23 'Embarrassing' Symptoms of PTSD We Don't Talk About
With many physical and mental health conditions, unwanted (and perhaps visible) symptoms can be embarrassing. Of course, they don’t have to be, but when you live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), outward symptoms and behaviors can come on when you least expect them, and draw unwelcome attention from those around you.
While it’s easy to say there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s natural to feel this way when it seems like all eyes are on you. Maybe a loud noise made you jump and scream in a public place, or you’ve spotted a stranger who, for just a moment, looks similar to someone linked to a trauma you’ve experienced.
No matter how your PTSD affects you, we want you to know you’re not alone. Your response to triggers is valid, and there is no shame in living with PTSD.
That’s why we asked our mental health community for their own “embarrassing” PTSD symptoms. We hope you’ll find some validation in the answers below.
Here’s what our community had to say:
1. “I can only sit in certain places, especially in public. Most of the time, I will need to have my back against a wall so I can see everything going on in front of me. Mainly so no one can walk up behind me.” — Nealey C.
2. “People don’t usually understand that profound sleep disturbances are caused by hypervigilance, so employers tend to assume my accommodation requests for modified hours stem from laziness or bad sleep habits. I wouldn’t want them to know it’s because I took sleep aids, woke up hourly, dealt with nightmares and screaming awake, and a lack of regenerative sleep.” — Violet F.
3. “I startle so easily. Any slightly loud noise or sudden movement makes me jump. If someone sneezes in a waiting room, I jump out of my skin and everyone looks. I can’t watch scary movies anymore, not because I get scared, but the feeling of being startled is so unsettling.” — Jess D.
4. “Being unable to connect sex or intimacy with love. I’m recently married and I am beginning to find that I don’t think anyone will ever be as close to me as they could be with someone else. There’s a large part of me that’s behind strong steel walls that no one is allowed through. Always being in defense mode, I can’t focus on letting my walls down. Another one I would say is super embarrassing… if I’m talking about my life previous to what happened to me, I say ‘her’ and ‘she’ instead ‘me’ or ‘I.’ I completely separate the person I was before and after the event. Not all the time, but most of the time.” — Jay C.
5. “Involuntary trigger responses in public — panic attacks, startling easily, mood swings, irrational fear. Any time these things happen in public and I have no control over my knee-jerk reaction.” — Alyssa C.
6. “Disassociating in public and mid-conversations. It’s gotten to the point where I will tell people I’m ‘not here’ while staring right through them. Also forgetting certain things about me or my life. Woke up one night and had no clue who my husband was. I felt that we were close (in bed, of course) but I couldn’t remember his name.” — Kryslynn O.
7. “I can’t go anywhere by myself, not even the grocery store. Even having someone with me, I still break down crying in the checkout line half the time. This is especially really embarrassing because of how essential shopping is due to having three children.” — Faith K.
8. “Crying at ‘inappropriate’ times, and then not being able to share why I am crying due to the nature of it (sex, at a bar, intimacy, for example).” — Mackenzie H.
9. “I do this thing when my PTSD is triggered, where my friend can be looking right at me asking a question of some sort and I literally can’t move. I just stare at them, unable to speak, unable to process what’s happening. Screaming on the inside. Those closest to me are understanding, but when it happens and people don’t know what’s going on, it’s really frustrating to them. It’s so embarrassing. Every part of me wishes I could respond, but it just doesn’t work that way.” — Emily G.
10. “When intrusive thoughts or nightmares happen, I am weepy throughout the day or come across as ‘mean’ or aggressive when trying to keep people away from me. There’s no explanation I can offer that makes sense.” — Alexandria M.
11. “Sweating! When I get stressed or overwhelmed or feel fear, I’ll just sweat. Especially on my forehead. It’s one of the first signs I know I’m about to have a panic attack too.” — Kim M.
12. “People think it’s funny to scare me. There has been plenty of times I’ve been in tears from being startled so easily. There has been other times I’ve punched someone out of reflex because I instantly go in defense mode. I have no control over any of it.” — Chealsy S.
13. “I have what’s called ‘trichotillomania,’ which basically means I pull my hair out. It got better for a while, but I recently started it up again and have embarrassing bald spots that are noticeable when my hair is pulled up. I started this after I was sexually assaulted at 16, and I didn’t feel I deserved to look attractive, or to be alive. It’s been an interesting road to recovery; almost 10 years later, I am still having issues.” — Emily L.
14. “I can’t watch adult-themed films. People ask me to go see a movie and I have to awkwardly explain why I can’t see the ones that aren’t for kids because of the possible subject matter. Also, blocking my ears when out at social gatherings if people start talking about my triggers.” — Christine S.
15. “My (complex) PTSD stems from early loss and lifelong abuse. In almost every new social interaction, I stutter and reek of desperation because I’m so afraid of what will happen if the person rejects (i.e. hurts) me. People react to me as though I’m the loser I feel I am, and then I react in some sort of really ‘unstable’ way and that seems to seal the deal.” — Topher N.
16. “I think this is related to both PTSD and anxiety. I had to leave my job for several reasons but the most embarrassing thing was throwing up in front of customers. My sense of smell is heightened and I will unexpectedly vomit. When that happens, there is no running to the bathroom because I can’t move.” — Katrina O.
17. “Sometimes when I have sex with my husband, I have flashbacks of my sexual assault and try to attack him because I think it’s my attacker. Those moments are hard to come out of because I’m locked inside my own head.” — Amy C.
18. “My PTSD stems from birth trauma, so the smell of a hospital is very triggering for me. Unfortunately, several doctors I see are located in the hospital. Every time I walk in the doors and that smell hits me, I swear I stop dead in my tracks while I’m reeling and trying to bring up my coping mechanisms.” — Mandi W.
19. “I had a really bad car accident; now I totally freak out with balloons. My kids never had them at birthday parties and if we go somewhere where there are balloons, I start shaking and sweating and if one pops, I can actually cry.” — Melanie T.
20. “I have two: I get really bad bowel movements and get awful diarrhea, I have had a couple of accidents in public due to it. It’s so embarrassing and horrible, having to walk home like that. The other is that when it hits really bad, hard and fast, I revert to the child personality I had before the events that gave me PTSD. My partner is incredibly accommodating to this, and will simplify everything for a child’s comprehension, but after it washes over and I come to, I feel awful. I’m an adult who has to be treated as a child at times…” — Jay C.
21. “My PTSD is from surviving a tornado. Sometimes, when my mind wanders too much, I think I hear the crashing of the lightning and I’ll cry. Sometimes I’ll hold my hands over my ears to try to get the sound to stop. If the power goes out at all, I will ball up wherever I am and start expecting the worst to happen. I’m always scared that the building I’m in is going to be destroyed, so I try to shield myself the best I can and I always feel so embarrassed. I feel like I’m being irrational.” — Maia Y.
22. “Lack of short-term memory. I forget new information almost instantly unless I really try hard to lock it down. People are always saying, “You don’t remember this? It was just yesterday!” — Chloe S.
23. “If something triggers a memory to my trauma, I almost have no control over who I become. I will become stubborn and start screaming and shouting if I don’t get my way and get to a safe place. I will storm out of a place, run, scream or have a tantrum until I get my way, so I can find a way to safety. It’s like my fear makes me act scary or ghastly in a way to protect myself.” — Diana P.
What would you add?
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 or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Getty image via natasaadzic