PTSD for Beginners by a Beginner
The mission of Once a Soldier doesn’t include helping with PTSD. As the founder, I specifically wanted to avoid PTSD because it was, and is, out of my league. There are many other charities and experts who you should turn to. Now, that seems like wishful thinking. Not all suicide soldiers or veteran suicides are PTSD-related, but many are. So I’m confronting this issue sort of head-on and I’m going to start at the beginning. If you’re looking for info on PTSD for beginners, join me in this brief blog and let’s get started.
We will cover symptoms, onset, diagnosis and where to get a screening.
A Google search on the second page found what I needed as a beginner: PTSD for Dummies. Perfect. Here are the highlights from that page, and trust me, we aren’t done with just that as a source.
Let’s start with what they list as the symptoms. As a beginner looking at PTSD, I don’t find these particularly helpful, but here they are:
Intrusive thoughts, emotions, or images: These may include vivid nightmares and/or flashbacks in which you feel as if the event is occurring all over again.
The Beginner in me says: I don’t have vivid nightmares or flashback, but if you have PTSD, I’m going to assume that the subject matter of these is war or combat-centric. If that’s the case, then that’s a big red flag. Here’s another one: was this person just discharged from active duty? Maybe I’m thinking of PTSD all wrong. It first entered my vocabulary when it because of a military issue from troops returning from the Gulf. Maybe my awareness of PTSD needs to widen out to include civilians who are maybe trapped in a horrible marriage, have trauma from childhood or a million other ways that the human psyche can be damaged.
Avoidance and/or numbing: For instance, you may avoid people or things that remind you of your trauma, feel emotionally detached from the people around you, or block out parts of your traumatic experience.
The Beginner in my says: We all want to avoid unpleasantries in our lives. We do many unsavory things to do this, such as working at a job we hate, a spouse we don’t love, or living beyond our means. As far as feeling detached, scroll through the posts and comments on social media and reading between the lines reveals that many people detach from society for a varitey of reason.
So far, this guide is okay, it is, after all, for dummies and not meant to be hyper-detailed.
Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal means being on red alert all the time, being jumpy or easily startled, having panic attacks, being very irritable, and/or being unable to sleep.
The Beginner in my says: Red alert isn’t what I’m on, I’m not jumpy, no panic attacks but I can be one irritable stinker from time to time. Sleep has never been a problem.
The Dummies go on to say that PTSD for Beginners needs to be aware of these symptoms:
You may also experience symptoms including body aches and pains, depression or other mental disorders, or problems with drugs or alcohol.
Okay, these are just flat-out not good and I’ve given up on the rest that follows in their post. The subject headers included how to beat it, truths about recovering, and meds. Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of pills and the opioid addiction we find ourselves fighting needs to stay as far away from PTSD as we can get it. Soldier suicide and veteran suicide don’t need any help from monster opioid.
PTSD ONSET and SYMPTOMS
More Detail from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Here’s a second source that digs a little deeper into the onset and symptoms. View this content on their site here. The following is also detailed in what a traumatic event might be, and it’s a lot of information, so I bolded the more basic things a PTSD beginner should know.
PTSD is diagnosed after a person experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However, symptoms may not appear until several months or even years later.
The disorder is characterized by three main types of symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
- Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
- Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered
PTSD Diagnosis criteria that apply to adults, adolescents, and children older than six include those below.
Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation:
- directly experiencing the traumatic events
- witnessing, in person, the traumatic events
- learning that the traumatic events occurred to a close family member or close friend; cases of actual or threatened death must have been violent or accidental
- experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic events (Examples are first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). Note: This does not apply to exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures, unless exposure is work-related.
The presence of one or more of the following:
- spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events (Note: In children repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the traumatic events are expressed.)
- recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events (Note: In children there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.)
- flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring (Note: In children trauma-specific reenactment may occur in play.)
- intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
- physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events
Persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders (i.e., people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations)
Two or more of the following:
- inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
- persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous”).
- persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
- persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
- markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
- feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- persistent inability to experience positive emotions
Two or more of the following marked changes in arousal and reactivity:
- irritable or aggressive behavior
- reckless or self-destructive behavior
- exaggerated startle response
- problems with concentration
- difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep
Also, clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, or alcohol or another medical condition, such as traumatic brain injury.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, take a simple first test with an online screening tool found here. You can print or save the results and share with your healthcare professional.
Final Word from Once a Soldier: PTSD for Beginners from this source isn’t making it. I get no real picture of the symptoms to look for and even then, the causes may or may not foot back to combat or anything that a veteran can get help with through the VA. I will continue to circle around PTSD for Beginners by a beginner because I owe it to the vets and myself to learn more.
I am a child of a WWII Vet who committed suicide when I was a teenager. He wrote poems during his deployment in Europe. His poems register his mental decline after experiencing combat. I have gathered them into a book, One Soldier’s Poems, with brief biographical commentary about my father and our family. I finally published the poems because I came to believe they might help soldiers and veterans suffering from the effects of combat. I also think the book will help the families of those soldiers and veterans. Go to onesoldierspoems.com for more info.
Thank you for this wonderful post and for sharing your loss with us. It’s never easy getting past it. We do offer ways for your to deal with any anxiety or emotional pain you’re feeling. I hope that someone finds comfort in it. We had a similar call from the son of an illustrator during WWII who’s illustrations in and out of “shell shock” were documented in his art. I will be posting all of that story soon.