I have PTSD…
See its easy right? I know better than that, and I understand the issues that many combat veterans, especially Special Operations veterans have with this. Do you recall the movie American Sniper, and the scene where, (I am paraphrasing) the doctor asked him about guilt, and he said, “I don’t feel guilty for killing”. I knew what he meant.
Unfortunately, I could not admit I was suffering from PTSD because I wasn’t afraid and had no guilt. I to learned like so many others about these misconceptions and common lies about this disorder. I made it a condition within myself to be ashamed of it.
What I describe next may surprise you. I will break down what is going on inside your brain, and you will discover that you’re not a coward or weak, or that your nerve isn’t gone, it’s just out of balance and not your fault.
Bottom Line Up Front
Before the comments come in from all the hardliners, who think they are going to pick this apart because there are plenty of them out there and they will. Just know that I don’t care. I am fully willing to be upfront and be the first one to admit some things.
First, I am not a medical doctor. But I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night so we should be good. Second, I am speaking to combat-related PTSD, and I know there is a difference, come to think of it so should you. Hey, there is a difference in the mechanisms causing PTSD in Combat related and Rape or abuse Trauma-Related PTSD. That’s not my theory it’s a fact research it for yourself.
Finally, I don’t care what you did, or the level of exposer to danger you faced. If you have PTSD, well then, you have it. A person who was never out of a firebase can get it just as an individual who spent all their time in hand to hand combat with hundreds of men can. And if you judge someone’s PTSD sympathy and support on the type of work they did or didn’t do, well… that’s a talk for another day, and Spoiler Alert…. you’re an Asshole!
Cortisol: Buddy Is Only Half The Word
So cortisol… You may have heard the word likely on commercials about belly fat and self-help stress pieces on Oprah. It’s your bodies Fight or Flight hormone. Yes, fight or flight! It’s the condition your body goes into during times when you interpret danger, (interpret the operative word there) and your life is the thing in danger. It allows you to have the focus and awareness to fight or the focus and awareness to flee.
Do you recall having tunnel vision, or everything getting really quiet, or things happening all around you in slow motion?
Cortisol is the hormone that gets released in higher doses to help our bodies get this focus and awareness and extra energy. The fight or flight response is a life-saving response intended by nature to be used only for a short time and only when you perceive a threat is high enough to kill you.now
Had any experiences like that?
Sounds Great, What’s the Catch
On the surface, it seems like it’s a good thing, well it is, but there is a catch. When a person enters a combat situation (or a situation of perceived danger), they will have cortisol levels increase through high stress and then shoot up to fight or flight levels periodically as they enter in and out of any number of contacts or attacks or moments that trigger the response.
This general rising of the cortisol levels from situational stress and from multiple incidents of fight or flight will reset an individual’s cortisol levels to a new normal for the body. Sustained long-term high cortisol levels have their issues but what happens next is the kick in the ass.
I Feel Better Deployed Then at Home
Have you ever heard someone say something like that? I have and even thought it myself. Why do we feel better away from our loved ones in combat when war is hell. Well, we come home. After a year of our high levels creating our new standard and then we don’t have the stress or incidents of danger to spike the hormone release and something starts to happen in our brain and here is where I might lose you but stay with me….
We begin having withdrawals. Yes, you heard that right! Just like a heroin addict does, (drugs spike another hormone called dopamine, and the long term use makes withdrawals dangerous because of the same higher new normal activity) I challenge you to pull up a search of withdrawal symptoms and then a list of PTSD symptoms and cross check them.
Go ahead and look, I’ll wait…..
Do you see lots of the same things between those two? Well, that’s because our hormones need to be balanced for our brain to work the way we want them to, now that we understand that. We can make an educated assumption on why we feel better over there than home. Yes, just like a junkie getting his fix we deploy and feel healthy. So are you starting to see the issue and why PTSD doesn’t expose itself sometimes until well after the fact?
So Does Every Combat Veteran Suffer From PTSD
Remember the time you jumped after a loud noise startled you, or some trash on the road made you drive to avoid it or have the prickly feeling in your skin as you pass by it on the road? Well then yes! It was a mild version of PTSD. This is not a diagnosis by any means and most doctors would say those bouts are what’s called hypervigilance. Jumpy on guard feeling that follows combat deployments, will only occur for a short time and resolve itself, or at the very least become mitigated over time. If not, well…. keep reading.
Putting It Into Perspective
So I am aware this information will not suddenly make people better or change the stigma of PTSD just because I wrote in down. If it worked like that then, I would be good looking and filthy rich forever. Yep! see only good looking… but not filthy rich, so it does help but not completely.
All kidding aside, knowing that it is a hormone condition that is medical then, the good news is it can be treated. If you broke your foot would you avoid getting medical help? Only if your doctor was Josef Mengele! Would avoidance of the medical care make sense? (Ask a history buff if that doesn’t mean anything to you, and you get the reference).
So why avoid getting medical care for PTSD if it presents itself? The answer is fear, shame and denial and all those other things we don’t want to talk about. These are still things you can choose to avoid affecting your life. Help is not going to find you, and you will not get better by avoiding it. Take my word on that I did the whole “pretend it isn’t there” thing and it almost ruined my life.
I Got Help And Got Better
I won’t feed you a lie and say it’s not a condition that has gone away forever. But like a person who has high blood pressure, diabetes, or thyroid issues, having the right treatments along with self-awareness and acceptance, I can control my PTSD and keep it from controlling me.
We have to take ownership of this problem and stop waiting for the world to do it for us. If you read this and it is hitting a place that is uncomfortable, then it’s time to have the intestinal fortitude to get better. If those of you like myself, have the courage to take the right steps before it gets out of hand, you can get better too, so join me by taking the first step, and don’t stay quiet! Share this with someone in your life that you know is struggling a bit. No one has to do this alone
– Jeff Adamec