What does post-traumatic stress disorder feel like?

Erin Schulthies is the writer of Daisies and Bruises, a blog about "finding her way one step and one word at a time". After losing most of her youth to severe depression, she decided that since death was no longer an option, she had to find a way to live. This is it.

What does it feel like to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD)?

This is what it feels like for me on a bad day:

  • It's never ever feeling safe. It's never taking a full breath of air in your lungs. It's the feeling of walking barefoot over glass, except the feeling is all over your body every time you leave your house.
  • It's being afraid to close your eyes. The vulnerability you feel during the split second of blindness as you sneeze is terrifying.
  • It's having your gut instincts scream at you to RUN every time someone looks at you.
  • It's going shopping and tailoring your outing so that you are never in an aisle of a store with a man you don't know. It's avoiding taking a cab at all costs because you can't be alone in a car with a stranger. It's taking the stairs instead of stepping into an elevator, where you'd be trapped with no one to hear you scream.
  • It's knowing in your bones that other human beings have the power to destroy you. That you can be victimized, no matter how hard you fight or cry or yell. That even someone you trust as a friend or as family can turn on you faster than a wolf when hunger hits.
  • It's the taste of black licorice making you physically sick. It's the smell of manure making you drift off in your head so that you can't feel anything in your body. It's seeing every man with a weathered face as your attacker - he's back to kill you.
  • There are supposedly nice people out there, but you can't see them. You never see them. Instead of real faces you see ghosts of your past haunting you with fresh eyes.
  • It's being told that not everyone wants to hurt you, but you can't stay grounded long enough to truly get to know anyone. It's spending most of your time alone because you are terrified of other human beings, sometimes even your friends. You tell yourself it's better that way, but loneliness still ravages you when you least expect it.
  • It's feeling flawed, bad, marked, stained. You feel like you were born a target and that's all you'll ever be. Danger is all you know, it's everywhere.
  • What does it feel like to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
  • It feels like prison.
  • It feels like Hell.

However, despite how inescapable the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can feel, there is hope and there is help! Here are some resources to get you started:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - from The Canadian Mental Health Association (CAMH)

How to Manage Trauma infographic

Coping With Flashbacks - from Mental Illness Mouse

Grounding Techniques - from Mental Illness Mouse

Need help right now? Visit mindyourmind's Help Pages

"These are permanent winds that live in the present tense." - Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

21 comments on "What does post-traumatic stress disorder feel like?"

When you're a victim of domestic violence will that cause you to get ptsd

Submitted by Rosetta Washington (not verified) on Sun, 04/26/2015 - 03:27

Yes, I was diagnosed in May with PTSD and panic disorder due to 8 years living with DV. My therapist said I'm looking at 6mo. To 1 year of being out of work for recovery. I also worked with victims and famies of DV so a high stress job was also a factor.

Submitted by Amy (not verified) on Sat, 07/18/2015 - 07:50

Yes, I was diagnosed in May with PTSD and panic disorder due to 8 years living with DV. My therapist said I'm looking at 6mo. To 1 year of being out of work for recovery. I also worked with victims and famies of DV so a high stress job was also a factor.

Submitted by Amy (not verified) on Sat, 07/18/2015 - 07:50

Thanks for your article. I have shared it with friends hoping they can understand. I have had it for years now and it's not getting any better. Thanks for giving me a description I could relate to. 

Submitted by Angela (not verified) on Fri, 05/15/2015 - 00:37

Hi Rosetta Washington, yes, anything traumatic can cause PTSD, including domestic violence.-mindyourmind staff

Submitted by diana (not verified) on Wed, 05/20/2015 - 13:50

I think I have PTSD. I lived in a house all my life full of screaming and breaking and banging and threats, mostly my druggy father. I haven't been hit, but I've been chased through the house with a threat. It's mostly been mental abuse, but the fear that someday it will be physical. Why I think this gave me PTSD is the fact that any loud noise makes my heart pound and makes me feel trapped and gives me a very bad feeling in my chest and stomach. Like sirens, yelling(even in a joking manner), pounding, banging, and even a crowed room of people. The only loud noise that doesn't effect me is music. And also, if I'm being chased in a joking manner, or while playing tag when younger, I would panic so much and have almost the exact reaction as I do with loud noises. Is this PTSD? The only diagnoses I have from a doctor is social anxiety, clinical(severe) depression, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder(very low self esteem disorder).

