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PTSD’s stronghold can have debilitating affect

What is PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder can occur after you have been through a trauma. A trauma is something “horrible and scary” that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others’ lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or think that you have no control over what is happening.

Going through trauma is not rare. About 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or witness death or injury.

Going through a trauma doesn’t mean you’ll get PTSD, though. Although over half of us go through some type of trauma, a much smaller percent develop PTSD.

Here are some facts (based on the US):

About 7 to 8 percent of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year.

Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. About 10 percent of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with 5 percent of men.

— Source: US Department of Veteran Affairs

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Steve built his adult life on the foundation of a childhood trauma.

He and his brother suffered through years of physical violence and emotional abuse at the hands of an alcoholic father.

“He had no emotional connection but anger,” Steve said of his dad. “He had no idea how to relate to kids.”

His father was an engineer, and was a very smart man, Steve said. So when Steve came home with bad grades, his father called him stupid. He would not hesitate to beat him for this, and other reasons.

While the abuse has long passed, the effects lingered on through his life. Steve, who lives in Geneva and asked that his name be changed for this story, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. He is 67 years old now, and while he has confronted his past through therapy, as recently as last summer he’s experienced recurring bouts of anger stemming from his PTSD.

The anger manifested itself as road rage, he said. The people in his everyday life would comment about how calm he always seemed to be, and never noticed anything — but if a car cut him off on the road, he felt himself grow unnecessarily and uncontrollably angry.

Constantly on edge

Steve is not alone. In fact, about 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year, according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs. And while the disorder is commonly associated with soldiers and combat, anyone can develop it, according to Isie Brindley, a licensed clinical professional counselor practicing in Geneva.

All it takes is the trigger of trauma. That can be anything from an abusive family situation to a horrible accident, Brindley said. PTSD is simply the mind’s way of dealing with any traumatic event.

“During the trauma moment the person shuts down to protect themselves,” she said. “The memories shift.”

People with PTSD suffer long-lasting effects from the traumatic incident, she said. That can mean anger, flashbacks, depression, a sense of isolation and anxiety.

PTSD typically occurs after some sort of life threatening situation, according to Kathy Cordes, licensed clinical social worker at Provena Mercy Medical Center.

“They have these flashbacks where they are reliving the incident,” she said. “It invades their daily existence.”

People who suffer from PTSD are always on edge. In severe cases, they can completely disassociate.

“They’ll just kind of lose a period of time,” Cordes said.

Substance abuse, major depressive mood disorders, a strong isolation and avoidance of the situation are all ways that PTSD can manifest itself, she said. For some people, PTSD will run its course and fade, but for others, it will always be there in some form.

People experiencing frequent anger, flashbacks, constant edginess, or frequent disassociation stemming from a specific incident may be living with PTSD and not know it, Cordes said.

The good news is it’s treatable. Those who suffer can get help through medication, psychotherapy, and reducing the stress in their daily lives. For some, the condition may just run its course, and others will have to work to keep it in check throughout their lives, Cordes said.

Breaking the cycle

Steve carried the emotional damage from the physical violence he suffered as a child into adulthood. At times, he felt detached from the rest of the world.

“You can be in a room full of people and feel like you are all alone,” he said.

Steve tried to break out of his shell. He opted for structure. In young adulthood he joined the Marines. Many people faced what he did and then went off to active duty. Steve never went into battle, but he did suffer physical abuse at the hand of his superiors in the Marines, he said.

He had found himself in another abusive situation.

“I went from having one angry dad kicking and punching me to having three angry dads kicking and punching me,” he said.

When he finished in the Marines, he resorted to behaviors he was used to witnessing at home. He began to drink more, one of several complications associated with PTSD. Though he was never violent or abusive, Steve said he was not the father he could have been to his stepson.

“I lived most of my adult life angry and mistrustful and it’s tiring to live that way,” he said.

People in these types of situations tend to live the life they are familiar with and repeat the patterns they see, he said. It’s important to break that cycle, Steve said, and that’s why at the age of 45, he decided to sober up and finally confront his past. If he didn’t, he would never be free from the burden of what happened in his childhood.

“People who don’t fix it are paying the price for the sins of others,” he said.

Steve’s father died 30 days into his sobriety. He never confronted his father regarding his abusive and violent behavior. In the process of sobering, he did confront his mother about letting it happen.

This helped free him, to seek a better future. He’s been sober for more than two decades. After seeking the therapy he needed to come to terms with his childhood trauma, he became a certified life coach and personal trainer.

PTSD patients need to be willing to ask for help when they need it, Steve said. It’s not something for which you see the doctor and you are cured. If you feel recurring episodes, you need to seek the help you need at the times that you need it, he said.

“I had a desire to do something different,” he said. “Not only is it dangerous, but I didn’t want to live that way.”

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