I wrote this to explain to friends and family what it means to have PTSD.
As you may already know I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As terrible as it is that I have PTSD I can understand that it must be distressing to know you have a friend with PTSD. I am writing this so you can better understand me and what it means and what I ask of you.
I think its important I start off by telling you what you should not be doing. First off, do not be a social worker or another therapist. I have one of those and they are doing a good job and I do not need another. Also spare me the platitudes such as “Stay positive” or “Take it easy.” If it really were that simple then I would not have PTSD. I also do not need to hear that it could always be worse or about some person you know who you think has it worse then me.
The most important thing you need to be doing as a friend is to simply be a friend. I do not need you to have all the answers or ask the right questions. I am not looking for anything insightful. If anything just do your best to treat me as you always have because it is what I need the most right now. Feel free to ask me how I have been doing and what I have been up to.
To most people, PTSD means experiencing something distressing previously and then flashing back to the event later and being distressed about it. That description barely covers it so a few things you need to know about PTSD. Having PTSD is distressing. Knowing you have PTSD is just as distressing as the PTSD itself. PTSD destroys your normal brain activity and makes it function in ways you can not control. The worst part for me with PTSD is it makes my brain very active.
As part of this increased activity I experience things like flashbacks, distressing images, hyper-vigilance and panic attacks. My whole life is about living on the edge waiting for something bad to happen. It is why something simple like a tap on the shoulder or somebody standing behind me can give me a major adrenaline rush and cause me to panic. I understand logically that these thought processes do not make sense however I am unable to control it.
If we ever decide to hang out together you will have to forgive me if I am sensitive about the venue. I like places that are not very noisy or crowded and I prefer to sit near a wall where I can minimize the activity around me. You will also forgive me if you find me not talking and staring off somewhere. Sometimes there is just too much activity for my brain to process and it needs to rest a little. If we are picking a venue or activity please do not give me a lot of choices and try to keep things simple. If I abruptly change the conversation on you, its probably getting into topics that will trigger my PTSD.
If I do not answer your phone call or return your text message or e-mail please forgive me. It is sometimes a struggle for me to remain in the present or keep track of what I have to do. My brain will sometimes shutdown and will forget things or even who I am and where I am. Other times my brain is simply overloaded and I need to minimize stimulating it. I will get back to you but if I am not as fast as you want then I hope you will understand why.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter to try and better understand me. You will never understand what it means for me to have PTSD (and hopefully you never will) but hopefully you can at least understand what I need and why I sometimes do the things I do. I am confident that with time I can resume a normal life but for now I am going to be fighting the good fight.