Submitted by Stefany (not verified) on Sat, 06/06/2015 - 18:38

ptsd feels like when you are in a bad dream and you are so scared and try to scream in your dream but no sounds are coming out ,you try and try to scream but cant make a sound,its like being caged wanting to scream at the top of your longs but cant. 

Submitted by juan guzman (not verified) on Wed, 06/10/2015 - 15:12

All I want to know is, where is the help for NON VET PTSD sufferers?  Programs abound all around IF you're a vet.  I'm medically disabled and retired due to severe and chronic PTSD.  Where's a program that will help ME?

Submitted by Mia (not verified) on Sat, 06/20/2015 - 12:58

Hi Mia,Please check out the Help section for ways to get help. mindyourmind.ca/help .In particular, you may want to look at the Where to Call page.Take good care.Diana (mindyourmind staff)

Submitted by diana (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2015 - 13:23

i lived with Narcissist personality disorder for 30 yrs and my life isin ruins I'm sure I have PTSD 

Submitted by Helen (not verified) on Mon, 09/14/2015 - 05:37

a fantastic book "Will I ever be good enough" healing the daughters of narcissstic mothers by Karyl McBride

Submitted by Tracy (not verified) on Mon, 10/05/2015 - 13:56

a fantastic book "Will I ever be good enough" healing the daughters of narcissstic mothers by Karyl McBride

Submitted by Tracy (not verified) on Mon, 10/05/2015 - 13:57

Hi. Thank you so much for this. I am almost 17 and was diagnosed with PTSD about 9 months ago. One night, a few weeks after thanks giving, my boyfriend and some friends decided they wanted to try the drug acid. At first I was like, whatever. I didn't know the harm the drug could do. Well.. my boyfriend took the drug. it was fine at first, he was talking to me, he was just scared. He didn't like it. Well, maybe an hour passed and he started acting funny. He was repeating things over and over. Running around the house. Breaking things. Just screaming the same random words over and over. At this point.. I was terrified. He wouldn't stop. He couldn't hear us. He had the crazy look in his eyes. But it only got worse. His friend tried calming him down and held him down on the bed and my boyfriend starting beating him.. Then he would laugh and say "just kidding" that went on for about 30min then he sat by me. I thought he would calm down if I was there but.. Next thing I knew I got punched in the face and had a huge whelp on my eye. After that, I couldn't take it. I ran outside and my friends were out there and I got in their car and we left. we get a few blocks away and cops are flying past us.. me and my friend got dropped off at an apt complex and we're stuck there for about an hour. We finally got ahold of someone and left town for the day. I called my mom and she came to me and just hugged me while I cried. Come to find out.. He went to juvenile for over a month and all I had left from him was a black eye..after that, i was drunk for about 2 months straight. surprised I'm yet to be alive. My boyfriend could have killed me and my friends that night.. and i still don't know how to cope with this. This is my first time telling the whole story alone. My heart is pounding and I feel like I could pass out. If you have any suggestions for me, please let me know. I've been seeing a therapist and she's amazing. Just doesn't help this much. if anyone read all this, thank you so much and please, no hate. 

Submitted by Raylen (not verified) on Sat, 09/19/2015 - 08:18

Raylen, thank you for sharing your story - it was brave of you. It sounds like a very scary experience and there's definitely no hate.  xx

Submitted by Jo (not verified) on Thu, 11/26/2015 - 15:42

Organizations can compel their customers and employees to resolve disputes in arbitration proceedings bound not by state or federal law, but by religious edict.

