Numbness/Blankness of Mind: PTSD?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My parents were emotionally distant during my childhood, but generally, I didn’t have a terrible childhood.

I went to college and fell into the drug/party scene and smoked pot at least three times a day, got somewhat addicted to cocaine, and drank regularly.

My world came crashing down towards the end of my freshman year as my friends and I were on the way back from a party and the driver of the car, due to excessive speed, ran off the road, flipped the car, hit a telephone pole, and killed my very close friend who was in the passenger seat. I was in the hospital for a couple of days and had serious injury.

After that incident, though, my mind hasn’t been what it used to. It’s been black. I used to constantly be thinking about things, but now I don’t. I can sit and not think about anything. Not the color of the floor, or my day ahead of me, or the sounds around me, but nothing. Its very hard for me to formulate thoughts. It’s even harder for me to have complete conversations with people.

The wreck happened almost a year ago and I’m still in a terrible state. I feel like I’m not really a person, like I have no personality. I’m not really close to anybody anymore, and my girlfriend just dumped me for being emotionally abusive.

I’ve just recently come out to my close friends as bi and that has been really hard for me to do. I thought that all this would go away after that, but it hasn’t.

I spent some time in a psych hospital this past fall for inflicting wounds upon myself. The term “post traumatic stress” was used constantly by my doctors. Can this really be post traumatic stress? I have no nightmares, no relapses of the incident. I barely think of it. I can go days without thinking about it. My anxiety of riding in cars has gone away almost completely, in my opinion, due to my anti depressant I started after my pysch hospital visit.

I just really want to be somebody. To feel things again. I really want this blankness to go away. To think again. To be human.

A. Your doctors believe that you may have PTSD but you are not certain. You question the validity of the diagnosis because you are not experiencing most of the other symptoms commonly associated with PTSD.

I believe that you may have PTSD. PTSD commonly occurs after being exposed to a very traumatic incident or stressful event. Having been in a car accident in which a best friend died would qualify. You are experiencing one particular symptom, a symptom of PTSD often technically referred to as “psychic numbing” or “emotional anesthesia.” For some individuals, this symptom develops soon after the traumatic event. According to the DSM-IV, the book used to diagnose mental health disorders, the symptom involves an individual feeling markedly disinterested in participating in previously enjoyed activities and feeling detached or estranged from other people. It also involves having a significantly reduced ability to feel emotions, specifically those associated with intimacy, tenderness and sexuality. “Psychic numbing” or “emotional anesthesia” seems to be consistent with what you are experiencing.

My main concern is that you seem to be isolated from other people and would like to “feel” again. This might put you at risk for substance abuse. Sometimes when individuals are isolated, they may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to feel better or to “feel” something. Given your history of substance abuse, this puts you further at risk for a return to drugs and alcohol. I hope that is not the case but it is a realistic concern.

Effective treatments exist for PTSD. It is important that you seek treatment in addition to developing a support system. The latter may be difficult because of your inability to feel or to connect with others. You are currently taking an antidepressant and this indicates that you are engaged in some level of treatment. I would advise you to speak with your treating mental health professionals about your inability to feel. They may be able to treat this particular symptom with additional medication or an adjustment to your medication. Therapy may also be helpful. If PTSD is not a disorder that your treating mental health professionals specialize in, they may be able to refer you to a specialist.

Psychology Today may be a resource to help you find a specialist who treats PTSD. Other resources that I would encourage you to explore include the National Institute of Mental Health informational website about PTSD, the National Center for PTSD and the PTSD Forum. Educating yourself should not be a substitute for treatment but it can assist you in understanding the nature of PTSD and its treatment.

I hope that you take advantage of the treatments available for PTSD. It is important to keep in mind that often PTSD symptoms decrease over time. You may have difficulty “feeling” now but that may not always be the case. Proper treatment can expedite your recovery. Thank you for writing and I wish you the best of luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 May 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Numbness/Blankness of Mind: PTSD?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/05/06/numbnessblankness-of-mind-ptsd/