Trauma? Not Trauma? You decide!
January 4, 2007 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Can something non-traumatic end up as PTSD-related trauma? I already have a diagnosis, I'm just very confused about something that's been happening lately. New therapist doesn't start until next month, so no luck there - and I'm somewhat nervous about bringing this up, because it seems so STUPID.

Okay, so there's some background here. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, as well as a minor anxiety disorder separate from the PTSD. The details are probably largely unnecessary, but for a few points. (PTSD is from marital abuse, been divorced seven years now)

The guy I dated for five years between The Ex Husband and the Current Guy was a chronic snorer. Bad enough that it'd wake me up from a dead sleep. He was also largely uncooperative in dealing with it, and so I had many years of interrupted sleep.

The current guy is not a snorer, but has a cold this week and so was snoring a little last night, and despite him being cooperative in rolling over/moving/etc, the snoring would not cease. It was by no means even close to the mating-dinosaurs riding f-15 fighters and dueling with chainsaws of the previous Guy - more just a light whispery snore. In the light of day? It's almost cute.

However, in the middle of the night, all I could remember was nights of prodding and elbowing and kicking to get Previous Guy to roll over so I could get some sleep, and I ended up flipping out (not like a ninja), tossing the laundry off the couch and crashing there.

It felt like a panic attack, or a PTSD-related flashback (God, I hate that term). But... it was just snoring. Previous Guy wasn't a prince, but he's not Evil - just grossly neglectful. I didn't think that could bring about trauma like I felt like I was having.
posted by FritoKAL to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Just google "ptsd triggers." People with PTSD almost always have triggers. Triggers are not flashbacks. One of your triggers may be snoring. There are a zillion sites out there for people with PTSD that have suggestions on how to manage triggers.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:26 AM on January 4, 2007

There's no reason to diagnose this, just deal with it instead: you were confronted with a situation that reminded you of something you hated, you did what was necessary to ameliorate the situation so you could get some sleep. That's it, no biggie. Your reaction as things were unfolding was an understandable recreation of a previous situation.

Anything can be trauma, according to traumatology, and you can decide to get as upset by this as you want to, but at some point you have to ask yourself: To what end? Adults confront situations that have disturbed them in the past, and which are echoed in the present, by doing what they can to be realistic about what's occurring (something you're able to do), and by discussing those things which need to be discussed (Honey, I'm gonna sleep on the couch until your cold clears up).

I can understand your concern, given your history, but the incident you describe is perfectly normal and you can probably find better things to worry about.
posted by OmieWise at 10:28 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's not actually what I asked, but thank you. What I asked, and maybe I wasn't clear since I got, oh, 5 hours of sleep last night, was if something non-traumatic like snoring and unrelated to the reasons behind the PTSD could cause triggers/flashbacks/whatever you want to call it.

Regardless of title, I flipped out last night and panicked for no good reason --unrelated to my previous PTSD-related traumas-.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2007

Response by poster: whoops. My reply was in response to Claudia. And sorry for my terseness. I seriously am busted today.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2007

Best answer: Definitely bring it up with your therapist. There's no reason to be embarrassed; I guarantee that no matter how stupid you think this is, s/he has heard much stupider and won't judge you.

The short answer is that if you have a tendency towards anxiety, even little things can make you anxious, especially if they remind you of things that have caused you grief in the past. You're perfectly normal. Give yourself permission to sleep on the couch so that you can get a restful night's sleep until your guy gets over his cold, and try not to beat yourself up over it.
posted by decathecting at 10:31 AM on January 4, 2007

Triggers can be weird stuff. For some people, it's music. For me, it's repetitive noises of any kind. Like a ceiling fan that's a little loose and makes a noise as it goes around. Or a dripping sink. Weird stuff. If you're getting treatment for PTSD, you can ask your doc about things that can help. Meds can help, if you're open to that.
posted by gokart4xmas at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2007

And I know this sounds dumb, but there's a great episode of the West Wing dealing with PTSD. You might want to check it out.
posted by gokart4xmas at 10:36 AM on January 4, 2007

Give yourself permission to sleep on the couch so that you can get a restful night's sleep until your guy gets over his cold, and try not to beat yourself up over it.

I thought this needed to be repeated. My mom sometimes snores really loudly, causing my dad to move to the couch. Nothing to do with anxiety attacks in their case, and everything to do with loss of sleep.
posted by muddgirl at 10:42 AM on January 4, 2007

Response by poster: Gokart - perhaps appropiatly, The Guy and I watched Noel two nights ago, which is actually what brought this whole thing to mind. (It's an amazing episode. We are huge Sorkin fans.)

