Tag Archives: ptsd

Halloween and PTSD

halloween

That’s a broad topic (Halloween and PTSD).  When I mentioned blogging on this topic to a friend she said “There’s a connection between the two?”.

The answer is yes.  Halloween can be a really scary (no pun intended) season for SOME people with PTSD.   Some people that have PTSD might be triggered with the gore/props, jump scares and the masks or cloaking that take place for Halloween.

Gore/props- fake blood, body parts, bones can be a trigger, especially for combat Veterans with PTSD. Body parts and blood come right out of a battlefield scene and can bring back morbid memories.

Jump scares- sneaking out from behind a corner and shouting “boo” might seem like a funny idea, but to someone that has PTSD and is already hyper vigilant (over stimulated, constantly scanning) it can be detrimental.  That initial shock of adrenaline that happens to anyone when they are scared can actually trigger physiological stimuli in the body, and “prepare” the body for combat, or any other traumatic scenario the person has experienced.

Masks/Costumes- masks are a metaphor for hiding your true feelings or the “true” person underneath.  On Halloween, they are not viewed that way, they are for fun and celebration. To a person with PTSD, not being able to read the facial expressions and subtle cues because of a mask can make them extremely uncomfortable and stand offish.

I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying- not ALL people with PTSD have issues with Halloween.  Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Ft. Bragg. Their Commander asked each Company to do a Halloween themed Trunk or Treat and Haunted House. I was leery, and spent the week leading up to Halloween (their prep and construction time) waiting for these Vets to be triggered. If anyone was, they didn’t show it. They had some of the goriest, scariest scenes constructed and they took great delight in scaring each other and older visitors. It was one of the biggest morale building events I had ever seen.

On the contrary, last year, several of my Active Duty Soldiers and Airmen called to tell me they were having issues because they had been triggered by another Soldier who had dressed up and hid in the bushes along their PT route, jumping out to scare people. When someone reported it, the Chain of Command made this Soldier stop, but some damage had already been done.

In summary, just use caution and discretion when engaging people in your Halloween festivities.  Don’t criticize for lack of costume, not wanting to go to Halloween parties or “haunted” houses/corn mazes/hayrides.  You never know how they are being interpreted to others.

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MIA (missing in action)

I apologize for MIA status with this blog.  I assure you- I’ve been writing A LOT.  I’ve been working on finishing the first draft of my untitled non fiction project about my Dad’s experiences in Vietnam and how his PTSD affected us (my sister and I) growing up.  There is a section in the project where I examine PTSD and its affects on family from a therapist’s perspective.

I’m very excited about the project but I will continue to keep THIS blog about PTSD, Mental Health and the like.  I won’t cross post unless the topic applies to both,

If you would like to follow my progress on the book, feel free to visit my Author Website HERE and/or follow my progress on Facebook.

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The Ft Hood Shooting, PTSD and the Catch 22 that lies within…

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Everyone has been following the Ft Hood Shooting that took place on 2 April.  The media was quick to point out that SPC Ivan Lopez (the shooter) had been to Iraq, and was quick to question if he had PTSD.  This started a debate all over the internet- can someone that only went to Iraq for 4 months have PTSD?  It’s possible.  It’s also possible that he had previous trauma that was somehow triggered.  This blog post isn’t about diagnosing the late SPC Lopez. It’s about the dangers of jumping to blame PTSD.

The PROS:

There is A pro of the media bringing PTSD up in this situation.  More awareness of PTSD.  Possibly the Military realizing they need to allow Service Members to go off base and choose their own Behavioral Health Providers instead of insisting they use the on base military providers.  It gets even worse when you decide to build a huge Behavioral Health building in a busy area on post.  Now EVERYONE knows that SGT Smith is going for help.  (I’m looking at you, Ft. Bragg.)

 

The CONS:

The cons of the media immediatlely suggesting that SPC Lopez had PTSD far outweigh awareness.  Many Service Members are still afraid of seeking help for their issues. Some that have been diagnosed as having PTSD are not getting help.  Now if the media starts a PTSD scare people are going to tiptoe around Service Members that have PTSD even more.  Civilians will shy away from them.  “When is HE going to snap?” they might wonder. This could also encourage others to use PTSD as an excuse. (This is far fetched, as most people I’ve met are very honorable, but we can’t rule it out.)

 

An even bigger point that I think some are overlooking is this- SO WHAT if SPC Lopez had PTSD?

PTSD does not justify or give anyone the right to shoot someone else.  It’s a diagnosis.

For me, this draws a comparison to the 1993 shooting that was reported nationwide- when a 22 year old Soldier named Kenneth French walked into a popular Fayetteville, NC restaurant and shot and killed 4 people and wounded 6 others.  SGT French did not kill himself.  He went to trial, where his lawyer claimed that SGT French was in an alcoholic blackout.  So what?  He is still repsonsible for his actions, alcohol or no alcohol. 

SPC Lopez is still responsible for his actions- no matter what.  PTSD, prescription drugs, TBI- it doesn’t matter. 

Please remember the families of the victims of the Ft. Hood shooting in your thoughts.  Also remember, SPC Lopez’s family, I’m sure they are hurting too.

