PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a closer look at PTSD.
The stigma around PTSD is astounding. It’s disgraceful really. Combat is rough; can you imagine the things soldiers in active combat see? Neither can I. And that’s ok. We can empathize without sympathizing. We will never understand. Some service members can’t even identify with other service members. Each and every experience is completely different. What’s not different is the fact that some “Joes” (Service members) need support when they return home from combat. I truly believe that it’s something that has a stigma too; a career affecting stigma. This is wrong. This is so very wrong.
Did you know that more Vietnam Veterans have committed suicide than were killed during the Vietnam war? The death toll for the Vietnam War is approximately 58,000; let that sink in for a minute. That means that over 150,000 Vietnam Vets have committed suicide! Why do you think that is? First, I would say that it’s partial because the soldiers going over there did not have support from their country. The war was controversial and the Joes got the brunt of it. It wasn’t their fault there was a war, that no one supported them, or that they were sent over there. They were being good Soldiers and following orders. Second, I would say that there wasn’t any psychological support for them. There wasn’t any reintegration time or an understanding that they were just doing their job. Furthermore, there wasn’t any help for them to processes the horrors they saw over there. Check out this article for more information.
So what do the Vietnam Vets have to do with our guys over in combat now? LOTS. The mental health care for our Joes hasn’t increased much. We still have Joes that need mental health. Yet sadly, most don’t seek help because of the stigma of not being able to process all the things they’ve seen/done in combat. They’re afraid that seeking help in the form of counseling will hurt their career or might hurt how they’re viewed by their peers; although that is probably true to an extent. It might just save their life or the lives of others. It is critical that this stigma goes away and help is provided.
In my mind, there are two types of what civilians think of PTSD. Now I’m not a scientist, or a doctor I’m just a wife that’s done a lot of research; tons and tons of research.
The first type of PTSD needs to focus on the ‘disorder’ aspect of the title. The disorder title separates the violent, dangerous (to others or themselves) soldiers from all the rest who suffer from types of post-traumatic stress. They are nightmares, guilt, hopelessness, flashbacks, self-destruction, alcoholism, drug abuse (illegal or prescription), hallucinations, problems concentrating, spousal or child abuse, and anger just to name a few. These are the Joes who need support. The Joes who need more reintegration therapy to learn how to go from life and death combat to find a new sense of normal life among civilians. They are truly disordered and need the help of a professional to help them function in a new normal.
The second type of PTSD is really only PTS. Post Traumatic Stress is just that; Stress. It’s a hyper-vigilance, a state of awareness to one’s surrounding. PTS is more of an elongated sense of intensity or extremeness. When someone has PTS they can swing from one extreme to another in a moment. They have normal emotions but they’re intense. If they’re pissed off, they’re in an outrage. When they’re sad, they’re crying in the corner by themselves. If they’re depressed they’ll sit on the couch and stare at the wall for hours. When they’re happy, they’re like a puppy that gets to go for a car ride and try to bite the wind. Everything they feel is extreme. Imagine being in a combat zone (aka never ending adrenaline rush) where most of the time it’s a literal life and death. Then imagine coming home to a normal schedule with normal people paying normal bills with a normal 9-5 job etc. Boring!
Post-traumatic stress is not a disorder. It’s a hyper sense of existence, a caution. It’s having an exit strategy where ever you are. All soldiers come back changed from combat. The change can be minor or extreme, but nevertheless, there is a change. Just because there is change does NOT mean it’s a bad thing. We cannot expect soldiers come out the other side of combat unchanged with the things they’ve seen, done and experienced. Just like we can’t expect a person to come out the other side of getting t-boned at an intersection without becoming hyper-vigilant at all future intersections. Where PTS becomes PTSD is when the person starts to become a danger to oneself or other; whether it’s by alcoholism, abuse, withdrawal (harm to relationships with loved ones).
I challenge you to think that being hyper-aware in the general civilian public is a blessing. Crime in the United States is rising. With ISIS and other terrorist activities raising you can never be too careful! Criminals break the law; you never know how and when they’re going to do it. You have to be aware of your surroundings. This will give you an edge over bad guys.
This is an amazing article from Loren Schofield. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read in PTS. It really puts it into perspective and shows the big difference between PTSD and PTS. I feel this article is a very candid look at the difference between PTSD and PTS. To put this more plainly I’ll tell you how my husband deals with this. He does NOT have PTSD, but he does have PTS. After six years of being in and working in a combat zone (Iraq and Afghanistan) he’s come back a changed man; as anyone would have logically expected. There are some very practical ways that PTS is a good thing! I’m going to explain a color chart first then break into why PTS is a very practical life-saving thing.
