When An Affectionate Touch Leads to Disassociation: PTSD Triggers
Stable mental health is like the virtual knight that keeps all the demons disguised as disorders away from you. But then, not all of us have a saviour.
I could sense that something wasn’t right when the most unexpected things were turning out to be triggers that led to me disassociating with things I really liked once.
After years of me disassociating because of lack of trust from anyone who lent a helping hand, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety disorder officially knocked on my door when the psychiatrist handed over my reports.
What is PTSD and What Does it Feel Like?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, child abuse or other life-threatening events.
While it’s really nice to offer help to your loved ones suffering from these disorders, it isn’t okay to force or expect them to accept what is offered. This pressure, added to their existing list of fears and worries, eventually leads to them wanting to disassociate with everyone in the most unexpected situations, and they end up repressing the emotional turmoil within.
To give you an idea about what it feels like, here’s a summary.
It feels like something’s piercing through the heart. You have no idea what’s causing it as anything could be a trigger. It’s like a ball that is expanding inside you and is taking up all the space while suffocating you. It’s like being captured in the tiniest room possible without a window for air to pass in. It feels like the pain of yesterday will conjure your today, tomorrow and all the time that lies ahead of you.
That’s how I would describe the feeling based on a personal experience. But speaking in medical terms, here are the symptoms:
1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event – Reliving the trauma through intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, or intense reactions when reminded of the incident.
2. Avoidance and numbing - Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma, being unable to remember aspects of the ordeal, a loss of interest in activities and life, feeling emotionally numb and detached and having a sense of a limited future.
3. Hyperarousal - Sleep problems, irritability, hyper-vigilance, feeling jumpy or easily startled, angry outbursts, self-destructive or reckless behavior.
4. Negative thought and mood changes - A feeling of being alienated or alone, difficulty concentrating or memorising, depression, lack of trust, guilt, shame, or self-blame.
What Led To Disassociation?
A lot goes on in the mind of someone diagnosed with PTSD, which is why one should be careful about what not to say to a loved one going through it. People want to help, but at the same time they expect the person diagnosed with PTSD to reciprocate, which is, as rude it may sound, too much to ask for.
People who were really close to me constantly started telling me what do, so I started cutting them from my life. I would go out alone and binge drink or pop anti-stressors like candy to numb down all my fears and worries.
From “you’re just not putting in enough effort” to “you’re the most thankless and selfish person ever”, these became the regular phrases I got to hear. And finally, all I wanted was to not have anyone around me, so I started avoiding situations and people that required an explanation of any kind.
I had become a pro at avoiding friends and family, their calls, messages, etc.
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How to Deal with a Person Who is Disassociating? The Basics
1. Don’t pressure your loved one into talking instead, let them know you’re willing to listen when they want to talk. Treating them as if they need special care is a big no.
2. Find ways to provide support and companionship.
3. Be patient.
4. Manage your own stress while you take care of them. You cannot take care of someone if you cannot do the same for yourself.
5. Read more about PTSD to get a better understanding.
6. Listen! The ones suffering are longing to be heard.
7. Help them rebuild safety and trust.
8. Give them all the space they need.
It’ll be a roller coaster of emotions for the person suffering from PTSD and their loved ones, but with with all the support needed, it shall too pass.