The many flavours of PTSD: It’s not a competition!

Today – by request – we’re going to talk a bit about what trauma actually is.

It turns out, different people have different ideas about what’s awful enough to be “real trauma”.

You might have a buddy who went through some really messed up stuff. You might think, he or she “earned” their right to have PTSD because of what they went through.

In comparison, what you went through might not seem as bad. Maybe you have nightmares, and you avoid things that remind you of what happened. And you get angry at yourself. You start telling yourself that if you should be able to handle it, and what’s wrong with you that you can’t.

Worse still – it might be other people telling you this stuff. They might they have a different flavour of PTSD than yours, because they went through different stuff. Somehow they might think that their trauma is bigger and better than yours, and yours isn’t “real” enough.

It’s not a competition.

To put it in perspective, imagine it was a broken leg. You could break your leg getting hit by a stampeding hippopotamus. (Hey, you never know). Or, you could trip over your kid’s toy and fall down the stairs. The difference is, with scenario #1 you get an awesome story… story #2 doesn’t sound as cool. Leg’s still messed up though.

Trauma that causes PTSD is sort of like that too – sometimes, it’s a hippopotamus – it comes with the type of “Rambo” story that movies are made of. Other times, it doesn’t make for a great story.

(HEADS UP: I’m going to describe the kinds of stuff that might cause PTSD. I’m NOT going to use examples, but it still might be tough to read. If you get unsettled, remind yourself that what happened is over. If you need more help coping, try these. )

A “traumatic event” is any situation where you’re exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

Actual or threatened means that even if it doesn’t end up happening, if you were scared because there was a real risk that it was going to happen, that can still mess you up.

It doesn’t have to happen to you; you can witness it happening to someone else, and be helpless to stop it.

Even if you aren’t there when it happened, learning the gory details of what happened to someone else can mess with you.

This is the way your brain works; trauma comes in many different flavours.

Maybe you didn’t get your PTSD from combat. Maybe you weren’t even deployed. So, it might seem that your trauma isn’t quite as “sexy” as someone else’s.

Really, people: It’s trauma. It ain’t lingerie. It don’t need to be sexy.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.


*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M&C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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14 thoughts on “The many flavours of PTSD: It’s not a competition!

  1. I often lament the lack of respect from the unknowing and uncaring nation… more often, the greatest fault being I can no longer respect myself… where does one go, when mind, body, and spirit are lost amongst the daily challenges of living with this..??

    1. One goes to be among friends, people who understand and respect what you’ve been through, and what you’re still going through every day.

      Right here is a perfectly good place to go.

  2. Hi Dee. I think this is one post that really needs to be passed around. It took me years to understand (and accept) this fact. I left the forces (ran away in fact) in 1998 with 21 years service. I just couldn’t cope anymore. Took a course in computers and got a job putting together and running a network for a manufacturing company. Things were ok for a while or so I thought. Even had a call from DND Ottawa, “Croatian board of inquiry” asking me to go for some tests. ( because so many soldiers were sick and they didn’t know why). Looking back, I had many symptoms of PTSD and the Dr. even asked me if I felt I needed help. But in my mind, I hadn’t lived anything traumatic. Better leave the care for those who really had it rough. In 2002, I had to give up a second promissing career because of stress. I finally contacted VAC in 2004 to ask for help in finding less stressful employnent. That is when I first found out I was suffering from PTSD. But it wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to find a therapist that could explain the cause. Ok, so I had not seen anything really gory, and not been in an actual firefight, so then what? “Repeated exposure to human suffering caused by other humans, combined with prolonged high stress situations.” That was mainly what did it for me. It took me a long time to accept that. I felt less than manly. It took me 14 years (Croatia 1995 to therapist in 2009) to finaly start adequate treatment. A lot had to do with lack of understanding of PTSD both on my part as well as from the different therapist I consulted, but also due to the fact that I thought that others had more “right” to it than me. I finnaly understood that I was not weak. Having compassion and caring about others is definatly not a sign of weakness. But if you have compassion for others, why not have some for yourself?

    1. Thanks Jon. Sounds familiar. Have most of the symptoms of PTSD, but never pursued it. No one specific traumatizing event. But was an MP for nine years and Corrections for 11 years. Dealt and fought with some crazy peeps. Do have a lot of realistic dreams, about fighting peeps, waking up swetting. Have hyperviligence issues and very uneasy around strangers.

