Imagine going through or witnessing something so horrible, terrifying, and outside of our typical experiences, that you cannot seem to get over the fear. It begins to consume you, dominating your thoughts, changing your mood and ability to concentrate on your daily routine. Imagine lying awake, sometimes night after night, afraid to go to sleep despite being exhausted. You don’t want to be defenseless in the dark because if you are asleep you can’t hear every noise. Or, maybe you don’t want to sleep because you don’t want to have another nightmare that is so real you have trouble remembering it is not. Going to sleep means you might have another nightmare.
Imagine finding it difficult to go out with your friends because there is too much noise, too many people, too much of what feels like chaos to you. You may try to go, but end up feeling anxious to the point you are not having any fun. You become angry because everyone else seems to think the “chaos” is fun, and you can’t understand why they are not recognizing the dangers that you are clearly seeing. It becomes easier to just stay home, but that feels terrible, too. Imagine living in a very small world, often at home alone, afraid to go out, afraid to stay in.
This is what it is like for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, as it is commonly called. While PTSD is not unique to veterans of the military (think Murrah Building survivors, May 3, 1999 tornado survivors, rape victims, accident victims, etc). It is a major issue for our returning men and women. Statistics inform us that around 30-35 percent of combat veterans experience PTSD, but the numbers may be higher. Survivors of traumatic events often try to ignore their symptoms, or don’t want to appear weak to others. Survivors may feel isolated and alone, not believing that others could understand their fears. Perhaps worst of all, survivors may believe that they cannot be helped; that their symptoms are forever.
But there IS hope and there ARE treatments that work. These treatments are offered at the VA and in the community. Evidence-based therapies like cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), and other talk therapies have been shown to be effective.
Medication therapy can help mood control, nightmare management and anxieties, all without serious side effects or addiction potential. New therapies like Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) are being tested and are showing great early promise. For some, inpatient treatment programs are required and provide an intensive whole-body approach to healing. After the inpatient stay, outpatient follow-up provides maintenance and support in continuing recovery. VA is on the cutting edge of providing safe and effective treatments for PTSD. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, get help. Seek a professional. There is hope.
—By Beth Jeffries,
Psychologist Eastern Oklahoma
VA Health Care System