Living with PTSD certainly has challenges! I accept that I have changes in my brain chemistry due to how my body responded to long term trauma, but I’m not sure other people really understand what that means. With PTSD, my body remains in a state of “fight or flight” continuously, and I am more easily irritated because I am already mentally aroused and ready to defend myself at all times. I think most people think of PTSD as a state of “mental fatigue,” and that it’s something that we should just “get over.” That’s not the reality of living with PTSD.
PTSD means that I’m wired now to respond to threats in the blink of an eye. That means that alertness-wise, I’m on my toes ready to run or do battle all the time. It’s an exhausting way to live, and the thing is, it’s not by choice that I live this way. It is something I cannot control.
In the long run, having this response makes sense to me. It is a form of ensuring survival of the species. If you are on your toes all the time waiting for something to happen, then when it does, you are able to react more quickly. That response time may just save your life. I guess that’s the upside of having PTSD…if there is an upside.
The thing is, if you have PTSD, your life is different, you respond differently to perceived threats, you live on the edge. That is the reality. I can’t “get over” this. It is a part of my life. The reality is that PTSD is part of who I am whether I like it or not. Fortunately, over time it becomes easier to live with.
I’ve found, over the years, that it is beneficial for me to monitor what I’m watching on television or at the movies and limit programs that are billed as having a lot of violence in them. I know the more violent the story, the more likely it is to negatively affect me and trigger my PTSD. It’s just easier to stop and say, “It’s not worth it!”
Although many people enjoy action-packed dramas, knowing it’s a trigger means that it’s my responsibility to limit what I watch. I’ve learned that seeing the movie often isn’t worth the trauma that comes after. I tend to think of this as the “garbage in/garbage out” effect. If I pour violent visual input into my brain, the output is going to be negative too. It’s just not worth going through.
I think it’s easy in today’s society to just kind of let things happen, and use the television to anesthetize ourselves. We tend to get lazy in ensuring that what we’re taking in is worthwhile, or at least not toxic. Television is a great escape, but it comes with a price: if you don’t monitor what you’re watching, you may well find your subjecting yourself to unnecessary content that simply inflames your PTSD.
Don’t allow yourself to become a victim of senseless violence. Turn off the TV and find something more worthwhile to take in. Garbage in/garbage out is controllable!
One of the more distressing issues I face when working with veterans is their belief that they don’t deserve help. They often tell me that they really weren’t in any danger. “My service was all stateside,” or, “I didn’t see any real action.” Then there’s my favorite, “No one even shot at me!”
Frankly, that attitude surprises me. I can think of no one more deserving than the men and women who have laid everything on the line and placed themselves at risk in the name of freedom.
Enlisting or being drafted into military service carries with it certain inherent risks. You might luck out and not be sent into an active warzone, but there is always that chance that you could end up right in the middle of it.
That risk is the contribution you made for your country. And that risk was real. Yes, you may have been fortunate enough to dodge a bullet (pun intended) and not see active service, but don’t minimize your role in helping to purchase freedom. Understand that those of us who have not served want to make sure you are repaid for the risks you took.