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The Two PTSD Symptoms I Struggle With the Most

In the diagnostic criteria for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are different clusters of symptoms. For example, intrusion symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks that cause the person to re-experience their trauma. These generally last until the traumatic event has been processed and stored properly in long-term memory.

The internal pressure pot

In my own struggle with PTSD, the symptoms I find myself most ashamed of are the irritability and anger. Irritability can be a result of alterations in arousal and reactivity after trauma. These responses form their own cluster of symptoms such as hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, a heightened startle reaction and even aggression. In our society, anger is an emotion that gets a negative rep. Showing anger publicly is looked down upon. You are assumed to be dangerous, scary and out of control.

I often feel like I have an internal pressure pot simmering within me. Despite my desperate attempts to keep it under control, circumstances are often stacked up against me and eventually it blows. When I say it blows, it blows.

It’s almost an out-of-body experience, watching the rage consume all rationale. I become like a caged animal. Agitated, fearful, aggressive and desperate to escape. I scream, I shout, I cry and often I hurt myself in a warped attempt to regain control. These episodes can last for hours until exhaustion takes over and I’m able to force the lid back on.

Then comes the shame

Once the dust has settled, I am filled with crushing shame over my actions. I worry about all the people who have witnessed my vulnerability. People in the street and often my neighbors. I get so desperately embarrassed. I have had members of the public stare, make horrible comments and honk their car horns at me. They are seeing only the anger — a person overcome by an emotion that they consider to be profoundly negative.

What they don’t see is the fear and the hurt. They don’t see a vulnerable, mentally ill person who has spent day after day reliving the worst moments of their life. A person who doesn’t sleep without nightmares. They don’t see the depression, the anxiety, the suicidal thoughts, the fearful little girl who is trying to muddle her way through life in a grown-up body. They don’t see a person who needs love, gentleness, understanding and for someone to help them de-escalate, because they’ve lost the capacity to do it on their own.

Regaining control

If my story sounds familiar, all is not lost. There are techniques and things you can do to manage the symptoms, so the outbursts become few and far between.

Write about your emotions

Keep a journal. Don’t let your thoughts and emotions fester in your head. Many find getting things down on paper a cathartic and therapeutic experience. Bottling up your emotions increases the likelihood that they will spill out in more destructive ways later down the line.

Find a physical outlet

Punch or scream in a pillow or invest in a punching bag to let off steam. Alternatively, go for a run or throw paint at a canvas. Find something that gets your heart rate pumping and gets rid of the horrible energy that builds when you’re angry.

Reduce external stimuli

People with PTSD are often hypervigilant, which means they have more sensory sensitivity than the average person. Feeling bombarded by noise, sights, smells or touch can cause irritability and panic. When possible, try and keep to environments where external distraction is minimal.

Ask for help

You don’t have to do this all on your own. Reach out to loved ones and friends. Explain the situation to them and discuss the warning signs that things are becoming too overwhelming and what may be helpful for them in these situations. Alternatively, seek out a therapist who has experience in trauma-related conditions and discuss possible strategies with them. Things can improve, and you can regain control over your disorder.

Getty image by phaustov