After dodging it for 2.5 years, I contracted Covid while traveling abroad. Since I live with C-PTSD, I wrote this article before I got sick because I saw the effects of it, both on individuals and globally. After having it, I can also speak to the shame and guilt one can feel from catching it, as well as the feelings of being ostracized and treated as if you are a leper, which exacerbates the traumatic effect.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a real issue that survivors face in the aftermath of traumatic experiences. While there’s no way to erase or remove the experience entirely, there are ways to cope with PTSD and manage its effects. According to Safe Horizon, as many as 10-20% of people will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. This article will explore what it is and why you might be experiencing the symptoms, how you can help yourself get better, and what resources are available for those who need them.
You’re not alone.
What Is PTSD?
This is a psychiatric injury that impacts a person’s state of mind and emotional health after either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It’s normal to experience some short-term anxiety and even insomnia after a distressing event, but if those symptoms don’t go away after a few weeks, then you may have PTSD. If you were in a particularly high-stress situation for a long period of time, then you might experience symptoms of PTSD. While it may seem like an extreme reaction to what’s happened, PTSD is an extremely common response to situations like being in a war zone, surviving a vehicle collision, or experiencing a violent assault. In situations like these, you may have had to respond to things that no one should ever have to face. You may have had to make difficult decisions that put other people’s lives in danger or sacrificed your own safety for someone else’s. You may have had to see terrible things happen to yourself or others. While these experiences may fade from your memory over time, they have a lasting impact on your psychological health.
Can Covid Really Cause PTSD?
For the past two and a half years, we have been in a global pandemic (in case you didn’t get the memo). Add to that the increasing undeniability of climate collapse and the most unstable political situation the USA & EU have known in my 53 years, and it’s no wonder anxiety and depression are on the rise. People who have never dealt with these things before have been thrown for a loop. Terrified of slowly suffocating alone in an overcrowded hospital. Knowing it’s a matter of time before you’re caught in the crossfire of one of America’s daily mass shootings. Watching women’s and LGTBQ rights eroded MAGAts and our very democracy threatened by white supremacists. Their desperation has multiplied since Covid, as has homelessness, unemployment, and a general sense of foreboding.
This ongoing (seemingly endless) fear can totally cause PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
A decade ago, my husband noticed my symptoms matched an audio book he had recently listened to about PTSD. It was that proverbial light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. Once I understood what was happening with me, I could address it. It might be the same for you.
Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Difficulty sleeping. Nightmares, insomnia, and feeling tired even after a good night’s sleep are all signs that your sleep cycle is being disrupted by the stress of PTSD.
- Feeling stressed and anxious. PTSD often causes feelings of anxiety and even panic. You may feel restless and like you’re on edge. You may feel an extreme sense of unease at anything that reminds you of the state of the world and the uncertainty of the future.
- Avoidance. Some people will want to avoid talking about the trauma they’ve experienced entirely and may even want to avoid other people who were there—or even other people all together. They may find being in public to be extremely difficult because they’re afraid of running into someone who’s familiar with what happened.
- Flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. If you’ve had Covid, you may suddenly find yourself experiencing the event all over again. These flashbacks may be visual, auditory, or even tactile. They can be very intense and frightening, and you may not even realize that you’re having them at first. Intrusive thoughts are another side of this, where distressing thoughts force their way in several times a day. These can manifest as fear of people and catching Covid, fear of running into angry, violent people made more desperate by this pandemic, or fear of losing a loved one to Covid.
- Guilt and shame. It’s normal to experience emotions that make you feel like you’ve done something wrong after an extremely traumatic event (or after contracting Covid), as we’re socialized in our society to blame ourselves.
- Sadness, depression, or apathy. You may feel extremely sad for no apparent reason and find it difficult to enjoy the things that you usually do. You may even feel so sad that you’re depressed and have no interest in getting out of bed. It might present as apathy rather than sadness, too. You suddenly just don’t care about anything. It doesn’t matter if you lose your friends, your job, or even your life. You just don’t have the energy to care.
- Hypervigilance. This is a heightened state of awareness that makes you feel like you’re always on guard and expecting danger. This can even take the form of obsessively checking Twitter or the news to read about the next calamity, as it seems there’s a new one every day.
- Brain fog & trouble focusing. People with PTSD often walk around feeling like they’re in a fog. You might notice you’re not able to concentrate on work or even reading a book. You may become incredibly anxious about having to make a mistake or interact with a difficult person. You may also struggle with intrusive thoughts that cause you to make mistakes.
If these symptoms persist for more than a few months, they may be a sign of PTSD. You may also feel like you’re broken because you don’t “feel” the same way as you used to, and PTSD can put a lot of stress on your romantic relationships if your significant other is unaware of the symptoms or just simply doesn’t know what to do. You may become withdrawn and uninterested in sex, and you may be overly anxious about the future.
Some people try to self-medicate with alcohol and other substances. Unfortunately, this only makes your PTSD worse and can lead to an addiction. There are healthier ways to cope with distressing emotions caused by PTSD, C-PTSD, or mental illness.
How to Help Yourself Heal
If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, there are a few things that you can do to help yourself get better. I’ve written several blog posts on tips to deal with PTSD and difficult emotions, like this one, this one, and this one. You can also join my newsletter mailing list for tips delivered right to your inbox!
Here are some other things:
- See a PTSD, trauma-informed therapist. It’s important to talk to a professional who has experience with PTSD. They can help you to understand your symptoms and provide you with strategies for managing them. However, therapists are overbooked in some areas because so many people are suffering with depression and anxiety since Covid. Still, it’s worth looking!
- Work on building a support network. PTSD can make you feel alone, but it’s important to reach out to others who understand what you’re going through. It can also help you to realize that you’re not alone in your struggles. There are so many people dealing with this now. It’s global, so a personal network or even a therapy group can remind you that you’re not alone.
- Stay active. Although it can sound so dismissive to hear “just exercise more for those endorphins,” getting exercise can help you to manage your stress levels. Although, if you’re so depressed you can’t leave the house, it might difficult to exercise. For me, I love tap dancing! I do in inside my home through YouTube videos, especially Drury Lane Tap! If it’s a particularly low energy day, I will simply march for 30 minutes while watching Netflix.
- Try new things.It’s important to engage in new activities even if they scare you. This will help you to break out of your comfort zone and take control of your life again.
All that said, if you just unable to muster the energy, that’s okay, too. PTSD, depression, and anxiety are difficult things to deal with! Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself how you would treat your best friend if they were going through the same thing.
PTSD can be a very challenging condition to live with, but it is possible to manage it. Remember that you’re not alone, and help is out there for you if you need it.
May you find peace.
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