PTSD… A Journey by many taken by one
As a therapist and having lived with PTSD myself because of almost dying from an explosion which saw me losing some of my left hand and having to learn to walk again, I fully understand how it can affect people.
It is not the person refusing to let go of the past
It is the past refusing to let go of the person
It has been called shell shock, battle fatigue, soldier’s heart and, most recently, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Now, military officers and psychiatrists are embroiled in a heated debate over whether to change the name of a condition as old as combat. The potential new moniker: post-traumatic stress injury.
I can understand why it would be termed as an injury since it has clearly injured the mental and emotional state of those who live with such a condition.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, ritual), and violent personal assaults like rape.
People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the persona in daily life.
PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that it frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health.
The disorder is also associated with impairment of the personas ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.
Sometimes those living with PTSD can feel something physically before their conscious allows them to be aware they have been triggered.
Things NOT to say to ex-military personnel living with PTSD!
- It’s all in your head
- Pull yourself together
- I understand it’s like when I …
- How many people did you kill or you saw people die?
- At least YOU came home (no they did not)
- Have you taken your meds?
- You knew what you were volunteered for
- You’re not going to flip out now, are you?
- At least you didn’t lose your arms or legs
- PTSD is not a real thing.
The list could be endless but the point is no one but those having to deal with this traumatic condition can understand its implications.
So what can be done to help with PTSD?
The jury is still out on this matter and by all accounts, both military and medical agree a combination of medication and therapeutic interventions are the best options. But from my own perspective having taken this journey I can only tell you what worked for me in the hope you can find an approach which will aid you in your own recovery.
Personally, I loathe the idea of people telling me I need to “learn to live with it.” Excuse my language but you have no idea what you’re talking about! For me, that defeatist attitude placed me at the edge of insanity for too long.
At times I felt I was being physically attacked by demonic entities, I know it sounds crazy and looking back, it sounds crazy to me now. And yet at the time, this is exactly how I experienced those dark times. The power of my memories combined with imagination can work in ways we otherwise could not fathom.
I mentioned in a previous blog a quote;
“What the mind can believe, the body will conceive.”
In the case of PTSD it is all too real, the fear, terror, the sounds, and even physical sensations. This really was the epitome of “Phantom pain” and as far as I was concerned those phantoms were as real as it gets.
Some of you may not believe this but the truth is on one occasion I thought I was being attacked by the demon of fear itself. I know, if you have never experienced this type of thing you can’t begin to imagine the terror.
It (fear) pinned me down and held both my wrists down, the room was dark and I struggled to get free but nothing was moving apart of my mind rushing from one terrifying moment to the next.
Acceptance is not giving in!
When I finally became emotionally exhausted, the idea of “acceptance” came to mind. Do not get this mixed up with giving up, that is not what I felt I was doing. I recalled from either TV or a book, that if you name your demon you have power over it. Well, the demon of fear had won, or so it thought and I had finally got to the stage of accepting its power over me and then something extraordinary happened.
Another part of my mind, the part that had been pushed deep into the psyche one I had almost forgotten about, the “me” who had lived before the advent of trauma surfaced, just for a moment. It began taunting fear itself!
My mind was saying: “Is that all you got.” and “Bring it on.” “Is that the best you can do?”
With those few words of defiance my body began to melt into a relaxed state, my mind slipped into an ocean of calm I had not experienced since the long summer of 76 down by our local river.
I slipped into a deep sleep for almost 10 hours and upon waking I felt different, I felt something had changed and the weight I had been carrying was lifted from me. The fear had left, or the intensity of it and as I looked down at my arms I could clearly see bruises on my wrists that showed “something” had grabbed both of them and held onto them very tightly. The marks were unmistakable and undeniable. Both wrists had been bruised and considering I did not have the fingers to grab my right wrist, it canceled out me doing it to myself!
As I have stated, what the mind can believe the body will conceive and these marks were proof of the power of my own imagination to believe such things were as real as anything.
It took a fair while for me to get my mind back into synch with the world. I am not going to sugar-coat the journey, it was hard, full of fear, emotionally traumatic and bloody hard to understand at the time.
I was offered medication and counselling and what professionals don’t seem to understand is (for me) not wanting these support tools is part of the condition. It was not a refusal to want help, it was trying to articulate that any help given would trigger the problem and therefore getting help was part of the problem, or so I thought.
Some, especially military personnel see getting help as a weakness which given training from day one is the opposite of what was drummed into them. This mental contradiction causes so many internal conflicts, none more so than when it comes to getting help for PTSD.
How does a person reconcile the mindset of a soldier, trained to be self-reliant, cool under fire (which no amount of training can do) with the need for help and support, they are in fact the antithesis of each other!
And from my experience, the one thing military training cannot do is replicate the damage caused by bullets, bombs and seeing humans disfigured in ways our imaginations could never previously fathom.
It is this contradiction that leads so many to suffer in silence.
