MENDING PTSD SERIES FOR VETS: Traveling Back from a Traumatic Breakdown

After deep consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the best way veterans can help each other is to share what works for them in dealing with PTSD, a common term today to cover many things. Those suffering from this condition need to know there is hope, and one thing that has worked has been veterans helping each other, by meeting together, sharing their experiences and supporting each other.

Since this is a national blog, it’s difficult to create an actual location for everyone to meet and hug, but it is a means where we can share our experiences in writing. I’m pleased to introduce Dan Slack, CD1, Sergeant (Retired), who has agreed to lead this self-help forum. I have tried asking psychiatrists and therapists to volunteer information for this venture, but so far none have offered. As always, we venture forth on our own. SO, please keep in mind, that what you read here are the results of each contributor’s personal experience, not their professional advice. What we want to know is how did they achieve a positive recovery from such a devastating mental state? BONNIE

Living with PTSD and Surviving

by Dan Slack, CDI
Sergeant (Retired)

DISCLAIMER: Dan Slack is not a medical professional

PART ONE: Background

I was asked to write this and share my self-help tips to aid in your recovery from Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD).

I was a Canadian Forces member for 26 years and suffered from Major Depression, Anxiety Disorder and PTSD. I am now the Head Operations Officer for an organization called the United Federation of Canadian Veterans.

I retired in 2008 at the rank of Sergeant.

I suffered from these conditions for many years and found with the right mindset and training you can pull yourself out of your funk and lead a happy and productive life.

My Story

I was deployed overseas in 2000, and returned a different person. I was diagnosed and pensioned from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) for Operational Stress Disorder in 2003, not necessary to specify which one. I became introverted and withdrawn, unhappy, thoughts of suicide, no love, just hate and very controlling. My world needed to be controlled so I felt safe, I like to refer to that time as my Dr. Jackal and Mr. Hyde phase. During this period between 2000 and 2007, my ex-spouse, my children and I went to counselors for various counseling such as anger management. We also went to three marriage counselors, social workers, Pathways for kids counseling, physiologists, physiatrists, family counselors, and school counselors. The kids (3) have all been assessed with learning disabilities. Because of problems in school, Children’s Aid Society (CAS) counselors have provided the kids (2) with three different tutors to assist them with their schooling and the list goes on.

I was put on medication for my condition in 2003 and it has took until the end of 2006 to get the right combination of medication to get me back to my old thinking, as a rational and focused person that I can live with. I still have problems with my short-term memory and temperament, sometimes around certain people and in some situations, but overall I’m not too bad. Today I can control Mr. Hyde.

My wife left me December 2005 because our marriage had deteriorated to a state where she was depressed and felt there was more to life then hanging around being controlled and unloved. She felt trapped in a loveless relationship.

So enough about me.

Let’s talk about the conditions and what you can do about getting you to your old self and where you want to be. Remember your recovery is all about you and if you want to make the changes, you can. It all depends on your attitude and where you want to be in life.

First of all, let’s look at the conditions, and I will stick to the major topic: PTSD.

What is PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that follows a terrifying event. Often, people with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb,  especially with people they were once close to. PTSD, once referred to as  shell shock, battle fatigue or combat trauma, was first brought to public attention by war veterans, but it can result from any number of traumatic incidents. These include kidnapping, serious accidents such as car or train wrecks, natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes, violent attacks such as a mugging, rape, or torture, or being held captive. The event that triggers it may be something that threatened the person’s life or the life of someone close to him or her. Or it could be something witnessed, such as mass destruction after a plane crash.Whatever the source of the problem, some people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections during the day. They may also experience sleep problems, depression, feeling detached or numb, or being easily startled. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy and have trouble feeling affectionate. They may feel irritable, more aggressive than before, or even violent. Seeing things that remind them of the incident may be very distressing, which could lead them to avoid certain places or situations that bring back those memories. Anniversaries of the event are often very difficult.

PTSD can occur at any age, including childhood. The disorder can be   accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or anxiety. Symptoms may be mild or severe—people may become easily irritated or have violent outbursts. In severe cases, they may have trouble working or socializing. In general, the   symptoms seem to be worse if the event that triggered them was initiated by a   person—such as a rape, as opposed to a flood.