Lieutenant Colonial Dave Grossman is a military veteran and also specializes on killing. Yep, you read that right. He studies killing. Not so much how to kill, I personally don’t think that’s real complicated, but he researches and studies the mentality of taking another human life. He wrote a book a while back called “On Killing”. It’s a very interesting read that has allowed me to crawl into the mind of soldiers. He also wrote a paper called “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs.” To summarize this paper briefly it basically states that he believes there are 3 different kinds of people. First, are the sheep, those who walk around nose deep in their cell phones or nose up in the clouds. They don’t pay attention to anyone, or anything ever. They are not aware of anything. Second, are the wolves, the wolves prey on the sheep because the sheep can’t see them coming. The wolves are predators and bad guys! Lastly, are the sheepdogs. These are the special people and, honestly, what most of us should always strive to be. They are aware and see things differently. Also, they look at a situation thinking of all the possible outcomes, good and bad. There is a plan involved.
Lt. Col. Grossman has also come up with a color coded chart that signifies the sheep and sheepdogs very well. Here is a breakdown of what the colors are:
White: Completely unaware of one’s surroundings.
Yellow: Aware of the surrounding situation.
Orange: There is a specific problem in your nearby surroundings.
Red: Ready to engage in a fight
Black: Situation overload.
Now for my narrative to explain, in detail, what these mean!
Imagine with me that you’re headed to Wal-Mart to do some last minute shopping before a large dinner party at your house. You scramble out of the car, purse dangling in one hand, cell phone in the other, keys hooked on your pinky while you’re trying to find your gum. You start shuffling quickly to the door checking your facebook in the parking lot to see what you’re missing. Keys get dropped somewhere in a pocket, or a purse, you aren’t consciously sure. You have no idea that there are two large, shady looking guys following you. (This is a prime example of condition white. You have NO idea what’s going on around you.)
One of the two guys whistles a cat call. Suddenly you realize you don’t know the two guys walking behind you towards the store. Your phone goes back in your pocket and keep an ear and eye out to see which way these guys go once you’re inside. Next, you look to find the nearest exit and see if those shady guys are meeting up with some others in the store. You lose them as you turn down an aisle to finish your shopping but you’re keeping a watchful eye and ear out on the situation and now you notice an exit towards the back of the store. (This is how yellow works. You’re not alarmed. You’re not paranoid. You are simply AWARE of your surroundings. You have a strategy.)
Suddenly as you reach for some tampons to hide in your cart you hear a commotion a few aisles over, towards the front of the store. It sounds like those guys who were behind you in the parking lot. One of them is yelling something about shooting someone and money. You’ve not recognized a specific threat is near you. (Color code orange!). You leave the cart behind; nothing is worth getting hurt over. You walk slowly to the end of the aisle to verify what direction the commotion is coming from and decide to go the other way towards that exit in the back of the store you saw earlier. As you dial 911 you hear a gunshot and realize the noise is following you to the exit.
One of the thugs grabs your arm as you’re shouting to the 911 operator to send the police. The guy releases your arm but waves a revolver in your face. He’s yelling something about helping him carry a hostage that he shot. (Color code Red: You’re ready for something catastrophic to happen). Frozen you start thinking of alternative options. You don’t have a gun or a taser, or pepper spray or any training or anything. Realizing you can’t fight back you just stand there crying; frozen in fear. This is code black. You’re in the middle of the fight and with no training of self-defense and you have no options. You’re stuck and you know it. The bad guys win. They have control over you.
That story right there is why having a degree of PTS or even just civilian awareness (and training, I can’t stress this enough) is so vital. Even if you were stuck in that situation, with some training you would have been able to handle the situation better. If my husband would have been present in that situation he probably would have gone to the store, gotten out of site, then turned around and left. Nothing at Wal-Mart is worth your life. Being aware of your surroundings does not mean you’re a paranoid tweaker. It means that you know what’s going on. It means you can identify a threat in its early stages so you can make the call to stand up and fight against the bad guys or exit the situation entirely. That’s YOUR call because you have the training and the mental capability to handle it.
So maybe our Soldiers coming back from war, having PTS is actually a good thing. They are aware and present and keep themselves and their families safe. They might actually keep you safe! What if that story above ended differently? Instead of it getting past color code RED, what if a Soldier tackles the instigator and his groupies run off? In doing that the hostage that was wounded would have been fine. Also, you would have been able to find the exit and get away. All because a Soldier was aware of his surroundings and realized something was happening before you even got in the door.
There is a huge difference between how PTSD and PTS are handled by the individual. One of those needs a reintegration period, usually with the help of a mental health care professional. The other person simply has a light switched turned on. They are alert to potential threats because that’s what their training has taught them to do. So next time you see a guy at the store who’s looking around a little strangely don’t automatically assume that they have problems. Their spidey senses might be tingling to something that you would probably never be aware of. Whichever type of Soldier you run into we should show gratitude, in a real tangible way, for their service to our country.