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6 Years Later: Living With PTSD From the 2011 Norway Terror Attacks

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It is hard for me to describe what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) feels like.
Most people look at those four letters, and they think of what we see in the movies and TV — soldiers returned from war, still stuck in the war zone, and who from time to time can become violent because of flashbacks. There are so many examples, where a soldier with PTSD is on the run, and some team must find him before more people get killed. Police TV shows like “NCIS” or “Unforgettable” are only examples of this exact scene.

• What is PTSD?

That is not what PTSD is like.

There are so many reasons why someone can get this diagnosis — abuse, bullying, rape, loss, and these are only examples. I’ve had my diagnosis for six years now, and that is really nothing considering the complexity of the human mind. Still, I get questions; “Is it not time you tried to move on?” or “You don’t look sick. Why don’t you just try a little harder?” And when I say I have PTSD, I sometimes get the comment: “But you’re not a soldier. I thought that was what soldiers got after they’ve been to war.”

Yes, we do live in a war zone, but the war zone is in our minds, and we are fighting ourselves and our past. Very few people with PTSD get violent. Mostly we are too busy running away from ghosts you cannot see. PTSD is the most definite proof to the phrase, “Not all wounds are visible.”

I was diagnosed after the 2011 terror attacks in Norway. Every time I meet someone new and the topic comes up — it comes up surprisingly often — I get the question: “Were you injured?” There is no ill will in that question, only lack of understanding. How can I answer that question accurately? No, I was not physically injured. I was not shot, nor did I hurt myself fleeing. But I did not get away unharmed. I do not believe any of us did.

We all have nightmares from time to time. When I was a kid, my nightmares were dreams where I was falling, for example, or I was trying to run but couldn’t get forward. After I grew up, my nightmare became real. I relive that day at least once a week, both in my dreams and when I’m awake — when I’m triggered by something. A smell, a loud noise, a scream. The pop of a balloon can make me cry and fear for my life.

My body is locked in ready position — ready to run. Even though the danger is long gone, I’m ready to run at a moment’s notice. The pain started as a shock and a mental cry. Now, my everyday life is marked by pain in my legs, my back, my shoulders, my neck and my head.

My nightmares are no longer a scare in a dream that goes away when I wake. My body and my mind remind me every day that the nightmare happened. I do not need you to question it.

I cannot hope to explain this to you, so you could know how I feel. And I do not wish you to know how I feel. In fact, I hope none of you will ever experience it.

The reason I write this is so, next time you meet someone with a mental illness, you might think twice about what and how you ask your questions.

Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic

Originally published: August 6, 2017
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