Sunday, November 18, 2007

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is not an unfamiliar term for me. I have dealt with it for years because of the physical and sexual abuse that was a part of my up bringing.

Blackfive has the best description and understanding of it I have ever read.

What you need to know, first and last, is that so-called PTSD is not an illness. It is a normal condition for people who have been through what you have been through. The instinct to kill and war is native to humanity. It is very deeply rooted in me, as it is in you. We have rules and customs to restrain it, so that sometimes we may have peace. What you are experiencing is not an illness, but the awareness of what human nature is like deep down. It is the awareness of what life is like without the walls that protect civilization.

Those who have never been outside those walls don't know: they can't see. The walls form their horizon. You know what lays beyond them, and can't forget it. (emphasis mine)

In the above quote he is referring to the effects of the war. But, he goes on to describe how it is a response to any situation of danger. Read the entire post. It is excellent.

For years, I tried to explain it to people. I just couldn't do it in a way that made sense to them because they did not have the experience I had. They had never been "outside the walls". It is hard to learn to trust and let go of survival skills once you are no longer in the critical situation. The things you do ensured your survival. PTSD is just learning to re-direct your survival instincts.

As child I never had a sound sleep in my bed. Never. I could not go to sleep and trust that someone would take care of me while I rested. I was always aware of every slight movement and every quiet sound. Therefore, I was tired all of the time. This led to a host of other problems but this awareness was necessary. It was pertinent to my "survival". I had to know when my step-dad was creeping into my room in the middle of the night. It is self-preservation. My best sleep was had when I would drift off while watching TV on the couch in the living room. This was an open area where he could easily be caught. So, I was a little safer if someone was home. Plus, I was fully dressed and that made it more difficult. Anything to make things difficult and give me time to wake up if I had fallen asleep. The couch became my sanctuary. It was a place that I could relax enough to sleep.

This worked for me until I got married. I still could not sleep very well in my bed. Especially, now that there was a person in it who wanted to touch me and at times those touches were sexual. Just because the situation was changed and the danger element no longer existed didn't mean my internal behavior patterns were changed. I consciously worked on this issue and I tried to explain but he couldn't understand. He took it personal. There were many arguments because I would sleep on the couch. Most people argue and then sleep on the couch. I had the opposite problem. I needed to sleep on the couch sometimes. I couldn't get sleep otherwise. He would rant and rave because I was not in bed with him. My survival technique wasn't needed any more since the danger element was removed. But, I couldn't make the switch. Not easily or quickly, that is. It has taken years of conscious effort and finding the right person to trust. I have seen outside the walls. Sex is not wrong. It is a vital and important part of a relationship. In a marriage it creates a bond. But, there are relationships where it is not permitable. Trust is destroyed when it is inappropriate and forced.

PTSD, or whatever label you want to call survival, is real. If someone you know has been in an extreme condition, please take the time to listen and understand. It is difficult to come back inside the walls with the images and the knowledge that is stored within your soul. Be comforting, patient, open and honest. Do not berate them or criticize. Don't take it personal. Most of all give them time. Time to adjust. Time to learn to set aside skills that they don't need anymore. Remember, if they hadn't had and used those survival techniques when it was necessary, they wouldn't be with you now. Congratulate them on a job well done and welcome them home.