Check out the app: No Warriors Left Behind. Now downloadeble on IPhones and Android.
Helping prevent suicide among veterans. Because ONE suicide among veterans is too many.
The free book is located under PTSD Facts
Check out the app: No Warriors Left Behind. Now downloadeble on IPhones and Android.
Helping prevent suicide among veterans. Because ONE suicide among veterans is too many.
The free book is located under PTSD Facts
If you are living with unresolved trauma memory, whether or not it’s posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or dissociative identity disorder (DID), you will almost surely bewilder people some of the time. We both know you want this not to happen, but, as is surely obvious to us, you have little or no choice in the matter, other than to avoid triggers to the extent that you know them and can anticipate them. The real problem here is that you can’t avoid all triggers. So, you will bewilder and maybe even frighten people a certain amount of the time.
Triggered breakdowns in social situations can have serious consequences. One person I knew and worked with almost went to prison, because of violent defensive behaviors that were triggered by a sense of extreme threat, when she felt abandoned by an intimate. Another person I like and respect recently encountered a massive trigger, entirely unexpectedly, while out for a social evening with family. He became almost unable to function, and felt absolutely terrible because there were people present who surely had no idea what was happening.
There are many things that are truly awful about such situations, but one of the worst is the feelings of shame that seem always to follow such episodes. People tend to feel defective, and at fault. Now, we know this is entirely irrational, but the feelings are very real, and they are hard to avoid.
This is especially a problem with DID (think of it as a kind of super-PTSD), where shame issues and dynamics tend to be a Really Big Deal. I want to propose that working on resolving this secondary reaction to the primary problem of triggered functional breakdowns in the midst of life is an essential part of your healing. To make this happen you will need to correct how you think about yourself, and from that will come corrections in how you feel. A key part of this is becoming a better storyteller, as you will see.
Two things have to happen, if you are to bring about this engagement and then successfully resolve your highly distressing secondary shame reaction. You must learn what actually happened to you. This basically involves your constructing a story. You should start with a very simple one – something like this:
“Some years ago, a bad thing happened to me, and I was terribly frightened and hurt by it. I have not yet recovered from this, but I’m working on it. Until I finish this work, I will have periods of time where I become gravely frightened all over again and am unable to live my life in the way I’d like to. I can usually recover from this fairly quickly, but not immediately. I need to take care of myself until I have regained my ability to function. Then I need to return to my usual life and my ongoing healing work.”
You may not realize it, but you already have a story about what happened to you. I’ve heard these stories. Here are some:
I have a couple of immediate reactions to these stories, every time I hear them:
The correct story about what happened to you never includes the “it’s my fault” statement that so often people tell themselves initially. It DOES include a decent description of how stress-overloads can affect some people badly, and for a long time. Why not ALL people? We are still figuring this out, and don’t yet have a good answer. Lots of people fall off ladders, too, with only some of them breaking bones as a consequence. It just happens. It happened to you, and that’s what matters.
So, by whatever means it takes (usually the assistance of an experienced trauma therapist or PTSD professional) you simply MUST get the story you tell yourself straightened out. With that in hand, you’re ready for the next and final step.
This is probably the most important thing you will do with your story. You are simply not the only one with the wrong story. MOST people have the wrong story. That’s not acceptable. As part of your journey away from completely inappropriate and irrational shame about what happened to you, it is critical that you learn to simply tell the truth to other people, after you’ve learned to tell yourself the truth.
First of all, consider what that means. Think of what you do when you tell a kid about sex. Probably the most critical part of your story about sex is what you do NOT say. All you need to do is tell them what they want to know, and at least some of what they need to know – and all of it in simple, direct terms.
You need to do exactly the same thing with your family, your spouse, your relatives, your boss – or whoever, concerning your PTSD or your DID. Only two things will stop you: ignorance (which is taken care of by getting the story you tell yourself straight), and shame. And the good news about all this is that you really can do it little by little, just like kids and sex!
To successfully tell other people about your situation, think hard about what they need to know, and about what they can realistically understand (Can People Without a Mental Illness Understand Us?). Think again about telling a 10 year old about sex: you’re dealing with limited interest and limited ability to understand. Your story should be simple and accessible to them. Now, transfer that idea to the people in your life who you want to understand you better.