      1. Edward – you don’t need to have “one specific traumatizing event” – often, when you work in an occupation like an MP or in Corrections, you see so much day to day that there isn’t one thing that stands out as the big thing – it’s a lot of big things, only you’re so used to them that they don’t even seem big anymore. I can’t diagnose based on the description you’ve provided; but, it sounds like you’re dealing with a lot of stuff that a skilled professional can help with. Getting help might be something to consider.

      2. You are most welcome Edward. I am really happy if my post can brings help to just one person. Take care of “yourself” my friend. You are the only one who can…

    2. John – thanks so much for sharing your story – you’d be amazed how common it is, for people who weren’t involved in a firefight to not seek help, to feel less than manly, to think that others somehow have more right to their PTSD than you have to yours. The sense of shame – the idea that somehow you should be able to just get past what you went through – adds a lot of layers to your suffering. You’re absolutely right – we don’t even realize how we set a different standard for others than we do for ourselves. Thank you for sharing your story, and thank you for getting help.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I don’t have combat related PTSD, my PTSD comes from a non military source, even though I was in the military. my PTSD isn’t worse than anyone’s if we’re comparing the actual trauma. That’s what makes it so hard, there are no support groups for people who have experienced frightening psychic, paranormal trauma. I go to PTSD groups because I understand the messed up ness that comes with it and I want to offer empathy. We beat ourselves up over what’s going on with us on a constant never ending basis. I try to make sure that anyone in my path who has it, doesn’t do that and I’m trying myself not not beat myself up over it. The beating yourself up, is probably just another symptom of PTSD, too. Thank you again, for posting this.


    1. Maria,

      I’m glad you found this post helpful. Beating yourself up over something you can’t help, as you said, just adds another layer to your misery. It might be depression in addition to PTSD, and I’ve got a couple of blog posts on that as well. As you said – learning not to blame yourself for what isn’t your fault is a challenge, but it’s an important piece of healing.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I too suffer from PTSD non military related, but I am a child of the military. My daughter at age 8 was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – her first seizure took place at night when we were all asleep – I heard a weird noise and a gurgling sound. I went into her room and found her on the floor with blood coming from her mouth. She had hit her mouth on the night table when she fell out of bed. She was in a full on seizure. I ran to get the adrenaline I kept on hand for this exact situation. It was a 2 part process. A syringe filled with liquid and a vial with powder – I had to inject the liquid into the vial and then draw it out to inject my daughter all the while she is seizing. When I pulled the syringe down there was no stopper and it came right out the bottom emptying the contents. I didn’t have another one. 911 had been called but she was still seizing. I went and got a back up item, a packet filled with liquified sweeted gel. I put my hand in her mouth while she was seizing and tried to rub some of the gel into the inside of her cheek. It started to work so by the time the EMTs got there she was no longer seizing, but she did go to hospital by ambulance to get checked out. That was only 1 time. There were at least 3 more of these types of incidents while she was young. I got so I slept on the edge of my bed trying not to get too comfortable so I would be on the verge of sleep so I could hear her if it happened again. This is one contributing factor to my PTSD. That, and the fact that my husband was an alcholic and could not be relied upon to be there for me or my daughter. Then there was the time that my father inappropriately touched me when I was 19 years old ……

  5. I was diagnosed by a VA Dr as having PTSD and Depression for things I’ve seen in Kuwait, but it seems that if you go ashore for 8 hours for your own time on an operation all of a sudden you’re there on vacation and what I seen wasn’t in the line of Duty, so of all you smart people please explain that to me it doesn’t seem very ethical to me.

  6. Pretty sure I lived in hell long enough to call it home. Been to a few funerals of Brutha’s that I thought were stronger than me! PTSD is Rape! it’s Sodomy, it’s Genocide, it’s a war that you have to fight until you die!
    How long do you have? I dunno, how hard can you fight? It would be easier if our goverment didn’t cast us aside when we came home. If people didn’t judge us as lunitic’s because we ran outa a mall! I’m growin’ tired. My choice is acceptance or stay away from everyone. I choose to go. But be warned, as the fence goes up with signs to stay out, I’m not bluffing! Stay away! This is where society places me, Not where I want to be!

  7. What makes the trauma that soldiers experience different from other people who suffer trauma? Our government sent our young men and women to war, so they are responsible to take care of them, when they suffer from the trauma of war on all levels, as long as it takes….until no soldier is left behind. Amen

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