Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
While you can develop symptoms of PTSD in the hours or days following a traumatic event, sometimes symptoms don’t surface for months or even years after you return from deployment. While PTSD develops differently in each veteran, there are four symptom clusters:
Recurrent, intrusive reminders of the traumatic event, including distressing thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks where you feel like the event is happening again. You may experience extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the trauma such as panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking, and heart palpitations
Extreme avoidance of things that remind you of the traumatic event, including people, places, thoughts, or situations you associate with the bad memories. This includes withdrawing from friends and family and losing interest in everyday activities
Negative changes in your thoughts and mood, such as exaggerated negative beliefs about yourself or the world and persistent feelings of fear, guilt, or shame. You may notice a diminished ability to experience positive emotions.
Being on guard all the time, jumpy, and emotionally reactive, as indicated by irritability, anger, reckless behavior, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and hypervigilance.
FAMILIES AND PTSD
When a loved one returns from military service with PTSD, it can take a heavy toll on your relationship and family life. You may have to take on a bigger share of household tasks, deal with the frustration of a loved one who won’t open up, or even deal with anger or other disturbing behavior
Don’t take the symptoms of PTSD personally. If your loved one seems distant, irritable, angry, or closed off, remember that this may not have anything to do with you or your relationship
Don’t pressure your loved one into talking. Many veterans with PTSD find it difficult to talk about their experiences. Never try to force your loved one to open up but let them know that you’re there if they want to talk. It’s your understanding that provides comfort, not anything you say
Be patient and understanding. Feeling better takes time so be patient with the pace of recovery. Offer support but don’t try to direct your loved one.
Try to anticipate and prepare for PTSD triggers such as certain sounds, sights, or smells. If you are aware of what causes an upsetting reaction, you’ll be in a better position to help your loved one calm down.
Take care of yourself. Letting your loved one’s PTSD dominate your life while ignoring your own needs is a surefire recipe for burnout. Make time for yourself and learn to manage stress. The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one
GOD AND PTSD
1. Acknowledge the reality of your trauma. Admit to yourself, to God and to at least one other person that you are hurting and in need of healing. Identify the symptoms you are experiencing, their frequency and their impact on your life.
"Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge" (Psalm 62:8).
2. Recognize the source of your trauma. Explore and discover the source of your pain, then share what you experienced with a trusted, mature friend. Explore subsequent experiences that have been spin-offs or repercussions from your original trauma.
"Wisdom is a shelter … Wisdom preserves those who have it" (Ecclesiastes 7:12).
3. Seek counseling for severe symptoms. Process flashbacks, dreams, nightmares and other troubling experiences with a trained professional. Inform a medical doctor if depression becomes severe or chronic.
"The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty" (Proverbs 22:3).
4. Realize present situations can trigger buried memories and more emotional pain. Sights, sounds, smells, touch, etc. can all prompt emotional and physical reminders of past pain. Be increasingly cognizant of your personal "triggers."
"Those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction" (Job 36:15).
5. Commit to journaling as you travel on the road to recovery. Recording thoughts, feelings, insights and breakthroughs are invaluable markers for monitoring the healing process. Reading your journal provides encouragement and becomes "your story" on paper, a testimony perhaps you can share one day with someone who is hurting.
"Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness" (Isaiah 30:8).
6. Examine self-injurious thinking or behavioral patterns. Honestly evaluate how negative thoughts are resulting in negative behavior, and deliberately replace them with loving, encouraging thoughts based on God's heart for you. Pinpoint ways you could be sabotaging yourself professionally or personally and explore the reasons why with a person who understands PTSD.
"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
7. Investigate emotional and psychological walls you have erected and self-protective tools you have employed. Enlist close family and friends to help you consider the illegitimate ways you have tried to meet your God-given needs for love, significance and security. Explore all defense mechanisms designed to keep relationships superficial or separate from your past traumas (isolation, anger, critical spirit, etc.).
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13).
8. Find freedom from the bondage of past pain and begin anew. Dealing with painful experiences is painful, but it is critical to healing and to the hope of a promising future. Pain held captive in silence is pain never freed. Remember that pain expressed is pain released.
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).