This is probably the 15th draft I’ve made when it comes to posts with this theme. I write them and never post them. I’ve tried writing humorous ones, rambling ones, lists, formal ones, and who knows what else. Yet here I am, giving it another go.
You should know that PTSD does not make me less capable. My PTSD doesn’t run my life, it spends most of the time in the passenger seat criticising my driving. As with so many things, PTSD exists on a spectrum. In general mine is mild. When it flares up, it can be anywhere from ‘really inconvenient’ to ‘how the hell am I still alive?’. But in general, it does not affect my ability to live a productive life.
You should know that PTSD does not make me less intelligent. I have an old Mensa membership card in my possession. I have excelled academically and professionally. I grasp new logical systems fairly easily and can generally read people. I enjoy learning about new things and often take the time to consider things from different perspectives. Sure, I say some pretty stupid things sometimes and don’t fully comprehend the finer philosophical aspects of Donnie Darko, but who the hell does?
You should know that PTSD is not just flashbacks. It’s rare for me to get flashbacks and when I do, it’s mainly physical sensations or emotions that don’t fit with what I’m actually doing. My PTSD specialises in nightmares. I have nightmares maybe 97 percent of the time. They suck and they’re probably even harder to control than flashbacks. I hate sharing rooms with people out of fear I’ll talk in my sleep or wake up crying. I’ve honestly started to focus on lucid dreaming to prevent that type of thing from happening. It makes it easier to wake up in a somewhat controlled manner.
You should know that PTSD sometimes overrides well… me. It usually happens a few times a year, but when the condition is more active, overrides happen more often. This is when the condition jumps over from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat and has a serious case of road rage. My usual self is reduced to that voice you have in the back of your mind that you seldom listen to. It’s really scary when it happens and you’re not in control of what you’re doing. It’s humiliating, degrading, and undignified. This is the part of the condition people often hear about and when they see it in person… Most people don’t understand it. It’s scary and illogical. Sometimes ridiculous. If you do see it happen, realise the other person isn’t really in control right now. Don’t take it personally and walk away. Try talking to the other person a day or two later. Chances are they’ll apologise profusely for their behaviour. This is the time when you need to remember that PTSD is a mental illness and that sometimes it can’t be controlled. Think of it as an epileptic seizure. However, do draw boundaries. PTSD is not an excuse for physical violence or endangering another person. Just be aware that they might say and do things they don’t actually mean or want to say. In some scenarios, they might not actually fully remember what they said or did. It’s a really strange experience and it’s kinda like getting blind drunk. Your normal self knows that this isn’t right, but something else has taken over and makes you make an ass out of yourself.
You should know that PTSD does not automatically equal veteran or sexual assault survivor. These two groups are common among people with PTSD, but they are far from the only reasons why people develop PTSD. Please don’t ask people with PTSD what caused their condition, they’ll probably tell you if they want you to know. Whatever you do, don’t be the asshole who tried to assess if what they went through was ‘traumatic enough’ for PTSD to develop. You’re probably not going to be told everything. Asking someone about what’s very possibly the worst moment in their life is extremely personal. They might even lie because it’s too painful to talk about. It’s also really common to be unable to remember parts of the experience or even the entire thing. There are examples of people who developed PTSD from watching live coverage of 911.
You should know that PTSD is not a sign of weakness. Trauma breaks a lot more people than there are people who develop PTSD. PTSD is like having a wound heal with a scar instead of neatly. It’s not about who breaks and who holds it together, but about how your brain heals after a trauma. You can’t tell mid-trauma who is going to develop PTSD and who is going to be fine.
You should know that PTSD is really bloody complicated.