Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and what I have learned
Posted by Jennifer on February 16, 2012
I am not a Psychologist. My knowledge of PTSD was minimal until Stiggy’s Dogs. I did however, do a lot of ‘research’ during my *set up* phase. I read everything I could and felt I had a good grip on how we would tailor our program to fit the needs. Oh the memory alone right now makes me smile my naivety…..
Nothing could prepare me for the last year, no books, articles or letters. I actually lived it. I would argue that I understand PTSD better than most Physiologist. I actually believe that I now have PTSD from what I have learned….
I begin with the gratitude and respect that I hold for these Veterans…the ones in our Stiggy’s family, the countless I have talked /interviewed with, and the numerous emails. The open honest conversations we have had. The raw emotions of the reality of your personal lives. The strength it takes on a daily basis, the growth, the courage you show. True warriors and heroes that they are. And trust me, if I shared a fraction of the ‘stories’ I know….you would be in tears, in shock and *changed*. As our Veterans are, as I am, and their families.
To really connect the bond between dog and handler, we (Donna and I) spend a large amount of time with our Veterans and Dogs during their *paring* training. This is essential. To do this properly, we also take the Veteran/Dog into every Store, Restaurant, etc. (ultimately to pass the Public Access Test). The Veteran alone needs a medal of honor to just accomplish this…..
One common thread I see in PTSD is anxiety. A anxiety within the civilian world (our world-non Military). Most Veterans do not feel comfortable around civilians, in crowds, loud places, small places, etc. Each Veteran feeling this, each Veteran having their own trigger points within this.
Trigger points brings more complexity to PTSD. Each Veteran has their own story, each very descriptive in its details surrounding it. This is another example of the *heightened awareness* these Veterans feel. I was never aware myself before about how your senses play a HUGE part of your memories…sight, sounds, touch, scent. Each one brings with it something that could trigger a memory. Kind of like how the smell of Apple Pie cooking makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Yeah, well……theirs are not like that, trust me. So at any time when we are with our Veterans/dogs something could trigger a response. A sound-usually loud- someone could open a pop can, and *pop* the Veteran I was standing next to, is now someone or somewhere else. Flashbacks are common, their visions very real. I have witnessed many times the; red face, hives, sweat, pallor, to completely comatose. These moments are prime examples when our dogs help the most, they *lick* or *nose nudge* these Veterans back to reality.
There are stages to PTSD. The first is recognizing that you have it. Next is asking for help. Most Veterans are stuck in that vicious circle before they even start treatment for it. Once that begin, there are still challenges, therapy, medications (don get me started on the amount on medications that get tossed around to our Veterans- you would be shocked again!) that our Veterans endure as they rebuild their new lives.
Another common thread I see with PTSD is the anger. Mostly frustration that turns quickly to anger. Frustration at the System, (The VA- and trust me I have much anger towards that unfair system!-another post) . Frustration at themselves: blame, loneliness, knowing they have changed, and finding out who they are and how they fit in. Which this can lead to depression…….and mostly it is a circle I see many go around in. Honestly, they are justified ….
Our system (VA) has let them down, the system is over loaded and has yet to really acknowledge PTSD for our Veterans, much less have the proper programs set up for them. Many families and friends have let our Veterans down. Most Veterans are divorced, most families have alienated them- wanting the child they knew not the person they are. Our society has let them down, not recognizing PTSD, not building awareness of our Veterans, those who have lost their lives for their country and those who are proudly serving our country. These Veterans have a *story* to be heard, some may share, some may not. But they need to be heard. Our media needs to tell it, our Nation needs to recognize it, so our communities can stand behind it!
I am proud to say that I have witnessed how dogs can help be a part of this process. However, even with the many examples I can show of the good they have done for Veterans, there is one common thread of a struggle that needs to be addressed. Public awareness of Service Dogs. DO NOT PET THEM. DO not ask to pet them. DO not let your children pet them. DO not ask if your dog could play with them. Hard as it may be, try not to stare and talk about them. Our Veterans can hear and they are not blind.
Not just for PTSD, but there are many *Hidden disabilities*. We do not need to know them, know why or how. This is situation is one that each of our Veterans have experienced at least once. Going out in public is hard enough with out stores asking them to leave, business denying them, etc,.
I will end this with a strong example, a email I received from a Veteran after coming back from a trip to the store;
“Plenty of rubberneckers, comments and dog molesters breathing down our necks. I’m embarrassed to admit I was so anxious during the fiasco that I cried. It really sucks to have a debilitating condition that isn’t visible. If I were in a wheelchair or missing limbs then people would be amenable. Thankful to not be in that position but troubling such a lack of mutual respect exists. Makes me wanna fly a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on my doorstep. Troubling when minding my own business and not meaning anyone harm that I feel unable to live my own life free from unnecessary control. “