Hello! These blogs are so super helpful, and yours is here just in time for me to begin writing my story! So thank you so much for your help in advance. I'm writing a story about a soldier that was captured during war. Part of the story is him struggling to trust his therapist enough to open up about what happened. During this time where he refuses to talk to anyone, how would PTSD affect his everyday actions, his thoughts, etc.? Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Have a great weekend!!!
Hooboy. I’m going to just list several symptoms of PTSD and explain how they would each drain his energy and limit his ability to do things and how to include these in your writing.
- Hyper-vigilance: Every little sound and shadow is going to make his brain go into overdrive. It is going to kick his fight-or-flight mode on high and its almost never going to calm down. This is EXTREMELY draining. His brain and body is going to be a coiled spring, ready for danger, at all times. This is physically exhausting and drains spoons incredibly quickly.
- Some ways this will change his daily life - he won’t be able to spend as much time in crowds or even just outside his house because there is too much stimulation for him to handle for to long. He probably won’t sleep well because again, all those little noises houses make at night is going to make him panic and lose more spoons - he could combat this by getting a white noise machine.
- Emotional Outbursts: Many individuals with PTSD may experience unstable emotional states.
- It wouldn’t be odd for him to suddenly feel very angry or irritable with no recognizable reason or target. He may also swing the other way and start crying without any warning. These episodes are extremely draining and there frequency may prevent your character from getting things done.
- Lack of Concentration: High levels of distraction, the hyper-vigilance, the adrenaline constantly running through his body is going to make if difficult for your character to concentration for an extended period of time.
- This lack of concentration may make it difficult for your character to work, attend school, do homework or fill out things like medical forms for doctors appointments. This could lead to him pushing such appointments back because he is unable to prepare for them.
- Situational Avoidance: Your character is going to try to avoid any situation that might remind him of his trauma.
- If he was in a tank that was bombed, he may go out of his way to avoid driving. If something happened in a wooded area, he may take a longer route to avoid a similar area because it reminds him of his trauma. This could make your character miss deadlines, appointment times, or cause a significant amount of time to be dedicated to this avoidance which means other things will not get done.
- Social Isolation: Another type of avoidance is social avoidance - this means your character may avoid his family and friends, either because he doesn’t have the energy to be social or being around other people cause him to panic. Being forced into these situations would drain his energy very quickly.
- This may cause him to avoid things like birthday celebrations, holiday parties, any type of gathering. These events are going to be extremely exhausting as your character is already tired and the amount of people and noise are going to exhaust him.
- Something else that might influence his social isolation is his PTSD influencing his view of other people - he may begin to mistrust others and feel as if the world is a dangerous place. This mindset is extraordinarily draining and would significantly impact his energy levels.
- Triggers: Triggers are sights, sounds, smells, situations, items; pretty much anything that reminds your character of his trauma.
- Before he is aware of his triggers, he will most likely stumble upon many of them and suffer from flashbacks or anxiety attacks, which is extremely exhausting.
- When he knows his triggers, he is going to try his best to avoid them, which may mean changing his routine, getting up earlier to go shopping when it is quieter, not going to fun events like fairs or the movies because he doesn’t want to fun into a trigger.
- Triggers are often unavoidable or unexpected, prompting exhausting anxiety attacks or flashbacks multiple times a day, eating up time to get things done and exhausting your character.
- Consider what his trauma consists of - does it involve guns? If so, it might not be just real guns that can trigger an anxiety attack or flashback. Plastic guns, guns in movies or TV shows, sounds that are similar like a car backfiring or fireworks, the smell of gunpowder, even just something that shoots something, like a Nerf Gun. Think through his potential triggers and then think about all the situations those could be found in - he is going to have to schedule his entire day around avoiding these triggers, especially when he is not actively working with his therapist on his trauma at this point.
3. Flashbacks/Remembering the Trauma
- Nightmares: When he does fall asleep, he is most likely going to have nightmares.
- He may or may not remember the specifics of the nightmare, but he will most likely wake up in a panic, shaking, sweating. It’s going to take him a long time to fall back to sleep, if he even does. If he does fall back to sleep, it may be a very tense sleep, waking up frequently and not allowing his body to relax - this means he is going to wake up in the morning already exhausted, anxious, and running on panic.
- Flashbacks: Flashbacks are often one of the stereotypical symptoms of PTSD, however they are extremely common. Flashbacks may happen multiple times a day, at varying severity each time.
- One type of flashback is an emotional flashback - these flashbacks only affect the individuals emotional state, not their senses. So if your character is triggered and reminded of his trauma, his emotional state may quickly move to match the emotional state during the trauma - so intense fear, adrenaline, anger, sadness. These intense episodes that may come at anytime, last up to an hour, and are extremely exhausting.
- The common type of flashbacks you see in media are sometimes called ‘full flashbacks’ or ‘psychological flashbacks’. This is when the brain believes that it is back during the traumatic event, and the individuals senses - sight, hearing, smell, taste - are going to be taken back to the moment of the trauma. Your character will not be fully in reality at the time and any attempts to touch or otherwise break the individual out of the flashback could result in a negative or fearful reaction. These flashbacks can also last a significant amount of time and be draining.
Now, you said that this was before your character began working with his therapist, but these symptoms won’t go away suddenly. As your character begins to work through his trauma and develop coping skills, these symptoms may decrease in severity or disappear all together eventually. However, some PTSD sufferers will always have some of these symptoms and have to cope with them.
I hope this helps!
- Mod Riley