PTSD – A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

While I often wish I did not have PTSD, it’s not all bad.  Let’s face it, having PTSD means we are survivors.  That’s a good thing, right?  I was diagnosed with PTSD in my 40s.  I remember thinking at least I finally had a name for what my problem was.  Now I’ve mellowed a bit, and I see that, like so many other things, having PTSD has its “up” side too.  I am always on alert.  Yes, that can be a pain sometimes, but there are times that being so on top of things has served me well.  It’s not all bad.

I don’t fight things the way I did when I was younger.  I’m much more accepting.  I think getting older has helped me see that this is simply the life I am allotted and if I’m to make the best of it, then I need to look behind every occurrence to see if I can find the lesson life is trying to teach me.  What, you might ask then, have I learned from having PTSD?  Well, let me try to answer that.

First, I’ve learned that I am not alone in how I react to things.  I’m certainly not the only one who has PTSD, or even the worst case.  That really wouldn’t matter though, because having it has shaped my personality.  But, again, it’s not all bad.  I think I have more empathy for people because I understand what it’s like to be there and to have suffered, survived and then felt guilty for surviving.

Then there is also the fact that I am more on point because of the disorder.  I am extremely careful, it’s just part of my personality now.  I watch that I don’t get into rooms with only one door.  I watch suspicious people.  I react very quickly to things I think are a danger…and I survive.

I think having PTSD has made me a more rounded person.  I am much more tolerant of other peoples’ weaknesses now than I was in the past.  I understand much of what drives their behaviors.  That’s another good thing.

PTSD is not something I would have chosen for myself as a learning aid.  But, what I’ve learned as a result of having it has made, for me, all the difference.  It’s just a bit of a different perspective.

 

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TRYING TO STAY ONE STEP AHEAD OF SUICIDE

Suicide among active-duty troops has risen steadily over the past decade, reaching a record 350 in 2012.  That was twice as many as the prior decade, surpassing the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan.

The rate of military suicide has continued to increase at a rate faster than that of the general population, and there are reports that the military may be undercounting the problem because of the way the suicide rate is calculated.  Unfortunately, the Department of Defense is doing little to increase their understanding of why military suicide is rising so fast.

Most researchers agree there are many factors contributing to the issue of military suicide, including mental illness, sexual or physical abuse, addictions, failed relationships, or financial struggles.  A recent Pentagon report about military suicide found that half of the individuals committing suicide in 2011 had experienced the failure of an intimate relationship and about a quarter had been diagnosed with having some form of substance abuse.

Some of the factors acting as catalysts to military suicide include multiple instances of deployment and exposure to combat situations, as well as drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.  Yet this does not reflect the entire picture.  Reportedly, about half the service members who committed suicide have never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and over 80 percent have never seen combat.  Clearly there is something else going on here.

Records show that since 2001, over 2,700 service members have killed themselves.  Suicide among veterans has risen to an estimated 22 a day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  That figure is also likely under-reported as sometimes no one is sure if the death was a suicide or an accident.

Some additional facts related to military suicide from the Pentagon’s 2011 annual report on suicide:

  • About 9 of 10 suicides involved enlisted personnel, not officers
  • Three of four victims did not attend college
  • More than half were married
  • Eight in 10 died in the United States
  • Most did not leave notes or indicate in any way their intention to hurt themselves

Perhaps the biggest challenge in finding a solution to the problem is getting suicidal service members into treatment. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues, many service members continue to avoid treatment fearing it will be ineffective or hurt their careers.

 

KNOW YOUR ENEMY: CHEMICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN

When you live with PTSD, you experience changes in your physiology in the form of chemical changes in your brain.  Those things that trigger your anxiety cause your body to release adrenaline, and because you can react to a trigger more than once a day, or to multiple triggers throughout the day, your body can remain in the “flight or fight” mode almost constantly.  That certainly isn’t a healthy way to live.

Unfortunately, managing those adrenaline spikes can be difficult, at best.  That’s why it is so important that you work to develop an arsenal of ways to cope with your stress.  That wash of adrenaline can make you even more sensitive to your triggers.  Learning to break that cycle is so important!  It’s hard work changing responses, learning new ways to cope, and challenging your limits, but it is rewarding when you manage to break free and begin to reclaim your life again.

It can help to know that this isn’t all just psychological drama that you have to deal with; it has physical elements that keep you off balance and keep you locked in the cycle of PTSD response.  Learn to break that cycle.  Use all the help that is offered to you, try all the ways that are suggested.  Then keep the ones that work and keep working on them until you find yourself again.  It’s worth all the effort.  You’re worth all the effort.

WHO DESERVES HELP?

Much to my surprise, when I asked a homeless friend earlier this week if he’d considered checking in with the VA to see what help they might be able to offer, he said he hadn’t even thought of it…and he didn’t really feel right about going to them.  When I questioned why he felt that way, he said, although he’d served, he didn’t feel he had “paid in” enough to collect benefits.

That’s not the first time I’ve heard veterans say they didn’t think they deserved VA benefits.  One veteran told me he didn’t deserve any help because he was injured in an accident while still in boot camp.  He felt he shouldn’t collect benefits because, “I didn’t really get to serve my country.”  To my way of thinking, every time he gets through a day of pain, he’s still serving his country!

There are an estimated 22 million veterans in the U.S. today.  Almost 9 million of them are enrolled in VA health benefits programs.  Of the other 13 million, there must be many who would qualify for benefits.  The VA offers many kinds of aid to veterans injured during wartime situations, but there are some programs that don’t require active service as a precursor to qualifying for benefits.  Some are targeted specifically toward veterans who are considered low income.

To the veteran who was injured in boot camp, I replied that he had served his country honorably and, to my way of thinking, did deserve benefits.  If you served, check out what benefits the VA may hold for you.