It was a lovely day in summer afternoon, and 16-years old Lucy has been roller-skating in a public park in New York, U.S.A. suddenly the park seemed deserted, and she decided to leave. As she sat near her family’s minivan removing her skates, a stranger approached her.
With the chilling words “I‘ve got a knife! Shut up or I’ll kill you!” he demanded sex, grabbed Lucy, and tried to shove her inside the minivan. She screamed as loud as she could, but that did not stop the attack.
“I felt so utterly helpless,” Lucy recalled later. “Like a bug versus giant. But I kept screaming and struggling. Finally, I called out to God, ‘please don’t let this happen tom!” That seemed to startle the attacker, who suddenly released her and fled the scene.
As the would-be rapist got into his car, Lucy locked herself in her van, trembling. Grabbing the cell phone, she forced herself to be calm. She called the police and gave an accurate description of the suspect’s car and its license number, which led to his arrest within minutes.
A HAPPY ENDING?
Yes, but not immediately. Lucy’s ordeal had only begun. Although the police and newspapers praised her quick thinking and clearheaded. “After a few weeks, I began to fall apart,” she recounts. “My body was in a continual state of panic, which kept me from sleeping.
After several weeks of this, I was unable to study or to focus mentally. I also had panic attacks. At school a classmate who looked a little like my attacker tapped me on the shoulder to ask the time, and I almost went to pieces.”
She says; “I was so miserable. I lost contact with my friends, and the loneliness only added to the depression. I blamed myself for allowing the attack, and I grieved for the happy, trusting person I had been before it happened. I felt as if that person had died.”
Lucy was experiencing some of the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. What is PTSD, and what can be done to help those who suffer from its devastating symptoms?
Years ago, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] was usually called shell shock or combat fatigue and was studied primarily in connection with military veterans. Today much has changed. You don’t have to be a soldier to be diagnosed with PTSD. You only have to be a survivor of some traumatic event.
The event could be anything from a war to a rape attempt to a car accident. A fact sheet from the National Center for PTSD, in the United States, puts it this way: “To be diagnosed with PTSD, an individual must have been exposed to a traumatic event.” And this event “must involve some type of actual or threatened PHYSICAL injury or assault.”
Lucy, mentioned in the preceding article, relates: “I have learned that sudden terror causes certain hormones to surge and these hormones causes the senses to become hyperalert to danger. Ordinarily hormone levels fall back down to normal after the danger has passed, but in the case of PTSD sufferers, they remain elevated.” The event was in the past, but the terror of those moments seemed to be trying to take up permanent residence in Lucy’s mind, like an unwelcome tenant who ignores an eviction notice.
If you have survived a trauma and are experiencing similar aftereffects, it is important to realize that you are not alone. In a book she wrote on rape, author Linda E. Ledray explains that PTSD “is a normal reaction seen in normal people who have been through a terrifying situation in which they could not control what was happening.”
Yet, calling PTSD normal doesn’t mean that every survivor of a trauma will develop it. Ledray notes: “A 1992 study found that, one week after a rape, 94 percent of the survivors evaluated met the criteria for PTSD and at twelve weeks 47 percent continue to do so. Fifty percent of the women seen at the Sexual Assault Resource Service in Minneapolis in 1993 met the criteria for PTSD one year after rape.”
Such statistics reveal that PTSD is common, far more common than most people realize. And all sorts of people are sufferers following many types of incidents. Authors Alexander C. McFarlane and Lars Weisaeth observe: “Recent studies have shown that traumatic events frequently happen to civilians during peacetime, as well as to soldiers and war victims, and that many survivors of such frequent events develop PTSD.” Even medical procedures or heart attacks have triggered PTSD in some individuals.
“PTSD has turned out to be a very common disorder,” explains the above-quoted author. They further say: A random survey of 1,245 American adolescents showed that 23 percent had been the victims of physical or sexual assaults, as well as witnesses of violence against others.
One out of five of the exposed adolescents developed PTSD. This suggests that approximately 1.07 million U.S. teenagers currently suffer from PTSD.” If the statistic is accurate, that means there are a lot of teenage sufferers in just one country! What can be done for such persons, as well as for the many millions of other sufferers worldwide?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
If you believe that you or someone you know may suffer from PTSD, the following are some suggestions.
STRIVE TO MAINTAIN A SPIRITUAL PROGRAM.”I always attended the meetings at our local church, explains Lucy.
DON’T HOLD BACK FROM ENCOURAGING THE SUFFERER.
If you have a loved one dealing with the horrible memory of some traumatic event, understand that he or she is not overreacting or deliberately being difficult. Because of emotional numbness, anxiety, or anger, he or she may not be able to respond as you would wish to the efforts you are making to be supportive.
THE SUFFERER NEEDS TO RECOGNIZE AND AVOID UNWISE COPING STRATEGIES THAT CAUSE FURTHER HARM.
These include use of illicit drugs and overindulgence in alcoholic beverages. Although alcohol and drugs may give promise of temporary relief, they soon make matters worse. They usually contribute to isolation, rejection of the people who want to help, workaholism, uncontrolled anger, uncontrolled or overcontrolled eating, or other self-destructive behavior.
CONSULT WITH A COMPETENT HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.
It may turn out that the sufferer doesn’t have PTSD, but if he or she does, effective therapies exist. If you are receiving professional help, be honest with that person and ask for help to overcome any of the above behaviors Remember: Physical wounds are often the first to heal, but people suffering from PTSD can be wounded in many ways in body, mind, and spirit.