Before we get into the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we need to undergo one last check.

Are you safe? “Post” means “after.” If you live with someone who is hurting you, if your crazy ex-husband is stalking you, you don’t have PTSD. Your nightmares, jumpiness, and paranoia are not symptoms of a disorder. They are warnings about the present. You are not paranoid if someone is out to get you. You are under traumatic stress, but there is nothing “post” about it.

You need to get safe first! You need to survive before you can have the luxury of healing. You can come back to this webpage when you are physically secure and need help to rebuild your life.

If you are not safe, stop reading and get help – now!

Here’s what to look for:

Nightmares. Sometimes it’s so bad. You don’t want to fall asleep because the horror you thought you left behind is waiting there for you. Here’s some advice to deal with sleep symptoms of PTSD.

Difficulty concentrating. You’re trying to balance your checkbook, and images of being attacked keep popping up. These are called “intrusive memories.” They are a pain in the butt.

Sleep disturbances. You can’t fall asleep, maybe because you can’t stop thinking about what happened, or could happen. Or, you fall asleep, but you don’t sleep well; every little sound wakes you. You only fall asleep when you are exhausted, and you don’t stay asleep for more than an hour or two.

You are irritable. If you’re not sure, ask someone close to you to tell you. When you ask, if he or she looks afraid to answer you, the answer is “yes.”

You are depressed, nervous, anxious, worried about everything.

You are frequently on the verge of tears, or about to explode with anger. You avoid people, especially those you love because you are afraid of your moods. You worry that your kids are afraid of you, or that your spouse will leave you.

You feel intense guilt or shame. In many cases, you are not sure why. You just know that you should not feel that way.

You are scared out of your mind. You are overprotective of your family, always on the lookout for danger. You are waiting for the next bad thing to happen, any second now.

You are numbemotionally. You have difficulty expressing or even feeling positive emotions, like love or happiness. The emotions that you can feel, you don’t want to.

You may think about suicide. You think about hurting yourself. You feel you’re going crazy.

You feel disconnected: as if you were separated from everyone else by a glass wall that only you know exists. Even when you are with other people, you still feel alone. You feel like you don’t belong anywhere.

You use drugs or alcohol to “relax.” You need to “relax.” You need to “relax” pretty often and pretty intensely.

You have flashbacks. When something reminds you of what happened, you feel shaky, sweaty, and want to throw up. You can’t breathe—your heart races.

You quit doing things you used to enjoy because you just don’t have the energy. You stop going places you used to love because you’re afraid something will remind you of what happened.

You are easily startled and overreact to loud noises or anything unexpected in your surroundings.

If you have several of these symptoms, you probably have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anyone of them will mess up your life. Mix a few, and well, here you are.

So why are you like this?

The reason you have these symptoms is that you have never figured out how to fit together the life you had before your trauma and the horrible things you have now experienced.

You tried just to forget it, but you can’t.

You keep waiting for things to get better, but they don’t.

You hope it will never happen again, but you know it could.

You tried to go back to your old life. You want to go back, but it’s not working.

You keep on fighting your symptoms. But you are challenging yourself. You are lying to yourself, and you don’t believe you.

Stop. Healing isn’t automatic. Time is not a magic eraser that makes terrible thoughts and feelings go away.

Accept that your old life and your new experience don’t fit together. You are going to get better. But you are going to have to work at it.

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Suzanne Grosser

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