One of the most common symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is Hypervigilance. The definition of Hpervigilance is…
A state of hyperarousal and refers to the experience as being constantly tense and “on guard”
In people who have had trauma in their lives this can become a very common state to be in. In my case I was repeatedly sexually abused by the different people my parents would leave us with so they could go out and get drunk. There was danger everywhere. I was too ashamed of what had happened to me and the perpetrator had made me feel it was all my fault I never told what was happening to me. Even abuse by other family members. I was constantly verbally abused by my younger and older siblings and my parents. Because of sexual abuse I wet the bed and sucked my thumb until thirteen years of age. I lived in a constant state of Hypervigilance from the beginning of my memory. An alcoholic home meant anything could happen at any time. Unknown to our family during those years my father was bipolar and his personality could change instantly. I hid a lot. avoidance is another symptom of PTSD. I always had to sleep under a very heavy comforter and would many times find a hiding place to sleep.
When awake I was like a Navy Seal on Steroids about watching and “sensing” what was going on in my environment. I had to be on high alert at all times so that I could get away from dangerous situations or even just perceived dangerous situations. This began at age nine and continued into my mid twenty’s when I finally sought treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts. My first suicide attempt was at nine years old. It finally was at the point I could not sleep during the night. I would stay up all night doing housework, laundry, etc. while my husband , who was in the Army would sleep. When he woke up to get ready to go to work if the sun was up I would then go to the darkened room and sleep. I only allowed myself about 4-6 hours because I was afraid to be vulnerable and when I was sleeping I felt I was at my weakest. Many of the abuses I suffered from happened in the middle of the night. So sleeping was a hard thing to do. Plagued by horrific nightmares sleep was never a comforting thing but my body required sleep in order to function.
The first visit to my therapist for depression was in early 1992. Years later when I felt confident to leave therapy my therapist would share with me the first thing that caught her attention was my Hypervigilance. I never thought it was noticeable but she was trained to notice, but anybody can see it clearly especially if it is a very marked response. She said when she was talking to me at first I studied her then she saw me switch my attention to the room. I had to know every detail exits and entrances and if someone could hear what I would talk about if they were in the hallway to her office. I can still vividly describe what her office looked like in detail to this day and actually since my PTSD therapy was so successful when I think of that room peaceful feelings come over me.
But even though being Hypervigilant seems to be a good thing it is not, It is exhausting mentally and physically. Severe cases of Hypervigilance can even seem like the person is paranoid. I do not know if anyone can understand living with a tenseness in your body and mind constantly scanning the environments for the perceived chance of an attack. With a soldier he is actually trained to maintain this state for prolonged periods of time during battle situations. Then coming home to their family some are easily able to shed this helpful tool they learned in battle situations. But if severe trauma is experienced especially during a period where you are Hypervigiilant this intense state of heightened senses can unfortunately become the new normal.
A person experiencing Hypervigilance may always feel jittery, on edge and/or anxious. They constantly seem to be scanning their surroundings and may always position themselves in a room where they can be able to flee in any direction at a moments notice. Again severe Hypervigilance can mimic paranoia. Some Hypervigilance is useful for people with dangerous jobs like policemen, firemen, and of course a soldier in a battle zone.
Hypervigilance in children however, needs to be immediately addressed. This can indicate abuse is happening to this child. You may be reading this and saying “I am like that” if it does not disturb any factor of your life you just may be an acutely aware person. Hypervigilance from trauma usually interferes with daily living in some way usually in a negative way..
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been the best form of therapy to treat Hypervigilance. But medications can ease the symptoms when first starting treatment and you can be weaned off medicine as you grow more comfortable through your work in therapy. I was not that fortunate. I still take anti-anxiety medications at the age of 48. But there is no shame in that at all. Some people have a more acute hypersensitivity than others. My psychiatrist labeled me as having Panic/Anxiety Disorder. I have lowered the dosage of my medications but I am not able to function without a low dosage of anti-anxiety medications.
If your therapist suggests medications can help your particular situation do not feel you must permanently on medications. But they are very helpful to ease yourself into a more normal way of life. Also there are many different medications and just because one is not right for you does not mean that there is not a medication for you. I was tried on three different medications and found the right right one for me. It was like Goldilocks. It had to be “just right”. One made me too sleepy, so I could not use that I was the mother of a young child and could not sleep all the time, the next one made me have a sense of well being and I loved it but it did not take the panicky feeling away. The third medication was perfect. So if medication is suggested do not be afraid if the first medication does not fit into your lifestyle. Do not give up.
For soldiers and veterans here is a site that can tell you more about PTSD and where to get help as a service member. There is also links to service related sexual trauma.
Here is a website that also gives information about PTSD.
I have to say in my experience the single most healing factor was group therapy. Knowing others are dealing with the same issues as you are and the devotion of the group for one another as the therapy progresses is amazing.
Here is a site for soldiers and veterans in an immediate crisis
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
September is National Suicide Prevention Month