June is PTSD Awareness Month, but until recently many people might not have been personally concerned. Their only “awareness” was the erroneous assumption that PTSD just happens to other people. Posttraumatic stress disorder can happen to anyone, and it deeply and profoundly impacts all those who are close to them.
Maybe you or someone you care about has experienced abuse, a life-threatening illness, a frightening storm, the tragic loss of a loved one, a mass shooting, an auto accident, threat of famine, violence, or even a global pandemic (sound familiar?). Any of these could possibly result in lifelong posttraumatic stress. But how would someone know if they or a loved one has PTSD? And if so, is there hope?
What is PTSD?
Historically, the term PTSD (shell shock, soldier’s heart, etc.) pertained primarily to combat warriors. My own husband, a Vietnam veteran, has battled it for 50 years. But now experts in the field acknowledge that anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic or life-threatening experience may be susceptible to PTSD. Our current global crisis could very well be considered traumatic and life-threatening to many of us.
At the moment(s) of trauma, the whole person gets locked into emergency survival mode (fight, flight or freeze survival), and will stay locked in that emergency mode at some level for the rest of their lives. 24/7 they live as if the original trauma or an impending crisis could strike at any moment. It totally overwhelms their ability to cope, so when something triggers them back into survival mode, they have no reserve with which to handle it.
What are the symptoms?
The good news is that not everyone has all of these, and they vary in intensity from person to person. Some typical symptoms may include flashbacks, intrusive thoughts of the trauma, avoidance, numbing, putting up walls, withdrawing, hyper-vigilance, irritability, being easily startled, memory blocks, sudden bursts of anger or other emotions, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, fear, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other addictive behaviors, difficulty holding a job, relationship problems, and unfortunately sometimes even suicide.
They are people who are reacting normally to an abnormal experience.
Can it be fixed?
Trauma and its indelible impact cannot be erased, and therefore PTSD cannot be totally fixed. I know of no cure at this time that eradicates it permanently. However, it can be helped. That is what Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support (the book, resources, and support network) is all about. There is hope! My husband and I (and many others) can attest that it is possible to live happy, fulfilled lives in spite of the challenges of PTSD.
Fortunately, there are more beneficial therapies available today than ever before. Since each person and their situation are unique, the best thing to do is research the options, talk with others, and take that first step toward getting the help you need. A good place to start is our website under Resource Links.
Additionally, I’ve found that faith and love are key to thriving, faith bringing connection with God and love bringing connection with others. God never promised to take away pain, to navigate us away from all hard times, or to erase trauma. But from my experience having a personal relationship with the Lord does make a difference. He offers much-needed presence in the pain, peace, power in the struggles, promises, perspective, and purpose. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it possible.
What can I do today?
Whether for yourself or a loved one, I encourage you to learn all you can. Go to www.LoveOurVets.org and learn about PTSD and how it affects us, and discover what resources are available. You can also download a free “PTSD Basics” graphic that offers a summary, as well as some “do’s” and “don’ts” of helping those with PTSD.
Then reach out for help and connect with others for support. No one needs to be alone in this! You are worth it and so are those you love.
And remember that with PTSD, every day is a victory!
Welby O’Brien holds a Master’s Degree in counseling from Portland State University and a teaching degree from Biola University, and based on her own life journey she has authored LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD, Goodbye for Now (grief support), and Formerly A Wife (divorce support). She is also a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America, as well as Shepherding Women in Pain. Learn more at WelbyO.com and LoveOurVets.org
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