All my other PTSD-related issues are very directly related to the trauma that caused it. This one has nothing to do with it, and so I'm a little weirded out that either a) I have a seperate new instance of trauma that I didn't know I had or b) I'm totally overreacting to something I should probably be able to deal with. Or hey, both.

The sleeping on couch/earplugs thing is being dealt with. I'm just totally weirded by the idea that something that has NOTHING to do with my previous trauma (Ex-H was not a snorer, Guy #2 is not Ex-H, but was a snorer, Current Guy is not a snorer, to recap) is giving me a wiggins.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2007

Best answer: I'm curious if the middle guy, snorer dude - did you ever have these sorts of panic-onset feelings due to dealing with his snoring?

My almost completely unqualified opinion (having dealt with some snoring issues, and some anxiety issues, honestly nothing near what you have) is: that half-asleep being-kept-up state is tremendously emotionally vulnerable. You've lost control. You've got that sickening "Oh god here we go again" feeling. Rationally, it is not connected to your trauma-inducing relationship. Emotionally, it's easy to see how it could press those buttons.
posted by nanojath at 11:07 AM on January 4, 2007

Response by poster: With Middle Guy (who shall be henceforth referred to as Snorer Dude), the reluctance to deal with the health problems that caused the snoring caused me NO END of emotional upset. So I suppose in a roundabout way it could have some kind of emotional connection.

It just seems so incredibably stupid to have this one thing come out after 2 years and cause me to totally freak out and panic -out of the blue-.
posted by FritoKAL at 11:29 AM on January 4, 2007

Best answer: MIddle of the night is reptile brain time. You're short on sleep so you react with no emotional restraint. Everyone has their primitive brain moments, the question is how do you deal with them? A few years ago, I had a real issue with time constraints. While I was growing up, my mother was never on time for anything and would compulsively arrive horrendously late for every event, including my first marriage (is that significant? ...). So when someone would start making me late, I'd react totally out of proportion, get angry, fume, etc. Of course, I was reacting to my mother and not to the situation at hand, and I was being totally unfair to the person. It took a tremendous effort to learn how to refocus, look at the present situation and not spazz out about being late. You ask yourself, "What's the absolute worst that can happen? Could I live with that?" The answer is usually yes, if it happened you'd find a way to deal with it, but dreading the worst case and panicking about it doesn't help.

In short, I'd say it is probably not PTSD directly but more generally related to emotional coping and self-soothing skills, which could indeed have been affected by the original trauma. It couldn't hurt to talk about it with your therapist.
posted by Araucaria at 11:45 AM on January 4, 2007

I think it IS related to previous trauma. Stuff gets built up in your system, and stupid stuff can turn into a trigger pretty quick. Your therapist will be able to explain it. It isn't stupid!
posted by konolia at 11:58 AM on January 4, 2007

This really sounds like my reaction to things that bad-frustrate me. I get frustrated in situations where I feel that I have no active course of action or ability to "do something about it". Whether these things are current or have happened in the past, it can make me irrationally grumpy, anxious, and prone to overreaction.

I am not sure how far the definition of PTSD goes, but I'd think of approaching things in terms of an issue of lack of control (a good trigger for anxiety for me). If that was part of your diagnosis, it certainly could help things along through anxiety into something worse (by which I mean the transition from simple anxiety into the panic-attack mode).
posted by that girl at 12:57 PM on January 4, 2007

I've been thinking about this all afternoon, and I finally realized what it is about the answers here, even the question, that had me perturbed: What happened last night was not a symptom of your trauma, it was a sign of your recovery. I don't know what your relationship with snoring guy was like, but if you stayed for five years and he did nothing about his snoring, my guess is that you didn't react as you did last night. Last night, when confronted by the same situation, you took care of yourself, moved to the couch, and tried to get the sleep you needed. You may have gotten pissed off and you may have lost your shit a little bit, but that isn't strange or unusual. There is something peculiarly disturbing about snoring. Your reactions (as described here) were entirely normal, and were you my patient (which you aren't), I'd figure you're improving.
posted by OmieWise at 4:27 PM on January 4, 2007

Then why did it feel bad, OmieWise?
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:05 PM on January 4, 2007

Because it was a bad feeling.

As you know, improvement from mental distress doesn't mean a lack of bad feelings, it means an ability to confront and constructively deal with those feelings. I'm not making a "You have to get worse before you get better." argument. I think that position is unethical. I'm suggesting that a situation that previously resulted in five years of suppressed bad feelings (as far as we can tell from the information available here), has now resulted in straighforward action to address the cause of distress.

There is too little information here to diagnose anything, but what information we do have suggests improvement as much (or more than) it suggests a previously unknown symptom of PTSD.
posted by OmieWise at 8:35 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Being routinely deprived of sleep sounds pretty traumatic to me.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:16 AM on January 5, 2007

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