Warning: This article contains descriptions of traumatic events, including rape, which some readers might find upsetting
I always thought I had a pretty good understanding of trauma. I’ve been writing about mental health for the last five years, and since 2011 I’ve worked with survivors of trafficking, domestic and sexual violence, and later with refugees and asylum seekers who’ve lived through unspeakable violence, torture and loss. But I never fully understood PTSD – or how much it can fuck you up – until I experienced it myself.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder estimated to affect one in 10 people. The national PTSD charity, PTSD UK describes it as “essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event” – although not everyone who experiences trauma will go on to develop PTSD. Symptoms include increased anxiety and hypervigilance, avoidance and numbing, re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares, as well as self-destructive behaviours, feelings of guilt and shame.
It’s mostly associated with military combat, natural disasters and terror attacks but it is also commonly caused by a number of distressing events like serious accidents, violent and sexual assaults. Postpartum trauma is another cause, with 9% of women experiencing PTSD after giving birth.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about PTSD over the last few years is that recovery is an ongoing and not always linear process. You don’t just wake up one day and feel fixed, and sometimes it gets harder before it gets easier.