Overcoming Trauma Builds Character

Harry was 62 years old when he presented to see me for the first time. He had never sought any sort of mental health care previously and was clearly uncomfortable as he came online for our first meeting. Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, he told me that he needed something to help him sleep. The more we talked, the more I learned about Henry. He was a self made man, working tirelessly to overcome the poverty stricken neighborhood he grew up in. He was successful in his personal and professional life, running an incredibly successful construction company for the past 40 years and enjoying a loving relationship with his wife of more than 30 years. Together they had raised 4 children whom they were very proud of. Harry couldn’t figure out why he had started having nightmares from which he would wake up drenched in sweat and screaming until his wife fully woke him up. During the day, seemingly benign situations would suddenly trigger his heart to race, his palms to sweat and give him a strange but overwhelming urge to run away, although from what he was never really sure. He also told me that he’d started to have these intense and random thoughts about horrible things from his past that would just “pop into my head for no reason. I mean, these are things that happened to me when I was just a little kid. I haven’t thought about these things in more than 50 years. Why on earth is this happening to me?

Harry was raised by his mother, who struggled to make ends meet. She worked long hours and Harry was often left in charge of his younger siblings for 12 or more hours a day. When his mother was home she was “all over the place. Sometimes she’d be loving and kind and other times she beat the crap out of us. We knew if she came home with a male friend, we better hide. Sometimes the men she brought home would hit us around, sometimes they did things to us that I don’t want to talk about, you know, sexual things.” This lasted for many years and as soon as Harry was able to, he left home at age 16. And he managed to leave his past in the past for many, many years. But something had triggered the traumas of his past and he was now experiencing PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder. Upon further discussion, we discovered that his PTSD was initially triggered by the preterm birth of his first grandson, Evan. Evan was born at 31 weeks and was very sick in the hospital for many months after his birth. There were times that he was not expected to live and this filled Harry with feelings of helplessness at his inability to save his grandson. This helplessness felt a lot like the helplessness he felt as a boy, unable to protect himself and his siblings from their environment.

Harry agreed to start weekly therapy specifically aimed at treating PTSD and also agreed to take medication to help calm the anxiety he was feeling and improve his sleep by stopping the nightmares. After a few months of treatment, he reported significant improvements in his symptoms. He continued treatment for two years and eventually, decided the intrusive thoughts, nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks had subsided and successfully graduated from therapy and tapered off his medications. He told me, “this wasn’t an easy journey but I guess it was one I had to face sooner or later. I’m glad I’m finally at real peace with my past.

What WellPsyche Patients Are Saying

“After my sexual assault in college, I dropped out, moved across the country and attempted to start a new life. I thought if I could just get away from the place where it happened, I’d be fine. But I wasn’t. The nightmares were awful, the panic attacks happened every time I’d see a male I didn’t know, a police officer, a college campus, a blue car (my assailant had a blue car). I couldn’t function. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my mental health team. My therapist helped me through the darkest days of my life. My psychiatrist helped support me with medication to help make the process less brutal. I’m still angry that my attacker took those years from my life but I’m not consumed by it and I’m now able to help other sexual assault victims which feels really good.”

Tessa, age 24

“When I returned from my 7th tour in Afghanistan, I was messed up. I’d seen things no one should see and had suffered serious bodily harm in the last mission I’d be on. The physical injuries were healing but my mental ones were not. I was staying in my apartment all day, not showering or really doing anything. Going out of my apartment was too overwhelming. Being able to do therapy and get medication to help me without leaving my apartment was a godsend.”

Chris, age 34

“The birth of my third child was a disaster. I was 37 weeks pregnant without any complications and all of a sudden, woke up in intensive care without my pregnant belly. I had undergone a c-section while in a medically induced coma and had no recollection of the events leading up to the coma. My husband had to tell me what happened. Basically I had a virus that spun out of control really quickly. My baby was fine. I was fine and sent home when the baby was only 2 weeks old. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take care of her the way I had my other two. I cried all day and felt like I was going to die or that my baby would die. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt like I was going crazy. I thought PTSD was just something that happened to people in war. I had no idea it could happen to me. It took a while but with therapy and medication, I found myself again. I was able to care for my children. I was able to go on with life without the fear of death constantly holding me back.”

Lyla, age 42

Did You Know?

MANY famous and highly successful people have been diagnosed with PTSD including Ariana Grande, Singer and Songwriter, Whoopie Goldberg, Actress, Mick Jagger, Performer, Musician, Audie Murphy, Actor and War Veteran, Darrell Hammond, Actor and comedian, just to name a few.

PTSD Resources





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