PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

soldier PTSD

Did You Know That…  Audie Murphy, a film star from 1948 to 1969, was a combat solider before his acting career.  In World War II he was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers, earning every U.S. Army award for valor.  Belgium and France also give him awards for his heroic acts.  He had PTSD with nightmares, insomnia, headaches, vomiting, and depression, causing him to sleep with a gun under his pillow.  Dixie Hendrix, his wife, said that he had once held her at gunpoint.  She described that, seeing news of German war orphans, he would become tearful with guilt.

Articles related to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder):

A Condition Since the Start of Mankind

In 480 B.C.E. King and Commander Leonidas in the Spartan Army removed men from combat if he judged that they were too psychologically and emotionally damaged from battle.  Leonidas was the King portrayed in the movie 300 about the Battle of Thermopylae, defending Greece from the Persian king Xerxes.

PTSD Happens When S**t Happens

Trauma.  Trauma is the start of PTSD.  Man or woman, soldier or civilian.  Life is long and fate can twist.  Any one of us can become a victim.  The severity of the major traumatic event that kicks off PTSD changes your brain and body in ways and to such an extent that people don’t automatically or quickly change back.  You are a victim initially in a way that causes PTSD and then, with PTSD or C-PTSD, your body’s pathophysiology victimizes you over and over again.

PTSD Can Be Successfully Treated

People with PTSD can be successfully treated, most successfully and easily with a combination of medications and therapeutic interventions.  There are good medications (some better than others) and good therapeutic approaches (again, some better than others).  It’s important to know that this is an area where one size does NOT fit all.  You need to see a health care provider who can prescribe medication if it’s needed.  And, a skilled clinician who is an empathetic listener and can help with education and therapy, if needed.  And this person has to be someone with whom you can “connect” and feel comfortable.  An authentic person.  These traits and skills might be all in one person or one or two or three professionals.  Or a skilled team of several in a clinic.

No One Trauma – There Are Many Possible

Many types of overwhelming and damaging events and experiences can trigger PTSD.  The battles of war are obvious examples.  Physical abuse at any point in life is another.  Being mugged and beaten in our violent city centers.  Psychological and/or emotional abuse.  Sexual abuse.  Domestic violence.  Near rape and rape.  Severe traffic crashes.  Natural disasters or terrorist attacks.  There seems no end to the list of tragedies that can plunge any one of us into dark places.

Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)

It might seem that it can’t get any worse, but it can.  A little over 20 years ago it was realized that there is a more severe form of PTSD.  Maybe caused by a worse trauma.  Maybe repeated trauma over and over for months or years.  Other symptoms appear over and beyond the usual list of signs and symptoms associated with PTSD.  C-PTSD is likely harder to treat, but it can still be successfully treated. 

Medical Treatment

Specifically-trained health care providers can treat PTDS, including C-PTSD.  Experience over time makes it clear that there is no way to force treatment on a person or force a person into treatment.  For one thing there are people with PTSD who feel so damaged that they say they don’t want help.  They can’t let anyone, and certainly not any health care provider, into their life.  These are individuals who have been hit hard.  What they have been put through has changed them, changed their brain, changed their body.  They are made vulnerable which they conquer by becoming impenetrable.  They do need treatment, and treatment will work, but he/she just can’t do it.

Now We Know What It Is

Too many soldiers from previous wars never got well.  Shell shock in World War I.  Combat stress reaction in World War II.  War neurosis.  Soldier’s heart.  Every war had its name for what we now call PTSD.  Before we knew what to do many with PTSD never got well.

The Faces of PTSD; All Can Be Present

There are three parts to the medical condition of PTSD.

  • The person feeling that he/she is living through the event again
  • Staying away from people and places and letting emotions go numb
  • Alert, too alert, always on the alert

Let’s take a look with a bit more detail.

Living the Event Again

Living through the event again includes several types of re-living.  Upsetting memories can haunt a person.  Bad dreams make even sleep unrestful and no escape.  Flashbacks, the sudden feeling that the trauma is happening again right now, put the person through hell.  Non-proportional reactions: the individual can have a major reaction to some reminder of the trauma that anyone else might judge is a small or even trivial reminder.

Not Wanting “To Go There”

The second broad symptom category includes not thinking about the trauma, not letting feelings come up (pushing feelings down and out of awareness), staying far away from any possible reminders of the trauma, and just plain really and actually forgetting that it happened.  The person with PTSD can completely lose interest in life’s important events and relationships and feel like other people don’t matter.  They might just be flat or blank as far as emotions are concerned.  “Life’s about over,” is another thought that might be present.

If You’re Coming for Me, I’m Ready for You

Finally, the third category of presenting symptoms are the “alert” or hyper-alert symptoms.  This group can include poor sleep, being “edgy” and irritable, and being unexpectedly quick to anger.  Another part of this area is confusion or being mentally unclear.  The person might have trouble just thinking.  He might be always on the alert for trouble, ready to take action.  Ready with a dollar’s worth of response to a nickel’s worth of provocation.  Another type of non-proportional reaction.

Helpful links:

National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Clinical – Clinical lists 218 recruiting and not-yet-recruiting studies of PTSD.

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health

Department of Veterans Affairs (United States)

The Mayo Clinic

American Psychiatric Association