The Horrors of living with PTSD

Illustration By Oskar Zinnemann

Illustration By Oskar Zinnemann

Heart racing, tossing and turning, voices telling you “I’ll have to kill you if stop being my friend.” Suddenly you wake up screaming. As you lay there trembling, you mutter to yourself “I am safe, they are not here, I am safe...” You just had a night terror.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental disease. According to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation website, PTSD is "an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event.” Individuals who have PTSD can feel terrified or stressed even when the traumatic event is over. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to: flashbacks, nightmares, horrifying thoughts, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, becoming emotionally numb, being easily startled, having difficulty sleeping, and angry outbursts. These symptoms can disappear over time with the help of counseling, but some symptoms can last a lifetime.

The truth is anyone can get PTSD. According to Lea Hald, an Associate Professor from Santa Monica College's Psychology Department, “Although PTSD is typically associated with traumatic combat experience of military personnel, actually PTSD is a problem that can develop after any extremely traumatic event. Experiencing or witnessing an extremely traumatic crime, a very distressing accident or even a natural disaster like hurricane Irma could result in developing PTSD.”

Hald also explained the science behind PTSD. “Essentially when anyone experiences a traumatic event, the brain switches into a hypervigilant mode. When a person has PTSD, the brain has not yet switched off this hypervigilant mode, and instead remains very reactive, leaving the person to experience anxiety symptoms that can range from mild to completely debilitating.”

Personally, I am survivor of assault and emotional abuse. I was once afraid that I would be killed for five months straight. Living with PTSD before I began to get my treatment, which involves medication and therapy, I was a train wreck. I was terrified to leave my dorm room, when I was walking down the street I would think that I was being followed, I would constantly see people who were not there, I couldn’t sleep, I would be mean and distant to my friends. I luckily got better and am working constantly to help myself cope with this disorder. Unfortunately, I know that I will probably have this for life, but I don’t let it define me.

SMCs Center for Wellness and Wellbeing, located on the main campus in the Liberal Arts building, offers services to help students suffering from mental disorders. The services include free confidential short-term counseling, referral services, crisis intervention, consultation and workshops and training. Their office hours are: Monday, 9 AM to 4 PM; Tuesday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM. The phone number to the center is (310) 434-4503. The Center for Wellness and Wellbeing is not the only mental health resource students have at SMC. If you are a veteran, you have access to the Veterans’ Resource Center.

One such person who helps veterans is licensed clinical psychologist of the Veteran Resource Center on the main campus, Todd Adamson. He has been working at SMC for six and a half years. Adamson was motivated to help others with mental illnesses after working with children and families that have mental illness and watching them struggle to get the support that they needed. He wants people to know that PTSD is a “diagnosis that is treatable. People can get better (symptom reduction, lifestyle improvement, and regain control in their lives). There are a variety of treatments that are effective and treatment doesn't have to take years to see results.”

What Adamson wants to say to people who may feel like they have mental illness, but are afraid to seek out treatment is the following: “It can be hard to reach out when we're in pain and suffering. It feels like we're alone and nothing or no one can help. The stigma of getting help is also a barrier to seeking help. I often times frame it from the perspective of physical illness. Typically when we have a cold that progresses to flu or if we have stomach pain, we go to the doctor to figure out what's wrong [diagnosis] and get help [treatment.]”

“Mental health is no different, it just that the pain is not easily observed because it is emotional and internal. If we can begin to see it from this frame and that the mind and body are one, then it can be less intimidating to seek help and start down the path to feeling recovery, physical and mental,” said Adamson.

If you are a loved one are suffering with mental illness, just know that you are not alone. You can survive this, and it is possible to live a healthy life.