My book, Yours Always, features two main characters that have survived serious traumas. One suffers from PTSD while the other does not. The character who doesn’t have PTSD hides from life because she’s afraid to tempt fate. Status quo is her motto. The character with PTSD lives life, but repeatedly gets knocked down as he tries to assimilate back every day life, post-combat.
Some who have read the book embrace it for all its truth: the good, the bad, and the very ugly. However, the intensity of symptoms that some sufferers experience on a daily basis, and the sadness of some of the events that occur in the story may seem unrealistic or farfetched to some. Unfortunately, these things are reality. It happens, and it happens far too often.
I wrote this story to help educate others, but doing it via a fictional story is sometimes difficult because I don’t want to bog readers down with facts, stats, and explanations. The book is arranged to where readers first learn about Savannah, and then Fletcher’s story comes about later since hid his affliction from her. This is common as many are embarrassed by the diagnosis, even though they shouldn’t be.
The purpose of this post is to enlighten readers who are interested in learning more about this dreadful disorder. PTSD is slowly garnering attention as a result of the long overdue acceptance of mental illness as less of a negative stigma. People are getting better educated, and therefore are more understanding of the issues that some victims felt forced to hide for ages. PTSD is most commonly associated with combat veterans, but can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event or witnessed one. This includes abuse victims, victims of violent crimes and can affect people of all ages.
Often, sufferers have no clue what is going on with them because the symptoms present themselves in very physical ways. In other words, a person with PTSD does not have to be thinking of the traumatic event to get very real physical symptoms such as, but not limited to: sudden, rapid heart rate; sweating; extreme nausea; shakiness; headaches; fatigue; feeling faint; irritability; trouble concentrating; an intense feeling that something isn’t right or something bad will happen soon; and even blacking out.
Many find themselves in doctors’ offices having multitude of tests run because the physical symptoms are so incredibly strong that they assume there has to be a medical issue causing them, but are perplexed when the results come back negative. Other effects of PTSD can include insomnia; feelings of guilt, shame, or anger; reckless behavior; easily startled or frightened; hopelessness; feeling numb and/or not enjoying things that were once enjoyable; difficulty maintaining relationships; memory problems; inability to experience positive emotions; aggressive behavior; avoidance; and nightmares. (Mayo Clinic.org) In some severe cases, a condition develops known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. This involves the development of a split, multiple or splintered personality. Each personality has specific traits personal to them and rarely cross from one personality to another. This condition is a form of protection or coping mechanism for the individual.
The thing with PTSD is that it generally comes in waves and it’s generally due to being exposed to a “trigger.” The problem is; triggers aren’t always very easy to identify. Some are quite obvious, i.e. fireworks popping simulating battle sounds and triggering a response. But let me give you a scenario that might not be as obvious.
Imagine fueling your vehicle at a gas station. All is right with the world. You’re on your way to your child’s school play, and are excited to see your precious little first grader sing and dance her heart out. These are the thoughts in your head as you absentmindedly pump gas into your vehicle. You don’t even notice the delivery truck pull into the stall next to you. Out of nowhere you feel like you’re suffocating. Anxiety attacks you. Something is very wrong, but you don’t know what it is. On edge, you scan the parking lot looking for signs of danger, but there is nothing out of the ordinary. This makes you even more nervous. You start to tremble, and every instinct is telling you to get away from there-NOW! Your heart is pounding out of your chest, and you feel sick to your stomach. Should you call an ambulance? Are you having a heart attack? Are you going to collapse right there by your car? You manage to put the hose back into place, get into your car, and you now begin an internal debate as to whether you are capable of driving. The delivery truck pulls away, and you continue to sit in your car. Ever so slowly, the symptoms begin to lessen in intensity. The urge to vomit is dissipating, but your stomach is still in knots. The intense fear is being replaced with the urge to cry because you’re not sure you’re going to be able to attend your child’s recital because you’re so shaken up. What caused this? Why did those intense emotions hit you like a ton of bricks? What if I told you it was the smell of the diesel coming from the delivery truck? Or maybe the sound of the diesel engine? Or even the vibration felt under your feet as the truck pulled into place?
The thing with PTSD triggers is that they can by anything: a sight, a sound, a taste, a smell, a touch, and they don’t have to be inherently related to the trauma itself. For example, if someone experiences PTSD due to a past experience of being trapped in an elevator, it would be easy to assume that as long as that person takes the stairs from then on they’d be fine. Wrong. Triggers can come from the smell of a certain perfume a person also trapped in the elevator was wearing. It could come from the smell of sweat from those around. It could come from flicking florescent lights because the lights in the elevator flicked before it went dark. Darkness could trigger symptoms. A harmless bump from someone standing in the grocery store line behind you could be a trigger because you were rammed by other panicked people trying to get out. A song could trigger it because it was playing in the elevator before the event. This is just the tip of the iceberg. To make things even more confusing, triggers can be completely unrelated to the event.The way it was explained to me is that the brain works to store memories much like people file folders away in filing cabinets. During trauma, the brain sometimes doesn’t have time or the ability to file these experiences away in the right file, so it crams it into whatever file available. This might be in the “Brushing Teeth” file, so whenever one goes to brush his/her teeth, the recall of that event occurs because it’s not filed in the right place. I’m sure you can imagine how frustrating this can be to those who are unsure of their triggers and also understand why people with PTSD often avoid social situations. Feeling desperate, helpless, jumbled, angry, uncertain, and anxious aren’t things people look forward to experiencing, so avoidance is very common.
THE STATS (Courtesy of ptsdunited.org and ptsdusa.org)
· 70% of people have experienced a traumatic experience and 20% of those will develop PTSD
· Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men.
· The number of people with PTSD in America is almost equal to the population of the state of Texas.
· Of female military personnel who were sexually assaulted in ranks, 71% develop PTSD.
· In 2009, 245 soldiers committed suicide, and on average, five a day attempt suicide.
· One in three returning troops are diagnosed with PTSD, but less than 40% will seek help.
There is hope, however. PTSD is now becoming less taboo an issue and sufferers don’t have to hide in shame. Help is available via many resources including, but not limited to counseling, medications, and therapy, especially those provided by organizations such as Wounded Warrior Project. If you, or anyone you know, has symptoms, issues, or questions about PTSD I strongly encourage you to seek help, ask questions, and try to be supportive of those who suffer.
(Disclaimer: This post not written as a means for medical diagnosis, and is merely for awareness purposes only. Please consult with a mental health or medical professional for correct diagnosis and treatment. Statistics used in this post are from the cited sources as obtained on July 8, 2015.)