Perhaps the scariest part of my struggle for those years immediately after my return was that the so-called experts, the mental health professionals, understood as little about my PTSD as the average Joe I might encounter in my daily life. Their ignorance is absolutely inexcusable, but it is unfortunately very normal in our fallen world as all too many people are ignorant without God’s intervention. This is why I finally turned to God in desperation and asked Him to be my psychiatrist and my healer to get me through this scary disease of the mind and body. And it is a disease. There is a spiritual and emotional component to it as it begins with an injury of the spirit and of the heart. The injury comes from a violation of all that is right. Anyone can sustain such an injury. It is not exclusive to warriors. Such a violation of what’s right, and the subsequent injury to your spirit and heart, can come from an observation of something terrible, or it can come from being in or committing something terrible, or it can come from something terrible being done to you, or it can even come from experiencing prolonged severe stress in a seemingly hopeless situation.
And once the injury is done to your heart and spirit, then you will experience various physical symptoms beginning with the avoidance, numbing, or amnesiac response which is probably the first response as your mind, body, and emotions retreat from this horrific experience as a self-protective response. But you cannot avoid the experience forever. Sooner or later, it must be dealt with, so the second major grouping of responses in PTSD is the re-experiencing through thought intrusion, nightmares, or full-blown flashbacks. The re-experiencing is your body’s way of trying to deal with the horrific memories. If they are not addressed, they will simply simmer below the surface, forcing their way out in various dysfunctional behaviors. The third grouping of responses to PTSD is the hyper-arousal or hyper-vigilance, the feeling of being on edge from the adrenaline surges that are usually triggered by bad memories or some stimulus (a sound, a smell, a visual of a situation similar to the one that caused the PTSD, etc.) that reminds us of the bad time or times that caused the PTSD. Because of the adrenaline, there can actually be permanent damage to the brain over time.
Moreover, the adrenaline may be complicit in the hard-wiring of your system that causes many of the symptoms of PTSD. There are also some "minor" symptoms that go with PTSD, such as the deep depression as you try to cope with these scary reactions to your psychological/emotional injury. Or there is also the constant death wish or the feeling of impending disaster, or the feeling that you have no future. Regardless, it is a living nightmare, and one which can be very lonely since it seems that you bear this burden alone in this scary world, and since it seems that no one seems to understand, that you are some kind of freak, which you are not. You are perfectly normal, and these symptoms are a normal reaction of a violation that goes far beyond the normal order of right and good.
In my desperation, I turned to God for help. I would spend time in prayer for sometimes several hours in a day in some quiet place of solitude that God would lead me to, laying all of my burdens and all the horrific memories that drove my PTSD at His feet. Most of the time, I would be inebriated because that was the only way I could stand the pain of the memories coming back up. I know that so many warriors, like myself, suffer from PTSD, but now, in this modern age, we have the ability to access all sorts of medical literature, discovering that most people who deploy into serious combat will develop some symptoms of PTSD at some point in their lifetime, as do many civilians who experience something horrible. Moreover, the very astute Jonathan Shay, an author and psychologist who treated vets at the VA, mostly from the Vietnam War, brilliantly pointed out in his book Achilles in Vietnam that the PTSD experience was one that hit warriors thousands of years ago, captured in Homer’s poem about the out-of-control Achilles who basically went berserk after the deep psychological and emotional wound of having his beloved friend Patroclus taken from him by death in battle. I can truly identify with the deep emotional connection that warriors feel for a comrade in arms, a love that can even be more powerful than the love for a spouse because they shared in an experience that few others will have or will be able to understand. And after my experience with PTSD, I can certainly identify with the reaction of Achilles.
I pray that today’s posting helps you understand if you or someone you love is going through this terrible injury of mind and body that is called PTSD. I pray that you will find a good, compassionate counselor to help you through it and that you will find understanding of your own suffering and healing over time.