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

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

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

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

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