When I was a practicing therapist working with PTSD and trauma survivors probably the number question my clients addressed was the fear that they were going ‘nuts’. I assured them that if they were sane enough to ask that question that they were not going nuts. If they were sane enough to know that there were some irregularities in their behaviors or actions then they most definitely were not crazy. If they were running around wearing swim fins at the local Wal-Mart thinking that everyone else was wear odd footwear, then there might be an issue which needed to be addressed. PTSD is a perfectly NORMAL reaction to a perfectly ABNORMAL situation.
There are some events in life that if there were no residual side effects then there definitely would be cause for concern. People cannot go through some life events such as war, combat, domestic abuse, firefighting, police work or other significant event such as these and not have some left over results. I am glad that within the professional PTSD community that people are realizing that PTSD does NOT require having a gun pointed at your head in order to develop PTSD. PTSD is a result of intense stress and stress is a form of fear. The fact that the individual lived through the stress causing event does not mean nearly as much as the reactions within the brain of flashbacks of the event and the fear of not living through the numerous scenarios that are spawned by the event. It is quite often the ‘what if’ scenarios that later cause more damage to the individual than the actual event.
There is the reality of the ‘pressure cooker’ effect. A person does not have to have a singular event to develop PTSD. I would be amaze at the stupidity of the Department of Veteran Affairs giving my combat clients a stack of papers to fill out and asking them to describe ‘the event’. In many cases the ‘event’ was that they entered boot camp on a certain date, landed ‘in country’ on another date, ‘freedom bird’ out on a different date, and landed back home on another date…..PICK ONE! It was the misconception that kept many honorable people from seeking help for their PTSD because since they did not have an ‘event’ then it was impossible for them to have had PTSD. This type of misunderstanding the various aspects of PTSD has been a major disservice to many of our service persons as well as other survivors of trauma.
I keep including other trauma survivors because combat veteran with PTSD needs to realize that they are not unique or alone. It is the sense of being unique or different that fosters the connotation of being ‘nuts’. But if the combat veteran is able to realize that he or she is simply experience a biological reaction to intense and long term exposure to stress/anxiety that they can realize that they are not alone. The sense of being totally alone in their own mixed up world is what gives way to the unbearable sense of despair. There is the overwhelming feeling that if no one can understand what they are experiencing then there cannot be anyone who is able to care. The reality is that there is a huge family of PTSD SURVIVORS! It is possible to live WITH PTSD and not just simply tolerate the experience.
The fact that a person has PTSD is actually a major compliment. The fact that they have survived that which was able to create the condition known as PTSD shows a level of resilience and stubbornness that would have reduced lesser men and women to emotional rubble. They have survived. They have survived because they ARE survivors. Likewise, they will CONTINUE to survive as they are able to pull together and find that they are not alone, odd, nuts, unlovable, nor unique. They are all a part, a significant part, of a much larger family of survivors.