Is this “normal”?
My Soldiers always tell me to “break it down Barney style” to them about what exactly PTSD is. One said, “Sesame Street that for me, doc!” After I explained that I am NOT a doctor, I broke it down for him.
What is trauma? A “trauma” is any event that a person experiences that they perceive to be traumatic. (I know, never define the word with the word. So for the sticklers, Webster defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience”.) Trauma can be different things for different people. Two people can experience the same event and react to it two different ways. On September 11, 2001 hundreds of thousands of people experienced an event and reacted thousands of different ways. Don’t be surprised if an entire platoon experiences an event and they all react differently. That is the nature of the human brain.
What is a “normal” reaction to trauma? (I HATE the word normal, so whenever I use it, you’ll see it in quotes.) It’s “normal” to feel frightened, anxious, sad, angry, depressed and disconnected after a traumatic event. As the days turn into weeks after the event, this should fade. If it doesn’t fade…we could be looking at PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - or in English - “after a traumatic event I do things I never did before” can be complicated. It can look like different things in different people. (I’m not going to put the DSM-IV list of criteria for PTSD in here- you can Google that.) When a traumatic event threatens your safety or your life, it can really change you. It can make you glance behind you more, it can make you sleep lighter, it can make you stop trusting people…and it can do a lot of things that you never thought YOU would do. As a wife of a Soldier with PTSD, you might be thinking, “this is not the man I married”, and you’re right. He’s not the same man. He is a hyper vigilant, hyper aroused, paranoid guy. Those things kept him alive in combat. That’s why he’s still here today. The only crappy part is he can’t “shut off” those Spidey Senses. And now, he won’t go into a crowded Wal Mart with you, he has a lot of anger and he might even break things or hit walls. There is help for this. It’s not an easy process. It is a LONG process. It can be an embarrassing process for your husband—it shouldn’t, but it can be. It can cause you to be traumatized too (more on that in an upcoming article).
Utilize the Battling Bare state page groups (http://battlingbare.org/State_Group_Pages.html). Utilize other online support groups. Talk to your friends. Chances are their husbands are experiencing it too and go hug your husband -- don’t sneak up on him, but go hug him.
Saturday at the Mall- a great day for shopping
or a nightmare come true?
One of the hardest things for people that don’t have PTSD to understand is how everyday activities suddenly become threats to those that suffer from PTSD. A lot of times, this is misdiagnosed as depression- your husband suddenly doesn’t enjoy the things he used to. That IS a symptom of depression, but it’s also a symptom of PTSD - "avoidance”. There are whole clusters of avoidance behaviors that take place with PTSD, but in this article we’re looking at “normal” places and things that now cause fear in someone that suffers from PTSD. Some of these come straight out of the mouths of Soldiers and Airmen that I’ve worked with.
You see: A great place to do all of the shopping in one place, save some money, eat lunch, give the kids a chance to burn off energy in the play area and scope those earrings you really want for your birthday (hint, hint, hint).
He sees: A crowded, chaotic place with too many people, not enough exits, an unsecured area with the potential for bombs, weapons of mass destruction and full of people he doesn’t know and doesn’t trust.
“The 4th of July event”
You see: a patriotic celebration of
for the kids, socializing with friends and a great place to have some barbecue,
ribs and beer! America
He sees: reminders of the ones that didn’t come back.He feels: guilt and shame for being one of the ones that did.
He hears: the sound of gunfire and artillery-like explosions coming from the fireworks.
You see: an awesome date night
He sees: a dark place where he can’t watch everyone’s movements, too crowded, not enough exits, and possible plot lines (war, love themes) that will make him feel uncomfortable.
You see: your children having fun, playing and being kidsYou hear: the shouts, whines, laughter and “Mooo-ooom” that accompanies this.
He sees: the clutter…one more thing he can’t control.He hears: the noise of the kids, combined with the possible TV in the background becomes almost a high pitched whine (similar to white noise, just very annoying) that blocks his ability to hear possible threats and often gives him a headache.
You see: friends and family that are proud of your husband and want to thank him, a great chance to see everyone in one place.
He sees: A large amount of people, some he trusts, some he might not.He thinks: “I hope they don’t ask me about the war”.
He feels: guilt and shame.
We will have more information soon about how you can help your husband to slowly start going out again. It involves a lot of compromising and patience, but it can be done! Don’t give up hope! And Battling Bare will be here to support and encourage you along the journey.
~Joanna Nunez MSW, LCAS, LCSW
(A little more about Ms. Nunez: Joanna Nunez, MSW, LCAS, LCSW received her Masters of Social Work from East Carolina University. She specializes in the treatment of PTSD, substance abuse, co-occuring disorders and children with behavioral disorders. She has previously worked with agencies serving prenatal and perinatal substance abusing mothers; active duty military with PTSD, substance abuse and other mental health issues; and children with ADD/ADHD, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and adjustment disorder. Joanna is the daughter of two career Army Veterans and married to an Air Force Veteran. She believes that PTSD is a chronic problem that is just now starting to get the attention it needs in the United States. She currently works with Active Duty Military, their families, and Veterans in and around the Ft. Bragg, NC area.)
***The above information is intended to be educational and informational. Information contained in this article cannot substitute for consultation for or treatment of a medical condition by a physician or other qualified healthcare provider. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider before making any choices about your healthcare needs. Never discontinue treatment or medication without first consulting your healthcare provider. This article is not meant to nor can it replace face-to-face, individualized mental health services provided by a professional. The information contained in this article is intended solely as general guidance on the use of the service, and does not constitute therapy, counseling, or other professional advice.***