When my older brother came back from Vietnam in 1970, we thought our prayers had been answered. We were mistaken. The living person we welcomed home was not the brother who had left us twelve months before. In his place was a frightened, angry stranger. For the next forty-three years he struggled to be who he had once been, and for brief moments we saw glimpses of him, but for the most part, we lost our brother back in the Vietnam jungles.
My son is a Marine reservist and has been on three deployments in the last ten years, two to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. In all three he has been in face to face combat with the enemy. He has seen and done things that most of us could not imagine. Like my late brother, my son struggles to reclaim the person he once was and has decided to advocate for himself and learn how to control his PTSD.
PTSD is more prevalent than the public realizes. It is not limited to combat vets but to anyone who has experienced extreme trauma. My daughter and her husband experienced the death of their youngest child one year ago. This tragedy affected them so severely that she was diagnosed with PTSD. Like others with this disorder, what caused it cannot be undone, but she has been taught ways to manage her anxiety and her grief.
A person does not have to be in physical danger to “get” PTSD. People who survive horrific accidents or health episodes might develop it. The brain perceives an incident as an extreme danger and sends out signals to help the body react and respond, but the PTSD brain never goes back to its previous “at rest” position. This becomes the new normal for these folks.
The person’s bio-chemical response has changed and stays that way, either in a permanent alert state, in an involuntary trigger state, or in an immediate response state.
The good news – PTSD can be treated. Unlike my brother who never recovered, my son has a chance at managing it. It involves more than just medication to calm his nightmares and anxiety or psycho-emotional therapy to help with the mental anguish of PTSD.
Since studies show that PTSD is bio-chemical, it should be treated as such. Studies have also shown that involvement in physical and spiritual activity helps.
I find it interesting that the military government went to great expense to create the battle mind, but has spent so little money and effort in disarming it. They should provide resources to help those who have sacrificed not only their lives and bodies for this country but also their minds and souls.
Let us give them peace of mind.