In early 2010 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This diagnosis came as no surprise to my young wife, who has been of much comfort through the tears and outbursts of anger that are known to come with the disorder. It was late one night when I struck her in my sleep, while directing imaginary mortar fire. I was a soldier, and there are many nights when I still am, at least in my nightmares.
The classic signs are almost always present:
Shying away from anything that may be a “trigger.”
Avoiding crowded areas
The feeling of misunderstanding
Fear of rejection
PTSD comes in many forms, but they all share something in common: a traumatic, life changing event. I mentioned shying away from triggers. For me, the smell of cordite – gunpowder can take me back. It doesn’t always, and when it does it isn’t always instant (like you see in the movies). It may take hours or even days. But when I am in that half-asleep/half-awake state, I’m standing on a battlefield, the ringing in my ears isn’t my usual tinnitus but rather that of gunfire.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the places when you’re likely to get blown up, shot at or accosted, are filled with people. Villages and small town bazaars. Everyone is armed, or at least it seems that way, and everyone is a perceived threat. Walking through downtown Baltimore puts my head on a swivel; I don’t even like sitting with my back to a door.
Fears run high that people won’t understand why you are the way you are, that they can’t understand. You’re wrong. Everyone has had a traumatic event in some way, shape, fashion or form. Perhaps not to the degree of your own, but they can at least somehow relate. Let them relate; it’ll make them feel better. I know it makes my wife feel better when she can relate to me. We all feel as though we’ll be rejected as social outcasts, maybe because of the way Hollywood portrays war veterans. But most of us get by just fine on a day-to-day basis.
What you can do about it
If your PTSD is combat related, I’d suggest The Soldiers Project. Give An Hour works with soldiers too, but also the average citizen at no cost. Both TSP and GAH coordinate with therapists, mental health professionals and others to assist you in your time of need. Some people are not fans of the Veteran’s Administration – some don’t feel as though they can trust that it won’t foul up their career. Whatever the case, PTSD won’t go away on its own, and you’ll need help.