Post-Accident Traumatic Stress

Is there such a term? Because I think I may have it, following the three-car accident I caused back in April. The one which caused my decision to stop driving and the one that some of y’all let me have it about - deservedly.

So here’s what’s going on now:

Since I don’t drive, D takes me wherever I need to go and 95% of the time I manage to keep my mouth shut and let her drive in peace, but since that accident, I have become such a “wreck” myself, that unless I read or keep myself otherwise occupied, every now and then I’ll grunt or do one of those sharp intakes of breath if it looks to me like she may be about to make a driving mistake or hit someone.

This has the effect of startling her, because she thinks I’m seeing something she’s not already aware of and it causes her anxiety too, something I don’t want to happen, but that wreck (which was bad enough to total 2 cars) has remained so etched on my mind that I can’t help myself.

I’m going to discuss this with my neuro-psych doctor when I see him next week, but I’m wondering if this is common, or is it happening to me because I’m bat-shit.

I do still dream about that wreck and the fact I could have killed someone is never far from my thoughts.:frowning:



Sorry to hear about your problems, Quasi. I was in a near fatal two-car accident about three years ago, and I can attest that post-accident traumatic stress is very real.

It was several weeks before I could get behind the wheel of a car, and even then, I worked from home whenever I could. I too had horrible nightmares about crashes for a few months afterward. While my wife was driving me around during my recovery, I was hypersensitive to any unexpected situation. For instance, my wife has a habit of braking later than I do, and every stoplight became “ohshitohshitohshit we’re gonna die”. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with her, since on paper, she was the safer driver.

Over time, these reactions faded, but mostly after I started driving again - which doesn’t help you unfortunately. Although, one more thing I found helped - and don’t laugh at me - I played a shitload of Grand Theft Auto, driving aimlessly around Liberty City. Not sure if you’re a gamer, but that (or another driving game) might help, especially if you can’t get behind the wheel IRL.

Good luck - it does get easier over time.

Hypervigilance is a symptom of PTSD.

Bolding mine. CPI, that mirrors to some extent what’s going on with us - she brakes later than me. God, I HATE that this happens, and I feel so badly about it and for her, but I can’t help myself!

Thanks for the reply. It’s good to know it isn’t just me.:slight_smile:


My husband and kids were in a bad wreck caused by another driver. I rushed to the scene. For weeks after I would get anxious when I drove by the spot and I wasn’t even in the accident!

I was a passenger in an accident years ago where we rear-ended another car, not fast, just … bump … in traffic. I still press imaginary brakes as a passenger sometimes.

What you’re having is 100% normal and pretty darn common.

Individuals vary a lot in how they react to traumatic events including car accidents.

What you report so far is pretty much in the middle range of what’s considered normal.

Whether your other challenges contribute to this being worse for you than it otherwise might have been is well beyond my expertise.

This is a treatable problem. And like most other psychological hiccups / unhelpful habits, it tends to get worse, not better, if ignored or supressed.

I had a roll-over on an icy road in slow motion: the people behind me thought someone was filming a movie, because it was so slow and perfect and I was out and on top of the car trying to push it back over before they could figure out where I came from.

No damage, no trauma; all I remember is reaching for my boyfriend’s lunch, (AFTER the rollover…black ice + heavy wind + bald tires on an old Volkswagon=he should have gone out for lunch that day instead of asking me to bring it to him) before I apparantly climbed out the window on top. But for about a decade after that, I would stiffen and grab the doorhandle anytime someone else was driving and we were going around any kind of curve at any kind of speed.

So yeah, you’re right at normal. If even I, who had no real emotional involvement in that little tiny accident, can have an uncontrollable physical reaction to something my conscious brain barely registered, then I’m not at all surprised that you might have ongoing issues with your incident. I hope you find a way to get over it, Q.

I caused a minor fender-bender as a result of misjudging when a light would change, and looking over my shoulder to check the next lane, as I was going to change lanes after the intersection - the light changed fast (even the cop who came to the accident said that light was off) and I barely entered the intersection. Unfortunately, the one-way street that crossed it let a car enter my path right in front of where I was, and my car punched in the other car’s front fender. I got a ticket for failure to obey a stoplight, and insurance dealt with the rest.

That was a few years ago, and every now and then when I’m driving, I’ll still get really nervous about whether the light will change when I’m right on it, whether I’ll be able to judge the timing right, etc.

I think at least knowing that you have this reaction will be a start at helping you. Try finding relaxation techniques, or look for a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) workbook - maybe via Amazon - that will help try to stop those thoughts.

I was in a terrible car accident; one that left me with permanent disabilities. However, I also suffered a head injury and was left unconcious at the scene of the accident and I have no memory of the accident itself. I remember the night of the accident and events leading up to it, but my memory of the accident itself is blank and doesn’t pick up until I woke up in the ICU a few days later.

I say all this because I never suffered any anxiety after my accident when it came to riding (or eventually driving-I had to take a training course to be licensed to drive with hand-controls) in a car again. None whatsoever. I attribute this to the fact that my memory of the acute portion of my accident is missing. A sort of “ignorance is bliss”, if you will. I have always been thankful that I don’t remember my accident, not the terrible minutes anyway. I have always thought of it as a sort of “silver lining” in my journey to find happiness. It allowed me to find acceptance at my own pace, my own understanding.

This is similar to the nature of my injury, and how it was (or wasn’t) communicated to me by the medical community at the outset of my SCI. I was never told, in the hospital immediately following my accident or anytime afterwards, that I was paralyzed and I would never walk again. Because my injury was ischemic and the permanence of any nerve damage just wasn’t known, doctors had no answers for me other than “wait and see”. And since I had full sensation in my entire body, I thought every morning (for the first year or so) was going to be the morning I got up and began walking again.

Obviously, this never happened. However, I am grateful that I was in a position to be able to come to terms with the permanence and reality of my injury on my terms and with the time it took to understand it in a way I could live with. For me, that took several years. Hell, it will be a lifelong endeavor, but that cushion really helped me.

I was in an accident 22 years ago and I still get freaked out whenever a driver makes a too-fast left turn, especially when I’m in the back seat. I know it’s my particular problem and I’m pretty much able to prevent myself from reacting or commenting at all (the last thing I said before the crash was “nice fucking turn”), but it’s still there. It gets easier, if not better.

After I had my very first car accident, I was very much on edge if I was sitting in the passenger seat with my sister behind the wheel.

And some fifteen years later, I’m still ansy. She has a tendency to drive faster than I do, and she rides people’s tails. It’s like she never learned the “one car length” thing. Every time she comes to a stop behind someone, I gasp, let out a “oh shit!”, and prepare for impact.

But I’ve never attributed this to my own accident, which was not a rear-ending. It’s just that I think my sister drives more wrecklessly than I do, and I’m still not used to her style.

You may have PTS, but don’t rule out that D is just a different type of driver than you are.

If she were “wreckless”… wouldn’t that be a good thing? :smiley:

(sorry… couldn’t resist)