Haunted Thoughts

Burying the Ghosts of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Requires Recognizing that They’re Real


Growl Staff

The human race has always felt an obligation to preserve their memories.  A mother making a scrapbook page for each of her children, or a high schooler making a Snapchat story; each recording moments that are precious to them and saving them.  People like having these material or recorded reminders of old times because their brains sometimes forget details that they want to keep.  People usually only make an effort to keep their good memories and do their best to cast out the bad ones.  However, the brain can’t always do that and sometimes it can’t forget the bad ones.  In extreme cases when someone is exposed to a traumatic situation, they may never be able to forget and will constantly be haunted by their experience.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental illness in which someone is unable to completely recover inwardly from a horrific event. This can be anything like the commonly-associated military service, sexual assault, violence, or even a dramatic shift in one’s life.  

On a microscopic level, PTSD is when the hippocampus (what moves forward the needed responses to stimuli) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (what regulates emotions) stop interacting properly with the amygdala (what helps process emotions like fear).  This lack of interaction leads the amygdala to get into fits since nothing is regulating the feelings it’s processing.  

Any sudden or specific event in someone’s life can be considered traumatic and can vary in its degree of severity.  PTSD is most closely correlated to military service and several forms of assault. Although those take the spotlight, it is more common to experience PTSD from the sudden passing of a loved one or from being exposed to any level of abuse or trauma. For example, having someone ask about a sibling that you were always compared to as a child, can be a trigger to a panic attack because that caused you great distress as a child. A song or mention of a name can trigger feelings of sadness if someone is still mourning the loss of another. However it presents itself, one form of PTSD is just as valid as the other.

A triggering event can affect a person just as deeply as the initial trauma. For some people, it might be fireworks commemorating a celebration, or walking in a dark parking garage after experiencing an assault.  Some might not even know what will set them off until it comes up. It is important to be sensitive to others because we may never know what’s going in anyone’s personal life.  Sure, the “triggered” memes going around Twitter can be funny sometimes; but we need to make sure that we don’t make a complete mockery of triggers.  You never know what sensitive topic might bring up horrible memories for someone.  Another thing to take to consideration is that even though someone’s bad experience may not seem as awful as another person’s, everyone’s pain matters.  Someone getting out of a relationship they so wanted isn’t the same kind of pain as someone losing a parent, but both people feel that hurt and need to find their ways to cope with it.  Labeling someone’s situation as worse than another’s isn’t healthy for the people suffering since it makes them feel like their feelings aren’t valid.

The most important thing that we can do is to just be considerate of people’s feelings. Be aware and take the way they feel seriously. If you know that someone is going through a difficult time, sometimes asking them if they’re okay or if they need anything could potentially mean the world to them.