WASHINGTON September 25, 2012 - Knowing the symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) gives us an idea of what having it is like, but reading a list of symptoms does not trigger our emotions. With words we share concepts. We understand or empathize with each other because we share the same emotional language.
The best way to convey an internal experience is by using analogy and metaphor. It is one thing to say, “I’m confused,” and quite another to say, “It feels like my thoughts are a jar of marbles being shaken.” The word “confused” is a more abstract concept subject to countless interpretations, but most of us can relate to the noisy, chaotic, and pounding sensory image of a shaken jar of marbles.
PTSD is a problem for people that experience or witness traumatic events. Frequent symptoms are anger, irritability, sleeplessness, loss of interest, nightmares, and intrusive memories. Other common signs are disconnection, confusion, depression, anxiety and a constant sense of danger.
Here is the same group of PTSD symptoms described, with analogy and metaphor, by people diagnosed with PTSD:
“It’s like standing in an endless open field during a heavy downpour. It’s impossible to focus on anything and things are coming at me but I can’t see what they are, or if they are dangerous or safe. There’s a wind and lightning. It’s unmanageable chaos but I can’t see clearly to plan a getaway or an attack.”
“You never stop being a soldier. I’m always on guard for the place, person, or thing that is going to attack me. I’m a confused freak. I can’t communicate with other humans even though I look like them. Plants and the dirt they are in are the only things that seem to get me.”
“Having PTSD is feeling you’ve been killed but don’t know you are dead. You get tossed back and forth between the land of the living and the dead, a soul with an on-off connection to life. I know that a part of me is gone forever.”
“I’m at the bottom of a well trying to get out by using slippery, precarious grips. I never get to the top. Sometimes I’m close but then lose my grip.”
“I live in a numb world where I don’t worry because I don’t care about anything. My life is messed up and the only things I feel are wanting to throw up, or dizziness. But like I said, I don’t care, even if I die tomorrow. It might sound miserable living in a disconnected, frozen world but it is calmer than having connections.”
“PTSD is sometimes a smooth dark pit and there’s no way out, or it’s being alone in a row boat on a murky, poisonous sea and you keep rowing farther and farther away. Other times I’m in a gray and black place where the soil is crunchy volcanic ash. There’s no life because there’s no water. The only way out is a pitch black abyss to go down into.”
“I’m a broken porcelain vase that is glued back together. Some of the porcelain chips are missing. I can’t contain emotions, they blow holes within me, and smiling is suffering because it will cause another part of me to crack and fall off. So its easier to stay emotionless. If I hide, my cracks won’t heal but maybe there will be no more painful holes.”
If you see yourself in these quotations and are not getting help, don’t hesitate to find some. You may be changed by PTSD, but it is possible to shrink its effect and live your version of a meaningful life.