Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Labels and Tears

In general, I don't like labels. I'm talking about labels in the psychology sense, not the supermarket sense. I feel that they give an impression that life is black and white, while everyone knows that it is several shades of grey (and blue and yellow and red on occasion).

Take PTSD.   Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that:

PTSD can start after any traumatic event. A traumatic event is one where we can see that we are in danger, our life is threatened, or where we see other people dying or being injured. Some typical traumatic events would be: 
  • serious accidents
  • military combat
  • violent personal assault (sexual assault, physical attack, abuse, robbery, mugging)
  • being taken hostage
  • terrorist attack
  • being a prisoner-of-war
  • natural or man-made disasters
  • being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
Even hearing about an the unexpected injury or violent death of a family member or close friend can start PTSD.

This covers a huge variation of experiences and I find it hard to see them all lumped under one heading. How could I possibly equate my experience with that of someone who has been kept hostage or been through a terrorist attack? I find it hard enough to say that is was a serious accident, rather than your average run-of-the-mill sort, but undoubtedly it was because someone died (is that what labels it as 'serious'?)

But of course that's where the shades of grey come in; yes I am experiencing moments of anxiety, and irrational worry about things that 'might happen' to me or my loved ones, and I get tearful easily (all someone has to do is ask me how I'm coping...), but I don't throw myself to the floor when there is a large bang.

On the subject of getting tearful, all my friends know that I am prone to this anyway in emotional situations. One of the things I remember from the crash was that it happened on a Sunday evening, but there was no trace of any emotion or tears from me until the Tuesday morning when the ward doctor came to tell me that the other driver had died. I don't even know why I cried then, I didn't feel anything for her and I still don't; I had no idea how seriously she was injured and it was unexpected news that she had died, so I suppose I was shocked. I didn't feel any guilt because I knew it wasn't my fault. So why did it upset me?

Maybe it was just a reminder that it wasn't a minor accident, that actually it had changed someone's family's life forever, and maybe - that it was all so pointlessly... pointless.


  1. I think sometimes people find it comforting to have a list of symptoms relating to something ie PTSD. I know when we emigrated with the kids as 11 and 15 to Singapore and Michael (15) was having a really hard time with loads of odd illness, I found it very comforting when the school counsellor produced a list of stages of emotions when emigrating. A bit like the stages of grief. It was a real 'oh so that explains it' moment and he had been through and went through practically the list as written.

  2. Yes, I can see that too. We don't like unexplained emotions, "WHY am I feeling like this? why now? why not 2/3/6 weeks ago?"

    With this particular one I almost feel like I'm not worthy of being diagnosed with something like PTSD because hey it's only a broken leg. But it's not the leg that's the problem, it's the brain!

  3. Hey, come on, the broken leg is only the most obvious symptom of the whole thing. Something that people can see and comment on. It's the other stuff that qualifies as PTSD and sometimes you need reminding that that's why you're worrying more than usual about Alex in the van x

  4. Yes I know, but to me the amount of damage is indicative of the seriousness and how traumatic it 'should be', if you see what I mean? Now I know as well as you do that is *totally* irrational!! And yes I do need reminding of that - quite a lot ;-)

  5. Everyone is different and what affects one may not have the same impact on another. You need to heal...both physically and emotionally and that takes time. Be kind to'll get there!

    C x


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