15 PTSD Poems

This blog post will explore what PTSD poems are as well as list out a few well known and award winning PTSD poems. 

We will also briefly discuss what PTSD is and it’s Diagnostic criteria. 

What are PTSD Poems?

PTSD poems are literary pieces that are written as a way to reflect on one’s experiences with trauma and Post Trauma stress disorder. It is also a creative medium with which an individual can express their experiences with trauma and PTSD. 

These poems that are written by many individuals who are living with and have been affected by trauma and PTSD aso help create awareness about the condition and what it is like living with the condition. 

A world renowned psychiatrist, Norman E. Rosenthal who is known for his work on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and pioneering the use of light therapy for treatment of this disorder has discussed the impact of poetry on mental health experiences when he released his book Poetry Rx.

This particular book of poetry addresses the struggles of many US military veterans who have been affected by PTSD and also strived to bring an awareness to PTSD related suicides in this population. 

According to Rosenthal, “poems can heal, inspire, and bring joy” to the lives of many individuals and considered that there are therapeutic qualities to poetry. 

According to him, poetry allows individuals to find comfort and advice in various stages of life and the challenges it brings. He believes that poetry and all other poems or poetic pieces provide guidance in dealing with how one responds to challenges and give meaning to the various aspects and challenges of life. 

It is this particular sense of comfort, inspiration, and guidance that Rosenthal describes, that makes poetry such a powerful tool for individuals who struggle with PTSD.

Here is a list of PTSD poems that you might find interesting, inspirational, and helpful:

PTSD

PTSD by Lucky Garcia, a war veteran-turned-poet uses poetry about war and her experiences of it to connect with the world around her. 

You can watch her Poetry slam performance for Flatland here.

Again

SearchingforPeace in their poem “Again” writes about the recurring visions and flashbacks of a traumatic event related to wildfires.

It’s happening

again

blasts of searing hot wind

deafening roar

giant flames

pulsating, leaping

flying in the wind

thick black smoke

rolling, choking

burning hot embers

shooting through the air

into my face

all over me

burning through my Nomex gear

searing

hearing screams

through the roar

blood curdling screams

crowds of people

women, men, children

running, fleeing

jumping into their cars

jammed

horns honking

roaring waves of flames

rolling over houses

over the cars

over the people

over me

helpless to save them

on my knees

smoke choking

flames consuming

searing my lungs

can’t breathe

burning agony

waking up screaming

This Awful Mind

Jay Smith for their poem “This Awful Mind” writes of the impact PTSD and trauma has on one’s self image and the anxiety and depression it brings. 

This Awful Mind (The thoughts that kill us inside)

Like a dope-head fiendishly searching for another hit..

Your love is the drug that my heart can’t quit.

Exquisite existence..

Neverending bliss..

Continually searching for something like this.

A broken heart as the shine of your eyes dies.

Another mistake I made.

Withering the special smile that once was mine.

I try, day in and day out..

Failing miserably to be more.

You say that you love me..

You lie to be kind.

My self-worth has gone and walked out the door.

I don’t mean to whine..

I just want you to see inside,

This awful mind.

It was PTSD

Gina Medina also writes about how PTSD can affect one’s behaviours, thoughts and emotions to the point that it affects one’s relationships as well in their poem “It was PTSD”:

It was PTSD

Written in stone

Your words

In this child’s heart

Too young to understand 

It wasn’t me

It was PTSD

How could I make you see 

It was never the way you were thinking 

It was truly innocent

Too young to understand 

It wasn’t me

It was PTSD

Pedal to the metal

Heading toward disaster 

Fear and confusion 

Too young to understand 

It wasn’t me

It was PTSD 

Knife to your wrist

Begging and pleading 

Tears overflowing tiny faces 

Too young to understand 

It wasn’t me 

It was PTSD

Anger and disillusion

You’re chasing me

Questioning who I am

Too young to understand 

It wasn’t me

It was PTSD

And when my eyes finally see

I can’t be angry 

I can’t blame 

Because after all

It wasn’t you 

It was PTSD.

conversations with ptsd

This particular poem by Redshift is from the perfective of someone who’s partner, fiend, or loved one has been affected and struggling with PTSD. 

we had a real conversation for once

about your ptsd

you told me

you remember 100%

every guy you ever killed

and you went to iraq…

you told me

stories

what it was like

when you got back…

about waking up from a night terror

slashing your pillows

with a knife

about another guy

who almost strangled

his wife

you told me

all the reasons

you can’t sleep

i wanted

to lay my head on your chest

but i

didn’t

My PTSD

My PTSD, a poem by Alexis Rose, describes how PTSD is an individual experience and each individual’s experiences of the disorder and its symptoms can be different which makes the struggle isolating and difficult to live with without awareness and support from other people. 