PTSD isn’t too tough to talk about, thanks to all the media exposure it’s gotten in recent years. However, a fair amount of that exposure contains some real misinformation. So, expect to correct two common thinking myths: (a) people with PTSD are far, far more likely to be frightened and withdrawn than angry and assaultive, and (b) PTSD is highly treatable, but too often it is not treated, so people end up living with it unnecessarily.
With DID, the challenge is significantly tougher. I strongly recommend that you not attempt to actually describe DID, at least not at first. It’s tough to give a simple account of alters and switching. Few therapists can do it, so your chances aren’t good. Instead, just describe it as “complicated PTSD” (not complex PTSD [C-PTSD] – that’s different). I’ve seen (and heard) that this usually works rather well.
Remember, you’re talking to a 10 year old. They don’t need to know much! There are large payoffs for getting your story straight and then telling it to others. It will clarify and strengthen your own mind, and it will truly help those around you. When we understand what’s actually happening – even a little, we tend not to get frightened by it, and this benefits everyone.
By being an ambassador for yourself, for people like you, and for the disorder you’re working to overcome, you became a major asset to all of us. I personally think this is an opportunity you really shouldn’t pass up! But do it for yourself, first of all, for you are without doubt the most important person the story, at all points in this process. You first, then come talk to us!
Source: On Missing Combat
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sometimes known as shell shock or combat stress, occurs after you experience severe trauma or a life-threatening event. It’s normal for your mind and body to be in shock after such an event, but this normal response becomes PTSD when your nervous system gets “stuck.”
Your nervous system has two automatic or reflexive ways of responding to stressful events:
Mobilization, or fight-or-flight, occurs when you need to defend yourself or survive the danger of a combat situation. Your heart pounds faster, your blood pressure rises, and your muscles tighten, increasing your strength and reaction speed. Once the danger has passed, your nervous system calms your body, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and winding back down to its normal balance.
Immobilization occurs when you’ve experienced too much stress in a situation and even though the danger has passed, you find yourself “stuck.” Your nervous system is unable to return to its normal state of balance and you’re unable to move on from the event. This is PTSD.
Recovering from PTSD involves transitioning out of the mental and emotional war zone you’re still living in and helping your nervous system become “unstuck.”
While you can develop symptoms of PTSD in the hours or days following a traumatic event, sometimes symptoms don’t surface for months or even years after you return from deployment. While PTSD develops differently from veteran to veteran, there are four symptom clusters:
It’s common for veterans with PTSD to experience suicidal thoughts. Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it doesn’t mean that you are crazy, weak, or flawed.
If you are thinking about taking your own life, seek help immediately. Please read Suicide Help, talk to someone you trust, or call a suicide helpline:
As well as helping to burn off adrenaline, exercise can release endorphins and improve your mood. By really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can even help your nervous system become “unstuck.”
Pursuing outdoor activities in nature like hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing can help challenge your sense of vulnerability and help you transition back into civilian life.
PTSD can leave you feeling vulnerable and helpless. But you have more control over your nervous system than you may realize. When you feel agitated, anxious, or out of control, these tips can help you change your arousal system and calm yourself.
Mindful breathing. To quickly calm yourself in any situation, simply take 60 breaths, focusing your attention on each out breath.
Sensory input. Just as loud noises, certain smells, or the feel of sand in your clothes can instantly transport you back to the combat zone, so too can sensory input quickly calm you. Everyone responds a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you. Think back to your time on deployment: what brought you comfort at the end of the day? Perhaps it was looking at photos of your family? Or listening to a favorite song, or smelling a certain brand of soap? Or maybe petting an animal quickly makes you feel calm?
Reconnect emotionally. By reconnecting to uncomfortable emotions without becoming overwhelmed, you can make a huge difference in your ability to manage stress, balance your moods, and take back control of your life. See our Emotional Intelligence Toolkit.
Connecting with others face to face doesn’t have to mean a lot of talking. For any veteran with PTSD, it’s important to find someone who will listen without judging when you want to talk, or just hang out with you when you don’t. That person may be your significant other, a family member, one of your buddies from the service, or a civilian friend. Or try:
Volunteering your time or reaching out to someone in need. This is a great way to both connect to others and reclaim your sense of power.
Joining a PTSD support group. Connecting with other veterans facing similar problems can help you feel less isolated and provide useful tips on how to cope with symptoms and work towards recovery.