 

 ***This blog is for information/entertainment purposes only and is
not meant to be a substitute for mental health therapy. If you believe
you are suffering from a mental or physical illness see the
appropriate mental health/medical professional as soon as possible. If
the situation is life threatening dial 911 or proceed to the nearest
emergency room.***

 

 

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Do we, as a nation, have PTSD?

broken flag

I was asked this question at a conference two weeks ago. It took me a minute to respond.  No, I don’t think we, as a nation, have PTSD.  I think many more people have PTSD than are reported.  Many people have PTSD that don’t even realize they have it.

If I had to “diagnose” our nation, I’d say we suffer from Secondary Trauma.  What is Secondary Trauma?

Secondary Trauma used to be only associated with those in the helping professions- Therapists, Doctors, Clergymen.  Secondary traumatic stress can cause symptoms similar to the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which may include: feelings of fear, hopelessness, horror, anger, and rage; sleep disturbances; changes in memory; difficulty concentrating; and estrangement and detachment from others and from daily life. Thoughts about a client’s experiences may begin to intrude on a professional’s daily life.[had to hear about traumatic events over and over.  (Santa Clara University)

 

  Now, there is focus and research placed on family members of those with PTSD. Several schools of thought think that spouses of those suffering from PTSD have Secondary Trauma themselves.

 

How many people cringed after seeing planes take off the first few weeks after 9/11? Especially when those planes appeared to be approaching buildings.

How many people change the channel when they see the traumatic pictures of the dogs, cats and other animals paired with a sad Sarah McLachlan song, askinng for donations for the ASPCA?

 

The media and the internet give us instant and repeated access to trauma.  We need to examine what these images and sounds are doing to us, even if we aren’t “at the scene” of the trauma.

 

***This blog is for information/entertainment purposes only and is
not meant to be a substitute for mental health therapy. If you believe
you are suffering from a mental or physical illness see the
appropriate mental health/medical professional as soon as possible. If
the situation is life threatening dial 911 or proceed to the nearest
emergency room.***

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“You’re so sexist, can’t women have PTSD too?”

While no one has said that to me in my blog comments- yet 😉 –  I figure you might be wondering.  I’ve heard that question posed at many PTSD conferences, forums, etc.

YES, Women can have PTSD.  Female combat veterans, female rape victims, female accident victims, etc. (See my post on “What is PTSD?”) 

Studies have shown that women usually turn PTSD inward- depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, well men often display their PTSD outwardly- anger, violence and suicidal thoughts.

(Those are GENERAL terms.  I know there are women with PTSD out there that are fighting and raising hell and men that are crying themselves to sleep at night.)

Once again, the violence, domestic abuse, drinking, high risk taking behavior, etc in MALES is what is currently plaguing the Military and the VA system, hence the reason I’m focusing on it for now.

Don’t worry, this is a Mental Health blog, not just a PTSD blog.  Many more topics to come– especially if you leave feedback or send requests.

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Hypervigilance- “Why does he have to carry a gun everywhere?”

I think this is the question I hear most often from wives of PTSD combat victims. “He can’t go anywhere without his gun- why?” Or “my husband is slowly becoming a gun nut, help!”

Let me take a lyric from Filter, to try to explain this.
“Now that the smoke’s gone, and the air is all clear,
Those that were right there, have a new kind of fear.”

~Filter

Staying vigilant, or even hypervigilant, is what kept that combat veteran alive. He went to an unfamiliar place and had to deal with all kinds of threats- some he trained for, some he didn’t.
Sleeping lightly, turning his head and looking to find the cause of EVERY noise, always being armed- that is what kept him alive. Chances are, he had some buddies that were just as vigilant as he was, that aren’t here today. Being vigilant doesn’t protect you with a bullet proof/ IED proof shield- it just gives you a better chance of survival. It can take the element of surprise away.

But now he’s back home. There are no IEDs here. (Boston Marathon excluded.) There are threats, but nothing like the amount of threats he faced in combat. He knows this. There’s a new vulnerability, though. His weapon kept him alive over there, why shouldn’t he want it at his side here? Checking and double checking and triple checking that the doors are locked at home, he just wants to make sure he’s as secure as can be (taking away the element of surprise).

If he’s carrying legally and not endangering anyone, try to be patient with him. Talk with him if he’s open about it. Don’t push the subject and don’t insist he not carry his gun, IF he is doing it safely, legally, and soberly.

As one of my Soldiers said to me, “I just CAN’T be unarmed.”
**If anyone is showing signs of suicide, do not attempt to disarm them, call 911 immediately.**

***This blog is for information/entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for mental health therapy. If you believe you are suffering from a mental or physical illness see the appropriate mental health/medical professional as soon as possible. If the situation is life threatening dial 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency room.***

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What IS PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.
PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

(taken from National Institute Of Mental Health)

Why did I pick this definition for PTSD? Trust me when I say there are many. The bolding above is mine. So many people (therapists included) think you can’t possibly have PTSD unless YOU were in a traumatic situation or event. And what is considered trauma? That’s the next blog…

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