Many who live with Post-traumatic stress disorder don't even know it
With the silly season knocking on our door many of us find ourselves both anticipating and dreading the holidays. We’re looking forward to spending time with friends and family but we’re also negotiating a gambit of stressful situations. For many Americans this is the time of joy and excitement, but for some, it’s a time of dread and despair. The good news is that according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the thing we’ve always heard about, the increased rate of suicides during the holidays is a myth. People are more likely to attempt to take their own lives in the spring and the fall, the rate is actually lowest in December.
That’s the good news, now for the other news. Odds are you or someone you know will be suffering from some sort of PTSD during the holidays this season. PTSD isn’t only a problem for military veterans. According to the Veteran’s Administration, roughly 5.2 million Americans will suffer from PTSD in a given year. That’s more people than those who lost their insurance plan under the implementation of the Affordable Care Act; yet there will be no congressional hearings. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. Roughly 10 percent of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with 5 percent of men.
With regards to our veterans, 11-20 percent of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom), as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) Veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam Veterans have PTSD.
If you let those numbers sink in you will realize that the odds favor someone in your circle of friends and family having a very rough time dealing with this holiday season.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is often misunderstood by the general public. Many of us think of our crazy uncle that came home from Vietnam who wasn’t quite right in the head. Some people, notably douchebag huckster Kenneth Copeland have as much understanding of PTSD as your average banana slug. There’s a lot of myths out there, but there are also a lot of resources.
Many veterans may have PTSD without even realizing it, and so do a lot of people who have never served in the armed forces. PTSD doesn’t just affect the soldier who has experienced horrific combat or lost a buddy in a firefight. I’m one of those and it took me years to finally seek help. I assumed that my symptoms were just a part of a massive change in my life from twenty years of active duty to civilian life. I also assumed that if I sought help I would be taking a “slot” and using valuable resources that could be better spent on some poor soul that had experienced the mind destroying effects of multiple combat deployments.
I was wrong on both counts. I thought you could only get PTSD from combat or some other act of violence. I was a sailor serving on aircraft carriers safely at sea. I assumed that I was just being a whiny pussy that just needed to get over it and walk it off. I had only seen people die in freak accidents. I was never really in any danger of being blown up by an IED and I never had a shipmate die in my arms. So why did I feel so guilty? Why was my depression so debilitating? I didn’t have nightmares and I wasn’t having flashbacks to being at sea so it must not be PTSD.
What I was feeling, and still battle with today was guilt. Personally I feel that it’s self-imposed, but my therapist disagrees.
On my last deployment to the Arabian Gulf, our combat operations supported troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and we did a brief stint scaring the crap out of Somalia. While we were on station in the Gulf, the job of our aircraft in my squadron was to provide protection and combat assistance through electronic warfare. I can’t go in to detail on this or how we did it but here’s the numbers: We reduced the number of successful IED attacks by 30 percent while on station. This means that if there were ten attacks each day before we got there; we reduced that number to seven.
Three fewer bombs were able to strike their target each day because we were there doing our job. Yay for our team! But, when we were relieved by another aircraft carrier battle group and we were told to go home, the attacks increased by 70 percent. So, if there were ten attacks before we got there, seven attacks while we were there, once we left there were eleven or twelve successful attacks each day. These aren’t hard numbers but the percent of change are accurate.
So here’s what eats at my soul: what if we had stayed another day? What if we had stayed another week? What if we had stayed another month, or two months or four months? Those deployment extensions aren’t unheard of in today’s military so it’s not an unrealistic question. But; if we had stayed for any of those extensions, how many more men and women would have gotten to come home? How many children would have their mommy or daddy today if we had stayed one more day? How many parents had to bury their child because I wasn’t there to help complete the mission?
Oh sure, there’s all the logical and perfectly reasonable counter points to all of the crap that keeps me up at night and makes me want to crawl into the corner and cry. That’s the “beauty” of PTSD – It’s not reasonable. It doesn’t follow logic and it doesn’t say “well, that’s not too bad so I’ll leave you alone”. Nope, PTSD is an indiscriminate monster that can hide under anyone’s bed.
My little demon isn’t as severe as most and it is controlled through therapy and medications. However, we have men and women among us who are barely able to function because of PTSD and others have all but given up. This is why I personally took strong offense to John Stossel and his trivializing the homeless. I’m sorry, but after what he did and said, I probably wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire; I’d probably go get marshmallows.
Please keep in mind this holiday season that there are men and women among us that are enduring hell each and every day. You can do your part to help by just being there for someone who is suffering. Each of us is a lifeline for another even though few of us are actually trained to deal with it.
If you know someone who is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and you believe they are about to go over the edge or do something to harm themselves, you can call 911 and explain what’s going on. Don’t worry about being wrong; let the professionals decide if steps need to be taken. The worst that can happen is someone you care about will get evaluated and released. Sure, they might be angry at first but trust me, they will realize you only called because you care for them.
If you are a veteran and the stress of the holidays are causing you to consider taking drastic action, or if you just need someone to talk to, there are people and services out there to help you get through this. If you’re a veteran or if you’re worried about one, please call the Veteran’s Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also log on at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ to get a one on one chat going.
You are not alone. Please remember that. If you would like more information about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or suspect you may have it, please visit http://www.ptsd.va.gov/ for more information.
Frankly speaking, the first step for battling PTSD is to seek help. I hope everyone has a safe and rewarding holiday season. Happy Saturnalia everyone!
The not so funny thing about PTSD is you often feel totally alone even when surrounded by friends and family. The hardest part is when you have very few of either. I was an abused child that grew up into an agoraphobic adult. I think of killing myself many times a day. Its a struggle each day to say no to that whispering voice. Someday I wont.
I agree Erin…since my mother passed in 2009 the holidays just don’t feel the same. I love this article and the graphic, Frank. I know I have PTSD but I had no idea that I was in such a high statistical group.
Frank, thank you. The holidays are always a bit weird for me, especially since my mom died. This is a beautiful piece and I am honored to write with you.