03 Aug It’s My Honor
I have had the honor over the years of getting to work with some of our military veterans. I also have several clients who are in law enforcement and other first responders. Trust me when I tell you that I am the guy who gets misty-eyed at the 4th of July parade when the veterans, police officers, and fire fighters march down the street. People of integrity who give their all for the cause of freedom and public service get my respect. I may not always like what we ask them to do but I honor them for doing it.
The most talked about mental health issue that these men and women face is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD occurs when something one experiences (the trauma) is so far outside the realm of “normal” that it causes over time some pretty profound symptoms. Some of these symptoms include intrusive memories, avoiding talking about the event, avoiding going places that remind one of the event, negative changes in thinking or mood, and changes in emotional reactions. Classically, this is the person who jumps under a table when the front door slams; who reacts violently to an only perceived threat; who stays awake all night on watch; who has repeated nightmares; who is excessively irritable; and/or who sees danger in everyday life such as fear of walking across bridges or buildings with red doors. The short description is that people with PTSD don’t just remember; they relive.
PTSD is also experienced by people other than solders and police officers. Survivors of sexual assault, partner violence, childhood abuse or neglect, people who have been in bad or repeated automobile accidents, or people who have survived natural disasters sometimes experience the terror of PTSD. It is considered a spectrum disorder meaning that the symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the event and the person experiencing the event.
I say all this first to educate because many of us know people who suffer from PTSD but we just don’t know who they are. Sometimes, a person who reacts in a manner that seems very inconsistent with a situation may be battling a PTSD response. I’m writing also to those who are struggling with the disorder. You recall above the part about “avoidance of talking about the event”? Well, that’s kind of key. You hold it all in because you hope no one will notice. You hold it all in because talking about it feels like letting it loose. You hold it all in because you are ashamed. You hold it all in because you believe no one will understand. Just know this. Holding it all in may be making it worse. Find a safe place to start talking for your own sake and for the sake of those you love.