Tyrone* is a former USMC infantry machine gunner who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq. The young husband lost several friends during those tours and was even present for one of those losses. Encouraged by his command to “suck it up” and refrain from seeking outside help for fear of medical separation, Tyrone found support through the use of alcohol. He drinks his stress away, thinking he’s doing it recreationally; in reality, he is self-medicating.
When Tyrone returned from his last deployment, he was different. The once-outgoing mate became withdrawn, moody, depressed, uneasy in social situations, and prone to explosive outbursts.
It had been a while since he and his wife had been home together, and they were readjusting to being a couple. One day, Tyrone made a mistake, and his wife was unhappy. She stood over him, shouting. Almost instantly, he felt shaky and ill; his arms felt like they were floating from his body. He became terrified, feeling as though he was about to be attacked.
He had been “triggered.”
He didn’t know how to handle the situation or his response to it, and he could not communicate to his wife about how her reaction had affected him. He separated himself from her and, once alone with his trusted bottle of alcohol, asked himself, “Does she even realize what just happened?”
Would you realize it?
Tyrone has post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as shell shock, combat stress, or simply PTSD. PTSD is not necessarily caused by just experiencing traumatic events directly. PTSD can be diagnosed depending on the intensity of a traumatic event or because of the loss of a loved one as a result of a traumatic event, getting hurt by or close to an event, or a lack of a support system following an event.
Tyrone was close to the traumatic event that caused him to lose a loved one during combat. He lacked substantial supports to help him deal with the effects the event had on him, so he turned to alcohol use and is now vulnerable to alcohol addiction.
PTSD has many noticeable signs and symptoms, if we pay attention. Make the Connection, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs public awareness campaign that provides personal testimonials and resources to help veterans discover ways to improve their lives, lists the signs and symptoms of PTSD as
- Nightmares, flashbacks, or vivid memories of a traumatic event;
- A belief of always being in danger;
- Difficulty sleeping or staying focused;
- Anxiety; and
Tyrone’s wife may have noticed his behavior but believed that he suffered only from depression or anxiety. While that may be true, these issues could be signs of a deeper malady: PTSD.
In our time, researchers have not only helped to increase our understanding and awareness of PTSD among military service personnel but provided tools to treat it, the primary ones being counseling and medication. Secondary tools include peer supports, physical exercise, volunteering as a way to reconnect with the community, and simply talking it out with friends and loved ones. After all, family members and friends are among the first to witness changes in one’s behavior and demeanor. Military personnel often want to keep their war experience away from their loved ones, but talking about it can be helpful in dealing with its aftereffects.
The first step to recovering from PTSD is recognizing its signs and symptoms. Completing a self-assessment can assist you in determining whether you need help and empower you to get it. Remember, it is never too early or too late to get help for yourself or a loved one. Asking a family doctor or nurse practitioner is one way to start the dialogue. If this person does not have experience in working with military personnel, he or she can make a referral to someone who does. Likewise, a spiritual or religious advisor, such as a chaplain, can start the healing by providing needed linkages and support.
The following links lead to supportive resources that can help you or your loved one get started in addressing PTSD:
- My PTSD Forum
- National Center for PTSD
- Understanding PTSD booklet
- Understanding PTSD Treatment booklet
- VA PTSD Program Locator
- VA Vet Centers
As this Make a Connection video shows, Tyrone is not alone. PTSD touches the lives of people from every walk of life, from first responders and military personnel to parents of children who have survived intensive care unit admissions and those children themselves. Together, by carefully paying attention to the signs and symptoms, we can support those affected, seek out appropriate resources, and let them know they are not alone.
*Tyrone is a fictional character. His story is based on a combination of stories of individuals living with PTSD.