Dr. Dee Rajska is back to continue with her contributions to this forum about PTSD. Please remember that, for the benefit of everyone, we need to keep comments or questions focused on the post itself. Thanks. BONNIE
Hi again, folks!
I know, I know… My last blog entry said I’d be back “next week” – and that was a month ago. Yikes…
Rest assured, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the dog ate my homework.
Nope – I’m going to blame my husband instead. And my sinuses.
He brought home a bad cold; I caught it and kicked it up a notch, to a full-blown sinus infection …
Didya miss me? 😉
Last time, I was saying that:
PTSD = survival reflex + military training, both gone into overdrive.
You vaguely remember me droning on about some of that stuff, right?
How we’re all hard-wired with a reflex, called fight-or-flight, that kicks in when we need to respond to potential threats?
Still doesn’t ring a bell?
It’s okay, go ahead and cheat to refresh your memory right here.
The fight-or-flight reflex is an innate response to a threat; your military training adds on to this, to make you more effective at responding to threats.
Here’s some examples of how:
– Being aware of your surroundings at all times, and to react immediately to sudden changes in your environment.
– Maintaining control of your weapon and your gear at all times, so you’re not running around looking for stuff in an emergency.
– Mastering emotional control – the military doesn’t exactly encourage getting in touch with your feelings… Your emotions are limited to:
- Fear – fear is a reflex; no amount of training will eliminate fear. Training teaches you to use fear: when you feel it, you immediately scan your environment, identify the threat, and respond appropriately.
- Anger/rage provides a jolt of energy and a focus on neutralizing the enemy;
- Numbness drowns out all other emotions. In a combat situation, all other feelings may be a liability that leaves you or your buddies vulnerable.
Okay – we agree that these skills come in pretty handy in a combat zone?
(If not – we’re up for a really interesting discussion this week…)
Now, here’s the problem: your skills don’t come with an “off” switch.
So, when you get home:
– You may feel a need to monitor your environment at all times. This is what makes it difficult to cope with crowds, like at a concert or a shopping mall. You may also have a hard time keeping your attention on any one thing for a length of time: the way it works is you can either scan everything, or you can sustain focus on just one thing.
– Keeping track of where you put all your stuff is a combat skill. At home, you might overreact if someone moves your things from where you left them.
– Emotional control may lead loved ones to comment that you’re cold, aloof, and distant. You may feel disconnected from others, misunderstood, and lonely.
– In a combat zone, fear is a signal of danger. Back home, fear may be triggered by reminders of danger, or just by a passing thought of “what if?” going through your head. When you can’t identify a clear threat, your training doesn’t give you a protocol for how to respond – it’s like your brain thinks that there must be a threat because the fear signal says so, and if you can’t spot it, then you feel vulnerable and defenseless, unable to consider the possibility that you might actually be safe.
My point is to illustrate that you’re not “crazy”; you’re not “messed up”; you’re not weak, you’re not a failure, you’re not a loser. (Hey – of the stuff I’ve heard some of you guys call yourself, these are the less colourful terms that I can actually put in print…)
What you are is a warrior out of context.
A lot of these “symptoms” are actually your warrior skills – skills that probably saved your bacon, and that of your buddies, time and time again when you were “over there.” They just don’t come with an “off” switch.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that these skills don’t come with an “off” switch – because of your training, they actually come with a switch that kicks them into high gear.
Military culture values personal accountability – you are accountable for doing your job to a very high standard. You expect yourself to have it together; your buddies, your superiors, and your subordinates expect the same.
In a combat zone, there’s no room for error – there’s no do-overs, no, “sorry guys, I was daydreaming, can we try that again?”. Um, *no*. If a mission is 53% accomplished, you don’t get a cute animal sticker and a chance to improve your grade on a make-up test next week.
So – you may have difficulty accepting anything less than perfection of yourself.
Now think of what happens when perfectionism collides with PTSD:
- You’re having symptoms that you can’t control;
- Because of these symptoms, you’re not able to perform to your usual standards;
- And – you expect yourself to be perfect.
Folks, that combination isn’t pretty: you end up feeling ashamed and guilty, feeling like a failure, telling yourself to man up and get it together.
Basically, you’re yelling at yourself to solve a problem that you don’t know how to solve. You feel helpless and angry, like you want to throw in the towel. Except – here comes your training again – giving up isn’t exactly encouraged in the military either.
You get stuck in what seems like a no-win situation.
Which is why you’re here.
The more you understand how your symptoms work and where they come from, the less they freak you out when they happen, and the less you blame yourself for symptoms that are based on reflex, and not a failure on your part.
Letting go of blaming yourself for things over which you have no direct control is really, really important – and I will discuss this again in the future.
Notice that I learned my lesson and said “future” rather than “next week” – because my husband is going on a business trip, and you never know, he may bring home the bubonic plague or something… You think I should tell him to skip the souvenir shop this time? 😉
As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.
REFERENCE:Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
- PTSD FORUM with Dr. Dee Rajska (homecomingvets.com)
- PTSD FORUM: First Session with Dr. Dee Rajska (homecomingvets.com)
- Series: A Veteran’s Point of View on PTSD or OSI. Part 4 (homecomingvets.com)
- PTSD FORUM with Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych – Post 2 (homecomingvets.com)
- Series: A Veteran’s Point of View on PTSD or OSI. Part 3 (homecomingvets.com)
- Boston marathoners, bystanders may suffer from PTSD (usnews.nbcnews.com)
- BREAKING NEWS: Treating PTSD with medical marijuana could curb veteran suicides (homecomingvets.com)
- How one vet copes with PTSD (stripes.com)
- Detained child has PTSD symptoms (theage.com.au)
- What Is PTSD? How To Cope With PTSD? (americanlivewire.com)