PTSD and the startle response

Guest Author: John

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

I am lucky, every morning when I open my eyes to greet a new day I do so with a blank slate. I could have had the worst mental illness flare up the day before and still feel grateful and renewed the next day. The exception being when the PTSD nightmares come for me in my slumber. Then I start my day with rapid heartbeat and a fear that plagues me for a good part of the day.

With this blank slate I do my best to map out a day of normalcy, it doesn’t necessarily have to be full of joy but I always try to head in a direction that allows me to conduct the everyday tasks that come with living. Taking care of chores, paying bills, making appointments and meeting up with friends. My end goal is not to let PTSD imprison me in my own home for fear of what potential emergency could be lurking just around the corner.

I defy it and I set off.

I resist this with all my strength and step outside to greet the world with a sense of hope that today I will be able to tolerate the very noisy and very busy world. I use social connection with friends as the primary reason I leave my home. Those whom I care about, those who support me, I use as my motivator to integrate into society.

I would be lying if I told you that I love being amongst the daily chaos that is the everyday hustle and bustle of humanity. On the contrary, I despise it but I do recognize that despite how I feel about it, I know I have to interact with society, so I, like I always do, I defy it and I set off.

I am always grateful when I venture outside the house and discover that the symptoms appear as though I have left them on the doorstep. As a result, I have a wonderful time, it’s great to feel normal. On these good days, I fully embrace them and don’t give in to the temptation to tell myself that something will happen trigger me.

I am in constant fight, flight or freeze mode.

But, on the days when the heavy sense of dread and unexplainable fear of disaster dominate my thoughts causing all my symptoms to flare to the level of near debilitation, making my way through the world is the equivalent to someone adding weight to my back with every public interaction. The stimulus that surrounds me, psychologically assaults me from every direction causing an accumulation of fear and anxiety that will but me down for the count.

Out of the many symptoms that are produced by PTSD, none are more impactful then the startle response. PTSD and its startle response are so problematic for me because when I am symptomatic I am hyper-vigilant and as a result, I am in constant fight, flight or freeze mode. Being in this state makes me jump at every sudden noise, regardless of its volume.

The reason I find this tendency to be easily started so difficult is because it is often the primary trigger that causes me to spiral into a mental health crisis. I become so finely tuned to all the chatter surrounding me, every little kid blatting and each and every item be tossed about and dropped; even the clanging of a spoon against a plate can bring me out of my chair. etc.

I feel like I am constantly vibrating, acutely aware of every last bit of commotion in the room and the price I pay for leaving the house is being subject to being scared out of my skin over and over again.

It may help you to understand my plight if you stop and think back to a time where someone had scared the life out of you, think of the physiological response you had. Racing heart, a tinge of agitation and rapid breathing. Now, imagine what that would be like to experience multiple times in a row. It puts me in a constant state that ranges from constantly irritable to level ten agitated. The best way I can put it is, it’s like getting a tiny shot of electricity over and over, after awhile all you want is for it to stop assaulting your body.

I know that tomorrow will be better.

I hate it because those closest to me must endure the fallout from PTSD and its startle response. Also, its side effects lead to numbing recounts of things I’ve witnessed; it’s so numbing that I feel like I’m trying to make my way through molasses.These are the days where I end up spending the remainder in bed. Sometimes isolating myself for days.

Although these moments make it very tempting to just stay home, I remind myself that I have had great days interacting with the living, it has enriched my life; meeting up with an old friend or helping someone get through their own personal experiences with mental illness. Reminding myself of this, I know that tomorrow will be better.



Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It describes exactly what I deal with every day.


I really relate to this. Very well said.
I am having more good days than challenging lately ( the last year or so) but I still feel fearful that I will never be fully released from my hyper vigilance. Exhausting at times.

My Curse

Beautifully written.
It validates for me why I don’t take walks when it’s really windy outside. The sound of the leaves on the trees should be a soothing or energizing noise. I imagine most people don’t notice the sound at all. For me, it puts me on high alert. It muffles the sound of potential harm.
I hope to walk freely one day.
Maybe tomorrow.


I’m so glad to know this was just not some crazy thing only I felt with. You’d think a professional would have explained this to me by know. Was diagnosed in early 2000. My problem is that people think it’s funny. Love to scare me. I have high blood pressure. I tell them but they don’t seem to remember.


Beautifully written. You’ve captured what a lot of us feel. It’s very comforting to know that others feel the same way. You are not alone.

Some body from Aylesford

I Believe you!


Thanks for sharing John. Beautifully written my friend!

Badly bend..not broken

I don’t know you, but that is the best explanation ive ever read. I’m scared they’d put me away because that’s exactly how it is ..not every day but most. That is my life ; military…fire svc..broken neck accident(s) due to meds…addiction to said meds…recovery and to start trying to fix everything you let slide. It makes trying to be a normal person hard especially to one who loves you despite your past. Feeling like your going to fall off the edge everyday but that person who loves you (and I her intensely),…your kids…family keeps you here. Every day is one more…its hard.

Jeff & Mutt

Way to go Buddy. Nicely put into words. Thank you for taking the time to find them, then loan them to those who need them.

John Arenburg

I wanted to say thank you all for the beautiful comments. I am glad you all found it useful. If you would like read more of my content, go to

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