Since knowing of the tragic and traumatic theatre shootings in Aurora, Colorado, I have heard more than one person say that he or she has felt anxious at the thought of going to a movie theatre. I remembered that following 9/11, I felt anxious going into stairwells as I immediately thought of all the people trapped in the Twin Towers who either survived or lost their lives in those stairwells. Recently, my Sister asked me about the symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and I thought that it might be helpful to others if I described those symptoms.
If you have experienced a traumatic event, the human system of self-preservation seems to go into a state of permanent alert. In this state, you startle easily, sleep poorly, and react with irritation to seemingly small events. Additionally, long after the danger has passed, you may experience intrusive symptoms in which the traumatic event is relived as if it were recurring in the present. During waking moments, there are flashbacks and during sleep, there are nightmares. Small reminders may evoke memories of the traumatic event that feel as if the event were being re-experienced in the present with all its original emotions which might cause you to begin to avoid reminders of the traumatic event.
Finally, you might feel powerless and go into a state of surrender. Escape becomes impossible through action, and comes in the form of altering of consciousness. You might feel as though the experience is not happening at all. There is a numbing or distortion of sensations and perceptions. You might have the experience of leaving your body and observing the event from above.
Often after a trauma, there is a tendency to increase behaviors that help numb your emotions. This can include increased use of alcohol, food, or exercise among many other things. While these might seem helpful at the moment, they can lead to dependence and more complicated problems in the future.
If this sounds like you, please remember that help is available. Counseling is only a phone call away. You can overcome the symptoms of PTSD by talking to an experienced therapist.