Myths About PTSD



June is PTSD awareness month.  Since our family has firsthand experience with PTSD, I’ve decided to dedicate this month to educate and bring awareness to the sometimes less discussed portions of this condition.  Eric, the one with PTSD, is no longer with our family, but I truly believe his PTSD is the biggest reason for that.  This is why I’m going to continue to talk about PTSD – so that other women (or men) may know that they are not alone in dealing with their husband’s/wife’s/significant other’s issues.  That they are not crazy for feeling the way they do.

The first things to get out of the way are all the myths associated with PTSD.  There are plenty of them.  Here is a list of some of the biggest.

    1. Only soldiers get PTSD. –  While Combat PTSD is the most well known these days, PTSD is not exclusive to the military.  PTSD may be caused by sexual assault, domestic abuse, child abuse, traumatic events such as car crashes or natural disasters.  There are many, many things that can trigger PTSD and no one is immune – not even children.
    2. PTSD is an immediate affect after a traumatic ordeal. PTSD cannot affect someone years after the event.  PTSD generally begins to show itself about three months after the event, however, some people can go years without presenting symptoms and may not realize what they are actually experiencing is PTSD because the event happened so long ago. 
    3. PTSD is all in a person’s head. Yes, actually it is, but not in the way people who think this way believe.  PTSD is a very real condition that has very real symptoms and has a very real affect on the human brain.  Studies have shown through MRIs that PTSD can affect different areas in the brain.  It has also been proven that PTSD may affect chemical balances in the brain and body.
    4. Experiencing trauma is enough to develop PTSD. Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD.  It has a lot to do with personal support systems, the intensity and longevity of the trauma, the amount of stress produced during the trauma among other factors. 
    5. People with PTSD are weak.  People who develop PTSD are not weak minded.  Again – it depends on factors of support systems in place, level of trauma, etc.  PTSD has nothing to do with how strong a person is physically or mentally. 
    6. People with PTSD are dangerous.  While it is true that some with PTSD lash out in violent ways, in reality this has a lot to do with substance abuse (alcohol or drugs) or coexisting psychological conditions.  For the most part, those with PTSD merely exhibit signs such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, trouble concentrating, avoiding thoughts, feelings, locations and people associated with the traumatic event, flashbacks or the sensation that the event is happening again, hypervigilance, irritability, insomnia, guilt, inability to enjoy old hobbies and isolation.  None of which cause violent behavior.
    7. PTSD cannot be treated.  While PTSD cannot be cured, it can be treated through various forms of therapies and sometimes medication.  Therapies may include cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization therapy, or EMDR. 
    8. People with PTSD cannot function in military or work environments.  Because of the therapies and medications available to treat those with PTSD, most are able to live normal lives.  There are some whose PTSD is so severe that it does inhibit their daily lives, but this is not the norm.  You have probably met a few different people throughout your life with PTSD and never even knew it.
    9. Vets with PTSD are not “wounded.”  Although PTSD does not exhibit as a physical injury, that does not mean it isn’t an injury.  As I mentioned earlier, scientists have proven through MRIs that the brain responds differently in those with PTSD.  This, in my book at least, falls into the injury category.  Just because the wounds aren’t always visible doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
    10. Those with PTSD have all the same symptoms.  There is a clear set of symptoms associated with PTSD, but not everyone exhibits them the same.  As with any other mental disorder or condition, individuals show varying signs and symptoms each with their own intensity.  True many cases look very similar, but each person will display PTSD in their own way.
    11. Symptoms of PTSD go away as a person heals from trauma.  As mentioned earlier, there is no cure for PTSD, but continuing to get treatment and/or following behavioral modifications a person can live symptom free for long stretches.  There is always the possibility of symptoms returning from time to time during times of stress or if triggered by an event or experience.  PTSD never really goes away.
    12. All veterans have PTSD.  Just because you have served overseas does not automatically mean that you have PTSD.  In fact, only about 15-20% of those who deployed in recent wars have been diagnosed with PTSD.  Not all military veterans served in a combat position.  That’s not to say that PTSD is not possible in non-combat situations.  It is safe to say though that most veterans have not dealt with PTSD.

As you can see there can be many misconceptions about what PTSD is and how it affects a person.  Now that we know what PTSD isn’t, we can start to look at what PTSD can look like in day to day life.  The good, bad and ugly of it.  I hope you guys learn something over the next few weeks as I try to explain our dealings with PTSD and share stories of others who have lived with it.  I will probably be talking a lot about Eric and his combat PTSD, but mainly what I observed and lived through.  His PTSD has had a major affect on my life and that of our children.  I’ve gone through Eric’s story in a previous post – PTSD Can Kill – but in that post I only gave a general description of some of the symptoms he exhibited and not how those symptoms effected our family exactly.  I feel the story must be shared in order to give people a better understanding of what life with PTSD looks like – not just for the person with the disorder but also the entire family.  That’s what I hope to accomplish over the next month.

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