You may feel like the civilians in your life can’t understand you since they haven’t been in the service or seen the things you have. But people don’t have to have gone through the exact same experiences to be able to offer support. What matters is that the person you’re turning to cares about you, is a good listener, and a source of comfort.
No matter how close you are to someone, PTSD can mean that you still don’t feel any better after talking. If that describes you, there are ways to help the process along.
Exercise or move. Before chatting with a friend, either exercise or move around. Jump up and down, swing your arms and legs, or just flail around. Your head will feel clearer and you’ll find it easier to connect.
Vocal toning. As strange as it sounds, vocal toning is a great way to open up to social engagement. Sit straight and simply make “mmmm” sounds. Change the pitch and volume until you experience a pleasant vibration in your face.
Without the rush of still being in a combat zone, you may feel strange or even dead inside and find it difficult to relax. Many veterans are drawn to things that offer a familiar adrenaline rush, whether it’s caffeine, drugs, violent video games, driving recklessly, or daredevil sports. However, the symptoms of PTSD can be hard on your body and mind so it’s important to put a priority on sleep, healthy food, and calming activities.
Take time to relax with relaxation techniques such as massage, meditation, or yoga.
Avoid alcohol and drugs (including nicotine). It can be tempting to turn to drugs and alcohol to numb painful feelings and memories and get to sleep. But substance abuse (and cigarettes) can make the symptoms of PTSD worse.
Find safe ways to blow off steam. Pound on a punching bag, pummel a pillow, sing along to loud music, or find a secluded place to scream at the top of your lungs.
Support your body with a healthy diet. Omega-3s play a vital role in emotional health so incorporate foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts into your diet. Limit processed and fried food, sugars, and refined carbs which can exacerbate mood swings and energy fluctuations.
Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation exacerbates anger, irritability, and moodiness. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Flashbacks usually involve visual and auditory memories of combat. It feels as if it’s happening all over again so it’s vital to reassure yourself that the experience is not occurring in the present.
State to yourself (out loud or in your head) the reality that while you feel as if the trauma is currently happening, you can look around and recognize that you’re safe.
Use a simple script when you awaken from a nightmare or start to experience a flashback: “I feel [panicked, overwhelmed, etc.] because I’m remembering [traumatic event], but as I look around I can see that the event isn’t happening right now and I’m not in danger.”
Describe what you see when look around (name the place where you are, the current date, and three things you see when you look around).
Try tapping your arms to bring you back to the present.
Tips for grounding yourself during a flashback
Movement – Move around vigorously (run in place, jump up and down, etc.); rub your hands together; shake your head
Touch – Splash cold water on your face; grip a piece of ice; touch or grab on to a safe object; pinch yourself; play with worry beads or a stress ball
Sight – Blink rapidly and firmly; look around and take inventory of what you see
Sound – Turn on loud music; clap your hands or stomp your feet; talk to yourself (tell yourself you’re safe, you’ll be okay)
Smell – Smell something that links you to the present (coffee, mouthwash, your wife’s perfume) or a scent that has good memories
Taste – Suck on a strong mint or chew a piece of gum; bite into something tart or spicy; drink a glass of cold water or juice
Feelings of guilt are very common among veterans with PTSD. You may have seen people injured or killed, often your friends and comrades.
Healing doesn’t mean that you’ll forget what happened or those who died. And it doesn’t mean you’ll have no regrets. What it does mean is that you’ll look at your role more realistically:
Honestly assessing your responsibility and role can free you to move on and grieve your losses. Instead of punishing yourself, you can redirect your energy into honoring those you lost and finding ways to keep their memory alive.
Professional treatment for PTSD can help you deal with the trauma you’ve experienced and may involve:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or counselling. This involves gradually “exposing” you to reminders of the event and replacing distorted thoughts with a more balanced picture.
Medication, such as antidepressants. While medication may help you feel less sad or worried, it doesn’t treat the causes of PTSD.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). This incorporates elements of CBT with eye movements or other rhythmic, left-right stimulation to help you become “unstuck.”
When a loved one returns from military service with PTSD, it can take a heavy toll on your relationship and family life. You may have to take on a bigger share of household tasks, deal with the frustration of a loved one who won’t open up, or even deal with anger or other disturbing behavior.
Don’t take the symptoms of PTSD personally. If your loved one seems distant, irritable, angry, or closed off, remember that this may not have anything to do with you or your relationship.
