What’s Easy About “At Ease?”

I’ve never served in the military; never been involved in a war.  I’ve never even seen wartime activities except on television.  Yet, I’m everlastingly grateful to the men and women who are currently serving and those who have served in the past so that I can live free.  I never really appreciated the sacrifices made on freedom’s behalf until I began working with disabled American veterans as an Independent Living Specialist for Disability Network/Lakeshore.

It’s a real eye opener meeting honest-to-goodness heroes like these: men and women who are currently paying every day on the installment plan our freedom.  It leaves me with a humble heart, that’s for sure. 

Many of the veterans I’m working with are recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD is a fancy term for the psychological scars caused by seeing, experiencing or even hearing about an extremely traumatic event (that last one is called “vicarious traumatization”).    You may be more familiar with PTSD by one of its other names — combat stress or shell shock.  Whatever you call it, PTSD is a nasty little package to carry around and it can be a long road back to recovery.

Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Sleep problems — including nightmares, inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, or even sleeping too much.
  • Anxiety – the technical term is “hyperarousal.”  That’s when you just can’t relax and you’re always waiting for that other shoe to drop.
  • Blunting or numbness of feelings – when you don’t feel good or bad…you just don’t feel period.
  • Avoidance – trying to stay away from anything that reminds you of the event.
  • Depression and/or hopelessness – that “I’d have to look up to see the bottom” feeling.

Unfortunately, some people use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism too, but that only postpones the problems, not cure them.  In situations like this, I always think of a poster I once saw that said, “The best way out is through.” 

Fortunately, there are some things that help.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is traditionally considered the best treatment for PTSD.  There is also Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMRD) therapy and various medications can be helpful too.

With treatment, nightmares stop, flashbacks begin to fade, and numbness wears off.  The real lesson here is that recovery can happen, and we never want to lose sight of that point. 

Have you successfully dealt with PTSD?  What worked for you?  What made things worse?  How can friends and family help a veteran with PTSD?