PTSD — Big Red Car here on a somber Saturday in the ATX. Bit cold, but quite bright and headed to 60F.
So, the BRC has been around soldiers his whole life. The Boss, the BRC owner, was a soldier as was his father and mother. He grew up on Army posts and was educated at Virginia Military Institute.
Soldiering is a noble, necessary profession. It comes at some high personal cost to those who are thrown into combat.
Let’s discuss this a bit, shall we?
PTSD is a mental health affliction visited upon people who have experienced life jarring events which are pressed into their memories. They did not seek to experience these events, but they came with the profession.
While the magnitude of the horrific experiences has an impact on the fierceness of the affliction, it is not a sign of weakness. People respond differently to the same events. Responses may differ based on previous exposure to traumatic events, age, gender, and involvement.
It is often compounded by the intensity and duration of the event which gives rise to the memories. It is also intensified if the person was directly impacted — as an example wounded in the course of a battle.
At the heart of PTSD are memories of actual events which were horrific. This is where it comes from.
Soldiers returning from battle are logical candidates for PTSD.
It manifests itself in specific symptoms and indications. These are warnings to the individual and his loved ones. One of the first things we all need to do is to recognize the symptoms.
1. PTSD may manifest itself by nightmares, memories of a triggering event. This is often called flashbacks.
2. An individual may try to avoid situations — crowds as an example — which give rise to triggering the memories noted above. This may be for other reasons noted below.
They may also be reluctant to talk about their experiences. This was quite common of WWII veterans who returned home, went about their business, and tried to compartmentalize the war.
At the end of the Vietnam War when the American public seemed to turn on the military, this was made significantly more difficult by this unsympathetic reception.
3. The afflicted individual may have feelings of guilt, shame, and negative personal feelings. These may derive from his personal involvement in events.
This then morphs into feeling the entire world is a dangerous place wherein it is not possible to trust people who have not had similar experiences. This is commonly seen as bonding amongst veterans.
These feelings may may make people appear numb, difficult to find happiness, and a lack of enjoyment of things which previously used to bring them happiness. It is coupled with a general withdrawal into oneself.
4. There may be a sense of hyperarouusal in which the individual is constantly on the lookout for danger, jittery, angry, irritable.
This may then morph into behaviors which are reckless and lead to drug and alcohol usage as a means to counter the hyperarousal.
This also presents itself as an inability to concentrate or sleep in a normal pattern.
In this hyperarousal state, an individual may startle easily and respond with violence. Seconds later, the situation may be completely different.
The Whole Enchilada
We are left with an individual, a historic horrific event, a present triggering event which brings the past horrific event into the future, and a reaction.
The reaction may differ in intensity and duration. This is to be expected.
It is not a disease which will be cured. There is no shot, pill, surgery which makes it go away, so we are left with the big question — How do we deal with PTSD and a person who is afflicted with PTSD?
What do we do, Big Red Car?
1. Recognize that PTSD is not a sign of weakness. It is not a choice. It is not going to get better. Regardless of what happens, do not take it personal. It is not about you.
This individual did not ask for this to happen to them. It happened when he was doing his duty to the nation.
2. Be patient with those who are suffering with PTSD. Do not try to rush them. This is especially important when they are in that hyperarousal state and irritable.
3. Give the person space to sort out their reactions. Do not overwhelm them by asking questions.
When the episode passes, they will come back to you. Then you can talk about it. Mid-episode, be comforting.
If the person wants you to leave, leave. Don’t abandon them, but get out of their immediate presence.
Develop a practice whereby you give them their space and you take a “timeout.” Be there for them, but not directly with them for some agreed upon period of time. They will eventually come to you when they are ready.
Negotiate this timeout practice with them, so they know exactly what you are doing and that you are still there with them.
4. Do not patronize the individual. Don’t pity them. Do not talk about them as if they are not there.
Do not tell them “I understand.” You cannot understand and that reaction may drive them deeper and further away. Be empathetic, but do not pretend you can understand what they are going through. Many times, they themselves do not understand what is happening.
5. Do not take it personally and do not personalize erratic behavior.
6. Do not be judgmental. Know they fear your judgment. This is the shame, guilt talking. Know this.
7. Anticipate what may trigger an episode — anniversary dates, loud noises, fireworks, contact with similar friends, news stories, an article of clothing, a picture, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, discussions, time of day or night, alcohol/drug usage.
Anticipate and try to avoid triggering events.
Do not take them to crowded, noisy places.
8. The individual wants to share their experiences, but is fearful that you will judge them based on their involvement.
Know that they are fearful of losing you, of your rejecting them. <<< This is why your involvement is so critical.
If they share, understand they may be trying to purge their guilt. Be smart about how you react.
The horrific, historical event which has caused the condition is not going to change. Ever.
9. When they do share, they are, likely, not good at it. They don’t know how to express what they were feeling at the time versus how they feel now.
They cannot process the information and, therefore, they cannot adequately communicate it to you. This makes it worse. It creates confusion, a powerful force.
10. If drugs and alcohol are involved, you must get professional help as soon as you can. Go to the Veterans Administration and get them professional help.
There are no “self-help” remedies when it comes to drugs and alcohol. This is very hard to do and there are no easy ways out.
11. Find a support group. A veteran will listen to another veteran before all others.
12. Do not be afraid to go spiritual. If you can find a former military chaplain who has seen such events himself, it is a gold mine. Ask the VA for references.
13. The individual loves you even when they act out their affliction. It is their fear of losing your love which is creating some of the tension, the roadblocks.
14. In every instance, remember to love them unconditionally.
15. This is a high stakes endeavor. The rate of veteran suicides is a crisis. The VA has conducted a number of studies in the last five years pegging the rate of veteran suicides as twice the national average, that’s 20-22 veteran suicides per day.
So, dear reader, there you have it. PTSD is a real problem. There is no solution, no magic bullet. But, there is something very powerful with which to counter it — YOU. And, now, you know what to do. Please do it.
One last word, do not be afraid to pray. Pray to whomever you desire. But, pray.