Don’t pressure your loved one into talking. Many veterans with PTSD find it difficult to talk about their experiences. Never try to force your loved one to open up but let him know that you’re there if he wants to talk. It’s your understanding that provides comfort, not anything you say.
Be patient and understanding. Getting better takes time so be patient with the pace of recovery. Offer support but don’t try to direct your loved one.
Try to anticipate and prepare for PTSD triggers such as certain sounds, sights, or smells. If you are aware of what causes an upsetting reaction, you’ll be in a better position to help your loved one calm down.
Take care of yourself. Letting your loved one’s PTSD dominate your life while ignoring your own needs is a surefire recipe for burnout. Make time for yourself and learn to manage stress. The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one.
More help for PTSD and trauma
PTSD Program Locator – Find specialized VA PTSD treatment programs near you. (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
Veteran Combat Call Center – A 24/7 hotline where you can talk with another combat veteran: 1-877-WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387).
Help for Veterans with PTSD – Learn how to earn how to earn how to enroll for VA health care and get an assessment. (National Center for PTSD)
24/7 Outreach Center for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury – Get help for traumatic brain injury and other psychological health issues. Call 1-866-966-1020 or connect through chat or email. (DoD’s Defense Centers of Excellence)
Vet Centers – If you are a combat veteran or you experienced sexual trauma during your military service, you can speak with a therapist at your local Vet Center for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. Just bring your DD214. (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)
StartYourRecovery.org is a free, confidential tool that helps individuals take steps toward a healthy relationship with drugs and alcohol. It was developed with the input of leading clinicians, experts from the White House and SAMHSA, and people in recovery themselves.
Canadian veterans: visit Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) or call 1-800-883-6094 to talk to a peer who has been through similar experiences.
UK veterans: visit Combat Stress or call the 24-hour helpline 0800 138 1619.
Australian veterans: visit Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) or call 1800 011 046.
National Center for PTSD – A comprehensive, helpful resource for veterans with PTSD and their family members, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
About Face – A website dedicated to improving the lives of veterans with PTSD. Learn about PTSD, hear real stories from other veterans, and get advice from experienced clinicians.
Make the Connection – Learn about PTSD in veterans and other related issues. Includes honest and candid descriptions from veterans about their experiences.
What Can I Do if I Think I Have PTSD? – Outlines the steps you can take if you think you may have PTSD, as well as the reasons to seek treatment early. (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
Understanding PTSD Treatment (PDF) – Explore proven treatment and therapy options for PTSD, hear success stories, and debunk common treatment myths. (National Center for PTSD)
Dogs and PTSD – Learn more about service dogs and how they can help you manage PTSD symptoms and boost your emotional well-being. (National Center for PTSD)
Mindfulness and meditation training could ease PTSD symptoms, researchers say – Research shows that mindfulness meditation can help vets with PTSD. (The Washington Post)
Post-Traumatic Stress’s Surprisingly Positive Flip Side – This article explores the positive growth and resilience that can come as you work through PTSD. (The New York Times Magazine)
Sierra Club Military Outdoors – Sign up for outdoor trips and other services for veterans and their families in the U.S. (Sierra Club)
Source: How Self-worth Affects Identity
Most people don’t understand PTSD, the change that happens within a soldier that just gets back from war. Everyone comes back changed, whether they’d like to admit it or not, some worst than others.
Not a day has gone by in these past 13 years that I haven’t thought about Iraq and the messed-up things I saw and did there. I have only recently started moving on with my life with the intent to show America what it’s like to be on the battle front, fighting for our country and our lives only to come home to a never-ending battle.
This scene from the first chapter of my book Combat Medic takes place at the precipice of my PTSD, the worst moment of my life.
” Slamming the door, I locked it and rested my head against the wood frame, trying to regain my thoughts. You’re home…you’re safe.
Sunlight is beaming in through the blinds, making it hard to see. Leaning against the marble counter in the kitchen, I set my keys down before wiping the sweat that wasn’t there from my brow. I wondered, Does it ever stop? My angst was making me feel cold. No…it never will. I stared at the floor. What if I was dead? Would anybody really care? I wouldn’t have to deal with this pain anymore. The thoughts; the nightmares…
My lower back throbbed. I pushed myself up on my hands, thrusting my hips back and forth, waiting for the pain to go away. I closed my eyes, put my head down, and started taking deep breaths, trying to calm down.
