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.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on May 6, 2010.