About ten years ago I had the great fortune to join my grandfather and other members of our family as the Navy held a ceremony honoring sailors who took part in the Battle of Midway. As I reflect on those few days in Washington DC with Grandpa Bruck and crew, there are memories I hold close to my heart.
There are two which stick out more so than others.
- While most of the family went to visit some of the other memorials in the surrounding area, Grandpa and I sat on a bench near the WWII Memorial. Not much was said, just enjoying each other’s company. People would approach us, wanting to shake his hand, offer “Thanks for your service,” and call him a hero. He obliged with the handshake, gave a nod to the thanks but would respond by saying, “I’m no hero. The heroes are at the bottom of the sea.” He was always the humble man.
- At the ceremony itself, many great words were said about all of the veterans. They asked each of them to stand to be recognized. When it was Grandpa’s turn, he insisted that our whole family stand. As much pride he held for the Navy, he had even more for those around him.
Growing up with Grandpa as a WWII veteran, four of his sons (which includes my father) also Navy men and my lone uncle on the other side of the family serving in the Army, I heard many great stories about their time in the military. Stories of pride, service and brotherhood.
While there are many great stories, there are just as many stories of veterans returning home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Even though it may be invisible from the naked eye, it is very real.
The following information is taken from www.ptsd.va.gov
What is PTSD-
It can occur after you have been through a traumatic event that you see, hear about, or that happens to you, like: sexual/physical abuse and assault, combat exposure, terrorist attack, or natural disaster.
Types of PTSD-
- Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)
You may have bad memories or nightmares. You even may feel like you’re going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
You may try to avoid situations or people who trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
- Negative changes in beliefs and feelings
The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may feel fear, guilt, or shame. Or, you may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. This is another way to avoid memories.
- Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)
You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. Or, you may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. This is known as hyperarousal.
Other problems that may occur-
- Depression or anxiety
- Drinking or drug problems
- Physical symptoms or chronic pain
- Employment problems
- Relationship problems, including divorce
What treatments are available?
When you have PTSD, dealing with the past can be hard. Instead of telling others how you feel, you may keep your feelings bottled up. But treatment can help you get better. There are two main types of treatment, psychotherapy (sometimes called counseling) and medication. Sometimes people combine psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy for PTSD
Psychotherapy, or counseling, involves meeting with a therapist. There are different types of psychotherapy:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for PTSD. There are different types of CBT, such as cognitive therapy and exposure therapy.
One type is Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) where you learn skills to understand how trauma changed your thoughts and feelings.
Another type is Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy where you talk about your trauma repeatedly until memories are no longer upsetting. You also go to places that are safe, but that you have been staying away from because they are related to the trauma.
A similar kind of therapy is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while you talk about the trauma.
Medications for PTSD
Medications can be effective too. A type of drug known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is also used for depression, is effective for PTSD. Another medication called Prazosin has been found to be helpful in decreasing nightmares related to the trauma.
IMPORTANT: Benzodiazepines and atypical antipsychotics should generally be avoided for PTSD treatment because they do not treat the core PTSD symptoms.
As we enter this holiday weekend, I encourage you to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, and all that our veterans endure, visible or not.