Anna Henningsgaard had an experience with PTSD but had a hard time accepting it: ”A few years ago, I was in a rather serious car accident, and I experienced symptoms like these medical journals described. I would often upset myself by dwelling on the accident. I displayed obsessive behavior in that I avoided left turns wherever possible, even on deserted streets. I could not manage this out on country roads, but in the city grid I was careful to take three right turns instead of making just one left. Riding in a car that slams on its breaks still causes me to spin around and look behind for the car that always seems to be on the verge of collision. Was this Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?”
According to the census there were 10.8 million car accidents last year, a significant drop from 10 years ago (11.8 million), and vastly different since 1985 (19.3 million). Still, most drivers have been in some type of car accident. Many of us have had resulting injuries and after an accident it’s normal to feel anxiety and stress.
But what do you do if you find yourself experiencing crazy amounts of anxiety? Reliving your car wreck over and over again? How can you tell if a friend or client is struggling with PTSD and what can you do to help?
Symptoms of PTSD
Stories about veterans might make traffic accidents seem like walks in a park, but every person has their own battle to fight. A case study portrays a patient who didn’t fully recover from his PTSD until 18 years after his traffic accident. This man’s story goes back to when he was 22 years old, he hit the abutment of a bridge and found himself pinned between his steering wheel and dashboard, experiencing severe pain, he lost control of his bowel movements, and constantly smelled leaking gasoline. After the accident he experienced severe symptoms of PTSD. His case was not as sever as Anna’s but it shows the spectrum of possiblity.
The most common symptoms include:
- re-experiencing of event in thoughts, images, and/or dreams
- distress when driving or inability to return to routine
- sense of foreshadowed future
- feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
If you have a client or friend experiencing these symptoms, perhaps when the news is on or you notice s/he isn’t driving himself around, it’s important to know how you can help.
How You Can Help
Let’s listen more to Anna’s story: “What I did need to do was to be proactive. I worked with the insurance companies to work out the claims. I spoke with my lawyer and found someone who wanted to buy and rebuild my totaled car so I did not have to consign it to a junkyard. I took responsibility for the situation and did not let it take control of me. It did hurt to think about my car for months, but I don’t obsess about it anymore”
If you can help your client or friend be proactive in their recovery from their accident and getting their life back on track, you can have a tremendous impact on their ability to deal with PTSD. The source of trauma disorders is that the victim doesn’t feel they have any control over their situation. By helping them feel empowered you can help them feel like they have control again. Back to Anna: “I felt overwhelmed after my car accident, but talking to an experienced car accident attorney helped me to answer my questions, address my doubts, and quell my anxiety. No pills required.”