how triggers can cause a relapse of PTSD

The Day His PTSD Once Again Broke Free

A letter arrived last week. Official ambulance correspondence. Addressed to my husband, but in my role of anticipating triggers, this was mine to open.

From that crisp envelope, I pulled out a commendation letter for my husband. Commendation letters are those sent to unknown paramedics from grateful patients or their family. Heartfelt words expressing their deepest gratitude to the paramedics who became the one light shining on their darkest day.

It was an impromptu rainbow, defiantly bright against the grey clouds of my husband’s PTSD. A smile passed over my lips and into my heart. Surely, only good news.

But as it turned out, there was a trigger waiting inside that envelope. A trigger for me.

I absorbed the message, as I would soak up the sunshine. Feeling so proud of my husband, and the wonderful work he does did. And it was only when I noticed the date that my smile immediately drained. Written in the card, the date from the job looked so innocent and unassuming. Just an ordinary Saturday in February.

But dates remind us. And dates will haunt us.

I remember that day fondly. Our determined efforts over the past years had finally been rewarded with some relative stability. The PTSD was still quietly growling in the shadows, but we were now fiercely trying to drown it out with the sound of renewed living. Perhaps it was complacency, perhaps it was naivety, but somehow we failed to realise that the PTSD was actually stronger than ever.

It was a day so sweet, I was happily bathed in oblivion, with no possible foresight of the turmoil that would unfold over the following days. That day, I could still smile wholeheartedly, unaware that the next chapter of our life was about to be rewritten. Unaware that the beast we call PTSD would unleash an attack so vicious that I would almost lose my husband.

And so it came, a message for my husband, from a long-struggling workmate, that spoke of much darker thoughts than its few short words suggested. The realisation a spark, for two close mates to make an urgent trip to save a life. A life so broken by PTSD that it would not have seen the next day. My husband returning home, dazed, numb, detached. But in his eyes, where I hoped to see shock and confusion, there was only inherent understanding. He knew how it felt to be on the edge. It could have been any of them. It could have been him.

And in that moment, I couldn’t breathe. PTSD once again broke free.

The next few days passed in a fog for us all. Each day, my husband lost a little more of himself to the stupor. I was desperately trying to keep him kicking above water, but his PTSD was adamantly dragging him down. Was it too powerful, or I too weak? Like a train wreck in slow motion, I helplessly watched as my husband robotically left for work when the calendar so commanded. His PTSD was screaming so loudly that he couldn’t hear me pleading, I really think you should take some time off. The roar so deafening that he couldn’t hear his own mind begging, Please don’t, or this will truly break me.

He was already down. He was already beaten. Then, with two trigger jobs only a few hours into his shift, PTSD cruelly and swiftly finished him off.

And so he fled. He started driving mindlessly, away, anywhere, just to put hours between him and his PTSD. But the beast never left his side, and the screaming only got louder. There was nothing that would drown out the noise, and no speed that could outrun it. Even after his car had left the road, even after the wreckage had settled, even after the relief of finding himself unharmed, the screaming still continued.

The medical team call this a relapse. I call it a nightmare.

The letter can be put away. And the date safely lost amongst all the others in the calendar for now. But a relapse cannot be undone. A nightmare cannot be reversed.

Our next chapter is here, and we have no choice but read it.



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  1. As a retired paramedic, I know the triggers can slip up on you in the most unexpected ways. My husband & I both have PTSD, his from Vietnam & mine from years in EMS. Somehow, we work together to keep demons at bay. I joke that we live our lives in a bubble; but that bubble shuts out a lot of the world. We have both missed so much with our now adult children & friends. We protect each other. I pray that you & your family find a bubble that works to keep you all together and at peace.

    • Goodness, Phyllis, I can’t even begin how difficult your journey must be, at times, with both of you living with PTSD. In some ways, you can both be empathetic to each other, but it must be hard to get the support you need if your partner is struggling at the same time. I resonate with your analogy of living in a bubble, I have describes periods of my life in the same way – a bit like a protective mechanism to just manage with what I can for a while. I wish you ongoing strength with your journey. Take care.

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