Many of you have heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you may even know someone who has PTSD. During my work on the Healing Teddies Project I found that even people who know about PTSD don’t understand the problem or take it seriously. The article below was written with the intention of shining some light on this issue. I hope I’ve succeeded!
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Echoes Of On-Going Terrorism
by Forest Rain June 1, 2003
A pen drops on the floor. Most people don’t even notice but to a person suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the pen hitting the floor can sound like a grenade exploding, like gun shots being fired. Suddenly there is no other reality – shots are being fired, the grenade is exploding.
PTSD, familiar to many from films about Vietnam veterans, is a serious problem to it’s sufferers yet seldom do others comprehend it’s lingering and sometimes devastating effects. Extreme reactions to every day events are not the affliction of Vietnam Vets alone, nor do they indicate that the person is crazy. People have extreme reactions when they experience extreme events, simple as that.
Difficulties experienced by people with physical wounds or easily understood fears are accepted by society. Care and concern is extended to the person with no legs who complains about a lack of elevators, for the person who, after witnessing a suicide bombing on a bus becomes terrified of busses and for the person who becomes depressed after losing a loved one. On the other hand people who have fears that are not easily or immediately understood are not taken seriously and sometimes even ridiculed.
Some survive terror attacks and battles without a scratch on their body and most people consider them to be lucky. Time passes and survivors are expected to “go back to normal”. Their arms and legs are intact so what’s the problem? They can see and hear so they can function and live life like everyone else does. Right?
The horrible irony is that the very act of surviving without a scratch on your body can carve trenches into the psyche.
The smallest of things can trigger the trauma so that once again you are reliving it. This is not a case of remembering the incident; here you are experiencing it all over again. The smell clings to your nostrils, the sound pierces your eardrums and the horror surrounds you vividly, in full color. This can happen for days, months or even years. Even night denies you relief, bringing instead, nightmares to terrorize you all over again.
Post Traumatic Stress can develop in an even more insidious way, bit by bit as the cup of how much you can take fills until a final single drop makes it spill over. Another disaster you could handle, it’s that single drop that is too much. You survived the traumatic event (or series of events) and carefully rebuilt your life. It’s a building block fortress that looks solid from the outside; from the inside you know just how precarious it is. One nudge, one comment, being pushed in line or being interrupted in the middle of a thought can make your carefully built defenses come tumbling down. You find yourself constantly tense, fearful of that moment, fearful that if you lose control over the world you have built around yourself, even for a moment you will never regain control. You will be in utter darkness, searching for the building blocks of your life, never being able to put them together again. Maintaining the intensity of control and concentration needed to keep your fortress intact is enormously difficult, ever anticipating the slightest thing that will pull your world down around you is utterly exhausting.
Imagine you are 6 years old, riding in a car with your father and a neighbor. Suddenly there are loud noises, glass breaking, you hurt badly and you hear your own screams. Your father is hurt too but he leaves you there, saying that he is going to get help. Blood seeps out between your neighbors hands. He can’t help you, he’s trying to close the bullet holes in his chest. Your father never comes back. Later you find out that he died trying to save you. How do you think the six year old that experienced this traumatic terrorist attack just a few weeks ago will feel when someone tries to put her in a car to take her home from the hospital? How will she feel the next time she hears something break? The next time someone tells her to sit tight, that they’ll “be right back”?
In this day and age the number of people who have been exposed to terrorism, war, or any other kind of traumatic event such as physical or emotional abuse, car accidents etc. is constantly growing. When encountering someone who behaves in a way that seems irrational it would be a good idea to give them the benefit of the doubt for it is impossible to know exactly what their motivation is. The simplest way to avoid exacerbating an already serious problem is to treat everyone with kindness and empathy.
A good resource on post traumatic stress is the Israeli Trauma for Victims of Terror and War (NATAL): http://www.Natal.org.il
Additional resources can be found on the NATAL links page.