Standing up I grabbed a glass of water when a loud bang shook the room. My heart started racing; a chill ran through my body. The hearing in my right ear fell out, leaving a high-pitched ringing in the background. My heart jumped then started beating faster. I closed my eyes and saw flashing lights and heard gunfire – echoes and bangs.
I squatted to the ground behind the counter with my eyes wide open staring at the door. A chill ran through my back, into my heart. My jaw started shaking; teeth chattering like I was stark naked in a blizzard.
Someone kicked down the door dressed in battered, torn clothes with dirty rags covering his face. He ran towards me with an AK-47 rifle pointed at my face, shouting gibberish. I felt a rifle in my hand, the weight of the barrel upon my fingers; but it wasn’t there. I felt naked without a weapon, cold and unsafe.
My heart felt like it was being pulled in four different directions. It thumped, pumping me full of cold blood and adrenaline. My mind raced. What should I do? I smelled gunfire and smoke, but I could see that I was in my apartment. Is this real? The back of my throat was sore; there was a bad, acidic taste in my mouth.
I took in a couple of shallow breaths then jumped up and ran over to the kitchen. I grabbed the handle of my 8-inch chef knife and pulled it from the drawer figuring it would be better to have a weapon in case it wasn’t my imagination. I turned toward the door crouched down, waiting for anything that came through.
A minute slowly passed. “This isn’t real.” I thought out loud, “What am I doing? This is crazy.” At that moment excruciating pain shot from my mid-back down to my left foot. It was like someone had sliced my back in half with a searing hot knife. I tried taking a deep breath in, but stopped short when pain wrapped around my lung.
I dropped the knife. Feeling dizzy and nauseated, I slowly walked over to the bathroom, flipped the light on, and stood over the toilet, holding my stomach and head. I was sweating hard now. The room started spinning as an overwhelming smell of gunpowder filled it.
Images from war started shooting through my mind. In one, I was holding pressure on a wound, trying to stop the bleeding from a severed leg. In another, blood was splattered all over a sand-covered ground. Specialist B pointed to the blood, then over to a building. I raised my weapon as we went in for the kill. The last image was of eyes. A pair of glazed over, hauntingly sky blue eyes. They were staring directly into mine. I stared blankly into the toilet, engulfed in those eyes. The sight of death captivated me. I wanted it; it wanted me. It almost had me.
My focus shifted from his eyes to his head. I started to see blood running down his face as it came into focus. A green aid bandage was wrapped around it, attempting to hold his severed skull together. I looked down and saw blood covering my hands. I knew it wasn’t really there, but it all felt so real.
At that moment I felt numb, emptiness grew inside; my chest slowly became cold. Icy blood pumped through my veins. It felt like I was dying; like life was being drained out of me. I started shaking as a chill crept through me. Death enveloped me, clutching my soul with a wanton lust. My spirit quaked as my heart blackened.
Tears started falling down my cheeks as the visions slowly faded away. I felt like a hollow shell, void of any substance of life. Shaking my head I wiped the tears, but kept crying; unable to stop myself.
I walked to my bedroom, empty except for a small dresser. It’s been 7 months since I moved and still no furniture. Saddened, I closed the door and opened the window. A cool breeze blew through. The sun was bright, warm, and comforting. I took in a couple deep breaths; my jaw still jittered from the flashback as I let it out. My shirt was drenched in sweat.
I opened the drawer of the dresser and grabbed my pipe and weed. I ground some up, put it in the pipe and took a couple of long, slow hits. After about 15 minutes I was fully medicated, seeing everything in a haze. I stared out of the window and looked down at the courtyard. A young couple sat at a table drinking wine; talking… they looked happy. I could see smoke rising from the grill next to them and smelled the scent of barbeque.
Everything I was worrying about started to fade away. The pain in my back turned into a slight annoyance. I smiled a grin ear-to-ear and started beat boxing and singing; doing anything and everything to stop thinking about things – the nightmares from hell that still haunt me.
I poured a glass of cold water from the tap. After slamming a couple, the blue eyes started haunting me again. I felt myself sliding back into the other place when my phone snapped me out of the fall.
I looked at the screen and saw that it was Jessica; I answered annoyingly, “Hello.”
“Hi, what are you doing?”
“Just got home from work,” I said sharply. “Why, what’s up?”
“I don’t know; just seeing what you’re doing. You never call me just to talk,” she said, waiting silently for an answer.
