I was interested in an interview with Rebecca McCoy, an American woman who’s married to a military veteran suffering from PTSD.
Rebecca’s account of caring for her husband Craig gives a very good idea of the lived reality of PTSD. This is what she says:
“Every day Craig has PTSD symptoms. He struggles with memory problems and cognitive dysfunction, similar to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Every night he has nightmares, sometimes multiple times in one night. When he does sleep, it is restless.”
She goes on:
“Because of emotional numbness due to PTSD, he has loss of feeling and connection with others. He avoids places, people, friends, and family members we know well and used to enjoy spending time with.
He has high levels of anxiety and it makes him sweat a lot and always feel hot. He always stays alert, checking on door and window locks, noticing everything and everyone around him. He has triggers that can lead to flashbacks or dissociation. He also has depression.”
Not all PTSD sufferers have symptoms as severe as this, though many do. But it’s shocking to realise that non-military sufferers of PTSD often go undiagnosed. Craig is lucky in one respect: he has a proper diagnosis, a sympathetic wife and medical professionals who are supporting him.
Now imagine what it’s like if you have undiagnosed PTSD: if, for example, you are a woman who has experienced a traumatic delivery and whose GP has never heard of PTSD after childbirth. Not only are you suffering from flashbacks and nightmares, not only are you suffering anxiety and avoidance, but you are looking after a new baby, with all the stress that entails.
And there’s a reasonable chance that everyone around you – partner, friends and family – is telling you to “get over” it; to “move on”, to be “grateful” that you have a healthy baby. Your desire to stay away from other women with new babies, or to avoid the hospital, the scene of your trauma, will be derided as foolish.
For many women, the support structures that help people like Craig McCoy are simply not there. Until we acknowledge that PTSD is a condition that can affect anyone, not only military veterans, and that you don’t just “get over it”, then thousands of women will continue to experience the longterm effects of birth trauma, undiagnosed and untreated, for years after the event that caused it.