According to some reports, 90 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq who seek medical treatment do so for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an emotional and psychological reaction to trauma in which a person experiences uncontrollable, frightening audio and visual flashbacks that can overtake him or her during ordinary situations like playing with children or washing a car. PTSD is the fourth-ranking psychiatric disorder in the United States.
An estimated 1 out of 8 soldiers who will eventually return from Iraq will suffer from PTSD-most often from having been through multiple deployments and witnessing the carnage left by suicide and roadside bombers. However the soldiers themselves are not the only victims: Family members will also be affected by their soldier’s PTSD. Particularly if their soldier avoids social situations and other activities he previously enjoyed.
Although I was never in the armed forces, I am a survivor of PTSD who can offer tips to soldiers with that problem and theirfamilies. As a woman raped at gunpoint by strangers, I often experienced flashbacks in which I heard the voice of the rapist when I was at work or washing dishes at home. There were six steps that helped me cope with PTSD, which I would like to share with you:
- If you have never talked about your PTSD experience with anyone you should do so by finding a place in which you feel safe and a person with whom you will feel safe confiding. In that safe place with your confidant at your side, scream, cry and vent as fully as you can, holding nothing back.
- Seek treatment as soon as possible from a specialist in PTSD such as a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. Only aspecialist can help you effectively deal with the symptoms you may be experiencing. In addition to flashbacks, these might include nightmares, depression, insomnia and feelings of hopelessness and social isolation. The specialist may suggestmedication that may be helpful. The worst mistake PTSD suffers can make is trying to go it alone. Attempting to do so may cause you to remain stuck in this nightmare for your entire life. Remember that there is nothing manly about refusing to get help. Soldiers can seek help at Walter Reed Medical Hospital or do a Google search to find a local person who specializes in the disorder.
- Join a group therapy support group. Your specialist may refer you to such a group that puts you in contact with others who are going through the same process. By listening to their stories and sharing your own you will understand that you are not alone.
- Look for other ways to let off steam. Exercise, paint, dance or keep a journal of your thoughts. I kept a journal for eight years and eventually turned it into a book. Even if you don’t feel like it, make yourself socialize. Go to picnics and family gatherings and try to resume old hobbies. Don’t isolate yourself.
- Put your PTSD into perspective. Even if you take all the steps I have outlined, you may find that you continue to have some episodes of nightmares, anger, fear or depression. But as those symptoms ease, you may be ready to move on to the stage in which you accept that this horrible thing happened to you but does not define your life. You have talked it out, let it outand put it in perspective. You are ready to move on.
- Volunteer to help others with PTSD. When you have reached the stage of acceptance and forgiveness you may feel ready to help others who are not as far along as yourself in recovering from PTSD. This is the stage I am currently in. I welcome you to join me there.
Susan Lee-Titus understands PTSD intimately. She was brutally raped at gunpoint by two men who burst into her dance studio and for years endured frequent flashbacks of that memory. Susan is an author, speaker, dancer and communications and media specialist. She is the founder of Joy Dancers, a prison outreach program that teaches aerobic dance to female inmates as an outlet for anger and stress. Her new book is “The Dancer Returns: From Victim to Victory.”