I once had a phone conversation with a gentleman who initially called to speak to me regarding issues with a family member. During that phone call he mentioned he was a Vietnam War Veteran and this is what he had to say about PTSD though he never used that term… “I will have that fuse buried deep in my brain for the rest of my life and I’m already 65”. It was clear he had been dealing with the trauma and memory of all that Vietnam was to him all these years.
Recently there have been headlines popping up in the media across the U.S. of our returning vets who are struggling with life after Iraq and Afghanistan. Reports differ from an increase in suicide rates to odd behaviors and an overall inability to readjust. In a recent study it was estimated as high as 20% are affected (Healthline News). Moreover, now that women are in combat it is reported that they suffer the same rate of PTSD and Clinical Depression as men.
Often in many cases one of the explanations for this has been attributed to PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and MSD (Military Stress Disorder). This is all very confusing to the general population. Some people find it odd behavior once a soldier is actually home and has returned to a “normal” life. Others may view PTSD as a popular diagnosis used as legal jargon in hopes to acquit the “unusual and sometimes aggressive” behaviors exhibited by some trauma sufferers. This in itself raises a host of other questions. For example, is PTSD real and how does it happen to one and not another person? Are there tell tale signs or symptoms that someone may be suffering and is there anything that can be done to enable that the survivor of a trauma, combat or violent event is also a “thriver ” ?
Fortunately, Yes! Any one suffering from the effects of a traumatic event can resume a happy, peaceful and fulfilled life. Furthermore, there is more than just hope. Over the last few decades with the advent and strides in Neuro and the Behavioral Sciences there are powerful therapies and treatments in addition to traditional methods of talk therapy, psychotropic medications and support. With the newer trauma therapies we are finding that a person’s symptoms can abate completely. In other words, we are gaining a better understanding of how the brain encodes, stores, retrieves and utilizes information. How the brain perceives time, how an individual views an event and why a traumatic event “gets stuck” and replays. Hence, the term “spontaneous recall” is sometimes used for PTSD. Also, whether the event was Iraq, Vietnam, Korea or WWII; a traumatic event can clear regardless of how many years ago it was experienced.
So, how might PTSD symptoms manifest? The best illustration came from a story my husband recently told me of a co-worker he had worked with 20 years ago. They were on an environmental site in a small town in Florida when 2 or 3 F-16 fighter jets from MacDill Air Force Base “buzzed over head quite low to the ground”. My husband thought it was “cool” to see the jets fly by but he soon realized that his buddy “had dove to the dirt and covered his head”. Jim then explained he was a Vet and ever since Vietnam was still reactive. For instance, he explained to the crew not to wake him or startle him in anyway and don’t sneak up on him or he goes into fight or flight mode. He also couldn’t sleep at night without a piece of wood clasped tightly in his hand and held against his chest, though he “preferred it was a gun but didn’t want to harm his wife accidentally” as they slept. Finally, he admitted that he knew it didn’t make logical sense but part of his mind still had to do these things to make him feel safe. It wasn’t all a conscious decision. Whether Jim knew it or not he was referring to a “subconscious drive that compelled his behavior” all designed to respond to a “future” perceived threat.
The formal definition of the symptoms and causes of PTSD as described in the DSM-IV or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are as follows:
- A type of anxiety disorder where witnessing or exposure to a traumatic event such as; natural disasters, war, abuse, rape, hostage, imprisonment, terrorism ,neglect resulted in a response of fear, helplessness and or horror
- Recurring symptoms and behaviors are; flashbacks, distressing dreams, inability to sleep, concentrate, generalization to similar sensations triggers a fear response ,avoidance, depression, anger, panic, hyper vigilance, emotional numbing, disconnection, addictions
- Prolonged duration of disturbance causes clinically significant distress and impairment to overall function and disturbances to the nervous system,
- A person’s normal flight or fight response can be heightened and exaggerated
Anyone can suffer from PTSD and not all suffer from symptoms after a traumatic event. This is due to genetic, physical, social and environmental factors of an individual. Not everyone with PTSD exhibits severe symptoms either. Sometimes symptoms will simply abate on their own over time. People who have strong support systems tend to fare better than those who do not. It is important to find a Doctor and a Therapist who is well versed and experienced with Trauma Therapy and the brain in particular.
Some common therapies for PTSD are Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Clinical Hypnosis, Biofeedback, Neuro-Linguistic Processing (NLP) and Rapid Resolution and Trauma Therapies (RRT&RTR). These various methods can involve a physical and emotional reliving of the experience, a cathartic retelling thru writing, a systematic desensitization, focusing on a faulty belief system and changing to a more rational one, and a reprocessing of brain thru specific eye movements. I utilize Rapid Resolution Therapy and Rapid Trauma Resolution (RRT). Together these methods engage all facets of the mind through the use of sensory-specific language and a particular sequence process. A unique feature of RRT&RTR is that it does so without re-traumatizing the individual. The mind is cleared and remains fully present with the memory intact. The result is emotional freedom from the past.
Life can be difficult after a traumatic event for anyone. But, if you are currently suffering from any of these symptoms, especially if they have persisted over time it is important to seek effective treatment. There are now more options available and a trauma survivor can overcome the aftermath of a tragedy and live a productive and healthy life! Especially for our returning Veterans, it is important for them to have timely care and right now is the time!
Helpful website: www.ptsd.va.gov (The National Center for PTSD)