Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In therapy for PTSD
In therapy for PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Happens When S**t Happens

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Trauma.  A traumatic event or several of them, begin PTSD.  It’s after this trauma, that is, “post-traumatic”, that the ongoing hurt starts.  It might start immediately or a few days, or weeks, or even months later.  Man or woman, soldier or civilian, PTSD can hit anyone.  Any of us can become a victim.  Life is long, and fate can twist today and then twist our future.  The severity of that major stressful event makes changes in your brain and body.  These changes are of a type from which people don’t quickly change back.  There’s not at automatic recovery, like from the common cold.  You are a victim initially and then your own mind and body make you a victim over and over again.

PTSD Can Be Successfully Treated

People with PTSD can be treated.  The outcome is usually a success.  The easiest method that works the best is to use a medicine and also get therapy.  There are good medicines (some better than others) and good therapists (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 doctor who can prescribe medicine if it’s needed.  And, you need a skilled individual who can listen, and can help with therapy and education about PTSD.  In addition, this skilled clinical person has to be someone with whom you can “connect”.  That is, someone with whom you feel comfortable.  Someone who is “authentic” AND real.  These abilities and skills might be all in one person or one or two or three clinicians.  Or, maybe a skilled team in a clinic.

There Is No Single Trauma – There Are Many Trauma Types Possible

Many types of threatening, overwhelming, and/or damaging events and experiences can trigger PTSD.  The battles, dangers, and threats of war are obvious examples.  Physical abuse, getting battered by someone, at any point in life is another.  As is being mugged and beaten in one of our violent city centers.  Psychological and/or emotional abuse can damage just as viciously.  Domestic violence, to be hurt by family.  Sexual abuse, so intimate and appalling.  Near rape and rape.  Severe traffic crashes.  Natural disasters like tornados, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods.  Even random shootings and terrorist attacks.  There seems no end to the list of tragedies that can plunge any one of us into dark places.

Then There is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

Describing 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.  Perhaps there was repeated trauma over and over for months or years.  It could be a certain type of trauma that “pushes buttons”, that causes an individual to crumble.  Other worse symptoms appear beyond the usual list of signs and symptoms associated with PTSD.  C-PTSD is likely harder to treat, but treatment can still end with success.

Get Medical Treatment for PTSD

Trained as experts, there are doctors who can treat PTDS and C-PTSD.  Years of experience have taught us 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 doctor, into their life.  These are individuals who have been hit hard and damaged badly.  What they have been put through has changed them, changed their brain, changed their body.  They are made vulnerable which they conquer by putting up walls that no one can break through.  They do need treatment, and treatment will work, but he/she just can’t do it, at least not now.

At Least Now We Know What PTSD 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 watch for an attack or to attack

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

The Three Faces of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Living the Trauma Event Again

Living through the stressful 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 here and 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.  Diving for cover when a car backfires.

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 trying to think.  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 threat.  

A Bit of Medical History – 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.  The battle when 300 Spartans fought to the death against the 150,000 man Persian army

Did You Know That… Audie Murphy had PTSD?

“Who the heck is Audie Murphy?” you ask.  Well, let us tell you this impressive piece of World War II and Hollywood history.  Audie Murphy was a film star from 1948 to 1969.  During World War II, before his acting career, he was a combat solider.  In fact, he was one of the most decorated American soldiers of WWII, earning every U.S. Army award for valor, 33 awards and decorations in all.  The countries of Belgium and France also give him 5 decorations for his heroic acts.

Just an Army Private

Though he began as just an Army Private, he became a legend in the 3rd Infantry Division.  He fought in 9 major campaigns and was wounded 3 times.  All this compacted into 3 years of active service.  After the war James Cagney got him into movies.  Given all he’d been through, it’s no surprise that he had PTSD.  He had the full syndrome with the nightmares, insomnia, headaches, vomiting, and depression.  He slept 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.  He had full military honors at his in Arlington National Cemetery burial.  President Kennedy’s grave is the most visited in Arlington, Audie Murphy’s is second.

Helpful links:

ClinicalTrials.gov PTSD Studies

The National Institutes of Health on PTSD

Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD

The Mayo Clinic on PTSD

What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by the American Psychiatric Association

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