PTSD return years later?


I had a 2.5wk ICU stay in 2003 due to septicaemia. Nearly died - was heavily sedated, ventilated along with a lot of other stuff. Very lucky escape. At the time, suffered horrific hallucinations and panic/anxiety attacks. When I finally left hospital after 6wks, I had flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety but I just threw myself into getting better and back into my old life. These things continued to a greater or less extent in the background but I dismissed them as stupid and a weakness. It was never explained to me by the staff looking after me or my GP at the time that I could experience these things so I didn't speak about them in case it was just me being a nutter.

In 2009, I experienced a very stressful situation at work and suddenly the floodgates opened on my post-ICU symptoms = the flashbacks, anxiety and nightmares returned with a vengeance. I was diagnosed with PTSD, received CBT (which was amazingly effective) and was off work for 6mths recovering.

2014 - life has moved on, I'm happily married with 2 kids and loving life. In the last few weeks, I've been under pressure at work due to workload volume/lots of extra hours plus the kids haven't been sleeping at night so I'm exhausted. The PTSD symptoms have started to creep back - anxiety leading to flashbacks in particular. I never realised it could come back so this in itself is making me anxious and frustrated. I'm scared to go back to the way I was in 2009 which was horrible.

Has anyone else experienced the return of PTSD symptoms? Have I got to live with this off and on for the rest of my life?

10 Replies

  • I was diagnosed with ptsd after a critical illness 2.5 years ago. I had emdr therapy and it has been amazingly successful. My therapist warned me that there is no cure for ptsd and the anxiety that accompanies it. He said that I would need to be vigilant and don't hesitate to get help if and when the symptoms return. This illness has to be managed but not cured.

  • Hello binkyb, I'm sorry about your unpleasant and worrying PTSD symptoms. I was in ICU for 3 weeks at the end of 2010, with all the attendant baggage (ventilator, trachi, etc): subsequently, this site was a revelation for me, finding out that the psychological effects of the trauma, both during and after ICU, are common. I still have the occasional nightmare.

    I agree with Twash: the after effects should best be seen as a condition which has to be managed, and will unfortunately always be there, lying dormant hopefully for most of the time, but triggered mainly by stress and exhaustion. A bit like clinical depression. I'm fortunate that I am now semi retired and can control the amount of paid work I do. But if I was working (I had a high pressure job) and with young children too, I'd know I would have to be very careful and look after myself. It isn't about being selfish, it's about keeping mentally well. So take care of yourself, please do.

  • Hello, my stay in ICU was very similar to yours, i am ok now though, the only thing i can say is in regards your job etc, dont panic at work just take your time, its not worth it, if the management know about your passed illness they will understand, take care

  • Thanks for the replies - Muncii, I agree - I can't believe I've found other people who have experienced the same things as me - it's a revelation and a comfort. Although ICU Steps was around in 2009, I wasn't aware of them or any other sufferers, I felt very alone and isolated. Even the psychiatrist I saw for assessment questioned the validity of my experiences. I honestly felt I was the only one who was like this and it must be something wrong with me. Anyway, that was then and this is now - just googling ptsd and icu brings up masses of recent research. That has also been comforting and normalised things in itself.

    I'm not very good at being selfish and probably have too strong a work ethic for my own good. I work full-time in a demanding corporate environment and am mum to a 1 and 3 yr old. I'm currently taking a few days off work - wondering whether being signed off for a while would be wise. Part of me just thinks that's a lazy route, I should just get a grip and get on with things....

  • binkyb75. Go back to your doctor. Ask them to sign you off work for quite a while. The reason. My sister had depression which turned to PTSD because she did not listen to her body. She is now off work, has been off work for 3 months and is only now beginning to feel better. She is one of those people who believe that when you leave hospital you are better, cured in fact but as you know ICU is a whole new ball game. I was in ICU in 2012 & now I too have PTSD and I understand the problems you are going through.

    Work is not important, family is and SO is your health. Please go back to your GP.

  • I have had a few times an ambulance has gone by my car and for a split second I am in it! But I think what helped me was going though the diary talking about what I felt and what others had gone though. A visit to one of the hospital sI was in who went though my stay in some detail.

  • Hi, I am an ITU sister, I am still shocked when I hear how lack of information and support remains a common theme for our patients. I run patient follow up in my unit and it is really important that you share your experience, I am really glad you had help eventually so please do not hesitate in doing this again. Recognise the triggers, you obviously have a lot on your plate and there is the need to prioritise. Try writing down all you do it's quite cathartic and you realise how unrealistic something's are. This will help your anxiety and help you to focus, it's not always about ITU, often the ITU experience is the trigger for stress which is dormant. Look after yourself, keep talking and be honest. Take care

  • Nice to hear from frontline staff, you all do a great job. I was in 2 hospital ICU's I had no opportunity to see or talk anyone at the one I was in for the most time. I did feel it was a case of discharged... NEXT!

  • Thanks for the further comments. I have made an appointment today to visit the ICU where I stayed and for someone to talk through my stay. I think I will make notes of what happened to me and when so that I can refer back to the reality of the situation. Feeling positive but apprehensive, makes me feel anxious to just think about visiting the ICU ward again but I know I have to do it.

  • Update - I had my appointment at the ICU where I stayed 11 years ago. Although a distressing and very emotional 3 hours, it was a positive experience. Two current ICU nurses met with me and talked through my medical file on a day-by-day basis. It reinforced some things I already knew but also highlighted information I hadn't been aware of that linked into some of my flashbacks and feelings. I've felt in a bit of shock since and it has brought a lot of things to the fore in my mind but I'm glad I went. I think I have previously misunderstood and underestimated the impact that my illness in 2003 has had on me mentally.

    The two nurses said it was very rare that patients request a follow up and discussion about their experiences so they were really pleased that I had contacted the hospital. They've asked me to come and help them run some training for the other clinical staff on ptsd following ICU care.

    I'm currently awaiting CBT treatment and still off work. So glad to have found this community and I'm hoping to attend a support group soon which is about an hours drive from me.

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