As this Memorial Day Weekend arrives, many of us have plans for the holiday. There will be graduations … cookouts … and vacations. Flags will flutter in the breeze. Countless parades and ceremonies will honor those who have died, while serving in our Armed Forces. Speeches will recall the many acts of valor. And patriotism will surely swell in our hearts. If you have a loved one in uniform, it’s blessed relief to just embrace them on U.S. soil. Most of us can relate to that moment. We have been there, with a loved one. We know the joy. They’re home. They’re safe and sound. But for many vets, the war comes home with them. And it stays … for months … even years. It becomes a way of life that requires courage and tenacity.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has been known by a variety of names, over the years. Once thought to be solely combat-related, we now know that individuals who have never served in the military can have the illness too. PTSD may develop after any terrifying ordeal that involves physical harm, the threat of harm, or even witnessing it happening to someone else. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder strikes, indiscriminately –regardless of age, race, or gender. Over 7M Americans live with the diagnosis. But this isn’t an illness confined to one country. It’s global.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the statistics for PTSD vary from one war/conflict to the next. Almost 31% of Vietnam vets have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The number drops among those who served in the Gulf War (Desert Storm) to 10% and rises slightly among Afghanistan veterans (11%). Around 20% of Iraqi War veterans have been diagnosed. Still there appears to be no way to gauge who, or how many, will be affected. One might even call PTSD an expected casualty. Those who have been diagnosed are brave, well-trained vets. They have served our nation. They did their duty, honorably. But when they returned home, the war came with them. It wasn’t planned that way, or wanted. Yet, that is the reality. And PTSD can be accompanied by additional illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, substance abuse.
Patients who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder know the symptoms, all too well. The more common ones are nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, etc. They may sometimes feel on edge, too. It’s common for them to often avoid situations or places that remind them of what they experienced. It is a way of coping. Knowing what triggers their PTSD symptoms is important, i.e. fireworks. Think of it like a diabetic avoiding the foods that spike their sugar levels. PTSD patients, like a diabetic, are managing their condition.
Some Post Traumatic Stress patients have relationship problems. Their symptoms can cause issues with trust, closeness, communication, sometimes even problem solving. Others have no difficulty in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. They’re rather good at it. As with any illness, no two PTSD patients are alike.
If your loved one has PTSD, then you have probably established a good support system. If not, you should encourage them to do so. Some may want to join a Peer Support Group. These groups are accessible, nationwide. Most meet in person, but some do so online. Those who live with PTSD need to stay connected to family and friends. They need to talk openly and honestly about their illness, as well as their feelings. All we have to do is be there and listen. Support systems are vital to anyone living with a Chronic illness. That includes Post Traumatic Stress. It enables them to enjoy life … relax … have fun … and live each day to the fullest. In other words, it’s healthy!
There are some negative stigmas that society has attached to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wish that I could say otherwise, but it happens with most chronic illnesses. This one isn’t immune. When people are uninformed, they react differently. Sometimes, they even react badly. It happens. That’s why facts and awareness are key. PTSD is a medical condition. It’s just that simple.
Those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shouldn’t be defined by their illness. They have many strengths, i.e. leadership abilities, creativity, job skills, etc. The more you know, the more surprised you may be by their accomplishments. These individuals are our sons, fathers, mothers, daughters, husbands, volunteers, neighbors and friends. They make positive contributions to our society as artists, journalists, authors, nurses, doctors, teachers, businessmen, businesswomen, etc. There are athletes, in the mix. First Responders and passionate activists are there, too. You’ll even find individuals with PTSD sitting in elected office. Thank you to all of them. Their perseverance is part of what makes America the resilient, steadfast nation that it has always been. May God bless each and every one of them.
* Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash