I have met many people with PTSD during my career, and I would dare to say that, in different cities, personally, and online, all of them have come to me with the exact same question: ‘is PTSD curable?’
Along with that question come others that are equally hard. ‘What happens when PTSD is triggered?’ Asked the wife of a veteran who wanted to help him during the crises. ‘Can PTSD symptoms be delayed?’ Asked me a man who was about to start a brand new job after a major car accident.
To clarify some of your doubts, and to give you the gift of understanding, in this blog I will answer some of the most common questions about PTSD recovery, and explain how come you can heal your PTSD.
What Is PTSD and How Could I Be Suffering From It?
Before going deeper into the subject, I want to define what is PTSD and how it could be affecting your life.
According to the American Psychological Association, PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental condition caused by experiencing a strong trauma such as natural disasters, war, extremely violent life episodes, domestic violence, poor work environments, physical or emotional neglect, toxic attachment issues, sexual abuse, and others.
PTSD symptoms can begin after three months of the traumatic event, but some can get delayed up to a year. Among the most common symptoms of PTSD are:
- Recurring memories and flashbacks
- Substance abuse
- Isolation and detachment
- Physical pain, nausea, and tremors
- Emotional numbness
- Irritability and angry outbursts
If you have gone through very hard life situations and currently show half or more of the mentioned symptoms, you may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
In my experience, some people who have gone through very violent episodes in their life don’t think of it as major trauma. And when I go deeper into that thought, I find that most of the people who think that compare their trauma with other people’s trauma.
This is not a competition nor a test, trauma is not a standardized response to terrible life events, but it can leave significant scars independently of its origins.
Being a war prisoner can cause PTSD, but so does it being in a very violent family for 18 years. We are all humans; we all feel things differently. Do not underestimate your trauma because you feel like ‘you don’t deserve’ to be healed or to receive attention to recover.
Once you can see through you and understand that you got hurt and deserve love, help, and a bright future just like any other person with PTSD, that’s when you allow yourself to heal.
Can PTSD Symptoms Be Delayed?
Some people I have helped with their conditions once asked me if PTSD symptoms can be delayed. They already suspected they had it, and at the beginning they had issues accepting it and moving forward.
They wanted to know if there was some kind of magic trick or a 12-steps guide that could help them dominate their episodes, or at least delayed them enough because they were truly scared of this condition.
The same answer I gave them now I give it to you: whatever you try to bury inside you, eventually will burst out unexpectedly.
PTSD symptoms can be delayed organically, not at will. In fact, when you ignore your symptoms, run away from them, and hide them from friends and relatives, you are only feeding the disorder.
However, there is a PTSD sub-type called ‘delayed-onset PTSD’. It is diagnosed when the person meets the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, but six months or longer than a year after the traumatic event happened. This sub-type usually shows its true colors when the person has gone through major life changes (not necessarily a new trauma), such as:
- Suddenly or expectedly losing an important family member
- Losing a job
- Breaking up a significant relationship
- Having to move
- Physical diseases diagnoses
Researchers have found that most people who develop delayed-onset PTSD are those experiencing the PTSD symptoms I just mentioned, but don’t present enough of them to meet the criteria. Which leads to incorrect diagnoses, and therefore, incorrect treatments.
Besides, when the person is not able of naming their condition correctly or having the necessary support to understand it as a whole, it is very hard to accept it and start moving forward, that is why many of them end up developing stronger and recurrent symptoms unwillingly.
What Happens When PTSD Is Triggered?
People who ask what happens when PTSD is triggered are either people with the disorder or relatives who want to know what to do during one.
First of all, a PTSD trigger is a sound, image, memory, smell, or word that unleashes PTSD symptoms independently of the person’s will. Triggers are divided into two categories: internal and external.
Internal triggers can be anything from memory to emotions and bodily sensations. Usually, but not limited to:
- Abandonment feelings
- Lack of control
- Muscular tension
Of course, some of these feelings and memories can be evoked by external factors, but usually, thoughts are the responsible ones for bringing up these feelings, even unconsciously.
On the other hand, external triggers are situations, people, headlines, TV shows, conversations, pictures, places, and sounds that make the person with PTSD feel like the trauma is happening again. Some of these triggers are:
- Anniversary dates
- The death of a close friend, work/combat partner, or relative
- Depending on the type of trauma, smells like gun powder, perfumes, gasoline, dusty surfaces, and many others
- Strong unexpected sounds
- Witnessing traffic accidents or violent situations
- Places that look like the place where the trauma occurred
- People who look like someone who hurt them or someone they truly miss
- Holidays and social interactions with many people
- Ending a relationship
As you may imagine, controlling or coping with both types of triggers can be hard, but it is not impossible at all.
To successfully pass through a PTSD crisis, the person with the disorder needs to do a lot of recognition work. They need to identify and understand as many triggers as possible. Ask yourself what types of situations make you feel overwhelmed, when do you feel out of control the most, how is your body reacting to all of this.
When you are able to identify your triggers, you can learn how to cope with them. Avoiding your thoughts is honestly not just a terrible idea, but an impossible one. It is not functional to identify your triggers and immediately hide from them when they show up.
Give yourself permission to feel under controlled environments so you can be able to feel, recognize, and accept your triggers anywhere later.
There will be times where you won’t be able to control anything around you, and that’s when you will need the help of your friends and relatives. If you know someone with PTSD, it is very helpful to encourage them to identify and cope with their triggers, but before they do so, you need to build a trustful relationship where they can express your fears and triggers.
Once you have this information, do not push them to ‘get over it’. Simply be there and remind them that, after all, they are the ones in control, and if they need a little push, you can ask them to:
- Take deep breaths
- Write down their feelings or starting a blog
- Relaxations techniques
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Counting seven or five objects of the same color in the room
If you would like to learn more techniques to cope with your PTSD or to help a relative with this disorder, you can contact me through this formulary. Correct coping mechanisms can save and improve the life of someone with this disorder.
Can You Cure PTSD?
The question that started this blog is very specific, and I must answer it as honestly and supportive as possible.
A mental disorder is not the same as a physical disease that can be cured with some rest and a shot. Many Psychologists, coaches, and spiritual guides believe that PTSD does not have ‘a definite’ cure, but that is entirely treatable.
That is why I say that it is possible to heal from PTSD. You can learn to identify the root of your trauma, learn to cope with your feelings by accepting them instead of running from them, and even be able to see and learn from this terrible experience.
People who have requested my services the first time communicate many of their doubts. Some even get angry at me because I say there’s something to learn from every bad situation in life.
It is true, you or your relative did not deserve to go through such a horrible experience. But they do deserve to get their life back and build a bright future, something that is only possible through awareness, enlightenment, and acceptance.
Some treatments to deal with PTSD are cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, EMDR, and transcendental meditation. It is common for these treatments to work along with medication like paroxetine, mirtazapine, and sertraline.
However, antidepressants are only recommended when:
- You choose a treatment not focused on your trauma
- Don’t have a previous history with addictions
- You have no contact with the situation, place, or person that caused the trauma
- You have had unsuccessful experiences with previous trauma-focused psychological treatment
Please understand that medication is not a cure. It has never been, and it will never be.
Antidepressants are a resource that if it is effective, can be used mostly up to twelve months. And doses should be increased only after a professional recommendation, do not medicate yourself under any circumstances.
Withdrawal symptoms may be experienced when you stop taking the medication, or if the doses get suddenly reduced. That’s why it should be reduced slowly and under strict medical supervision.
How Long Is PTSD Recovery?
Finally, the million-dollar question: when will you finish your PTSD treatment? The honest answer is that it depends on you. For some, it takes six months, for others perhaps years to finally say ‘okay, I feel good’.
I am not saying that if it takes you a long time then it’s your fault. I’m saying that PTSD recovery can take time, it depends heavily on the kind of trauma, your current life situation, and if you have the support of your friends and family.
There are 5 stages of PTSD where you will be moving during your recovery time:
- Emergency: you will start feeling the first symptoms, and most likely will start by reacting angrily or very intensely to challenging situations. Often starting or participating in fights.
- Denial: to protect yourself from this disorder it is very likely that you hide the symptoms and your feelings. It’s a common coping mechanism, but it will worsen the symptoms.
- Rumination: you feel how hiding and denial lose their power. You may begin to experience nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and severe anxiety.
- Transition: once you accept your disorder and begin to speak about it, you enter into a new level of acceptance and understanding that will allow you to start healing.
- Integration: start learning correct coping mechanisms to treat your PTSD, and begin to integrate these new skills in your daily life.
Reaching the transition stage takes time and effort, but once people get there even their face changes!
It is possible to heal, to feel better, to maintain your relationship, or starting a new one. PTSD recovery is a long road, but you do not have to go through it alone.