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the Anxiety Panic internet resource (tAPir)

POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

"I was raped when I was 25 years old. For a long time, I spoke about the rape on an intellectual level, as though it was something that happened to someone else. I was very aware that it had happened to me, but there just was no feeling. I kind of skidded along for a while."

"I started having flashbacks. They kind of came over me like a splash of water. I would be terrified. Suddenly I was reliving the rape. Every instant was startling. I felt like my entire head was moving a bit, shaking, but that wasn't so at all. I would get very flushed or a very dry mouth and my breathing changed. I was held in suspension. I wasn't aware of the cushion on the chair that I was sitting in or that my arm was touching a piece of furniture. I was in a bubble, just kind of floating. And it was scary. Having a flashback can wring you out. You're really shaken."

"The rape happened the week before Christmas, and I feel like a werewolf around the anniversary date. I can't believe the transformation into anxiety and fear."

star.gif (1672 bytes) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that follows a terrifying event. Often, people with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. PTSD, once referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue, was first brought to public attention by war veterans, but it can result from any number of traumatic incidents. These include kidnapping, serious accidents such as car or train wrecks, natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes, violent attacks such as a mugging, rape, or torture, or being held captive. The event that triggers it may be something that threatened the person's life or the life of someone close to him or her. Or it could be something witnessed, such as mass destruction after a plane crash.

Whatever the source of the problem, some people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections during the day. They may also experience sleep problems, depression, feeling detached or numb, or being easily startled. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy and have trouble feeling affectionate. They may feel irritable, more aggressive than before, or even violent. Seeing things that remind them of the incident may be very distressing, which could lead them to avoid certain places or situations that bring back those memories. Anniversaries of the event are often very difficult.

PTSD can occur at any age, including childhood. The disorder can be accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or anxiety. Symptoms may be mild or severe--people may become easily irritated or have violent outbursts. In severe cases they may have trouble working or socializing. In general, the symptoms seem to be worse if the event that triggered them was initiated by a person--such as a rape, as opposed to a flood.

Ordinary events can serve as reminders of the trauma and trigger flashbacks or intrusive images. A flashback may make the person lose touch with reality and reenact the event for a period of seconds or hours or, very rarely, days. A person having a flashback, which can come in the form of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, usually believes that the traumatic event is happening all over again.

Not every traumatized person gets full-blown PTSD, or experiences PTSD at all. PTSD is diagnosed only if the symptoms last more than a month. In those who do have PTSD, symptoms usually begin within 3 months of the trauma, and the course of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, others have symptoms that last much longer. In some cases, the condition may be chronic. Occasionally, the illness doesn't show up until years after the traumatic event.

Antidepressants and anxiety-reducing medications can ease the symptoms of depression and sleep problems, and psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, is an integral part of treatment. Being exposed to a reminder of the trauma as part of therapy--such as returning to the scene of a rape--sometimes helps. And, support from family and friends can help speed recovery.

Coexisting Conditions

Many people have a single anxiety disorder and nothing else, but it isn't unusual for an anxiety disorder to be accompanied by another illness, such as depression, an eating disorder, alcoholism, drug abuse, or another anxiety disorder. Often people who have panic disorder or social phobia, for example, also experience the intense sadness and hopelessness associated with depression or become dependent on alcohol. In such cases, these problems will need to be treated as well.

text taken from ANXIETY DISORDERS: DECADE OF THE BRAIN (NIMH).
 

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