I didn’t know what to say. “Sorry, I’ve just been busy.”
“Working. You know my hours at work.” I got upset. “Is there something you want?”
“Yeah, I was wondering if you would like to come over and eat dinner with me and Aleah tonight and this weekend? You know… have some family time.”
I was torn, feeling deep in my heart like I wanted to. But then I start thinking about what had just happened. The pain, the flashbacks, I was afraid to leave the house. I missed my daughter so much but I couldn’t drive like this. I lied, “I can’t, I have an appointment later today and I have to work this weekend.”
“Really? You told me you were off,” she said angrily.
“Well Mick asked me to work a couple extra shifts and I said yes.” I got upset again. “What do you want me to do about it? I can’t just say ‘No’ now; it’s work.”
“You never want to spend time with us. Aleah is always asking about you. What should I tell her?”
I felt awful. My heart started to burn.
“I’m sorry, Jessica, but I have to work.” I gave in a little, “I can come over after my shift is done. We can eat and play games. You can tell her I have to work and I’ll see her later.”
“Ok. Whatever,” she said.
Then it went silent for a minute.
“How come you don’t love me?”
“I never said I didn’t.”
“Then why did you leave?”
“Because we argue too much.”
“We argue because you don’t even try to listen to anything I have to say and you yell,” she said.
“You do too!” I quickly chimed in. “All you do is yell and I can’t take it. I don’t need people around me yelling all the time. I can’t handle it.”
“If you loved me you would try.”
My gut started hurting. “I do love you, Jessica; I just don’t know what to do.”
“Talk to me.”
Silence fell again, I felt so bad that we couldn’t get along. I do love her, but the arguments and fights, yelling in front of Aleah… it was too much. I don’t want her to think that is how relationships are. She should have a happy life.
“Ok, Sam! Bye!”
“Tell Aleah I’ll call her tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yep, bye.” She hung up, her tone saying all she needed to say.
The room fell quiet. I looked down at the phone and thought of all the good times I’ve had with them. The times I’ve curled over laughing when playing with Aleah. Hearing her laughs echoing throughout the house when I tickled her, I loved it… missed it.
How did I get here in this empty apartment, feeling sad and numb inside? I’ve tried my whole life to feel alive; to feel wanted, to be someone special. I joined the Army because it was where I belonged. Fighting for America, saving lives and making a difference, proving to myself that I could do anything, go anywhere.
Now I’m lost, stuck; sealed away in a cave at the center of a deserted world. I want to feel normal again; feel alive, not numb. My past keeps taking over my mind, flooding it with blood and explosions. I want it to end. I want everything to end.
How did I get here?
It was because of the war. Why did I ever sign up to go in? I don’t want to feel like this anymore; alone, struggling to hold onto reality day in and day out. I want a life worth living.”
Taken from the book, “Soldiers Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs” with permission by Myra Miller; written by Marshall Miller.
War Stories don’t always end when the shooting stops and soldiers return to civilian life. The family of former Army Corporal Delmer Beam can tell you all about he horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Cpl. Beam;s separation papers list him as a “Combat Infantryman” in the Army’s 6th Division, 1st Infantry Regiment, C Company. His WWII experiences started in 1939, as a 17-year old, at Fort Jackson near Columbia, South Carolina and stretched into August 1945, after several years of bitter fighting in the South Pacific against Japanese forces at New Guinea and the Philippines.
Delmer’s wife, Gladys, told her children, Lonnie, Roger and Lana, that the father they came to know after the war was nothing like the “joyful, fun guy” who gave 6½ years of his life – and numerous difficult years beyond – to the cause of freedom.
Gladys said the war destroyed her husband, both mentally and physically. In the mid-1960’s, Lana said he submitted to shock treatments at Mount Vernon Hospital to calm down his combat issues. The children couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed to shoot fireworks on the 4th of July.
The few stories Beam told about his experiences were tough to hear. Like the one where soldiers were ordered to shoot thirty rounds of ammunition every morning into the surrounding trees to protect the camp from Japanese snipers, who would climb high to get maximum angles on their targets. Once, Beam recalled, several soldiers were killed by a sniper, even after the morning strafing. After an exhaustive search, the sniper finally was located hiding in a water canvas bag hanging from a tree. He had crawled in, poked a small hole in the canvas and shot his victims with a pistol.
