As a co-founder of and working with Embracing Our Veterans, a local 501c3 public charity Embracing Our Veterans and by work I mean volunteering my time, I have the opportunity to speak with many veterans from all eras. One conversation has continued to play in my head lately.
A young man, Army veteran, called to see how he could volunteer his time to help us. As a combat veteran who lives with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), he shared with me that it helps him to help other veterans, it keeps him grounded. We talked for quite some time and found, even though we both had very different military experiences and a 15 year age difference, we had many things in common when it comes to wanting to help others and the reasons why.
This young man was discussing his struggle to live with PTSD. One thing he shared was that certain holidays are more bothersome to him due to fireworks. He simply stated ?Kim, my neighbor?s 10 minutes of loud fun is my daily nightmare, they just don?t get it.? That honest and straightforward statement struck me.
We discussed other aspects of living with PTSD. How it is different for each person who lives with it, but many of the factors are the same.
Here are a few statistics taken from the Veterans Administration website:
Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 (or 60%) of men and 5 of every 10 (or 50%) of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury.
Going through a trauma does not mean you’ll get PTSD, though. Even though over half of us go through some type of trauma, a much smaller percent develop PTSD.
Here are some facts (based on the U.S. population):
About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
About 10 of every 100 (or 10%) of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 (or 4%) of men. Learn more about women, trauma and PTSD. (www.ptsd.va.gov)
Now let me share with you a day of a person who lives with PTSD. In this case, it is a veteran.
It?s a normal day. Get up, go to work, run some errands, go home, etc. We all have those days. Our ?regular? lives, just a ?normal? day.
Another normal day comes along, nothing is different from the day before. You didn?t sleep well, but then again, you really never do. You wake up and begin to feel a tightness in your chest. You recognize it and work to find the trigger; or what caused it. It may be a song on the radio, a car horn, a siren, a smell, a person. The tight feeling in your chest stays with you as you start your day. You take deep breaths to try to relieve the pressure. Deep breathing doesn?t work and your hands begin to shake; just small shakes, barely noticeable by anyone but yourself. You clench and unclench your hands, working to stop the shaking. The pressure continues to stay in your chest and you squeeze your fists tighter, but you maintain. You get through the work day, all the while fighting off that pressure and masking it with a smile. No one has any idea the struggle that is taking place.
You return home; your safe place where you can typically breathe, but this day you cannot. The pressure in your chest continues and your breath comes in short spurts. The battle is on. Thoughts start to play their part in this battle, thoughts such as ?you really aren?t worth of much? and ?look at yourself?what good could anyone see in you? You are not worth anyone?s effort.?
The thoughts become a major player in this battle, making the tightness in your chest even tighter. You find yourself on your knees. You begin crying, even sobbing and yet you are not aware of it. Time stands still. You are stuck in that dark place with nothing but your own thoughts, fears, anger, guilt, anxiety and sense of being worthless.
You know you have to reach out to someone, but who should you call? Who would care? You NEED to hear another human voice, regardless of what they are talking about, you need that connection. You fight your own insecurity, humble yourself and reach out to call someone. No answer. You call another person, no answer. You call one more person, no answer. Everyone is busy living their own lives. No one has any idea you are stuck in a pit of darkness on your knees on the floor waging a battle that has been buried for years, yet rears its ugly head when you least expect it.
You have no idea how long you have been on the floor, but now you can breathe again and you are thankful. You pull yourself up, take a deep breath and realize you made it through this one. You are exhausted, but tell yourself, ?ok?that was a bad one but I beat it back again.? You ?suck it up? and keep on keeping on, head to bed, fall into an exhausted sleep to awake in the morning and begin a new day. You can breathe.
This is just one scenario. Each person, be it a veteran or anyone else who has suffered or witnessed a trauma and lives with PTSD, may experience different symptoms, some more severe than others with much different outcomes.
It is vital to seek help. PTSD is not a battle that needs to be fought alone. There are many organizations and counselors available to help and guide a person in the right direction.
I regularly hear from veterans who live with PTSD or family members who are calling on behalf of a loved one they are concerned about. I immediately state I am not a counselor but I can provide names and numbers of trained professionals who can help. So often, the person I am speaking with is so relieved to just have a number to call, a place or person to turn to. It is their small light at the end of the tunnel.
I?ve heard people say that veterans with PTSD are ?crazy? or PTSD is stated in a tone of voice that seems derogatory.
I often wonder if those people with their judgement have their own battles they fight. I wonder if they have taken even one minute to think of what a veteran with PTSD has gone through.
When I meet someone and they share that they have PTSD, I have an immediate empathy for that person. I live with it myself. I may not know what another goes through, but I have a small idea and am able to connect with that person. I view that person, not as someone who is weak or ?crazy?, but as an individual who is courageous and strong, because I know that they have battles that are waged and won and no one else knows about. They carry heavy scars that are not visible and yet are some of the most giving and bighearted people I know. I often pray that their journey becomes a more peaceful one.
If you would like to learn more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, you can start by visiting www.ptsd.va.gov.
May God Bless America and all those who have fought for our country and continue to fight their own personal battles.