PTSD is as complex as the myriad of causes, each emotion is rooted in the individual’s experience, mine was from personal damage and trauma of losing parts of my body. Others may feel they contributed to others losing their lives or the guilt in causing serious injury. Others, yet still, may have a guilt complex because they came home and their friends did not. There is no single reason for PTSD and this can be difficult for those not knowing the condition on a personal basis.
What of the future?
This part of my post is not meant to be the answer to all your ills, it is simply my way of looking at PTSD and how I dealt with the demons. It is not based on mainstream medical or clinical approaches currently being used nor is it sanction by any medical profession. With that clearly said I would like to take you on a journey which may just may help you see things in a different light.
It is clear from talking to returning military personnel those who seek support find it difficult to get it for the length of time it is needed and in some cases, there is no budget for the long-term care required.
I have heard talk of almost no support in place for many of our veterans and this is a sad state of affairs especially for those who were prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
I spoke of basic training and the contradictions of seeking help with PTSD upon returning home. And it is this area I felt would begin to kindle the flame of recovery in some. Let me explain…
Fight fire with fire…
War is NOT a noble undertaking, it is a product of man’s greed, however, those who go into combat, irrespective of their roles, have character traits which are noble, which are patriotic and have a proud sense of honor and duty.
As we know the military of any nation has a “duty” to its country, it has been this way since the dawn of time. But certain things have not changed…
It is the things what makes a soldier become a soldier, honor, duty, loyalty, comradeship, bravery and all the traits which set them apart from the masses. It is these attributes that must also be used to combat PTSD since they do not contradict the basis of the training already received.
It is your duty to make sure comrades get the support from those who KNOW what they are going through. It is your bravery which they can tap into and come through the second wave of attack you were not previously informed of in basic training.
This unspoken “second wave” is part of who you are, who you become and what is missing from current support. This support should start PRIOR to embarkation to conflict zones!
I spent years helping others after my own recovery, this recovery was brought about by the acceptance of who I had become and I felt the journey had made me stronger. It was this new insight into the human condition I felt I could best help others with.
And this is where fighting “fire with fire” comes into play.
The psychological characteristics of a soldier are calculated carefully and form the basis of training, this is a well-known fact. I have sat in rooms full of the militaries most senior officers and discussed these factors, so I can assure you I speak from experience.
“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation goes into permanent overdrive as if the danger may return at any moment.”
These traits are molded and honed to produce the person who will go into conflict zones with the correct mindset and rightly so. But they are also the same traits that will help you climb out of the after-effects of conflict and do battle with those internal demons know as PTSD.
The Second Wave
The bravery in asking for help is as much part of you as facing an enemy who wants to kill you. This enemy lives within, you cannot run and hide from it. This is the second wave and it is, in many cases the start of the real battle for survival.
If you feel you have a duty towards returning comrades, as I am sure you do, then is it not your duty to help them?
Is it not your honor to help them?
Is it not brave of you to help them?
But you must tame the beast inside and then help, show, encourage others to do the same.
The battlefield is fought on both these fronts and the theater of conflict is both internal and external.
There is no difference in tapping into the personality of the solider you are and using those traits to deal with the second wave. But you have to pass through the gates of hell to do it, and if you do, it will make you the best hope for your comrades returning from war. It is not a battle you need to fight alone. nor those now returning.
Let me be honest here, you would not think of leaving a wounded soldier to die, so why would you abandon your responsibilities as someone who can, upon return help them live again?
Can you imagine the size of an army who may have left the battlefield of external conflict but is still fighting the battle of internal conflict, if you stood beside them?
Can you fathom the army of support for all those facing a second wave with the might of all forces that have seen conflict behind them?
This journey with PTSD is just that, part of the journey, it is not the destination and the fire that lead you into battle is the fire that will see you come out of it. Find the fire, and win the second wave and support all those who come after you with an ear to listen, eyes to see and a hand to hold.
Your experience is the fuel for change, the fire for healing and the resource the military and your returning comrades need.
I have no need to remind you, you may have left the conflict zone and may even have been discharged from active duty, it is still your duty to help those in need of it. Organisations such as the Royal British Legion NEED YOUR HELP and they can help you. https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/
Other organisations such as SSAFA also help all types of service personnel as long as they need it. https://www.ssafa.org.uk/
I guess you know the phrase “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” and none more so than those with PTSD.
My personal journey helped me help others through traumatic times and out the other side. The idea of the person you’re talking to simply does not understand what you have gone through is valid, I can assure you but nonetheless, they have something to offer.
I am not saying you will forget, I do not, but what it does do, in my case, is allow me to recall the events without the emotional trauma previously attached to it.
I now spend my days conversing with people who are taking that same journey, feeling those same emotions and I can tell you…It helps, and so can you both yourself and others.
You may have left the military, you have not left the battleground.
If you feel I can be of help and can find no one to understand what you are going through then please email me on:
fill in the form at the end of this page.
Until next time…