If you’re like most people, you’re not entirely sure what PTSD really is.
PTSD is not just bad memories and scary dreams. It’s a neurological condition in which, after experiencing trauma, the parasympathetic nervous system fails to return to its pre-trauma state . The brain is essentially stuck in fight or flight.
We needed that adrenaline to survive the trauma, but we also need it to reside afterward. Like needing to step on the gas pedal to drive someone to a hospital, we also need the brakes to stop the car once we get there.
When someone with PTSD has a flashback their brain does not register it as a memory of the past but rather as an event happening in the present. Their gas pedal is stuck.
Living in a constant state of alert can make conversations and relationships nearly impossible. That’s why some people with PTSD shut down entirely. The body cannot stay revved up forever. Others might only feel normal riding a motorcycle or skydiving because it puts their body back into a traumatic scenario that matches their feelings.
There is hope. Treatment does help. Over the next few weeks we’ll explore more aspects involved in trauma recovery.
 Van der Kolk, Bessel A. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. 2014.