Submitted by RonaldMr (not verified) on Wed, 11/04/2015 - 06:37

Hello. I had a bad motor vehicle accident in 2009 while driving a bus. Another bus ran into the left side of my vehicle while the driver was talking on his mobile phone. Since that time I have had to undergo 2 left knee operations with the last one being about 4 months ago. I have also been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Social Anxiety Disorder, Ergophobia, Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I just saw another psychiatrist last Friday 6th November and he has confirmed once again that my motor vehicle accident in 2009 has definitely caused me the ptsd and set of my other anxiety disorders. A few years ago the Australian workcover  insurance company found a psychiatrist who declared that I am not experiencing a ptsd response however my Doctor, Psychologist and Professor, (Psychiatrist) are all saying otherwise. Once system of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, besides the usual fear and flashbacks, is that when I walk and have to pass someone coming in the opposite direction, I must always pass on the left of that person as if I am trying to keep left while driving here in Australia. I feel extremely anxious when someone passes on the left side of my body and I even tell people to "keep to their left" if they are walking towards me from the opposite direction. I really feel that it is very dangerous if the left side of my body is exposed when someone is walking past me and I even feel that way when someone is walking from behind and wanting to pass me on my left. I have a blog and website about my mental illnesses and how they came to be at garrywatkinsonline.com.

Submitted by Garry Watkins (not verified) on Mon, 11/09/2015 - 07:35

Hello. I had a bad motor vehicle accident in 2009 while driving a bus. Another bus ran into the left side of my vehicle while the driver was talking on his mobile phone. Since that time I have had to undergo 2 left knee operations with the last one being about 4 months ago. I have also been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Social Anxiety Disorder, Ergophobia, Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I just saw another psychiatrist last Friday 6th November and he has confirmed once again that my motor vehicle accident in 2009 has definitely caused me the ptsd and set of my other anxiety disorders. A few years ago the Australian workcover  insurance company found a psychiatrist who declared that I am not experiencing a ptsd response however my Doctor, Psychologist and Professor, (Psychiatrist) are all saying otherwise. Once system of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, besides the usual fear and flashbacks, is that when I walk and have to pass someone coming in the opposite direction, I must always pass on the left of that person as if I am trying to keep left while driving here in Australia. I feel extremely anxious when someone passes on the left side of my body and I even tell people to "keep to their left". I really feel that it is very dangerous if the left side of my body is exposed when someone is walking past me and I even feel that way when someone is walking from behind and wanting to pass me. I have a blog and website about my mental illnesses and how they came to be at garrywatkinsonline.com.

Submitted by Garry Watkins (not verified) on Mon, 11/09/2015 - 07:36

Im 14... And I am pretty sure I have PTSD because any time i am reminded of this one thing that I can't say I can't breath and it's like the world stops and I start trembleing and my body goes numb and I just zone out

Submitted by Micaiah Jocelyn (not verified) on Sat, 11/14/2015 - 15:54

Organizations can compel their customers and employees to resolve disputes in arbitration proceedings bound not by state or federal law, but by religious edict.

Submitted by RonaldMr (not verified) on Mon, 11/16/2015 - 01:15

I have cptsd . That's one of the best description I've read, very similar to me except I seem to be stuck in fight or fawn. If I think someone is trying to make me a victim I either want to fight them there and then or negotiate. I think an important part for fighting the  ptsd is calming the limbic system down and trying to release as many past traumas as you can. Eft, meditation,  various forms of yoga etc can all help. Chanting the yoga chants helps me  i.e. aum etc. Seems to silence my mind and take the confusion feeling away for a while at least.

Submitted by John (not verified) on Sun, 11/13/2016 - 10:49

My friend has been living with PTSD since she was a child. She survived war, kidnapping, car accident where she saw her uncle die, abuse and neglect, bullying, and she's been wrongly diagnosed with cancer two times. And she's only 20 years old. Therapy doesn't work, and lately more and more things/situations/places give her flashbacks. It's gotten so bad that she gets them every single day. She already tried to kill herself twice in the past and almost succeeded, and to make things worse she has lots of medical conditions which leave her body in a lot of pain, and which make it almost impossible for her to exercise. She doesn't want to take any medications in fear of committing suicide again, and she's a past-alcoholic. I'm there for her, and will be as long as I can, but I feel helpless, I don't know what to do besides to be there for her, not judge, spend time together and listen to her open up about her experiences. It doesn't help that I'm depressed, self harming and suicidal myself, but I want to do something to help her- it breaks my heart to see her like this. Her family doesn't care if she lives or dies, and her boyfriend doesn't understand her condition, so I'm the only person she can turn to. She does what she can, and blames herself for not being stonger, although I tell her she's already been through more than anyone I know could survive. I just don't want to lose her. I want her to be happy for just one day.Please. Is there anything I can do? 

Submitted by Luce (not verified) on Wed, 11/23/2016 - 21:25

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