Tell me, sweet lord, what is’t that takes from thee
Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep?
Why dost thou bend thine eyes upon the earth,
And start so often when thou sit’st alone?
Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheek,
And given my treasures and my rights of thee
To thick-eyed musing and cursed melancholy?
Shakespeare~ Henry IV
And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, what man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart. And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people. ~ Deuteronomy 20:8, 9
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD can be caused by any injury to the body from shock, violence or wound, also a severe emotional shock which leaves deep, often lasting effect on the personality; emotional or intellectual strain, tension or distress and is a recurrent or concurrent set of symptoms which can range from jumpiness, panic attacks, extreme anxiety, nightmares and depression.
While throughout history there have been cases of traumatic experiences from war, natural disasters and violence, the term PTSD wasn’t used widely until the 1980s. Other terms in the past have been used to describe war related trauma and stress, such as melancholy, war neurosis and shell shock, but until about the time of the Operation Desert Storm, when many troops came home suffering “invisible wounds” people came to associate it with the term PTSD.
Many people still don’t understand what PTSD is and assume it is strictly something which affects combat troops. While it’s true the majority of those affected are military veterans, there are many civilian cases as well.
This article is not meant to diminish or compare any form of PTSD. This is a simple layperson’s view of PTSD, and I simply want to help people to be aware, to understand it a little more and to realize that PTSD affects all those who suffer from it differently. There is still too much of a stigma attached to this, and too many still have no idea what it is. This is a real medical issue, even though the very real wounds are not visible- they are wounds inside. By making more people aware, those who suffer can be helped, and those who see the symptoms present in others, they will know that the people who suffer are not weird, mentally incapable or ‘certifiable’.
First of all, civilians can be and are affected by PTSD. Trauma can happen in abusive relationships, where physical and/or mental abuse is present over a period of time. Many who live in an abusive relationship, whether parent, sibling or spouse/partner find ways of coping until they are able to get out of the relationship and may not exhibit symptoms until years afterwards. Trauma can be caused by years of abuse or from a severe case of physical or mental violent assault situation. Not all who go through abusive or violent situations end up suffering from PTSD but for those who do, the effects can range from moderate to severe.
People who live through natural disasters such as Severe Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Earthquakes and wildfires also can exhibit PTSD symptoms, especially in cases where there is wide spread destruction and loss of life.
For those who have suffered abuse, one can be considered ‘jumpy’ and nervous, especially if someone comes quietly into a room, or comes up behind them. They suffer anxiety attacks, nervousness, bouts of depression and fear in some situations which reminds them of past abusive situations. Those who went through a traumatic experience, especially if during a natural disaster can experience ‘survivor’s guilt’, which is something more in common with those who suffer from combat related PTSD.
Military men and women who suffer from PTSD usually experience more severe cases because they experience more cases of shock usually from one or more tours and often events they witness and/or experience themselves cause shock. Daily physical and mental stress, violent situations during combat, death of friends and fellow service members are contributing causes. Some may go through more severe experiences than others, but this has no bearing on how it affects the individual- the situations may be different, but the symptoms are the same.
Anything can ‘trigger’ PTSD symptoms, whether a sound, smell, seeing something which brings on a memory of an event which is so vivid in some cases for the person, they have a flashback and in a sense are back in the very place and moment when the event(s) happened.
I had a good friend I worked with a few years ago who is a Vietnam Veteran. He is an incredible guy, fun, kind and smart. We worked at a mining company where heavy equipment was used daily on the site. Sometimes the county firefighters would call on our guys to assist with clearing, making fire lines and moving dirt to help put out brush fires, other times, they would send helicopters to our pit to get water from the lakes to dump on areas fire and brush trucks couldn’t get to.
One evening as we were standing by during a huge brush fire, the helicopters came in for water, and my friend had a flashback. To him, the sounds and stress took him right back to Vietnam and he was there for about 5-10 minutes. If anyone has seen a friend or loved one in such a state, you know how painful and heart wrenching it is, not to be able to help them through it. He was never violent, but back then, I’d never heard of or known anything about PTSD so all I could do was stand back and watch him suffer. He couldn’t hear me when I called his name or when I tried to tell him it was OK. He wasn’t here. He was back over there. That was hard, but harder was the look of embarrassment and shame he had when he came out of it.
Many who suffer, especially veterans, believe they should be strong enough to cope, either trying to hide it or by “embracing the suck” and dealing with it. Sometimes they can. But other times a trigger is too strong, too vivid, too real, too much. Whatever the case, PTSD is nothing to be ashamed about, and the more people are aware, the stigma can be erased.
Symptoms of PTSD affect not only the person who suffers from it, but also their friends and family. Retreating from social activities and wanting to stay home all the time because going out especially to populated areas causes high levels of anxiety and stress. Always watchful, loud noises or sudden movements can trigger an emotional response. Sleep deprivation is also an issue, as sleep doesn’t come easily, and when it does come, so do nightmares. The ability to hold a job can also be hindered by effects of PTSD.
Many have a difficult time opening up to loved ones and friends, many may shut out those closest to them, and often they don’t understand why they do. This can lead to more guilt and frustration, both for the person and for their family- especially spouses.
They can and do try to describe what they feel, how they feel, but can’t describe well why they feel what they do. Often times trying to talk about it with people who have never gone through what they have can be frustrating because they feel no one would understand. Especially if the causes don’t seem as bad as what others have gone through. This often adds more stress, anxiety, feelings of guilt, inadequacy and self-loathing, because the person thinks they ought to be able to ‘shake it off’ or handle things better.
PTSD is finally getting wider recognition as a real medical issue and while there is more help available, so much more needs to be done. Studies have shown that serviced dogs have helped combat veterans who suffer from PTSD and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) yet the VA has cut funding and support of equipment, veterinary care, counseling and financial help to veterans who need a service dog which can cost thousands of dollars. The VA estimates that 400,000 former troops are currently being treated for PTSD, yet how many more are there who are not diagnosed?
Thankfully other organizations have discovered the healing which comes from utilizing service dogs and in some cases equine therapy to help PTSD sufferers. These are excellent groups who have proven success in many individual’s lives, but these are very expensive programs because of the training and time involved. These organizations need help and so do veterans who can’t afford the cost of a good service dog companion.
By promoting more awareness, maybe people will see the needs of our veterans and returning troops, as well as others who suffer PTSD. Some people may believe that with more organizations focusing on PTSD issues, people are getting more help, but financially it takes a lot of money to train and pair up PTSD sufferers and service dogs. Some people are campaigning to make more of an impact, and while PTSD Awareness month isn’t until June, we need people every month to be aware so people will know about and support the different organizations out there that are doing real things to help.
You can help by visiting some of the organizations, and veteran bloggers who deal with PTSD which are provided in links below, especially if you or someone you know exhibits PTSD symptoms or issues. These people are here and willing to help and many are personally affected by PTSD. They understand, and are willing to listen. Please share and help others be aware of the hidden wounds of PTSD.
Peer support blogs and websites:
Campaigns to Make PTSD Visible:
Burden Of Freedom independent film project: