Throughout the ages, the devastating effects of a haunting illness have affected many people. Post-traumatic stress disorder is "characterized by lingering symptoms including haunting memories and nightmares, a numbed social withdrawal, jumpy anxiety, and insomnia" (Myers 652). "Traumatic stress, experiencing or witnessing severely threatening, uncontrollable events with a sense of fear, helplessness or horror, can produce post-traumatic stress disorder" (Myers 652) otherwise known as PTSD. PTSD is common among war veterans, "fifteen percent of all Vietnam veterans reported PTSD symptoms"(Myers 652), and in the Iraq war, " one in six U.S. soldiers have reported symptoms of PTSD" (Myers 652). Post- traumatic stress is a very serious illness that has effects, not only on the individual, but also on friends and family.
My brother served twenty-four years in the United States Air force. He visited over 53 countries and lived in more than five. He retired as a Master Sergeant. His career field was TACP (tactical air controlling party), which entails calling in aircraft and directing them where to drop bombs. He served in combat during the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict and served two deployments to the post-9/11 Iraq war. After his first deployment to Iraq, he returned home a changed man. He was socially withdrawn, jumpy, and had a greater tendency to become angry. He was not diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until seven years after friends and family had been dealing with the symptoms. My brother is now retired from the Air Force and is currently on eighty percent disability, primarily due to post-traumatic stress.
There are several risk factors and causes for post-traumatic stress disorder. "Issues that tend to put people at higher risk for developing PTSD include increased duration of a traumatic event, higher severity of the trauma experienced, having an emotional condition prior to the event, or having little social support in the form of family or friends"(MedicineNet.com). In wartime, all of these causes for post-traumatic stress are evident. During the first wave of the invasion into Iraq the chaos and destruction is hard to imagine, unless you experienced it first hand. For many solders, the memories of these events still linger in their dreams. My brother, on the few occasions he speaks about it, has told us some of the things he has experienced. He says one of the hardest things to cope with is the knowledge that he was the one who called in and literally "painted a target" on locations or people and the death that followed, he feels, was because of himself. Now, logically he can say it was his job and he had to do it, but it still takes an emotional toll. He spent 12 months in a war-zone; with little communication with the outside world, sub-par living conditions, as well as a constant state of awareness and risk of death. My brother returned home only to do another tour in Iraq less than a year later. Many soldiers are now spending over 16 months in conditions that have improved little in the seven years of war. Post-traumatic stress is now being diagnosed and acknowledged quicker so sufferers can receive the treatment and care required to help cope with this illness. These factors combined are what produced My brother's post-traumatic stress.
Post-traumatic stress is an anxiety disorder. Many symptoms occur when one is suffering from PTSD. With PTSD, there are "triggers" that can cause the victim to "associate with the original trauma"(Schiraldi 17). One can recognize these triggers and "take steps to controlling PTSD"(Schiraldi 17). These triggers can range from visual to physical to aural events. A date can even induce these memories or feelings. Many sufferers of PTSD often experience dissociation. "Dissociation is a defense against extremely distressful, painful experiences" (Schiraldi 20). Dissociation can occur as a coping mechanism to "wall off"(Schiraldi 21) distressing memories or feelings. One of the problems with dissociation that one can become depersonalized, or feeling outside oneself, fatigued, or even irritable; it prevents the healing process because it "keeps us from coming to terms with the walled-off material and prevents us from associating it with mastery and control experiences" (Schiraldi 25). Other symptoms of PTSD are heightened emotional or physical states, fatigue, trembling, nightmares, night terrors, hyperventilation, irritation, moodiness, fear, paranoia, inability to concentrate, hopelessness, avoidance, social withdrawal, memory loss, and can even result in addiction or lack of impulse control (Schiraldi 12-35). With such a wide-rage of severe symptoms that people with PTSD suffer from on a daily basis, it is easy to see why sufferers of this illness often take years or even a lifetime to recover from it.
After My brother's first deployment to Iraq, he returned home with symptoms of PTSD. At first, we did not know what or why the "change" had occurred. He was irritable, moody, and withdrawn. The Air Force said that these were normal symptoms of returning home, and that they would pass after My brother "got used to being back home." Unfortunately, these symptoms never subsided. Throughout the years, it actually became worse. He was sleeping less, the mood swings were almost constant, he eventually became completely withdrawn, and could barley handle daily activities. After his second deployment to Iraq, he was in a constant state of paranoia, anger, and exhibited signs of memory loss. By this time, it was not only family and friends who recognized the progression of the illness, but he himself felt the "change." He confided in family that he "never wanted to go back to that place again and it was time to leave the military." Shortly after, he sought medical attention, was diagnosed with a severe case of PTSD, and retired from the military.
He is now being treated for PTSD. He is on medication and seeing a psychiatrist regularly. The treatment he is receiving does not cure him and may never fully solve the problem but instead it allows him to cope and learn processes to minimize the effects of the illness. When he is on the medication, his symptoms are minimal. His typical symptoms are now, irritability, loss of concentration, and occasionally insomnia. With PTSD, one may suffer from episodes when the treatment relapses and the illness becomes recurs. This is mainly due to triggers. My family has learned to recognize these triggers and attempt to avoid them. For example, if an ex-military member begins to talk about the military or deployments with My brother, it results in an episode. Just recently, an event like this had occurred and for the next month, my brother suffered from night terrors, paranoia, loss of memory, dissociation, irritability, and an inability to concentrate. He got in trouble at his current job, went on a three hour search throughout the neighborhood for a cat that was inside the house and had no recollection on why or where he had been, and he was highly irritable towards family and strangers. PTSD engulfs every aspect of the sufferers lives, it creates a stagnate atmosphere; My brother cannot progress with his "natural" developmental stages because the illness is an overwhelming force. Living with someone with PTSD is a very stressful endeavor on all parties involved. One must constantly watch for symptoms and progression of the illness. One thing that my family has learned from this experience is that the times in between episodes are very important, appreciate the time you have; this knowledge allows us to remember during the episodes, somewhere inside he has not "changed" and he will be back with time.
Glenn R. Schiraldi, PH.D. The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth. Lincolnwood, Illinois. 2000
David G. Myers. Psychology 8th ed. 652-653. Worth Publishers. New York, NY. 2007.
Roxanne Dryden-Edwards M.D. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. MedicineNet.com. N/D. July 5, 2009. www.medicinenet.com/posttrauma…