With the Anniversary of September 11th upon us, I thought it appropriate to write a Blog on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its sister disorder Complex Post Traumatic Disorder (CPTSD).
When you have suffered through a traumatic event in your life of any kind, you have the propensity to develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which are symptoms related to the incident. The Mayo Clinic describes the symptoms of PTSD to include nightmares of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood. If you have suffered through numerous and continual traumatic situations in your life, you can develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). This, as per The Mayo Clinic is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experiences of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape. I liken it to a living Hell.
In addressing these disorders, I will use a segment of our society who suffers from PTSD and CPTSD in the most prevalent and vast numbers. This would be our Veterans. Those drafted and/or volunteered to serve our Country in defense of our rights and way of life that we enjoy today. Because of their defense, we enjoy the privilege to speak our voice and have freedoms that many Countries could not even dream of having.
Many of these precious Veterans come back from their experience of the ravages of war with Complex PTSD. It can ruin their chance of finding gainful employment, wreck their marriage and render them incapable of functioning normally in social situations. I contend with you that for these brave men and women who volunteer and sacrifice on our behalf, to end up with CPTSD because of their efforts, can at times seem a fate worse than death. For these Veterans, and many who suffer CPTSD, we see them turn to addiction to drugs, alcohol, lining our streets as the homeless, forgotten and discarded. Their spouses and families are not willing to put up with or try to understand this “new” person who has returned to them from their experience at war. Friends and family become weary of trying to help them manage their symptoms. Leaving them abandoned to deal with the fallout from living with CPTSD alone. I too suffer from CPTSD, so I am all too familiar with the symptoms. I did not have to go to war to get it. My CPTSD was from a continual assault on me mentally and physically throughout my childhood, by my parents.
Heartbreak is too small a word to use to describe this plight. This goes for anyone with CPTSD. They may have been a Veteran, or sexually abused by a family member for many years. Perhaps they survived a life of sex trafficking, or parents who continually abused them physically and mentally. The difference between CPTSD vs. PTSD, is the CPTSD is a prolonged situation of trauma experienced by the sufferer. In a case like 9/11, this one incident changed the lives of many to acquire PTSD. It was one incident, albeit a major one, meaning they will typically suffer the majority of their symptoms during the time of year when the anniversary rolls around. During the entire season leading up to and after the event they may have trauma symptoms playing out in their mind. They will NEVER get over the trauma left behind of the scourge of 9/11. That is PTSD. The one event that triggered PTSD in their life and mind will be continually associated around that particular trigger. We define a trigger as a stimulus such as a sound, smell or sight that causes feelings of trauma or as a variety of stimulus like visiting a physical location or a stress event. It can occur in many forms. The trigger leads the sufferer back in their mind to the traumatic event(s). For instance, in the case of the suicide of a friend or loved one when the anniversary date comes up on the calendar, you can rest assured that those left behind will go through the same traumatic feelings they experienced during the incident. Flashbacks and trauma also trigger from a similar situation, such as a reminder of the death, or anything that psychologically links their memory to the major incident.
CPTSD is with you always in that it triggers at any time. As CPTSD develops in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma, it can trigger on a weekly or daily basis. It becomes for the victim a lifetime of learning to walk through minefields of triggers that may set them off. My husband told my psychiatrist once, “my wife could trigger herself, alone in a room”. I had to laugh ironically at that statement, as it is the truth. With CPTSD, we can have a memory come over us like a wave and inflict our symptoms in a matter of minutes. Typically, this happens when we are getting over or through a triggering episode and it is the tail end of the time we find ourselves trapped in our minds during the attack. Then yes, I would agree that anything can set us off and makes it very hard to know WHERE or WHEN it will happen. Will it be at the local grocery store? A family gathering? The shower getting ready for work? In my personal experience in living with Complex PTSD, if I am tired, stressed, weakened in any way, I am also more prone to respond to a random trigger.
I hope that I have depicted the difference between PTSD and CPTSD for you. I also hope you may find more empathy for the plight of those, like our Veterans, or those who have suffered severe trauma over time and ended up with CPTSD. I recall the story of a young Mary Kay Consultant who was on my team years ago. She was beautiful, in her early twenties, and had married her high school sweetheart. They were the “perfect” couple, young and in love. After the wedding, he went to serve in the Iraq War. His main task while there was to recover the remains of the soldiers who had been blown to pieces or dismembered by an explosion of some kind. He would go about gathering as many of the remaining body pieces to send home for proper burial to the family. He would scrape human flesh off of the roadway, packaging up the pieces of his fallen comrades. He returned home changed forever by CPTSD. The young couple found themselves hurled into the incapacity to deal or live with his extreme symptoms on a daily basis. It ended their marriage in a tragic divorce. I know not what has become of the couple since, however I will never forget watching what they endured during that time.
What can we do for this insidious onslaught on the mind of a person who has suffered through PTSD/CPTSD? There are many treatments, but most include different types of trauma-focused psychotherapy, along with the use of medication to manage the symptoms. There is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), along with Group Therapy with like-minded victims. The psychiatric medications usually prescribed are Selective Serotonin Re uptake Inhibitor medication (SSRI) and/or mood stabilizers, along with anti-anxiety medication. Many Veterans I know use “medical” marijuana, and at times other more severe drugs such as heroin, to manage their symptoms. Alcohol abuse is another way people use to drown out the symptoms. Unfortunately, if the victim is combining the use of psych medications, alcohol, and recreational drugs, it can end in a perfect storm of suicide. I believe that some of the suicides are intentional while others are accidental, in an attempt to make the pain go away. If the family, friends, someone who cares and loves them and understands their plight does not support the sufferer, suicide often seems like the only solution for the victim.
This Blog may come across as having a hopeless and dark tone to it. Rightfully so, as it is my opinion that society has (once again) thrown up their hands in a helpless stance of not knowing what to do with those of us who are suffering with these disorders. Our website theme is to “Empathize, Educate and Advocate” on behalf of those suffering from various types of mental disorders. I wanted to write this in an attempt to help the sufferer and the family members and loved ones who suffer on a day to day basis, just trying to get through.
My personal experience and observation is those who get actively involved in any type of movement to help others who deal with PTSD or Complex PTSD, helps the sufferer. By assisting the PTSD suffer to learn to cope and deal with their symptoms they learn there are others out there suffering as they do, which is somewhat of a comfort. To be able to cry in the arms of someone who has gone through a similar trauma situation is bonding and therapeutic to both individuals. I think of those who lost loved ones during 9/11 and how have many grouped together to form a coalition of support to others who suffered greatly from the fallout in the months and years after the event. By sharing their experiences and stories, it helped in the healing process. For those of us who suffer, just to be able to talk and get our feelings out amongst people who understand or who have been through the same situation is very cathartic.
The following are some resources relevant to helping those going through PTSD or CPTSD:
PTSD: National Center for PTSD, this is for Veterans, General Public and Family & Friends
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Wounded Warrior Project and the Warrior Care Network 1-800-342-9647
Outreach Center for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury 1-866-966-1020
NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness - founded in 1979 and branches exist throughout the USA.
Dr. John A King and his many Books (Deal With It) and Foundation helps with CPTSD
Give Them A Voice (nonprofit organization) http:www.drjohnaking,com/
There are MANY other resources out there to explore and utilize. This is an ongoing, lifelong process and journey. Always remember,
I am with you on the Journey, Alice