It’s very frustrating for us living with PTSD. PTSD involves rocketing into extreme states of stress re-activity ( in the form of terror, rage, and uncontrollable impulses) and plunging into equally extreme states of being shut-down (exhaustion, emotional numbing, despair, and dissociation).
From this vantage point, PTSD clearly is about much more than fear and anxiety, involving the full range of emotions and undermining our body’s health, our ability to think clearly, to set and achieve goals, and to fully participate in and benefit from relationships.
All we know is we are safe, we are alive. It becomes all about the loss of self-regulation that occurs when survival dominates how we think, feel, and behave in every area of our life.
PTSD replaces the “me” who was still growing, learning, and becoming a unique person before the trauma(s), leaving only a desperate survivor who may have no clear sense of identity and who may even hate or loathe herself or himself.
But because our thinking kept us safe kept us alive, we honestly do not think we have a problem. To us we aren’t acting nuts, we are acting exactly how we trained. We are military, it’s who we are. Our training, the military way kept us alive. We have to be able to respond to threat with minimal time pondering choices and we don’t use kid gloves. No we go on full attack. So how can our thinking and actions be wrong now?
In our mind we don’t have the problem, the problem is the spouse who cries, who pushes, who nags, who says we need help (which in military world that translates to we are weak). We really think you as the spouse are our problem and the cause for pushing us till our anger explodes. But hey we are military, that is a perfectly acceptable emotion and reaction to have.
I’ve made a list of things I’ve learned over the years or realized from my experience. Many veterans I speak to have expressed to me this list is pretty well right on although it may not be everyone’s experience.
1. We use video games to escape and feel in control of something, that is normal. Don’t fight us on this it will only make things worse. We don’t need a mom telling what to do or trying to punish us by taking it away. Instead try playing a game with us. The point is find something, anything, to get involved with us, and get some communication going. Spending time together even over a video game helps rebuild trust.
2. Lack of intimacy normal due to being numb. Do you have any idea what it’s like to look at your family and not be able to feel anything? It is not about you, it is about us and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It also could probably be contributed to the next point.
3. Anger, yelling, cussing, and reacting before thinking (i.e overreacting or doing stupid things on impulse) The trauma we endure caused physical changes in our brain. The amygdala which controls flight or fight is now always on. We can go from 0-60 in a nanosecond. It is what kept us alive. Every situation is an emergency. We just came back from a place that everyone wanted to kill us and our brothers and sisters are dying right in front of us. Our amygdala can’t tell the difference between Iraq and home. We will not fight with kid gloves on. We are now playing by a different set of rules. (We have to relearn to control it which takes time.)
4. Spending money. Again most of us have this problem. Due to lack of impulse control because of changes in our brain, and well, what’s the point of saving for a future that may never come. Death is in us, we saw our buddies laughing and joking one minute and dead the next.
5. As far as us getting a job. I don’t know many of us with PTSD that can hold down jobs. It freaks us out to be in public. Civilian world is not even in the same universe as military world. An example, I got fired from a job with in the first week. We were moving office furniture and the guys who I was working with were just throwing this furniture on top of each other without putting the protective covering in between the furniture to protect it from damage. So I called them out on it and went to the supervisor to let him know that policy and procedure were not being followed and the potential problems that could cause. In my mind first of all not following rules and regs is completely unacceptable. In the military it’s your ass if something goes wrong and you didn’t follow procedure. That is how people die! But I found out they were not as worried about policy and procedure being followed as they were about the work getting done as fast as possible when they fired me citing I was difficult to work with. And this wasn’t the only job this happened at. Each of them saying, I was difficult to work with.
6. Startle response and having to be in a position to see everything. Most of us with PTSD have a quick reaction to sudden movement and noises and almost always stay on guard and where we can see an entire room. The way I explained it to my wife why she couldn’t sneak up behind me or touch me unexpectedly was like this, hopefully you will be able to understand this way too. I was a MP so I was always armed! On the ship or anywhere we always had to be where we could see everything like in a corner or some place we weren’t exposed. If someone was able to get behind us and we didn’t know about it they could disarm us. So to stay in control we always had to be on guard and make sure no one got close enough to take our weapon. With that if someone (buddy) would come up next us, tap us on the shoulder or on the back and we weren’t expecting it we immediately would go into protect mode and reach for our gun. It was something trained into us and it kept us safe. It is not something you can just turn off.
Just a little insight to our thinking. It has taken me 10 years to start to see a little bit of the work I have put in to retrain my thinking. -Justin Gourley