Japanese marksmen and fierce fighting weren’t the only obstacles thrown in Beam’s path. Malaria was a difficult burden and an attack from scrub typhus mites nearly killed him. Delmer told his family he got so sick from the mites that he was presumed dead while lying on a stretcher on a bench. Someone saw him move however and he was transferred to a hospital ship.
His son Roger, chronicled his memories of his Dad’s experience :
As a young boy, I was always enamored with army war stories. I would ask him about the war many times. Only on a very few occasions would he talk about it. It is strange how I can remember some of the stories he told me when I can’t remember what i did yesterday….
He said he saw GI’s almost kill each other over a piece of chicken wire. The reason is that they would stretch the wire over their fox holes so the Japanese hand grenades would hit the wire and bounce back before it exploded. It rained every day in the jungle and was very hot and humid…
He told me about his best friend, a young 19-year old from Hope, Arkansas. While they were being attacked one day by Japanese, my Dad kept telling him to stop sticking his head up over the embankment they were behind, but the young man kept doing it until he got hit in the head and died in my dad’s arms. This has always made a picturesque impression on me…
I know he was haunted the rest of his life about what he went through, just like so many others. He was a good dad and even got better the older he got… Dad never met a stranger, he would talk to anyone.
Despite his health issues, Delmer spent his post-war years in Dixon, Missouri, and worked at Fort Leonard Wood as a fire inspector. He died in 1991 at age 70. His daughter had these words to remember her Dad: I guess the most uplifting thing about my dad was… he really believed that he survived when others died because God wasn’t done with him yet.
From Beam’s grandson, Roger Beam Jr., :
My grandpa Delmar told me this story several times as a small boy. I think he always got a kick out of it and was probably one of his “better” memories of the war.
He told me of the time his squad was out one evening climbing around the sides of trees collecting peppers that they used to flavor basically all their food. They had rifles slung and arms full of peppers. As they came around a tree, to their shock and surprise they ran into a squad of Japanese soldiers doing the exact same thing! He said the resulting chaos was both terrifying and hilarious, as both groups scrambled away. Not a shot was fired and they saved their peppers!
In the midst of such a horrible time for my grandfather, it does make smile a bit remembering how he smiled when telling this story.
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It can be difficult to explain posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms to friends, but it helps me to do so. PTSD symptoms include an array of possibilities such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, difficulty bonding, addiction, insomnia, and dissociation. People experience PTSD in very different ways, based on their trauma history, resilience, supports and a myriad of other factors. So here is why I find it beneficial to explain how my specific PTSD symptoms manifest themselves, and why you might too.
Many people have a narrow definition of PTSD. With so many veterans developing PTSD, it is understandable that a common perception of PTSD involves someone who has been in a combat situation. However, PTSD is not choosy. It impacts the military, emergency response personnel, victims of abuse, witnesses to abuse, and other individuals who have experienced significant trauma.
When I tell someone I have PTSD it is because I want them to understand me better. I want them to know that at times I might appear spacey or inattentive, react poorly to sudden changes in routines or plans, become hypervigilant in unfamiliar spaces, and seldom get enough sleep. In explaining my PTSD symptoms, I hope to set the stage for supportive interactions when my symptoms manifest.
If you find yourself avoiding situations or backing out of plans at the last minute or you feel trapped at times because you become anxious or agitated, it might be a chance to share some of your symptoms with friends and talk about how they impact you when they appear. It doesn’t even require much detail. For example, I tell friends, “I am hoping to come to your party, but I often get very nervous thinking about being around strangers, so I may not be in the right frame of mind to be there.”
Once I began to explain my PTSD symptoms to my friends, something interesting happened. I found myself attending more functions, more comfortable asking someone to repeat themselves when I had lost focus on the conversation, and more able to respond to last-minute requests by taking a few moments to process. My friends and acquaintances have even begun to show me support by giving me advanced notice for changes, inviting me to arrive at gatherings early, or asking me if I need a break or would like to get some fresh air when we are in tight spaces.
By sharing my triggers and reactions, I have made it easier to join in activities. I find that knowing I have a way out of an uncomfortable situation that those around me can understand removes a significant amount of worry. When my stress is lower, my symptoms are more in control.
Do you have any thoughts on this? How much do you explain to friends and family about your symptoms? Please join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.
PTSD treatments that have been scientifically validated can be very helpful in reducing and/or alleviating the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD therapy and PTSD medications are effective treatments for those experiencing this severe anxiety disorder, developed after a traumatic event. For PTSD treatment, these techniques are usually combined for the best outcome (What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]?).
