19 People Describe What It's Like to Have PTSD
Trauma can change your brain — and for those who go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this trauma can carry into your everyday life. It’s not something you can “just forget,” and someone’s triggers might not make sense to people who’ve never experienced it. But PTSD is very real, offering daily challenges and making a world that once seems safe suddenly scary.
To find out what it’s really like to have PTSD, we asked people in our mental health community to describe what it’s like.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “It’s constantly looking over your shoulder and having difficulty trusting people… It’s not just something you can walk away from.” — Kathryn P.
2. “Triggers can come from anywhere at any time… a smell, a look/ glance, a vibe, a dream… how someone treats you. You are unable, as hard as you try, to turn it off.” — Mike T.
3. “The best description I’ve ever come across is the Walking Dead episode ‘Here’s Not Here.’ One character describes PTSD: ‘You saw it happen. That’s how this started, right? It’s all happening right in front of your eyes over and over. Your body’s here, but your mind is still there. There’s a door and you want to go through it to get away from it, so you do and it leads you right back to that moment. And you see that door again and you know it won’t work, but, hell, maybe it’ll work. So you step through that door and you’re right back in that horrible moment every time. You still feel it every time. So you just want to stop opening that door. So you just sit in it. But I assure you, one of those doors leads out, my friend.’” — Tara H.
4. “You know that feeling you get when someone jumps out and scares you and you are on high alert for a few minutes? That alertness never goes away for me.” — Holly M.
5. “It’s like you’re tidying your house before a dinner party. But there’s this one item that’s just out of place. The doorbell rings. It’s your guests. You just shove that item into the closet and tell yourself you’ll deal with it later. You start to do this every time. Filling the closest more and more. Saying to yourself that you’ll deal with it later. The closet becomes so full that it starts to creak. That’s your bodies way of saying ‘Hey! You got a lot of stuff to deal with! It’s time!’ But you keep thinking it’s fine. Out of sight, out of mind. You ignore the closet. Until one day it’s too much. The closet bursts. And everything comes flying out in weird and wacky ways. Panic attacks. Dissociative episodes. Depression. Anxiety. Flashbacks. Intrusive thoughts. And then you’re left lying on the floor with all the items that were stuffed into the closet, splattered around you. Forced to finally accept what happened. And forced to finally deal with it. Forced to clean up the items around you and find appropriate places for each thing. And then over time, slowly, you learn what to do with each item, and how to deal with each thing, uniquely.” — Nargis D.
6. “It’s like a side show ‘fun house;’ you never know what’s around the corner to screw up your day. Then you walk over to the house of mirrors and realize no matter which one you look at, it will never be who you truly are.” — Tash G.
7. “My nightmares when I’m asleep bleed into my daily life. At times after just getting up I’m unable to differentiate whether I’m awake or asleep. They feel so real, I even experience the physical pain in them. Then while I am at home if someone knocks on my door I could scream and start rocking back and forth.” — Will D.
8. “It’s difficult to explain. Sometimes it’s the feeling that something bad is right behind you. Every car door that shuts at night is something bad. It’s being afraid to go to sleep because you know the nightmares are waiting. No one can be trusted. I constantly feel like someone is behind me. It’s being so hyper-vigilant every minute, it’s exhausting. Certain places or a flash of something brings it all crashing back down on you. It’s feeling like every day you’re going to die, and sometimes wishing for death just to get away from the memories.” — Jennifer T.
9. “You’re constantly on guard. You can never rest without thinking about something. I get panicked at the slightest thing that wouldn’t bother anyone like loud bangs or someone’s footsteps, or someone calling my name and I don’t know where it’s coming from.” — Ross R.
10. “It’s like being trapped in a time capsule. Your surroundings change, but you’re forever in the state of your trauma — flashes of memories through all five senses, body memories, nightmares — it consumes your entire being and never by choice!” — Corey L.
11. “Imagine walking down the yellow stripe in the middle of a crowded street: it’s happy and sunny and everyone is doing everything great — but if you lose your balance or get pushed to the left side, it’s dark and scary. Few people know the left side.” — Brynn L.
12. “PTSD is a bunch of nightmares during the day. I lose grips on where I am, and I get lost in the memory. It’s like I’m not even where I actually am. It feels so real, and next thing I wake up and do not know how I got to where I am now.” — Nicole V.
13. “It’s like when you watch a scary movie and you’re on edge the entire time… except that’s how you live, all day, every day. You’re literally afraid of everything.” — Kate M.
14. “It’s like living in a slideshow instead of a video. Everything is choppy and confusing. There’s doubt, chaos and terror night and day.” — Adele E.
15. “I always compare it to the episode of ‘Spongebob’ when he was trying to remember his name and inside of his head people were looking through all the filing cabinets, but couldn’t find it so they started burning everything up and completely destroyed the memory bank… it’s like certain things trigger an episode whether it’s a smell or even a certain color. It causes me to panic.” — Shonte R.
16. “It’s like being hit by a car and you never see the car coming! It knocks you down, and when you try to get up another car hits you again.” — Minister W.
17. “It’s like a rubber band in that you can stretch so far out of your comfort zone, but once you’ve been triggered you fly back right to where you started.” — Rachel M.
18. “It’s like being afraid of the monster under your bed that no one else really believes is there. It can creep up on u at any moment, and the smallest of things can trigger it.” — Destiny B.
19. “Having PTSD for me is like being set apart from everyone else, finding fault with everyone you meet and walking a constant tightrope between fight or flight. The overwhelming feeling of guilt is hard to live with, and no one can convince you otherwise. It’s truly terrible. But there is always hope and always a light that never goes out so hang on in there.” — Jon A.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.