Have you ever been terrified? I mean so scared, that for a while you couldn’t even think, not really think. Your brain saw something, tried to classify it and all you recognized was danger? You may have reacted or froze, trying to determine what to do, but there was no time to think your way through the situation. Your breathing and heart rate jump, adrenaline pours into your blood, eyes dilate. Your hearing may filter everything but one sound or a voice. Even thinking about it today can make you feel anxious. Welcome to your basic instincts of Fight or Flight and the potential for PTSD.
Like so many veterans returned from overseas, I came back with a problem, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s not unique to the military, so I’m not trying to claim any special status. What is unique is the way most Veterans who succumb to its effects react or the way society in general sees them. Most people expect veterans with PTSD to look like Rambo, unemployed vagrants, wandering from town to town, drunk or strung out on drugs because they can’t face their past. For the majority, we return to our lives and struggle with readjustment and trying to put ourselves back together.
Here is the short explanation. There are two types of PTSD. Type I, is single event or short term trauma, that causes changes in behavior after the fact. Type II, is long term events where the person adapts survival or coping methods during the event. Think Stockholm Syndrome. In addition to what I like to call, Inappropriate Social Responses, like violent reactions to misinterpreted stimuli, there are several other changes. PTSD is not a single aspect disorder. However one of the most persistent characteristics is depression and the chemical changes it causes in the brain.
The chemical change is important to understanding why it is so difficult for someone suffering from PTSD to recover. Reprogramming survival instincts, that have been proven to work, is hard enough to start with. Extended exposure and reinforcement over time hard-wires them into the brain. There has been enough research to prove that depression involves chemical changes in the brain, which is why some drugs can mask the worst of the effects. This is also where your body betrays you, it adapts. Your body and your brain are constantly trying to maintain the status quo. If you take opiates to suppress pain, your body increases you ability to feel pain. Increase the drugs and your body continues to adapt. The same effect can be seen with anti-depressants.
It really sucks when you realize that your own body is conspiring to keep you in the cycle that is tearing you apart.
“Great! My own brain is trying to kill me! Now what do I do?”
“I don’t know, dude. What worked last time?”
“We killed the shit out of the last thing that tried to killed us.”
“Sounds good. I’m in. Wait, aren’t we are already doing that?”
To maintain the right balance, you need the adrenaline so High Risk Behavior gets added in. I love sky-diving, riding motorcycles fast or just danger in general. It feels like I’m alive again. It’s all of a piece. My job lets me feed my addiction because I can explain it away as necessary. The truth is, I’m getting my fix. That, took me years to understand and admit.
On a subconscious level, you make excuses for your actions and try to maintain the feeling of being whole and alive. Like an addict, you do the things that support having PTSD. Like an addict, we make excuses for it. Like an addict, we are in denial.
TO BE CONTINUED