Nothing in this article is meant to be medical advice. Please consult your own healthcare provider.
Some info below taken from: www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/ptsd-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp
What to expect as we emotionally respond to the Cranston Fire: feeling blue, tearful, angry, hyper-irritable, scared, nervous, withdrawn, easily-distracted and disoriented; not sleeping well, sleeping more than usual; loss of appetite, being hungrier than usual; feeling stuck and aimless; worrying; fretting; being unusually spaced-out; struggling with nightmares; being plagued by the return of stressors you thought long-ago managed; grieving and mourning — to name only a few.
All normal. How can all that be normal, you ask?
Because the human organism is hard-wired to respond to any loss with grief, sadness, even a little frank depression.
And here we can define loss generously. It does not have to be a loss of great magnitude, but rather is something meaningful to each of us individually.
For example, someone gets into a little fender-bender; not much damage done and yet one feels sad and down for a few days following the event. The fender-bender is experienced as a type of loss, followed with the response of feeling emotionally down.
Many of us escaped the Cranston Fire with little to no dramatic losses and yet we are aware of a real loss to our community, to our environment, to our sense of invulnerability. We feel this loss. And we respond with feeling emotionally down.
The greater the loss that we perceive, the more dramatic our emotional responses may well be, and the longer they may take to wind back down to a more every day state.
Note that feeling emotionally down can manifest differently in different persons. Some feel blue and listless while others are irritable and angry. But basically, this all stems from the same emotional response pattern: reacting to loss.
To this idea of loss, though, we can add another complicating dimension which is often referred to as trauma.
The mental-health community defines trauma quite specifically as an overwhelmingly negative event that is either directly experienced or even witnessed, and causes a definite pattern of psychological reactions that can impair someone’s ability to live a normal life.
Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Onset of PTSD symptoms can be delayed and only begin to show up months after the traumatic event has occurred. If one does develop PTSD, psychotherapeutic intervention may be quite useful and the sooner the better.
Also, we should be aware that traumatic stress looks different in children than in adults. (See the third link above for information on children and teens). The National Center for PTSD states, “Children and teens that go through the most severe traumas tend to have the highest levels of PTSD symptoms. PTSD symptoms may be less severe if the child has more family support and if the parents are less upset by the trauma. Lastly, children and teens who are farther away from the event report less distress.”
Note that the parent’s reactions to the trauma directly affect how the children experience the events. We can extend this to how a community processes traumatic events will affect how children react.
Still, it is important to note that even the symptoms of PTSD are normal reactions to abnormal events. And developing PTSD is not a sign of weakness in the individual. Nevertheless, it is not unusual for the one suffering with symptoms of PTSD to feel that he or she is crazy. Because of this, folk with PTSD symptoms often try to hide the fact that they are suffering.
The love, acceptance and understanding of family, friends and all of us in our community help make opening up much easier for the one who is suffering.
Here are your take-home messages: Being emotionally off-kilter is a normal response to abnormal circumstances. If those emotional responses seem to linger a long time and begin to interfere with the ability to live a normal life, psychotherapeutic intervention may be useful.
Idyllwild is a magnificent community. We all know that we are in it together; we staunchly hold each other up through it all.
Callie Wight is a California state-licensed registered nurse with a Master of Arts in psychology.