Picture this: You're sound asleep in bed next to your spouse, when you are startled awake by a yell for help, or hyperventilating or a simple cry out. Your spouse is there shaking, unable to catch their breath. You roll over, rub their back and try to comfort them as best you can. All the while you know deep down, there is nothing you can do to make it better for them.
Tears sting your eyes and you wrap your arms around them and pray you will both be able to find sleep again, and crossing your fingers it's the only nightmare that rips them from their slumber that night.
This is a reality for many who live with someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Nightmares are just one aspect of what it's like to live with PTSD. It is a complex disorder which some people develop after they experience or witness a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster or sexual assault. PTSD affects between 11 and 20% of military members who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Finding Freedom in a given year. It affects 12% of Gulf War Veterans in a given year, and 15% of Vietnam Veterans are currently diagnosed with PTSD, while up to 30% have had PTSD in their lifetime.
There are many different symptoms that go along with PTSD. The most common ones are:
- Reliving the event (re-experiencing symptoms):
- Avoiding situations and/or people that may trigger memories of the traumatic event.
- Negative changes in beliefs and/or feelings:
- The way you think about yourself and others changes due to the trauma.
- You may not be able to have positive or loving feelings towards others and may stay away from relationships.
- You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about it.
- You may think the world is dangerous and no one can be trusted.
- Feeling keyed up (hyperarousal):
- Jittery, or always on alert and/or on the lookout for danger
- You have a hard time sleeping.
- You have trouble concentrating.
- You are startled by loud noises or surprises.
- You need to have your back to the wall in a restaurant or waiting room.
- You suddenly become angry or irritable.
PTSD affects each individual differently. You may experience some or all of the symptoms listed above.
One of the hardest parts of living with PTSD, or living with someone with PTSD for that matter, is the not knowing. You can never know when the nightmares will rear their head, or when one of the other symptoms might be triggered. You do everything you can to avoid situations and other things that might trigger it, but sometimes the PTSD sneaks through. Sometimes there is simply nothing you can do to keep it from creeping into your everyday life and turning it upside down. One might say that it comes and bites you, and you have no control when that will be.
June 27 has been set aside as PTSD Awareness Day. It is one day set up to bring awareness to this disorder and how much it affects the lives of military members, their families, and others who have suffered traumatic experiences. Awareness should be raised and attention paid to this growing issue every day. There are still countless military members suffering in silence out of fear of stigma, judgement, and career effects from their PTSD. Anyone who is living with PTSD should feel that they are able to reach out for help, and know that they will find a hand waiting to pick them up.
There is help and treatment available for PTSD. You are not alone. The military and the VA have treatment options available to you as well as help for your loved ones. Visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website for more information on PTSD and the help that is available to you. You can also visit or call the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255) for more support.
If you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD or is in crisis, reach out today and get help, because you are not alone.