PTSD is a big part of my life.
My husband has it, thanks to leading 110+ combat missions in Afghanistan before his 26th birthday.
I have it, thanks to a sexual assault and subsequent stalking that occurred while my husband was serving.
Our fast tracked young professional lives were completely derailed due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
At times, it seemed as though PTSD affected everything – how we lived, how we worked, (if) we were able to sleep without nightmares. I remember thinking, “What I wouldn’t give for us to both just be able to get through one night without haunting nightmares.”
What IS PTSD?
So what is PTSD?
The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as, “… a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
I tried pulling the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs PTSD definition, but this is what came up:
My favorite definition of PTSD came from a Vietnam veteran. He said, “PTSD is the normal reaction of a normal person to abnormal circumstances.”
PTSD has been known to manifest following war, violent crime, traumatic accident, physical or sexual abuse, and catastrophic natural disaster.
What does PTSD look like?
PTSD symptoms vary person to person, but here’s a list of some of the common manifestations:
Here’s an excellent video portrayal of how PTSD may affect a veteran’s daily life:
PTSD has a big, BIG Stigma
Most people didn’t understand PTSD; we lost the majority of our friends and family due to the behavior changes.
An insightful Army Chaplain, helping us through a particularly low time, encouraged us to not view PTSD as an embarrassing secret, but to be more open about it with our peers and community.
That didn’t (initially) go so well.
For a community that should be super versed in PTSD, the initial reception among our military peers was anything but accepting or understanding.
PTSD is Part of Our Community
Did you catch that subtitle?
Notice how I didn’t say, “PTSD is Part of My Community”. Note the Our Community.
Regardless of “stigmatized” you view PTSD, its effects are very real within our military community.
The longest war in American history is “over”. Our community is bleeding, and the wounds of war are not always visible.
Soldier’s Heart, Shell Shock, Combat Stress, Adjustment Disorder – war’s effects on the brave men and women who serve is nothing new. We’ve been observing these postwar changes for centuries.
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. - George Orwell, British journalist
The disconnect between those who observed hell of war and those who did not has always been present; however, it’s not an excuse.
Educate yourself on PTSD symptoms, reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms that may be struggling with life after war. You don’t have to have all the answers, or “fix” their problems- just care and be there.
For those who do not have to fight the daily battle of PTSD, be there for someone who is.
Our military community needs you now, more than ever.
What can you do?
If you are dealing with PTSD, first step is to realize that it’s NOT your fault.
When we survive a traumatic event, our minds want to “explain it away”, and sometimes blaming our own actions (like branching combat arms, or running a business as a lone female) provides us that “explanation”.
Whatever event that changed your paradigm for good was horrible. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Your body thought you were going to die (hence the adrenaline charged symptoms) but you didn’t.
PTSD does NOT mean you’re crazy (even though you may feel like it at times).
PTSD is the NORMAL reaction of a NORMAL person to ABNORMAL events.
It takes an incredibly strong person to survive what you did.
Recognize that you’re not alone. As someone with PTSD, I understand the tendency to withdraw and avoid the things that hurt you the most – people. This reaction is natural; however, it’s not healthy. PTSD currently affects over 2 million people in the US military community – you are NOT alone.
If you’re struggling to get effective resources or assistance form the VA, join the club.
Don’t let the inadequacy of bureaucracy discourage you and your family from pursuing high quality of life. We’re out there – millions of veterans and spouses dealing with the same shit you are – and together, we can dispel the PTSD stigma, and enjoy life to the fullest. Here’s a couple support group organizations for veterans and military spouses:
For those struggling to comprehend the scope of PTSD post-war currently affecting our millennial military community, here’s an excerpt that may provide additional insight:
Many veterans feel guilty because they lived while others died. Some feel ashamed because they didn’t bring all their men home and wonder what they could have done differently to save them. When they get home they wonder if there’s something wrong with them because they find war repugnant but also thrilling. They hate it and miss it. Many of their self-judgments go to extremes. A comrade died because he stepped on an improvised explosive device and his commander feels unrelenting guilt because he didn’t go down a different street. Insurgents used women and children as shields, and soldiers and Marines feel a totalistic black stain on themselves because of an innocent child’s face, killed in the firefight. The self-condemnation can be crippling.
― David Brooks, The Moral Injury, New York Times. Feb 17, 2015
Share the blogs, educate yourself on this heroic subset of our generation, and join in the conversation on Twitter, with the hashtag: #MilitaryGenY .
About Hannah Becker
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