Many do not know this about PTSD
I want to discuss something a little different about PTSD that many are not aware of. I have people ask me quite often if it is normal or possible for PTSD to show up after the fact, as in years after a trauma occurred.
The answer is ABSOLUTELY!
Many that have experienced a trauma(s) do manage to keep PTSD and it’s symptoms “in it’s box”, as I have always referred to it as, many times for years before it becomes severe or more noticeable. My own husband did it, he is one of the many numbers of people this happens to. This can happen for many different reasons, but I want to talk about a few of the most common possibilities to why this happens…
A trauma such as child abuse, rape, or an assault for example purposes. Many that experienced traumas such as these or other traumas, lock those memories away. They don’t want to talk about them, many times those traumas bring guilt, embarrassment, the feeling of shame, and most of all fear, which cause one to avoid talking to others about the trauma.
Then there is the brain and mind itself. The brain/mind itself can lock portions of or at times full memories away of the trauma experienced. It can be a way of the mind protecting you that is not done on purpose or a way of you yourself trying to forget about what you experienced so you can move forward in life. It can be for many almost like a “it’s done, it’s over, I can’t change what happened” and it gets locked away in a box.
No time to process what happened. This really affects those that are in a line of work or duty to where there is no time to process or think about what they experienced, duty calls and they are expected to be there and they are. They push through what happened and keep going, they had to and were expected to. Once pushing on they later get almost a false sense of “hey that did not bother me, I’m okay”. That is the end of the thought or conversation, the trauma is placed into a box.
Workaholics. This is very common! This happens quite often when one that has experienced a trauma and the next thing you know they indulge, or over indulge, themselves into their work or a new career. They stay busy. They want to feel normal, honestly believe they are okay, and many may not realize why they like staying so busy with constant work. They avoid talking about what they went through and just push forward with everyday life as if nothing ever happened. Many times this is something that is forced due to providing for their family, they have no choice and must work and the trauma gets set to the side, so to speak. So that trauma gets placed into that box as they carry on with life and what they must do.
When examples like these situations occur, one may go years without any symptoms of PTSD, others may show milder signs of symptoms but they are mistaken as personality traits or as if one is just having a bad day. There are many that mask or numb themselves from their traumas with alcohol or other substances, so that bottle or other form of self-medicating gets blamed when the root of it is actually that trauma and PTSD… why they do those things. It numbs the pain of what that trauma has in reality caused them.
When I say years, some studies have shown that PTSD can remain in it’s box for up to 60+ years before it gets triggered. Our beloved Vietnam Veterans (and this does happen to civilians as well) are a prime example of delayed onset of PTSD for 40+ years or it not being recognized as PTSD until years later. (And I love and respect every single one of you and we would be lost without you! You all are a huge part of the reason my husband is alive today!)
So if PTSD can sit in it’s box, on a shelf, for years upon years, then why all of a sudden does it come out of that box?
It only takes one trigger or reminder of a person’s trauma for PTSD to come out from hiding. When it does it is normally severe levels. One can go years without being faced with a trigger before one appears. It could be a movie, it could be a ceremony, it could be seeing a person who reminds you of someone from your trauma, it could be another natural disaster, it could be a reminder at the same time frame as a trauma anniversary and the combination sets everything into motion. One trigger can also unlock the memories that the brain has locked away for years.
Do you know what else may cause PTSD to come out of it’s box?
Retirement! For those that pushed through the years working, staying busy, and never processed or were unable to process what they experienced for whatever reason, stigma is a part of it for many, that change in routine can very well set PTSD free. This is extremely common for those that have reached or are getting ready to reach retirement age.
When you hear our elders, your elders (Had to use the term elders, love ya Dean! “My elder”… there’s a story behind that ) say “Reach for help”, take them seriously! Traumas and processing them as soon as possible, getting help for them, are nothing to “man up” about whether you think they have affected you or not. Trust me, it is better to be safe than sorry years down the road. There is nothing wrong or shameful about reaching for help right now.
In fact, if you do there is a very high chance you will learn now how to manage and cope with the symptoms when or if they come and what you experienced, before PTSD tries to consume your life, and can avoid a lot of pain and suffering later on in life. Many people years ago were not given that option of reaching for help that is available now. I personally do not believe PTSD will go away, but I do believe if you take the right steps in getting correct help you can learn to manage it, but you need the tools to do so. Do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it so you can live the most fullest life possible.
Traumas are not a joke, they are not things to brush under a rug until later. There are many people that did not have the choices and resources that are available today. What you do now can make a huge difference, positive difference in your future. Delayed onset of PTSD or it coming out of it’s box years down the road seemingly out of nowhere, is not a fun roller coaster for you or your family.
I do not know of even one person from the Vietnam era and that age range civilians, or even my own husband, that would not tell you they wished they had the help and knowledge at the beginning that is available today, and wished they had known to reach for help sooner. Listen to them, they are already living in the shoes of what may come later.
I will also say to those that are in that “years later” of symptoms showing up, reach for help if you have not, keep reaching for help until you find what is best for you, the help is available to you now. YOU ARE IMPORTANT! None of us can change the past or what you went through, but we can stand together now, help each other, and learn from each other.
Here is a great article from a few years ago from “Stars and Stripes” regarding PTSD and retirement for those that may be interested… (May contain triggers for some but does not tell detailed traumas)
Stars and Stripes “Retirement might unleash PTSD Symptoms in Vietnam Veterans”