Have you ever stopped to wonder what our soldiers may be going through when they come home? Many of us have heard of post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This is a debilitating disorder that can affect your ability to work or love normally. Many people face symptoms that can include great sadness to instantaneous rage. People suffering from the disease are unable to process events as they are unfolding and tend to feel as though they are on ‘auto-pilot’ and not feeling like they are able to think then react. Because these folks feel as though they have no control, it is quite difficult to change the behaviors into more positive reactions. I suffered many years of abuse and exposure to abusive situations. This left me with constant reactionary reflex when one wished/needed to critique me. Their criticism would be perfectly harmless, even helpful to another person. Because I was told repeatedly throughout life that I was not the sharpest tool in the shed, I was born with the devil in me and was repeatedly bullied in school-my body and brain became used to ‘saving’ me before I could even assess if I was in real ‘danger’.
Effects of complex PTSD on family, friends and quality of life
It became incredibly difficult to have a conversation with anybody. I would go into it with the most positive attitude and would just lash out or shut down if someone criticized me or my work. Truth of the matter was that I would often try my best and would feel deeply discouraged when it was not accepted as the best work. Besides my brain going on autopilot and doing its own thing, I would suffer from a number of physical ailments as well. My palms would get hot, I would feel as though my face is on fire, I would just want to vomit. Often I would begin shaking, crying or yelling at the person delivering the news. Some have described this as a type of Jekyll and Hyde behavior. Awareness is half the battle, you have to understand that you have an illness before you can set about getting the appropriate help.
Strategies Patients Can Use to deal with the symptoms of complex PTSD
Having been living with this disease for 20+ years has been immensely difficult, especially because folks in my situation are often misdiagnosed, which translates to be mistreated. Six months ago, I learned that I have complex PTSD. I was placed on a medication I had never taken before with an anti-depressant I had used off and on over the twenty years I had been suffering. I had to allow several weeks for the medication to get into my system and get used to the side effects. The combination of the two was AMAZING… I felt like myself for the first time. I felt like my authentic self, as described by author Dr. Wayne Dyer: “your path to the freedom and joy that characterize a purposeful life.” The anguish I often felt was gone. I was able to go into my therapist’s’ office and tell her that I hadn’t cried in two weeks. Then, I needed to get a refill. The pharmacy said that my script wasn’t approved by my insurance company. They said that they couldn’t explain why it had been approved and now was not being approved. On top of that, I couldn’t get a hold of the proper people to get something else instead. This taught me a few major lessons:
Sometimes it is important to advocate for yourself: Stand up for yourself, ask questions, learn legal rules with regard to the medical field (once the insurance company approved it once, they were legally responsible to continue providing it)
Sometimes you must take charge of your own medical care: Know the effects of starting or stopping your medication, understand what you feel and be in touch with if you feel better or worse, know that your doctors don’t know everything- don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself or question their judgements and rationale for particular treatments
Create coping strategies to deal with the more stressful things that must be done with regard to your health, daily life and living/dealing with others: Learn what relaxes you, learn what triggers the bad feelings and share these with your family to help avoid them, Create a ‘safe place’ either in your head or physically and go there when things get very difficult- Teach your loved ones about your ‘safe place’ and its purpose.
Strategies Families can use in supporting their loved ones with complex PTSD
Learning to support family members with this invisible disease can be quite the struggle. We expect people to be in charge of their thoughts, words and actions. But what do you do with a person who has little or no control once they have been triggered. Talk with your loved one about what precipitated the current event, Listen if they tell you that you are doing something that they find difficult, Listen for what they may have been missing from their lives during the events that caused their current condition- act to fulfill the needs the person to the best of your ability. Try to learn about your loved ones safe place- is it physical or in their head, what should you do when they are there, what is a cue to let you know they are there. Maybe one of the most important ways to show support though is to listen and not minimize their thoughts and feelings. In most cases, people suffering from this illness have been minimized or treated as though their ideals and feelings are not valued by other, telling them what they should feel instead of listening to how they do feel will always result in shut-down and withdrawal, sometimes after a belligerent tirade because a trigger has been pushed. It is difficult to learn and understand why our loved ones could just change so quickly. As awful as this sounds, just think of how your loved one feels not having control of their actions as the event occurs.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an invisible disorder that is often misdiagnosed. As a matter of fact, often time these misdiagnoses create negative labels that are incorrect. Nation Center for PTSD describes it as “They have been misdiagnosed by mental health providers as having Borderline, Dependent, or Masochistic Personality Disorder. Survivors have been unjustly blamed for the symptoms they experience as a result of victimization. Researchers hope that a new diagnosis will prevent clinicians, the public, and those who suffer from trauma from mistakenly blaming survivors for their symptoms.” Do not be afraid to ask for help from loved ones or professionals, take all prescribed medications, learn and know more about your illness so that you can be a positive resource for yourself.