Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What IS PTSD Really?

Many military family members (rarely the caregiver except in the beginning…) ask this question:  What is PTSD really?   

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is the mind and the body's response to a traumatic event.  PTSD can is more commonly seen in combat veterans and first responders who experience and witness trauma doing their jobs.  PTSD is one of the Invisible Injuries.   Though PTSD is largely invisible, meaning that to a stranger, it wouldn't be apparent, the condition is often misunderstood by friends and family.

Symptoms vary and can be either subtle, or abrupt, leading family and friends to be confused.  It can also leave the veteran wondering if life will ever be the same again, and the family members unclear on what to expect each day.  One of the earliest signs to a caregiver may be that the service member or veteran is acting “differently”. 

The relationship can feel upside down, and there may be avoidance and isolation.  The vet may re-live the trauma through night terrors or flashback memories during the day.  This can be exhausting, and possibly alarming to the spouse who becomes the imagined enemy or situation in the dark.  Training kept them alive, but upon returning home, it’s hard to “turn off” the extreme vigilance, the hormonal cascade (testosterone and adrenaline) when PTSD is triggered by a scent, a sight, or even an anniversary.  It is not uncommon to see self-medicating to try to keep PTSD at bay.

With treatment, it is possible to anticipate possible triggers (prompts) such as a car backfire, or Fourth of July fireworks.   There may be a startle response, and hypervigilance which shocks children with its suddenness, and feels like rejection to spouses. There may be emotional numbness or increased aggression that feels as though it should go away now that he or she is safely home.     
The body needs time to recondition itself to the new safe environment and many effective treatments exist.  Since PTSD is both a psychological and neuro-hormonal response to perceived danger, newer treatments address both aspects and treatment, including complementary therapies for anxiety reduction, mindfulness, and communication help families to manage PTSD.   Know that treatment is necessary and the right “fit” can be found with persistence and the knowledge that life can become higher quality over time.

Linda Kreter & the
VeteranCaregiver Team

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