Because many psychiatric illnesses commonly occur alongside PTSD, they may also need treatment. Many people with PTSD also have issues with substance abuse (drug addiction information); in these cases, the substance abuse should be treated before the PTSD. In the cases where depression occurs with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD treatment should be the priority, as PTSD has a different biology and response than depression.1
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur at any age and can be caused by any event or situation the person perceives as traumatic (PTSD in Children: Symptoms, Causes, Effects, Treatments). About 7% – 10% of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives.
Several types of therapy are used in the treatment of PTSD (PTSD Therapy and Its Role in Healing PTSD). The two primary PTSD therapies are:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD focuses on recognizing thought patterns and then ascertaining and addressing faulty patterns. For example, faulty thought patterns may be causing the individual to inaccurately assess the danger of a situation and thus react to a level of danger that isn’t present. CBT is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy where the person with PTSD is gradually exposed to the feared situation in a safe way. Over time, exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder allows the person to withstand and adjust to the feared stimuli.2
EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a technique that combines exposure and other therapeutic approaches with a series of guided eye movements. This PTSD therapy is designed to stimulate the brain’s information-processing mechanisms in an effort to reprocess the traumatic memories so they can be integrated into the psyche without the associated anxiety. (Watch an interview about EMDR Therapy Self Help Techniques for Trauma Relief)
Other therapy techniques used in PTSD treatment include:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) medications can often be used to alleviate the physical symptoms of PTSD enough so that PTSD therapy has a chance to work. Several types of PTSD medications are available, although not all are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Medications for PTSD include:
Novel pilot studies also suggest that Prazosin (Minipress, an alpha-1 receptor agonist) or Clonidine (Catapres, Catapres-TTS, Duraclon, an antiadrenergic agent) may also be helpful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In regard to PTSD, I’ve heard so many times – from both survivors and clinicians – once you’re broken you can’t be fixed (Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain). Really? I find that hard to believe.
And now, there’s proof that’s all a bunch of baloney.
In my own trauma recovery, I got to a day that things seemed so dire and destined never to change that I almost gave up. And then a little voice inside me said, Go dance. Ridiculous, right? Not really. Dancing made me feel free, transcendent, joyful and very in the present moment.
I listened to that little voice and signed up for dance classes every day of the week. Seven straight days of every week of every month, I danced every day for four months. I stopped working on my PTSD recovery and just chased after the good feelings that dance brought me.
I didn’t know it, but I was doing something years ago that science today proves works: I was creating positive experiences for myself that trained my brain to rewire. And you know what? It was fun! Not only that, all of those good feelings became addictive. I couldn’t get enough.
In addition to shocking me with the fact that I could actually feel joy (I had long suspected that would never be possible for me) all of that good feeling translated into a new strength and courage that allowed me to go back into the work of PTSD healing. This time, I finally and completely got the job done.
A few years after my PTSD recovery, I went to the annual trauma conference in Boston. The focus of the conference was heavily in the direction of the emerging neuroscience research. A lot of it proved how with MRIs and fMRIs we can actually see how PTSD impacts and changes the brain. Which got me to thinking….
If trauma impacts the brain in such a way that we develop PTSD, meaning the experience of trauma causes the brain to change, then can’t a subsequent experience also cause the brain to change? Was that, in fact, what I had done with all those positive hours of dance experience? Maybe. I cornered a neuroscientist who had presented at the conference and asked him point blank:
If neurological PTSD symptoms come about in response to a powerful psychological experience, is it possible to reverse those neurological changes by engaging in an equally powerful opposite experience?
“You mean, instead of experiencing trauma, experiencing a powerful bliss?” David asked. I nodded. “Yes.”
David didn’t even hesitate: “Yes. Definitely. If you could induce an equally powerful inverse experience, it would impact the brain and cause neurological changes.”
Huh. What do you think about that? A scientist, someone hardcore and a stickler for proof, unequivocally said that the brain can change. In fact, what I came to learn later is that not only can the brain change, it is hardwired to change. You are genetically built for your brain to change again and again and again until the end of your life.
Now, doesn’t all that just make you begin to think about recovery in a whole new way? You are perfectly fine. Your neuronal pathways and activity just needs to be changed. Work? Of course. Doable? Eminently.