PTSD AND CAR ACCIDENTS

“A car accident creates shock in an instant with an inevitability that feels completely foreign to the brain and overwhelming to the person”

A car accident is a perfect example of a traumatic experience that doesn’t necessarily end up as a trauma disorder. I was in a terrible car accident once and I know firsthand what it feels like and what happens to the system.


A car accident creates shock in an instant with an inevitability that feels completely foreign to the brain and overwhelming to the person. The shock creates pictures of the moment when the possibility of dying crossed the mind of the person in the accident and primes it as essential to remember in the future. That image is stored so vividly, that it becomes disturbing in the days following the accident. Because of the way memories are stored and the importance that the brain assigns to them, they appear over and over again causing distress. That’s a clear symptom after a car crash. The same image or something related can also appear as nightmares.


Besides the flashbacks, the person may still feel dysregulated because the survival mechanisms got activated in an emergency mode, causing fluctuations in physiology such as shortness of breath, extreme sweats or cold, uncontrollable emotions such as crying spells, diarrhea, or nausea, fear, insomnia, etc. Essentially, the nervous system got altered and some reactions become evident for a few days.


Those symptoms are completely normal, as normal as feeling pain after receiving a jab.


When I had a terrible car crash that left my car as a piece of garbage and me with several body injuries, I had to wear a cervical device for 3 months to heal the damage in my neck and part of my back. My nervous system also needed some time to go back to normal, normally from 3 to 30 days. In my case, besides suffering from the flashbacks, I was really scared of driving for a couple of weeks and I developed a very specific symptom that lasted years. Every time I saw a car coming fast from a yield, I felt a sensation in my armpits as if a thousand needles were inserted into them. Sometime after I realized that the sensation came from the sweat that was coming out of my sweat gland with such force and speed, that it hurt. Once I realized what it was. it started to fade away too.


Naturally, many of the symptoms fade away as soon as the body returns to baseline the same way that bruises from the jab disapear. If the person stays defeated and in a state of terror, then the body doesn’t go back, and the symptoms may increase. Let’s imagine you never drive again, and tell everyone that cars are dangerous, and keep ruminating on the accident. That will stop the brain from recovering.


In my case, I didn’t avoid driving and went back to work as soon as the doctor allowed me to. I kept busy and I kept telling myself that accidents of that type don’t happen often. I became somehow a more cautious driver, and eventually, all the symptoms disappeared.


PTSD should be diagnosed only if symptoms last from 1 to 6 months after the accident. And not only one or two symptoms but all the symptoms listed in the PTSD criteria.

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Toni


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