Ordinary events can serve as reminders of the trauma and trigger flashbacks or intrusive images. A flashback may make the person lose touch with reality and re-enact the event for a period of seconds or hours or, very rarely, days. A person having a flashback, which can come in the form of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, usually believes that the traumatic event is happening all over again.

Not every traumatized person gets full-blown PTSD, or experiences PTSD at all. PTSD is diagnosed only if the symptoms last more than a month. In those who do have PTSD, symptoms usually begin within three months of the   trauma, and the course of the illness varies. Some people recover within six   months; others have symptoms that last much longer. In some cases, the   condition may be chronic. Occasionally, the illness doesn’t show up until   years after the traumatic event.

Quick Facts

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extremely debilitating condition that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm was threatened or occurred. Traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults such as rape or mugging, natural or manmade disasters, car accidents, or military combat.

Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal. Despite this avoidant behavior, many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories,   nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to   events or objects reminiscent of the trauma. Symptoms of PTSD also include   emotional numbness and sleep disturbances (including insomnia), depression, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also   common. PTSD is diagnosed only if these symptoms last more than one month.

Fortunately, through research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), effective treatments have been developed to help people with PTSD.

How Common Is PTSD?

About 4% of the population will experience symptoms of PTSD in a given   year.

When Does PTSD Strike?

PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood. Symptoms of PTSD   typically begin within three months following a traumatic event, although   occasionally symptoms do not begin until years later. Once PTSD develops, the duration of the illness varies. Some people recover within six months, while   others may suffer much longer.

What Treatments Are Available for PTSD?

Treatment for PTSD includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, group   psychotherapy, and medications (including antidepressants). Various forms of exposure therapy (such as systemic desensitization and imaginal flooding)   have all been used with PTSD patients. Exposure treatment for PTSD involves   repeated reliving of the trauma, under controlled conditions, with the aim of   facilitating the processing of the trauma.

Can People with PTSD Also Have Other Physical or Emotional Illnesses?

People with PTSD can also have other psychological difficulties, particularly depression, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. The likelihood of treatment success is increased when these other conditions are appropriately diagnosed and treated, as well.


Many people with anxiety disorders can be helped with treatment. Therapy for anxiety disorders often involves medication or specific forms of   psychotherapy.

Medications, although not cures, can be very effective at relieving anxiety   symptoms. Today, thanks to research by scientists at NIMH and other research institutions, there are more medications available than ever before to treat   anxiety disorders. So, if one drug is not successful, there are usually others to try. In addition, new medications to treat anxiety symptoms are under   development.

For most of the medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, the doctor usually starts the patient on a low dose and gradually increases it to the full dose. Every medication has side effects, but they usually become tolerated or diminish with time. If side effects become a problem, the doctor may advise the patient to stop taking the medication and to wait a week—or longer for certain drugs—before trying another one. When treatment is near an end, the doctor will taper the dosage gradually.

Research has also shown that behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy can be effective for treating several of the anxiety disorders.

Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several   techniques to decrease or stop unwanted behavior. For example, one technique trains patients in diaphragmatic breathing, a special breathing exercise   involving slow, deep breaths to reduce anxiety. This is necessary because   people who are anxious often hyperventilate, taking rapid shallow breaths   that can trigger rapid heartbeat, light headedness, and other symptoms.   Another technique—exposure therapy—gradually exposes patients to what   frightens them and helps them cope with their fears.

Like behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to react differently to the situations and bodily sensations that trigger panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms. However, patients also learn to understand how their thinking patterns contribute to their symptoms and how to change their thoughts so that symptoms are less likely to occur. This awareness of thinking patterns is combined with exposure and other behavioral techniques to help people confront their feared situations. For example, someone who becomes lightheaded during a panic attack and fears he is going to die can be helped with the following approach used in cognitive-behavioral therapy. The therapist asks him to spin in a circle until he becomes dizzy. When he becomes alarmed and starts thinking, “I’m going to die,” he learns to replace that thought with a more appropriate one, such as:  “It’s just a little dizziness—I can handle it.”

PART TWO NEXT: How PTSD Affects the Brain


About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, caregivers, depression, emotional trauma, estrangement from family, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs, VRAB and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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