This day is that awareness day, next month is this other awareness month, this color ribbon is for this or that, and we float through life hoping that these little acknowledgements help those living the represented trials know we are thinking of them. But are we? We place a yellow ribbon on our cars with heavy thoughts of our troops and, as the yellow fades and cracks, our thoughts turn back to our everyday lives leaving us absolved because of a deteriorating sticker.
We all do it in one way or another about things that don’t touch us personally and that is okay. Each of us should count ourselves lucky for all the ribbons and days we can think about only in passing. There is no shame in this. For all we don’t carry, we each also have those things we do.
So with June being PTSD awareness month, I wanted to help people who aren’t touched by the issue to have a little extra insight especially considering about 8% of the population of the United States will have PTSD in a given year. Within the veteran population that percentage is considerably higher, but PTSD doesn’t care where or how trauma happens.
I also wanted to make sure those out there who are touched by PTSD know they are not alone.
My husband has post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD for short. He has battled it since before I met him. I have scoffed these recent years after becoming very acquainted with PTSD at it being called an invisible wound. My knowledge of the disorder is far deeper than the surface belief that without blood there is no physical manifestation of an injury. I am not alone in this knowledge. My husband has a multitude of physical ailments stemming form his PTSD that make his days difficult. They are visible and very real.
On the Courage Beyond website, we have tried to create a list of symptoms on our Identifying PTSD page but this is by no means a complete list. PTSD manifests itself in so many different ways it is hard to really create a comprehensive list.
I cannot speak for the whole community, but when I think about creating awareness around my husband’s PTSD what I most want is for people to understand our boundaries and to not tiptoe around us like we are ticking. We don’t want pity. We don’t want sympathy. Though he wears his bad days on his face, we have a wonderful life and as hard as PTSD is to deal with we choose to try and not use it as an excuse. We pick up and live as much as we can.
Do we have really bad days when coping becomes difficult? Yes, we do, just like everyone else does. Those days we hunker down, lick our wounds, and ask our friends to hang tight while we get back up to speed.
I know there is a certain level of fear surrounding PTSD and the belief that veterans with it snap but it’s simply not true. Yes, we deal with suicidal ideations on a semi-regular basis but I’m really good at talking him down. Yes, he has extreme emotional moments but he has never once yelled at me, or struck me or anyone else. Yes, he has flashbacks but he has never once been violent toward anyone while experiencing one. If someone was violent or not very nice before they had PTSD, PTSD will not fix those qualities. It may magnify them, but it is not the cause of them. PTSD does not automatically make someone a saint or absolve them from their actions.
PTSD is no reason to look at or interact with someone differently but there are a few pieces of advice I can give. If a buddy is startled easily, give him or her a little casual warning when you realize something loud, like a motorcycle starting, is about to happen. If a friend is withdrawing, give them space but don’t forget to check on them periodically. Those who are alone are at risk during solitary moments. If plans get canceled, try not to get annoyed. Some days, it’s all but impossible for someone with PTSD to leave the safety of their home. Be flexible.
And keep our crisis line in your phone – 866.781.8010. If a buddy needs help, insist they take the number down.
In the end we want everyone to remember that the goal of awareness is to create understanding so that when PTSD limits what we can do or deal with, our friends, our tribe, our community will know when to step back and wait for us and when to stick out a hand to help us get back on track.
written by Christine Cain