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How To Deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Part 1 - The Night After The Incident
I am a survivor of an assault incident. I was blessed and lucky to be alive. But the incident left a scar that I have to live through my life. I had to go through post traumatic stress disorder.
I was already cleared by my psychiatrist more than a year ago. It was three months to my medication and three months from the incident. She even remarked that I had a remarkable recovery. I owe my recovery to medication, family support and time away from the stress of life.
Yes, because of the incident, I had to think for my self and my own well-being that I decided to resign from my work. I thought at that time that if I will squeeze in my recovery amidst my career, I will go literally crazy. So my work took a back seat, a decision which I had no regrets at all.
Recounting what happened is now a bit easy for me. But you cannot choose to erase bad memories of your experience. Although the recall now is not that pronounced as compared to the night of the incident, I still have some recurring symptoms which I am now prepared to deal with.
Dealing with it is a deliberate choice. My other option is to be a victim. But you don't have to be a victim because this is a case where many scientific studies have proven results. I chose to side with knowledge.
Being away from work and focusing on my recovery, I had all the time to myself. It was then that I started my journal. I was writing how I felt that day. I jotted down my thoughts and things to do. I recorded my doubts and my sought information of confirming them. Before I realized, more than a year has already passed.
Symptoms: The Night After The Incident
I felt okay. Or I thought I was. I had nothing to worry because I was alive. The operation on my left hand went successful. Now I only have to nurse the wound. The doctor told me that after it heals, I had to go through physical therapy to make my hands operate normally. The good news is that no nerve was severed by the deep cut between my thumb and point finger. I endured this to protect my neck from being slashed by the criminal. I only had to stay a few nights in the hospital and I can continue my recovery at home. So things, I thought, were okay.
In modern hospitals nowadays, the more specialists you have attending to you the better. Aside from the hand specialist and the anesthesiologist that administered my operation , I had a gynecologist, a legal doctor and a psychiatrist attending to my case in less than a week. The gynecologist had to make sure I was not raped. The legal doctor, a doctor that is also a lawyer, will make the report on my case should a criminal case will be filed against the assailant. I was taken aback when I was informed that I needed to see a psychiatrist. I am not crazy. The assault incident that happened to me was no crazy joke. Only crazy people go to psychiatrist. The only reason I agreed to it is that I needed a professional to testify that I am not insane.
I was already prepared when the psychiatrist came to his appointed rounds. He was calm and very reassuring. He asked me if I was able to sleep. I told him I didn't have a good night sleep because I was minding the pain. The wound in my hand was extremely painful and no pain reliever or ice pack was able to alleviate it. Then he told me, I have all the symptoms. Symptoms for what? He hasn't even seen me once then he already has this conclusion about me. This was making me anxious. The last thing I want was to be diagnosed with some mental illness. The thought of being ostracized by the society was not a good idea.
He told me that I had 1) difficulty of falling or staying asleep, 2) gets easily startled, 3) flashback or recall of the incident with intense physical reaction and 4) avoiding reminders of the trauma. I had the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Believe me, it was my first time to encounter such a word and I was the one being diagnosed. How can he know all this?
I was thankful for the health plan our company provided because I was able to check-in one of the state-of-the-art hospitals in the metro. One feature they had was a CCTV monitoring camera placed in the rooms. Objectively, the psychiatrist was able to observe my condition.
Difficulty of Falling or Staying Asleep
Aside from the unbearable pain that the operation in my left hand had brought me, I didn't want to sleep until the night was over. Deliberately, I was keeping myself and my companion awake all the time because I was fearful of the dark outside. I was thinking that because of that darkness the criminal had its way of making the incident happen. My only recourse was to see the light of day to assure me of my safety.
Indeed, when I saw the glimpse of light at dawn with my exhausted body, I was calm to take my sleep for a few hours.
Gets Easily Startled
I can get this effect with caffeine only. But not the level and intensity after the assault incident. I get startled when someone opened the room's entrance door, when someone opened the comfort room door, when something fell into the ground, when there's a flutter in the curtains, when something creaked in the wall and all other small details which previously I didn't mind. All my receptors were heightened and my peripheral vision widened in anticipation or in preparation of something.
One feature of the hospital room I was in was a curtain to cover the entrance door. The curtain provided me the delay of being immediately startled because I can hear and see someone's coming. All the while with the delay I was always on guard.
Flashback of the Incident
The night after the incident, the anxiety was building up as the time draws near to the very same time the incident happened. I was becoming anxious, unsettled and tense. Although I tried to remind myself that I am within safe premises, I was overwhelmed by the trauma I faced. I was like reliving the moment in my head bit by bit, detail by detail and account by account. I found myself crying. I was asking the people around me to help me bear the fear within the hour it happenened.
It was the most excruciatingly uncomfortable moment of my life. I was rocking back and forth in my hospital bed. I was rubbing my feet against the sheets. I was gnashing my teeth while crying and mumbling details I could remember of the incident. It was an episode of panic attacks.
Avoiding Reminders of the Trauma
Right after the incident, I didn't want to see or be reminded of all the things that were in my house where the incident happened. Vividly in my mind I tried to forget the image of my suitcases, my clothes, the furniture, the curtains and even the toiletries that I used in the bathroom that night. I was ordering my office mates to give away all the things I had in my rented house.
Even going to the hospital bathroom scared me because I could remember myself taking a bath before the incident happened. It is like a pattern in my head was formed that whenever a situation fits to the event before the incident, I would conclude that the same thing will happen again.
Road To Recovery
The most important decision I made in my life was to be subjected to the psychiatrist's expertise. If it were not for him, I would be a total wreck by now. The stress is real and it was overwhelming me. The effect of trauma on someone is psychologically and emotionally damaging. I was thankful I was drawn away from that.
The psychiatrist immediately prescribed medication for my recovery. He gave me anti-depressant, a sleeping pill and another drug that I later found out was reserved for acute seizure and sedation. The first night I took his medication (the anti-depressant and sleeping pill) was utterly different than the first night after the incident. Details will be posted in How To Deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Part 2 - The Week After.