By Rob Mazak
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has become quite the buzz word in recent times, and has become popularized by the wars in the Middle East. PTSD has been associated with combat related experiences and this condition can certainly be generated or activated by war time trauma, however, military personnel are not the only people who are subject to this condition. There are a lot of people with high profile jobs who suffer from this dysfunction, such as firefighters and police officers, who repeatedly experience the trauma of others. However, PTSD does not necessarily have to be limited to the scope of major catastrophes and large events. What is not well understood, is that this condition can be manifested due to persistent mental and emotional stress, and not just because of severe injury or experiences.
What is interesting is that I have spoken and interacted with many people who seem to have the best lives, yet they still have PTSD symptoms. How can someone with so much going for them become subject this condition? PTSD can be developed from many smaller and non-traumatic events being experienced over a long period of time. I know a lot of people who have developed PTSD due to mental abuse, or just the way they have been talked to by their parents, siblings and families. Strangely enough, sometimes PTSD symptoms occur with the absence of needed love and affection throughout childhood. I know people who find themselves in a PTSD event, by simply remembering that they were told, as a very young child, that they can’t sing and they should stop trying. What I have also found is that sometimes memories that trigger PTSD, are only memories that are formed purely by perceptions. The development of PTSD can be very complex and there is really is not solid answer to hard core markers and events that cause this condition.
Those afflicted with this condition struggle with many life struggles that seem so easy for others to handle. The biggest trouble with PTSD is the inability to remain in and experience the present moment. These people often find themselves experiencing the past; certain experiences can trigger a person to suddenly relive their bad past experiences, and these events feel as real now as they did in the past. This can be a very crippling experience to relive traumas over and over again without relief. Every physical, mental and emotional aspect of this past event is being experienced, just as it did when it first happened. When this happens, everything in their current world stops, and everything and anything comes streaming out of their minds, their words, their actions and their body. Those that happen to be around them during these experiences get the brunt of these past events, even though they had nothing to do with them. These reactions are automatic responses that are very difficult to control. During the times that they are not experiencing the past, they are pushing themselves into future events. These people tend to start many projects and future plans with great enthusiasm, spending lots of money and time planning ways to become a better version of themselves, however, these projects and plans tend to fizzle off very quickly. They tend to make goals and plans that are so lofty and unreachable that they soon begin to fail, which will then trigger them back into past events. You can begin to see that this is a very cyclic situation that thrusts a person from one extreme to another, manifesting them into an all or none personality; they either want to do it all or they want to do nothing.
You may have noticed that this begins to resemble depression and anxiety; these are two very strong aspects of PTSD that can rarely be separated. Many people have no idea what real depression and anxiety really is. While I don’t personally suffer with either of these conditions, I have experienced it first hand, for the majority of my life. Depression is an extreme case of sadness or unhappiness that takes over the entire person; this condition can happen to anyone at any time in their lifetime. There are some people who routinely drop into depression for long periods of time. This is a very debilitating condition that causes a person the inability to take care of themselves, to feel such deep despair and to feel suicidal. True depression is the darkest of the darkest state of human existence; so dark that many feel like they want to leave this earth, but that would require doing something meaningful. I have watched as one of my family members struggled with these extreme symptoms for hours, dredging out some of the most dark and hateful conversation that would make anyone cringe. Anxiety is obviously quite the opposite, and most people can function in our world in a state of anxiety, but there is a very debilitating state of anxiety as well. True anxiety can also stop a person in their tracks, causing very intense physical and emotional symptoms. True anxiety, as explained to me, is like the feeling you get if you are hanging out of an airplane door without a parachute on. Anxiety can be triggered by reminders of the past, or from just overwhelming the mind with too much stress and emotion. Imagine combining depression and anxiety with PTSD, and then imagine trying to live a “normal” life! In my opinion, these conditions cannot necessarily be removed, only managed.
It is not surprising then that people with PTSD, depression and anxiety seek ways to deal with these symptoms. Of course there are medications that help decrease these symptoms but often they cause other issues. These folks tend to turn to illegal drugs, alcohol, risky and impulsive behavior and addictive actions to help distract themselves from these symptoms. Many of these people tend to struggle with meaningful relationships, tend to maintain a negative attitude about themselves and others, have little hope in the future, struggle with self-worth, have feelings of detachment from others, experience the feeling of being emotionally numb, have trouble with sleep cycles, have trouble concentrating, have a self-destructive behavior and are easily startled. The search for the answer to themselves is a never ending process that can become extremely frustrating to this person and to those that support them.
Caretakers of someone with PTSD, anxiety and depression, have a difficult time maintaining themselves in this environment. Someone who has these symptoms tends to seek out someone who is grounded and can support them through all their daily trials. You can easily become the center of their world, become everything to them, become the object of co-dependency, to become the dumping ground for the constant troubles, and become lost to your own self if you are not careful. If you are not careful, you will allow yourself to tag along on this roller coaster of highs and lows, and found yourself quite burned out. A caretaker needs to find a balance to ensure that their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs are being attended to. After all, you can no longer care for someone else if you have been drained leaving nothing left to give. You will need to learn to put up boundaries and begin to say “no” to those expensive and time consuming future ideas. You will also have to learn how to manage and recognize when each type of manifestation is beginning to happen. Lastly, a caretaker should learn to not take things personally – you are really not the problem – just the target of opportunity.
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