In the poem, Rose describes how it is like to live with PTSD and how their symptoms affect their thoughts, emotions and day to day activities. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s cold, hot, sunny, snowing, or raining

There is no telling when it’s going to strike.

Are they alive or dead?

Is that pain real or echoes from pain long ago that

Resurface with a memory?

It’s like being held hostage by your mind

Thinking that today would be the day I am free.

I look like everyone else

I know the difference between right and wrong.

Yet in my head, I sometimes can’t remember

The last ten minutes of my life, or what day, year or time it is.

Are those smells real or is that a smell from a place and time

when I was being held against my will?

Am I really hearing the sounds of helicopters, planes, cicadas or birds

Or is that the sound coming from a place that no longer exists and

Should never be talked about?

I want so much to be like everyone else.

So I will keep pulling myself up the rope,

Out of the clutches of PTSD and all the skeleton hands of the past that

Keep trying to pull me down.

I am like everyone else only my job is to live so I can live.

For now, that’s all I can ask of myself if I am going to have a future.

What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. It could be a direct or indirect experience and can even happen due to repeated exposure to details of a traumatic event.

People with PTSD often struggle with their cognitions and emotions because they relive the event through flashbacks and nightmares, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. 

People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong reactions to ordinary events and often feel detached and isolated. 

PTSD is a debilitating disorder that can impact a person’s relationships, work, responsibilities like parenting and occupational/ academic tasks and can severely impact their sense of self. 

What are the diagnostic criteria of PTSD?

The following diagnostic criteria has been taken from the DSM-5 published by the American psychological association in 2013.

The criteria listed below apply to people above the age of 6 where for children below the age of six, the criteria is slightly different.

For PTSD to be diaognosed, the individual should have had Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of the following ways:

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).
  • Witnessing the event(s) as it occurred to others in person.
  • Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend. 
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to details of the traumatic event(s) 

There is also the experience of intrusive thoughts beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred such as:

  • Recurrent distressing memories of the traumatic event(s). 
  • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content is related to the traumatic event(s). 

They also experience dissociative reactions such as flashbacks, where the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring. 

They also experience psychological distress that is intense when exposed to internal or external cues that resemble an aspect of the traumatic event along with physiological reactions such as sweating, higher heart rate, shivering etc.

There is persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s) such as:

  • Avoiding distressing memories, thoughts, and feelings, of the traumatic events. 
  • Avoidance of external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations) of the traumatic event(s).

The struggle with altering cognitive processes and moods after the traumatic event has occurred such as:

  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s).
  • They develop extremely negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world
  • They have distorted ideas about the consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others.
  • They are in a perpetual negative state of mood such as anger, sadness, etc. 
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others- loneliness.
  • Inability to experience positive emotions such as love, happiness. 

They may also exhibit the following affective symptoms such as:

  • Irritable behaviour and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation), typically expressed as aggression. 
  • Reckless or self-destructive behaviour.
  • Hypervigilance.
  • Exaggerated startle response.
  • Problems with concentration.
  • Sleep disturbance 

These symptoms must persist for more than one month and cause significant distress and impairment in their social, and occupational functioning and are not attributed to other disorders, medical conditions, and substance use.

Conclusion

This blog post has explored what PTSD poems are as well as list out a few well known and award winning PTSD poems. 

We have also briefly discussed what PTSD is and it’s Diagnostic criteria. 

FAQ related to PTSD poems

What are the 5 stages of PTSD?

The five stages of PTSD include:

  • Impact or Emergency Stage
  • Denial/ Numbing Stage.
  • Rescue Stage where treatment and intervention begins.
  • Short-term Recovery or Intermediate Stage.
  • Long-term reconstruction or recovery stage.


what can PTSD be mistaken for?

PTSD can be confused with generalised anxiety disorder because of the intense anxiety and intrusive thoughts that come with both disorders. 

Can PTSD ruin your life?

Post Traumatic stress (PTSD) can severely disrupt one’s life as it can impact the daily functioning of a person. 

PTSD can lead to  intrusive memories, depression, disrupted sleep, anxiety, and avoidance of situations which can negatively impact one’s ability to work, socialise, and met the demands of their daily life

What triggers PTSD the most?

The most common triggers that lead to the development of PTSD in people include:

  • Combat exposure.
  • Childhood physical abuse.
  • Sexual violence.
  • Physical assault.
  • Being threatened with a weapon.
  • An accident
  • Loss

References

American psychiatric Association (2020). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved on 31st December 2021. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

Centre for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioural Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Exhibit 1.3-4, DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for PTSD. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/box/part1_ch3.box16

Kuntz.L Poetry for PTSD and Preventing Suicide. June 15, 2021. Retrieved on 6th January 2022. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/poetry-for-ptsd-and-preventing-suicide.

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