Isn’t that a dumb question? Has it happened to you? Cause it’s happened to me.

anns face

I can honestly say no one would ever diagnose me with PTSD and that is a problem. Why do I think this? For one thing my best friend of over 35 years was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the VA hospital counseling Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD. She didn’t recognize my PTSD for what it was.

Talking to her a couple of years ago, I said, “I really think I have PTSD.” I had just had a short conversation with my daughter, Kara, who is in prison. We reviewed all that occurred with Kara and her criminal husband. My friend exclaimed “Of course you do!” I have PTSD!!!

I read this article this morning. “10 Symptoms of PTSD” by Amanda Gardner from

Updated March 13, 2021 (This is how current this information is.)

I’m going to comment on which ones of these 10 symptoms I have experienced since I adopted my daughter in 1980.  If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, know that this is NOT YOUR FAULT. I cannot emphasize this enough. Also look at your child’s behaviors and know that they may have experienced major trauma and cannot express why or who did it to them. 

PTSD signs and symptoms

The concept of Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been with us for centuries but has had many names. It was “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” before it was PTSD and is now known to affect not just military veterans but anyone who has gone through an intense traumatic experience. In fact, about one in 11 people will have PTSD in their lifetime, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

While anxiety symptoms are a huge part of PTSD, they’re not the whole picture. People with PTSD often suffer from depression, negative thoughts, and impulsive or self-destructive behaviors as well. (These are some of the things our kids do.)

“With proper treatment, veterans and all Americans can lead happy, whole, healthy lives with PTSD,” says Emily Blair, manager of military and veterans’ policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Here are the signs and symptoms to watch for.

Experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event

PTSD can strike anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event. That means not just war, but sexual assault, natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, mass shootings, motor vehicle accidents, and more. (The more is in the case of children who experience multiple placements or physical and mental abuse, or have orphanage abuse never disclosed to adopting families.)

“There has to be exposure to some sort of very extreme type of horrible event,” says Jack Nitschke, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Something has to happen in the external world.” (Exposure to long term mental or physical abuse can cause PTSD as well.)

Not everyone who has gone through trauma will develop PTSD.

Alternately, for some people, learning about violence or tragedy that happened to someone else–like the murder of a family member or friend–can lead to the disorder. (Trust me dealing with a Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) child can cause PTSD because of their unusual, disruptive behaviors.)


Flashbacks and unwanted, intrusive memories are known as “re-experiencing symptoms,” which can make a trauma survivor feel like they are reliving the traumatic event. Smells, sights, and sounds–like a car backfiring, the whirring of a helicopter, or a news report–can all trigger flashbacks.

“Those [triggers] go to the deep part of your brain. Your instincts take over,” says Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD, MPH, a retired military psychiatrist. (Those of us living with long-term PTSD know the triggers well.)


Flashbacks are among the best-known symptoms of PTSD but nightmares–one of many reasons people with PTSD often have poor sleep–are actually more common. (I have those dreams frequently.)

Nightmares or upsetting dreams about the traumatic event are also considered re-experiencing symptoms, since they can make people with PTSD feel like they are back in the time and place of their trauma.

Nightmares and other re-experiencing symptoms can sometimes be triggered by a person’s own thoughts or certain words. (Since writing my book, I’ve had difficulties sleeping and dealing with life right now.)

Avoiding people, places, or things

Many people with PTSD go out of their way to avoid anything that reminds them of the original trauma or could be a trigger. For example, someone with PTSD might stop driving after a car accident or avoid watching movies about hurricanes if they’ve been through one. (I’ve had to quit speaking with my daughter because of my physical reactions that I cannot stop having.)

This avoidance can become broader than a specific person or setting, says Nitschke. “If someone has been a victim of sexual assault, not only do they avoid that person who might still be at their university, but they might avoid men altogether, avoid going to classes,” he says. “They become immobilized.”

In some cases, avoidance takes the form of emotional numbing. Some people with PTSD might refuse to think or talk about the trauma, instead finding distractions in activities or alcohol or drugs, according to the American Psychological Association. (I don’t drink or do drugs – I look for food of the sweet or salty kind.)

Being constantly on the lookout for threats

This PTSD symptom is called hypervigilance. “You’re scanning the environment all the time,” says Dr. Ritchie, or on high alert constantly.

That might mean always sitting with your back to the wall in restaurants or lecture halls so you can see everyone and everything taking place in front of you.

