I have spoken to and worked with many serving military personnel and veterans with PTSD and have heard some horrific stories that match some of my own. I never ask for any content of stories and just allow them to tell me what they need to say out loud, in their own way.
There are surprisingly innocuous triggers for flash backs, which is one of the many frustrating aspects of PTSD. Those who suffer with it find themselves getting lost in a flash back from minor little daily events that have no apparent connection to anything they have experienced. This recollection is from someone with PTSD and will hopefully go someway to help you understand what PTSD sufferers can be going through on a daily basis.
“Stand back, stand back…stand the fuck back. You move again and I’ll fucking kill you.”
Bang, bang, bang, bang…..
It’s 02:32, my heart is racing and pounding out of my chest so hard I can feel it in my throat, I’m covered in sweat and I can feel my eyes are wide and staring as I sit bolt upright on the sofa grabbing for a weapon that isn’t there.
It takes me a few minutes to get my bearings and come back to the here and now yet the images are still as clear as day in my mind and are making me nauseous. I can smell the and taste the acrid bite of propellant from the rounds being fired, the images swirling around in my head going faster and faster causing confusion, fear and anxiety. I start crying uncontrollably, deep overwhelming sobs that hurt as I convulse and slide from the sofa into the floor. Finally it subsides and I can breathe again at last.
I stumble up from the floor and stagger into the kitchen for a glass of water and as the tap runs cooler I splash it over my head, face and neck. The cool liquid is such a relief to my senses as it makes the images fade away, almost disappearing entirely. For now.
Back on the sofa I watch TV quietly so as not to wake anyone upstairs as it’s still only 03:00 and I lay watching nothing in particular until I drift off again.
“Do you want a cup of tea…tea, do you want a cup?” It’s 07:30 now and my wife is waking me up. I still feel a little sick and can still taste the acrid fumes which brings an unnerving shudder to my spine.
As I sit there slowly waking up my daughter comes into the lounge and snuggles up next to me. Five minutes later my son wobbles through the door on sleepy legs and snuggles up the other side of me on the sofa and we sit watching the morning news drinking a cup of tea. It’s a wonderful feeling having my beautiful kids either side of me, yet I start to feel my eyes welling up again and fight to control my emotions that begin to feel like they are going to burst out of me.
My son looks at me with a concerned expression on his face and I gently reassure him that I’m ok and that my eyes always water first thing when I’m still sleepy. He seems to be satisfied with my answer as he tells me that it sometimes happens to him to.
The rest of the morning is spent fighting back the waves of emotions flooding through me, random feelings of panic and anxiety, fear, anger, paranoia, sadness…constantly flowing from one to another. The rush that they manifest themselves within is confusing, overwhelming and total at times. It makes my head spin leaving me unable to think, channeling me to respond from a survival state and snapping at my wife and kids as my temper is unhealthily short. I deliver impatient rants of sometimes pure rage for something as little as a raised voice from my kids as they play in the house. This leads me into guilt, sadness and hatred for myself for being such a wanker to my own wife and kids.
The depression that this delivers is like a giant black hole that sucks the life and all will to live from body and mind, it is so all consuming that as I stand looking at my kids with tears running down my cheeks, all I can think about is killing myself to save them from having to see and hear any of this from me.
There a few hours respite as the emotional turmoil subsides into virtual non-existence and I feel a huge sense of relief as I actually feel almost normal for the first time today and today has felt like a lifetime already.
It’s lunchtime and I have fun making lunch with the kids, then, my daughter spills her drink all over the breakfast bar and it runs onto the floor. I freak out at her, shouting, so angry, feeling absolute rage. My daughters eyes are wide with fear and surprise at my unexpected outburst and she starts crying. My wife has a go at me for being a dick and overreacting which sets me off again. I storm out of the room before I break something…or worse someone.
As I get out of the kitchen I stop and stare at the wall in front of me and the scene plays out in front of me yet again. I start to sweat and shake as I continue to stare in what appears to be blankly at the wall. My wife calls my name and I can hear it faintly in the distance, she calls again, it seems closer this time. It takes a couple more attempts before I recognise that its her but as I turn around to look at her she seems far away and standing in between two buildings behind me. I try to speak but no words come out of my mouth and this freaks me out even more.
As my wife touches my arm I turn away and walk upstairs, shaking uncontrollably and tears streaming down my face. I need space to regain some composure before I come back downstairs and apologise to my daughter, yet again. If it’s not her it’s my son or my wife and I’m tired of having to do it so regularly.
This repeats itself three or four more times before the kids go to bed, sometimes with a little more control, sometimes not. The cycle leads to more frustration, anger, anxiety, sadness and overwhelming emotional pain. It is exhausting fighting the urge to end it all because I can’t talk to my wife about what’s going on inside my head. It’s a catch twenty two, I need to talk to someone yet I can’t talk about what’s going on and holding in all this pain is puling me apart leaving me completely exhausted at night yet not being able to sleep for the nightmares and the anticipation of them too.
It’s 21:00 and as my kids come and say goodnight I give my daughter a longer, tighter hug and tell her several times that I’m sorry and that I love her. She puts her hands on my shoulders and looks me straight in the eye and says “It’s ok daddy, I love you too.” My heart breaks at her words and I struggle to keep myself from falling apart. My son gives me a huge hug and an understanding smile before they head upstairs.
Later on as my wife goes upstairs to bed I make my usual excuse that I’m going to watch TV for a while and I’ll be up later. I hear her moving around upstairs getting ready for bed and once she is settled, I turn the TV up a little and then collapse onto the sofa as the cycle repeats itself and not knowing whether I will break completely tonight or not.
This is just one day in the life of a PTSD sufferer when it is at its peak for this individual, can you imagine what this is like day in, day out. PTSD is a collection of symptoms/conditions and it is a case of finding what treatment method works for each person and like the symptoms, it may be a collection of treatments that work and get that person back to living a normal, functional and happy life.