From the desk of a Veteran: PTSD comes in many forms and affects more than those in combat

Sean Lewis
Special to the Bulletin
sean lewis

Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others. Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame). Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.

This is the clinical definition of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. To put it in more plain speech, PTSD is a condition that Veterans, and other people we'll discuss, could develop as a result of witnessing or being involved with a single or multiple traumatic events. It’s hard to say what comes as a result of PTSD, but quite often it’s not what we see in the movies — the flashbacks, the violence, and the screaming.

Often, it’s the exact opposite. It manifests itself as a change of personality. Veterans who may have been the light of the room in the previous years may instead enjoy the concealment of staying in their homes. Those who used to enjoy staying at home for the evenings may be your new night owl chasing the bar scene. Many people begin to dive themselves into something to suppress the triggers and outbursts. Usually this revolves around becoming a “workaholic” or “gym rat.” These are what are called coping mechanisms.

One of the most asked questions in my office by a loved one of a veteran is, “How do I help with PTSD?” With this, there often isn’t a true answer other than, you don’t. You give them the time and support to find their own way of dealing with it, you encourage them to see professionals, and most importantly, you love them through it. Everyone will deal with this situation and adjust on their terms, so the best thing we can do is be there for him or her with love, support and empathy.

Why does my Veteran not have PTSD? Many Veterans have the ability to witness experiences that would otherwise be a leading cause of PTSD and have no adverse effects. The military often calls this “Battle Minded.” To my understanding, there’s no definitive reason why two people can see the exact same trauma and only one of them be impacted by it. Take this as a blessing that your warrior doesn’t deal with the daily impacts of PTSD.

On a final note, when you hear PTSD, most of us immediately think of Combat Exposure PTSD, only because it’s a major media buzzword, but there are various people from different walks of life with PTSD, ranging from violence, sexual violence, traffic exposure, and a myriad of other trauma. So keep in mind, this disorder can be all around us, not just with our combat Veterans. I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a blessed holiday season.