 “They don’t want anyone sneaking behind them,” says Sonya Norman, PhD, director of the PTSD consultation program at the National Center for PTSD and psychiatry professor at the University of California San Diego. “They want to be ready to respond.” (I can honestly say this not one of my reactions.)

Like nightmares, this heightened awareness can contribute to sleep problems in people with PTSD. Falling asleep and staying asleep can be more difficult if any small noise or change wakes you up. (This has been my life for 40+ years.)

Getting startled easily

This symptom, sometimes called hyperarousal, is closely related to hypervigilance. People with PTSD often have an exaggerated reaction when they’re surprised or startled, especially if the intrusion–a sound, smell, noise, or sight–reminds them of the original trauma.

“Somebody comes up close behind you and you jump a mile,” Nitschke explains. “Before the trauma, you wouldn’t have. Hyperarousal can interfere with sleep and concentration, and it may also come out as outbursts of anger, he adds. (This one describes some behaviors the kids have.)

Startling easily is a distinctive feature of PTSD; it’s not such a prominent symptom of other anxiety-related disorders.

Depression or irritability

Since 2013, the diagnostic criteria for PTSD have included mood-related symptoms like, depression. anger, guilt, shame, and hopelessness about the future.

“These aren’t necessarily unique to PTSD, but I think there’s a change after the trauma,” says Norman. “Because of what they saw or what they did, or [because] they couldn’t save the day, they feel a lot of guilt. It’s very common to overestimate how much control they had and blame themselves.” (This describes most adoptive parents of RAD kids.)

Those emotions can lead to negative beliefs about yourself, like “It was my fault” or “If I hadn’t taken that one drink,” Nitschke says. (I always try to help my clients understand they are not at fault for their child’s behaviors. I recommend placing the blame on the ones who damaged their child before he or she was placed with them.) 

Soldiers may feel prepared for some of what they experience in war, but no one is “prepared” for a trauma like sexual assault.  “[Sexual assault survivors] often feel very vulnerable and ashamed,” says Dr. Ritchie. “They feel that they have contributed to it in some way.

(It’s important to be empathetic to a victim of sexual abuse. If a child has been in an orphanage where there are older children, that child, girl or boy, may have been subjected to sexual abuse.)

Chronic pain

Not everyone with PTSD has chronic pain, and not everyone with chronic pain has PTSD, but the two conditions do overlap. Between 15% and 35% of people with chronic pain  also have PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (I have had chronic pain for a long time.)

“We don’t fully understand the relationship,” says Norman. “Having your stress level in ‘turbo’ nonstop might just wear down your body after a while.” The trauma itself can also cause pain: headaches from a brain injury, or back pain from a spinal injury, for example.

But even removing physical causes from the equation, there does seem to be a higher level of chronic pain in people with PTSD than without. “This suggests that there [may be] some common neurobiological pathways,” says Norman. “We don’t know for sure.”

Feeling panicked

In addition to pain, people with PTSD might experience other physical symptoms, like those of panic: Your heart races, you sweat, your blood pressure goes up, and your muscles are tense. (This happens to me all the time.)

Some people get dizzy, develop blurry vision, or hear ringing in their ears. It’s not that common, but some people with PTSD feel nauseous or even vomit in response to certain triggers, like a specific smell, says Norman.

Having PTSD is also linked with a higher risk of certain physical conditions down the line, including diabetes, heart disease (especially high blood pressure), and immune, digestive, and sleep disorders. (My blood pressure has spiked a bit with the completion of my book.)

Symptoms that last longer than a month

When these symptoms last only a few weeks after trauma, it’s usually called acute stress disorder or ASD. If the symptoms last more than a month, they’re more likely to be PTSD. In both cases, medical problems, as well as drug or alcohol abuse, must be ruled out as underlying causes of these symptoms.

ASD often comes before PTSD, but not always. Symptoms of PTSD can appear immediately following a traumatic event, or they can appear weeks, months, or even years afterward.

PTSD can also come and go. “In many people, you’ve got chronic symptoms that wax and wane,” says Dr. Ritchie. “In some people, they go away and in others they stay bad.”

Anyone with symptoms that last longer than a month should talk to a doctor or mental health professional about what they’re experiencing. Talk therapy, medications, or both can often help alleviate PTSD symptoms.

(I have to say talking about my PTSD has made it harder for me, but I can no longer say silent about my situation. I hope people with RAD kids will understand they are not alone and there is support for them, I’M ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.)



The link to my book is:

My Adoption Life


  1. Thanks, Ann. This is a great article.

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