4723657763_f85d0d2b36_zImage by Helga Weber via Flickr (CC)

“Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot. You can’t process it because it doesn’t fit with what came before or what comes afterwards.”  ― Jessica Stern

When we think of trauma, we often think of literal battlefields, bullets flying and soldiers ducking for cover.  However, trauma can happen much closer to home and is a surprisingly common occurrence.  In the United States, over 50 percent of women report having experienced at least one traumatic event and, of those, half have experienced multiple traumas. Trauma leaves an indelible mark on the psyche, often splitting one’s life into a “before” and “after.” While many are able to process the experience and move forward, others can become trapped in a swell of emotions – fear, anger, guilt, relief.  For some, this evolves into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as PTSD. In the United States, about 10 percent of women experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime.  

PTSD is characterized by a series of symptoms that develop in the wake of a traumatic event. These include intrusive memories of the event, nightmares related to the trauma, flashbacks, and intense physical responses to cues that remind the individual of the trauma. For a woman assaulted while walking back to her car after work, this might include intrusive images of the attack, recurrent dreams of being chased and palpitations every time she hears footsteps behind her. PTSD also includes avoidance of things associated with the traumatic event. For example, being unable to walk to one’s car alone after work, or not being able to go to work at all. There are also distortions in an individual’s thought process and emotions. The woman might blame herself for the event – if only I had fought harder, yelled louder, parked my car someplace else, worn a different outfit – and hold onto a slew of negative emotions. Often those with PTSD feel detached from others, and things they previously found enjoyable no longer bring pleasure. For some, there can be significant gaps in the memory of the event itself.  

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