This forum is new to us all, and we think that, for the benefit of everyone, we need to keep comments or questions focused on the post itself. Thanks. BONNIE
Hi again, folks!
Thanks so much for coming back!
(I would promise to make the jokes less corny this week, but I hate making promises I can’t keep)…
As I was saying last week, (I’m repeating myself, but this was my best line so I want to use it again in case you missed it), dealing with PTSD on your own is like trying to fight a war all by yourself, against an enemy you’ve never been trained to fight.
(Good line, right? Aren’t you glad I brought it back for an encore?)
You need to have buddies fighting alongside you, which is why last week I did the used-car-salesman thing about peer support. You also need to KNOW YOUR ENEMY. So, today, I’d like to start giving you the intel you need to kick PTSD’s… ahem, *six*.
(What? You thought I was just going to drone on with the same-old, geeked-out explanation you find everywhere else? Seriously? Ha- gotcha! 🙂
(Folks – this is only my second blog post. I’m still trying to impress you, not bore you to tears…)
The problem with the DSM-IV TR diagnostic criteria for PTSD is that they describe how trauma happens in civi’s. With you folks, PTSD is made up of reflex and your military training, both gone into overdrive.
Most of you have probably heard of the fight-or-flight reflex. If you haven’t, a good basic summary of the body’s physical reactions to a real or imagined threat can be found here.
It’s important to understand that fight-or-flight includes an emotional reaction too.
Fear is part of the fight-or-flight reflex.
Reflex is not a choice.
Your training teaches you that if you feel fear, stuff’s about to go down, get ready to deal with it. You learn to use your fear; not eliminate it.
This is a hugely important point to understand: otherwise, you might feel guilt and shame that, at some crucial moment, you felt fear. You might assume that, if you train hard enough, you shouldn’t feel fear.
Fear is a reflex; we can’t eliminate fear any more than we can make our heart stop beating, or stop ourselves from getting goose bumps when we are cold (also reflexes).
Aside from fear, anger and emotional numbness (feeling nothing) are also part of the fight-or-flight reflex.
Think about it: if you’re exhausted, cold/hot, hungry, hurt, worried about random other stuff, and you have to fight for your survival, all of that other “stuff” just gets in the way. Feeling numb works like a big blanket that gets thrown over all the other feelings, so they don’t distract you.
Anger/rage helps, too: if you’re feeling all that stuff I just listed, and you have to fight for your survival, anger drives your focus and gives you the jolt of energy that you need to get the job done.
Understanding that fear, numbness and anger are part of reflex, which is not a choice, is really important: often, you get stuck going over and over stuff in your head, asking yourself,
“How could I have felt NOTHING?”
“Why did I just freeze up and stand there like a coward?”
“Where did all that rage come from? I just went nuts! What’s wrong with me?”
You do not have a choice in a reflex reaction.
If it’s not your choice, then it’s not fair to blame yourself for it.
Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t work on helping you to control the anger, numbness, and fear that happen with PTSD – we will. But, it’s important to understand where these feelings come from, and to stop punishing yourself for reflex reactions.
What’s that? Did I just hear you mutter that you don’t believe me, and I’m just saying all that nice fluffy stuff to make you feel better? I know – that’s why last week I told you to get some peer support. Neat how I saw that coming, huh?
Okay folks – I just checked the word count, and it said I should stop rambling for this week.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments.
Next week, we’ll talk about the role of your training in contributing to PTSD.
- PTSD FORUM: First Session with Dr. Dee Rajska (homecomingvets.com)
- C-PTSD: Are we afraid of a Ghost? Our own fear mechanism.
REFERENCE:Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.