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Saturday, November 29, 2008

PTSD...Just how "POST" is the trauma?

We've all heard the term PTSD..Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most people never really heard much about it until about quite a few years following the Vietnam War, although it's nothing really new. It's been around under different names since time immemorial, I guess, and in different vestments and colors. In other wars, people became "shell shocked" or simply traumatized or suffered "combat fatigue" but nobody took into account what happens when the horrors of war. or anything else that befalls a human being, for that matter, is bottled up inside and comes back to haunt you again and again.

As for Vietnam veterans, it just seems that it became more widespread, as they tried to cope with a society that for the most part, hardly welcomed them home with open arms, and who had little mental health services, or others to talk to about their experiences, and were thrust back into and tried to assimilate "normal" societal behavior once again.

PTSD comes in many forms and shapes and isn't limited to combat vets. It happens to crime victims, accident victims, and people from all walks of life. Some people say it sneaks up on you when you least expect it, with nightmares and visions of the past, and others say it's a living thing that you walk with every living hour. Everyone handles it differently, and nobody can tell another exactly what or how to feel when it comes along, since it, unfortunately, is one of those personal things each one experiences differently. Like pain, each has some different degree of tolerance, a level that can bury some, or all, of that experience in the subconscious, most or all of the time, but unfortunately again, not forever.

I once wondered why the veteran suicide rate was so high, and then started thinking whether anyone ever looked at an overall PTSD rate rather than just a combat veteran rate as a total? It's easy to look at numbers when you have a figure that is in hand, such as vets, as you know the numbers who were exposed. But how about others who have had episodes and experiences in civilian life, that rival the trauma of war? What is the rate of alcoholism, drug use and suicide among that group? I don't think anyone has ever done a study to see how that fits into the total equation! Plus, we see the numbers used by the VA may be more or less skewed, as they have been deemed unreliable for many years, while they denied many of the PTSD cases as factual, which were really true cases. Many more await in the wings.

So, how long does PTSD take to manifest itself? In some cases, it's almost instant. In some cases, years. In some cases, it just jumps out at no specific time, and in a very few cases, it remains dormant for decades, and then manifests itself and nobody can understand why the person acts as they do. Strange thing for sure. Remembering like it was yesterday yet wishing it was tomorrow.

Is it really POST? Or is it simply a reliving of the stress and trauma every day, in a mind that simply rewinds to that time or event over and over again? In your mind it reoccurs and it's now, moments ago, today. But even if you think it was yesterday, I guess that would mean it was in the past, but just how far is POST. Yesterday, last week, last month or for some of us, forty or fifty years or more ago? Or more? And for the returning veterans of today, it's likely going to be a lot sooner than later that they will see the effects of PTSD if they are prone to it at all. Maybe it should be Personal Traumatic Stress that's what it seems to be..very personal indeed.

So, it's a personal thing. I know many times I and others have said, just get over it. Move on, the war or the event is over. But frankly, it's like an ugly tattoo. Once it's there , it's forever. You don't have to look at it every minute, but it's not going anywhere. The best you can do is focus on the good things in life and try to filter out the bad. Find love and someone who loves and cares about you, and love and care about them. Find your soulmate if you can, and you'll find an inner peace you've never known before. Stress is a demon that takes a lot to tame and it isn't an easy fight. Kind of like St. George and the dragon I guess. But as I recall, St. George did win in the end.

Oh, yeah. Would you do me a great favor? Next time you see a veteran, especially one from the Vietnam era, tell him or her "Welcome Home." You might see a tear in their eye, or a grin, or smile, or even a shocked look. You see, we were never given a welcome when we returned home, and it's become a tradition for us to welcome each other home, even now, as a way to honor the service each has rendered to our country, and to say that welcome we never received when we returned. Of course welcome every service person you meet and thank them for their service. Because without dedicated men and women willing to lay down their life for this country, you wouldn't be reading this, nor would I have the opportunity to write it either.

God Bless America and keep safe our warriors!

1 comment:

Chaplain Kathie said...

Very nice post. I've been doing outreach work with veterans coping with PTSD and their families for over 25 years now. My husband is a Vietnam Vet with PTSD.

I have to say that I've never seen it this bad for our veterans but I've also never had so much hope. Beyond the mind boggling numbers reported, they are not even close. Using the numbers from Vietnam, adjusting for the 50% increase risk for each redeployment, we're looking at about a million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. With the survival rate increased of the severely wounded, it could very well be even more. By 1976 the DAV study showed 500,000 Vietnam vets with PTSD just to give you an idea of where this is coming from.

You wrote that the veterans needed someone to love, but in that comes a whole host of other problems. While we all need to be loved, when the civilian does not understand what the veteran is going through, all kinds of other issues follow. The citizens of this country need to become aware of what PTSD is and know all that comes with it so they are able to avoid all the mistakes we've made over the years. We look at them a lot differently when we know what it is. We no longer see them as damaged but as wounded.

Please post as often as you can on PTSD because the more we all talk about it, put a spotlight on it and them, the sooner the stigma will erode.

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