PTSD: Not Just a Veterans Problem

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder acknowledgement, funding, research and treatment is largely focused on war veterans. But research shows that the most pervasive, chronic form, Complex PTSD, stems from childhood and/or chronic trauma, especially sexual and physical abuse, and neglect. While many men experience non-combat related trauma, women are twice as likely to experience PTSD and C-PTSD, and our stories are more often ignored, mistrusted, or dismissed. The way rape victims and perpetrators are treated is a perfect example, as is the experience of molested children, often shamed into secrecy. We carry these traumas and secrets in our subconscious and bodies while we push toward the normal lives we want, stumbling on our demons along the way, seemingly getting stronger and more successful. Some of us shut off emotionally, or drink or drug excessively, or become workaholics, or fight depression or other illnesses. Some of us are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. We are strong and courageous, but if we get triggered, by a familiar smell, a nightmare or an assault, that leads to a flashback, a memory we may or may not have known existed, but that we know is real because it seizes our entire beings, our experiences are demanding to be recognized. It’s time to stop blaming, shaming and abusing ourselves. Popular statistics about us are inaccurate. Most of the women I’ve known have been raped. Others have been harassed, assaulted, or experienced childhood abuse, neglect and abandonment. Three close friends have committed suicide. Two others died of alcoholism and addiction, their coping mechanisms for the unbearable symptoms trauma can unleash. Some are surviving. Others are thriving. Recovery is possible, but it takes patience, persistence, determination, and an open heart and mind. These can be hard to maintain when symptoms are making it hard to function. Depression, isolation, anxiety, hopelessness, fatigue, physical illness, and suicide ideation can come with PTSD and C-PTSD on its worst days. Our mental health systems make it harder. If and as we get better, inevitable setbacks can be devastating. It’s not a quick process, but a commitment to recognize our value, speak our truths, find and validate each other, and become the people we “might have been” and still can be. We need to pick up the rallying cry of Judith Herman’s 1994 ‘Trauma and Recovery’ for a survivor-led movement. The brave U.S. Veterans did it; putting PTSD on the map and getting it into the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which prompted diagnosis, funding research, treatment, and insurance coverage. We can learn from them and each other. And we can do it, too.

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