MY RECOVERY FROM A BAD CASE OF POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
Post date: Jun 17, 2009 10:52:36 AM
By:- A Gulf War Veteran
Healing and cure of this most vicious of conditions is possible. My case maybe unique but the process is possible and the results are real.
I watched my commanding officer killed, when his Hummer ran over an anti-tank mine in the Kuwaiti desert; observed from a covert location the systematic slaughter of an entire Kuwaiti family of six by the Iraqi Republican Guard and witnessed the loss of two other members of our Force Recon Team.
I am a veteran of the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm and I was shocked beyond words at how easily these events unfolded but the pain was shoved aside by the urgency of our operations within enemy-held territory and the constant fear of compromise and capture.
Why did the circumstances then not cause the reaction that I experience after my wife died? The brain interprets situations and responses differently. I registered the losses in a different way: in Kuwait I had been in the midst of a high stress, confusing theatre of operations and reinforced by intensive pre-operational training; grief turned into a focused attention on killing anything that flinched.
The debilitating pain and introspection that followed the loss of my wife, the sudden mood swings and unstable reactions to simple occurrences was frightening but the degradation of my ability to function was the worst.
I did not understand the grieving process and what would take years to come to grips with. I could not cry my heart out for weeks and be over. I saw her – every time I closed my eyes - she was alive - smiling and laughing. The telephone rang and I panicked, burst into tears because it might be her, who called to say she was O.K. and would be home soon. I looked normal on the outside but the battle was within. I could not accept that she was gone and that prolonged the healing.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious injury and it can lead to prolonged issues with everything that was once normal in one’s life and it is a narrow-minded view and a fallacy that it cannot be cured. My experience has shown that one has to endure throughout the distressing onset, progression and healing process.
Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after her death in 1993, I was put in the care of a primary physician, who was convinced that I was beyond recall and suicidal. He was right. On the evening of 20th of October 1993 I was found on the kitchen floor fast asleep with my finger on the trigger of my service issue 9 mm Beretta M9, one round of hollow point ammunition in the chamber, safety catch off and it was lodged beneath my chin. I had been too drunk to pull the trigger.
I was placed in observation on 24-hour watch at a hospital. In this time away I realized that the memories were too vivid and real and that I could not return to my home.
This is a normal emotional reaction to an abnormal situation.
In my further work in Africa traumatic experiences that I had to deal with only served to reinforce the symptoms - my survival instinct reacted and put me in a state of denial. I was numb, immersed in my work and sleep was unnecessary. I was obnoxious in handling simple problems, had a reactionary attitude and challenged any thing or anyone that tried to subvert my wall of thought process and was on the wrong side of those, who suggested that I seek help and professional advise. I knew what was happening to me but could not stop. On more than one occasion I was asked to take a leave of absence.
Dr. Claudia Baker, MSW, MPH of the National Veterans Center, a PTSD specialist, has outlined clearly three categories of this condition. These are: 1). re-experiencing. 2). avoidance/numbing and 3). increased arousal. The symptoms vary in cause, intensity, distress and impairment in social occupational and other functions.
Was my condition recognized as PTSD? I have no idea.
The healing began, in a small village in Somalia; when I saw a rebel militia group repeatedly rape several women for over six hours. I had to be forcibly restrained from causing additional casualties. I ran out of ammunition and was then set upon by other members of my team, who dragged me back to safety.
My mind snapped and for the first time in months I was exhausted, unable to awake even for brief period. I was med-evacuated out via Cape Town and put in the permanent care of a psychologist, who resembled my wife so closely as to bring fear of her not being within sight.
She was the beginning of the healing. I identified with her, she refreshed my mental stimulus database of happy memories and my brain began to rejuvenate. I cannot place an exact description of the process but I suddenly realized that I was happy and was able to function normally and on a continuing basis.
Client relationships are frowned upon by the professional practice but my overwhelming feeling of love and affection for Marcelle, my psychologist, released a vice grip in my heart and a flood of affection.
I began to face the truth and life and eventually worked normally, traveled extensively and pursued my dreams and education.
Unconditional Positive Regard is a factor; I found the simple human touch most comforting. Marcelle’s hours of affection and just talking to me about my experiences and holding me lovingly was a factor in my recovery.
Natural affection was so important in my case. She said I suffered from an officially recognized illness a form of Complex PTSD in which the sufferer has experienced a combination of stressors and actions that lead to a unique combination of symptoms. In my case she concentrated on one specific type of treatment among four possible alternatives. Her self-styled approach to Anxiety Management led me to where I recovered from a bout of tearful remonstrations to a calm and relaxed individual in about 4-5 hours.
Her unashamed and caring approach was crucial benefit to the day when I was more like my normal self. My strength retuned, my appetite improved and above all I felt alive and well. I still have bad days but my energy and focus returns and this allows me to come from beyond the darkness and the pain.