cared. You were upset with my abuser. You, a person, a doctor, treated me like a human being and not just a case. You made me feel as though what I went through was not mine to be ashamed of. The shame goes to the monster who did this to me.

It was difficult for me to find my words again; you got up and got me tissues. I told you I only wanted one thing: I just wanted my life back. You asked about school. I told you I just couldn’t handle the stress of trying to deal with my trauma, mental and physical illness and the stress of school. I was trying to keep my head above water, trying to take control over my own life. You said I would make a great social worker and that you knew I was trying as best I could. You acknowledged that leaving school was for my mental health and not because I was lazy or incompetent. After all this time, you, a stranger didn’t just skate over my trauma.

And for the first time since I broke my silence, I didn’t feel the need to skate over it, either. I didn’t say “it’s OK”; I didn’t say “thank you.” You didn’t make me dwell on it. When I finally got home, I realized the true impact of the words you said, and importantly, the words you didn’t say. I finally felt free to be upset, angry, to cry and scream because something awful did happen to me. It was freeing. You don’t know, but you opened the flood gates that let me free my emotions. I feel the sharpness of my pain, but I’m finally starting to crawl out from under the numbing blanket I’ve been hiding under. In 45 minutes you made a huge impact, and turned the page for me to start a new chapter in my story.

If you or a loved one are affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call theNational Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-0656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

The Mighty is for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your mental illness. What about that person makes him or her a good ally? What do you want them to know? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

It happened while Danielle Leong was watching “Sons of Anarchy” — a gang rape scene that would be hard for most people to watch. But for Leong, a survivor of sexual assault, the violence sent her into a panic — three days of flashbacks and panic attacks — much of which she doesn’t remember now.

The experience left her with a thought she couldn’t shake: What if she had known she was going to be triggered?

So Leong, a software developer, created an app to give people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder the power to know. It’s called Feerless, and it sends trigger warnings to people watching Netflix to make video-streaming a safer place for all. It was originally created as a project for Coding Dojo, a coding bootcamp, and was made available to the public on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

How it works is simple: Once you’ve downloaded the app on your computer, it becomes an extension on your browser. Then, you have the power to do two things. You can both mark potentially triggering scenes for others, and also receive trigger warnings yourself. A notification will pop up in the bottom-left hand corner 30 seconds before a potentially triggering scene.

Leong said the purpose is to put power in the hands of viewers. They can choose to exit out or keep watching, depending on how they feel.

“It’s about trying to get back to normal and finding that inner strength,” she told The Mighty. “Sometimes you have good days and you’ll keep watching. Sometimes you have bad days and you’re more likely to pass and watch something else. And it’s OK to have bad days.”

Right now, the app is designed for Netflix, but Leong hopes to eventually make it available across a entire range video-streaming services. She also plans on categorizing trigger warning so users can choose which kinds of notification they’d like to receive.

Her plans for Feerless’ website are even bigger. She hopes to make it what she calls the “Rotten Tomatoes of trigger warnings.” So if a sexual assault survivor, for example, looks up a show and sees it has a high rate of sexual assault triggers, he or she can choose to watch something else.

You’re never sure if you’re going to be trigggered, you just hope you’re going to have a good day,” Leong said. “But now, there’s this tangible thing you can do. I hope this is going to help a lot of people.”

Leong wants to emphasize that her app is not just for people with PTSD. Anyone can download it and help mark triggers. The more people who chip in, the more warnings will cover a wider variety of shows.

“If you have a loved one with PTSD or if you’ve experienced trauma yourself and ever wondered, ‘What can I do?’ this is a way you can help,” Leong said

If you want to download the app, you can now get it from both the Feerless website and the Chrome market place.

I remember exactly how the words left your cracked lips. I had just told a guidance counselor about my history of sexual abuse, and was in the process of being diagnosed with a mood disorder as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I understand now you probably had no idea what either of these things entailed — I was only 15 and you were 17. But it doesn’t change the affect it had on my young, fragile mind. I was explaining the situation to you, and I was crying. Then, the words were released from your mouth like air from a balloon:

“Don’t you think you’re overreacting about this? It could be worse.”

It sounds like nails on a chalkboard for me, even now. For years, I kept this with me, always second-guessing if the symptoms of my disorders were rational. When I woke up in the middle of the night wailing, I would wonder if the event that caused my trauma had even taken place. I would wonder if it was really just a dream, and beat myself up for everything I felt. I contemplated telling my guidance counselor and my parents I had lied even though I hadn’t just to escape this nightmare. Your remarks did not help the detrimental inner turmoil that consumed me.

For an awkward sophomore in high school, my diagnosis was devastating. What I went through was, and still is, terrifying to think about. Therefore, you had no right to tell me I was too upset about this. My brain is different from a brain without PTSD. My mood disorder also changes my chemical balance, and it happens to be chronic, meaning I’ll fight it for the rest of my life. So, I’m not overreacting any more than someone with cancer is when they tell you that chemotherapy is painful.

I now know you were wrong, and what I deal with daily is very real. My assault did happen, and my mental illness is incredibly real and incredibly painful. While I understand you were young, you had no right the comment on the gravity of something you didn’t understand. Today, I take back the right to validate my feelings.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or any other type of abuse, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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