In the PTSD community there seems to be a discord between those who’s PTSD was caused by combat action and those who saw no direct enemy action but were deployed and lastly, those with PTSD who never deployed. It is a longstanding view in the military that those who have never deployed are somehow less of a soldier than those who have and that lends greatly to this problem, but what about the group who has deployed but never once had to fire their weapon?
I will readily admit that I am a part of the second group. I deployed with a Combat Support Hospital. I never once fired my weapon; not that we were ever issued ammunition to defend ourselves if we had to…in fact, for my entire deployment, I never had a single round issued to me, even while I was outside the wire in Iraq (but that’s an entirely different story, the majority of my PTSD symptoms are related to multiple mass-casualty incidents throughout my career and an MST in 2002).
Excluding TBI, the symptoms of PTSD are the same, regardless of what the stressor was that caused the disorder. Some cases are much more severe and debilitating than others. That should not change the way we support each other. With all that we have endured, all that we still endure (our own demons, respect and common courtesy from our chains of command, the fight for our hard earned benefits, VA backlogs, etc) we should find a way to come together. The fact that we do have PTSD should be a uniting factor, not an issue that further divides us. We need to come together, support each other and work toward finding a way to heal, to remove the stigma, remove the barriers to effective treatment, fix the VA’s backlog and staffing issues, and to work to find a way to help those who will come behind us. Our predecessors have set the stage for us, it is up to us to carry that torch forward, but we cannot be divided in doing so. Its time for the pissing matches to come to an end. Its time to form a unified front and fight that battle that lies before us… The fight against PTSD.
As I discussed earlier, I am at a sort of cross road in my life. I know the path before me and I can clearly identify the forks in the road. One path leads down the path I’ve been traveling all these years. The path of denial, depression, and isolation associated with my PTSD. Then, there is a second path. A path unknown to me. A path that, from all reports, leads toward recovery. Its not a path to a cure, I have long ago conceded that there is not cure for PTSD; I have suffered too many traumas for there to be a cure. But…and there is always a but… this path will lead toward a better future.
I have always been terrible with change. I’m not talking about change as in rearranging the living room. I’m talking about bigger changes. Adding a member to your family, moving to a new base, my husband deploying as well as when he returns. Those major life changes that require you to rethink your entire daily routines. I know the path I am choosing to take won’t be all rainbows and lollipops. I know it will require hard work and determination. It will require me to come outside of myself to care for this dog. It will require me to get out of this house and actually get some fresh air and potentially some exercise. It will cause me to interact more with my children as they get to know Chaunsey. It will change virtually everything about my daily life. That alone terrifies me. My stomach is in knots, my nerves are frazzled and my head is swimming. Just the thought of leaving my family for three weeks is enough to send me into a panic attack, even though when I’m here at home, I tend to isolate myself away from everyone.
I know I am not alone in these feelings. I have already talked with one of my classmates and she has described feeling very much the same way. I’m sure all of the graduates of K9s have also felt some level of what I am feeling. They are the ones who have kept me moving forward to the place I am now.
I am looking at these two paths. One is familiar and comfortable to me, even though my PTSD is anything but controlled. The other, the path that I am actively choosing to follow is the new one. I am choosing to step outside my comfort zone with the hope and determination to fight back against my PTSD. After all THIS is what this blog is supposed to be all about…fighting back. Realizing we are not alone and that there is always hope. Learning that there are ways to find some level of peace with our inner demons, deciding that we are no longer going to be the victims of our trauma’s but survivors.
We can fight PTSD. I choose to do so. You can also choose to fight, or you can choose to take the familiar path. Ultimately, its entirely up to you. Which path will you take?
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by PTSD or depression, its hard to find that silver lining. Its hard to imagine that there is hope for the future. Then, all of a sudden you stop and realize that today is actually a decent day. You catch that glimmer of a chance that things could work out.
When we are in our darkest hours, those days where getting out of bed is a physically painful feat, that is when we need our silver lining the most. That is when we need to reach out to our supporters and let them help us. That is often the hardest part for veterans… letting someone else help. We have been taught to work as a team, but the team members have changed; instead of battle buddies, we have spouses, friends and family. We have to find even the minutest crack in the walls we have built around ourselves and find a way to let them inside. They don’t need to know all the gory details… but they do need to know the triggers. Knowing what triggers your symptoms can go miles toward healing these wounds. However, this is not enough. We also have the responsibility to find our own voices. We have to speak up about what it is we need when this monster takes hold. Some people find comfort in the arms of their spouse, some need to disappear into a dark room to self-sooth. If our supports don’t know this, then how can they help us? My husband knows when my symptoms start rearing their ugly little heads to give me a few minutes then let me curl against his chest while he holds me until I’m feeling safe again. He wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t told him. Now he knows, when I curl against his chest like that, its because I’m feeling overwhelmed, anxious, hyper-alert and all the other crap that accompanies PTSD.
Its hard to find hope when you’re dealing with PTSD. But taking these TWO simple steps can help so much. Please, take the time to sit down and think about your triggers as well as your comfort zones. When you have identified them, write them down, try to be as specific as possible without going into uncomfortably details; if you need to leave a crowded room, say so. Once you’ve compiled this list, share it with you supporters. Let them know that this list will allow them to help you. As they begin to understand more about your PTSD, you will begin to see that hope that had been so elusive before.
The last step to finding your hope is to reach out to other veterans and get help. Do not be ashamed to admit when things become too overwhelming. We have stood side by side, sweated together, cried together and more often than not bled together. We have been there and done that and burned the t-shirt. Your brothers and sisters can point you to the resources that you need to get control of your life again. They can help you up when you find yourself facing rock bottom. But… here’s the kicker…. YOU have to let them know that you need help. If your supporters don’t know there is a problem, they can’t help you figure out how to fix it. It is that plain and simple. We are the ones with PTSD, it is our own responsibility to ensure those around us know what they can do to help rather than keeping them guessing on egg shells.
In the end, finding that hope as you’re walking through the storm is entirely up to you. You can choose to reach out to those who care about you or you can choose to attempt to weather it alone. A burden shared is half as hard to bear.