These are the words of a former Marine scout sniper and instructor.
“I served 15 years as a cop on SWAT and Gangs in the Greater L.A. area. I did not recognize PTSD until after my very last near-death experience. You wake with a sense of impending doom. Something is wrong, but you don't know what. I feared going to sleep because I feared being awakened by nightmares, night sweats and then insomnia. I felt a feeling that one only gets right after you have been startled (like from being hit by a car), but that feeling never goes away until the adrenaline burns out. Then I became numb -- like nothing mattered. I would isolate-in that state; there was a deep feeling of not just loneliness but of being alone in the world, even while surrounded by those who love you. Once in that numb state, it was hard to reach me. It could go on for weeks like that-- on auto pilot --no emotion, no fear, just indifferent.
Some of the early signs I now recognize is that while in the heat of combat or near-death experience, I no longer felt fear. There is no bravado about this. It was because my adrenaline and cortisol levels were running so high all of the time there was no more room for more intensity -- hence no fear. At least for me I only felt offended when someone tried to kill me instead of the horror that I felt before when someone would try to kill me. Once I was out of the threatening situation, this feeling similar to going down the largest hill on a roller coaster was constantly present, and that felt normal to me. I did not even recognize I was different from before. I forgot what it was like to feel relaxed, at ease with the world. This feeling of a state of readiness kept me alive in the heat of near-death experiences, but once I was out of the experience, it did not go away. It was no longer helpful.
It begins to eat away at your body, your blood pressure, anxiety level; adrenal glands, your hippocampus and hypothalamus all become damaged from the constant flow of adrenaline. The reason why it is hard for a loved one to explain how they feel is because it is the state that they are most comfortable. We forget what normal is.
The good news is that this is one of the most treatable conditions there is. The bad news is that many warriors see it as a weakness and refuse to admit or are unable to notice that they are afflicted by it until their life has become unmanageable in some way. It is usually the ones that they love most that are first affected and often times lost. I know so many vets with this condition that refused to admit the condition and have ended up in jails, institutions and worse because of it. If a vet has the slightest belief that he may have the condition, there is help available. Get it.
Initially, medicines are required to regain sleep structure, lower anxiety level and balance out the system. Once the physical aspects are under control, you gain perspective and can benefit from a spiritual walk and therapy. You can see the world as a safer place. Be patient with the various medicines as there is a lot of trial and error until you finds the one that is best for you. If you are a loved one of a vet with this condition, learn about it. It may be easier to take some of the behaviors less personally until your vet gets the help he needs.
There are the periods of mental confusion and loss of memory, which you may also notice from your husband. It is extremely frustrating not to be able to organize simple things like bills and mail any more. If something triggers a hyper-arousal phase -- a smell, a sound, a look -- whatever. But especially if I am unaware of the trigger, the adrenal response raises very quickly -- much quicker than normal people. And then it stays up much longer than normal people -- it can stay up for 3 days or longer, and I have no recollection sometimes of what raised it.
When I find myself in that state, I can usually think back to a car back-fire or a threat to my daughter or loved one's relationship that slipped by me that was received by my lower brain as a life-threat but not fully understood by my upper cortex until I stop and make sense of it. Sometimes I have no idea what triggered the adrenaline and prayer, meditation, talking it out is what is needed. It is very important to keep a notebook with the tasks that I need to complete in it in my pocket at all times. Because once I write it down, I don't have to think about it.”
This is one of the most insightful vets I have encountered. I am so thankful to him sharing so openly and once again reminding me what it is like to live with PTSD.