Returning Home from a War Zone

Service members returning home from a war zone will usually experience a variety of reactions. Common physical reactions may include:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Stomach upset
  • Headaches
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing
  • Existing health problems becoming worse

Common mental and emotional reactions may include:

  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Flashbacks
  • Anger
  • Feelings of guilt, nervousness, self-blame, or helplessness
  • Feeling sad, rejected or abandoned
  • Agitated and easily upset
  • Hopeless

Common behavioral reactions may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance
  • Avoiding other people
  • Drinking or smoking too much or using drugs
  • Poor self care
  • Aggressive driving habits

Having these reactions does not mean you have PTSD. Remember, these are common reactions to returning from the war zone. You may find it takes a year or longer to feel normal again. However, if these feelings continue longer than six to eight weeks, or if they begin to infringe on your daily life, you may want to consider seeking help.

The Burn of Anger

Anger is a side effect of PTSD that most of us deal with. I talk about it often because it is so destructive to us and to those we love. Anger hurts us in so many ways. It causes or contributes to the following:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart disease
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dental problems (from jaw clenching and teeth grinding)
  • Increases cholesterol
  • Weakens the immune system
  • Upsets the stomach and digestive system
  • Early death

In addition, anger affects our personal relationships. It can lead to:

  • Arguing
  • Divorce
  • Injury to self or others
  • Domestic violence
  • Child and pet abuse
  • Work-related problems
  • Legal and financial problems
  • Road rage and tickets
  • Jail or prison time

Anger can burn us if we don’t learn to control it. Unchecked, anger becomes aggression and people begin to fear and avoid us. So how do we control our anger?

Anger increases when we indulge in negative “self-talk.” I often call this “psycho-babble,” where we hold a conversation in our heads about a topic. As we concentrate about what we are angry over our anger grows until we work ourselves into a frenzy. That is the thing about anger; the more we think about it, the more we feed it until it grows so big it breaks free and spills over onto someone else. That is bad for them and for us.

Learn to control your anger rather than letting it control you. Don’t let anger burn you or those you care about.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

As I get older, I’m finding that I have less patience, less strength, and less ability to bounce back from stressful situations. PTSD always seems to make the situation worse. I’m finding that what I really need to do is work smarter, not harder.

For one thing, I can’t work harder. I no longer have the strength I did when I was younger. As a senior citizen, I’m only able to do a part of the work I did in the past, at least where physical strength is required.   I’d like to think I automatically work smarter, and I believe I do, but I need to slow down and think things through more often so I’m using my head and not my limited muscle.

While I may find it more difficult to recall things than I did when I was younger, I now have a world of experience to draw from and a lot more savvy. That makes a difference. I am learning to listen to my body when it tells me it’s time to stop and take a break, even when I’m in the middle of a project. I will get things done, just not all at once, and the quality of my work is better when I come back at it fresh rather than trying to force my way through.

I often grump about how old age is so awful, but I need to remember that the alternative isn’t that great either! I can either use my head and take a bit more time to get things done, or I can try to bull my way through and pay the price later on. I’m sick of paying the price. My body hurts too much for that anymore. It’s really time to work smarter, not harder.

Learning “Block”

I have a friend whose husband has PTSD, and one of his symptoms is having terrible nightmares. They got a puppy from me and asked if I would help them train it to be a service dog. They would like the dog trained to wake him during those nightmares. We are also going to train him to “block.” Block is a cue given to the dog so it moves in front of the veteran and sits or stands there to stop other people from getting too close. Block is used when the veteran is feeling crowded by too many people. The dog does not move away when another person approaches, but holds its ground. The dog is not aggressive, but it occupies the area that is personal space for the handler.

PTSD leaves many of us feeling that our personal space has expanded several feet. I do not like people standing too close to me; if they do, I am afraid I won’t have the time I need to respond if they make a threatening move. I am usually not even conscious of it. Instead, I just feel crowded and uncomfortable.

Not everyone can have a service dog trained to protect his or her personal space. If you are in the presence of a veteran with PTSD, remember, one of the symptoms is the need for extra space. Please, respect that need!