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The best way to describe how flashbacks feel for me is to say what it's not.  It's NOT the instant replay of a movie that runs through your head, as most PTSD videos would have you believe, or instantly seeing a dead friend talking to you.

It's a feeling.  For me, the feeling is pure, unadulterated dread.  The certain knowledge that something terrible is going to happen, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

A civilian example would be for those of you who've ever driven in the snow and lost grip with your tires right near a drop off...

(More explanation on the flip)

It really hits you right in the gut, and you feel very afraid.  The sudden, horrible knowledge just strikes home and for an instant, all you can feel is this awful certainty of tragedy.  You start to expect the same things you saw back in the day, expecting every car to suddenly have the rear tires blown out.  (Goofy, yeah, but the three IED's I saw all went off at the back of vehicles.  Two US and One Iraqi.)

And then it's over.  Sometimes it's a minute, sometimes it's a few, but that's what it feels like.

What triggers it?  Well, they say it's traumatic stress, but honestly, what really triggers it is the inconsequential things that were going on WHEN you were feeling that horrible stress.

For example, somebody pointing a toy gun, or a real one, at me causes an instant feeling of anger now.  It's not a full blown flashback, just a trained response that there's very little I can do to block.  I try, and honestly, I've gotten better about it, but even depictions of somebody causally threatening someone with a gun cause me to get my bristles up.

The ones that REALLY get me are temperature, smells, and light.  I got hit outside Mosul around this time of year, so as a result clear winter sunset tends to set me off pretty bad.  Combine that with a chill wind and the smell of dust and BAM, almost instant flashback.  I try to control it when it happens, and once again, it's getting better, but it's still something I try to minimize.  I try not to go out close to sunset, just because I know the combination of sensations sets my brain off.

So there it is.  A serious diary from me about something totally inconsequential.  There's a whole mess of different ways that people feel, and I'm not pretending that I speak for everybody who's got PTSD.  I'm just saying how I feel when it hits.

But of course, the Army said I haven't got it.  Lucky me.  If these feelings aren't PTSD, then I must be crazy.  Of course, the Army says I'm not Crazy either.  Course I was following orders when I went to the doctor and didn't talk about things that "Only happen once in a while".  

I am getting better.  I will get better,  but I don't know how many guys/gals in my situation won't.  If you have good thoughts, give em to the folks who don't talk about it and suffer in silence, because there's a hell of a lot more of em than the Army says there are.

Originally posted to detroitmechworks on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 10:50 AM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Policy Zone, DKos Military Veterans, Military Community Members of Daily Kos, Mental Health Awareness, KosAbility, and Community Spotlight.

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  •  Tip Jar (135+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    agnostic, WiseFerret, joanneleon, Gooserock, trinityfly, poligirl, Lorikeet, TheMomCat, Richard Cranium, LaEscapee, Loonesta, SingerInTheChoir, Catte Nappe, PhilJD, triv33, Wayward Wind, Zwoof, Anthony Page aka SecondComing, glorificus, KenBee, Marie, opinionated, Margd, janmtairy, yet another liberal, cotterperson, ban nock, revsue, evelette, arizonablue, Eileen B, Jujuree, BMarshall, ladybug53, cv lurking gf, northsylvania, niemann, daveygodigaditch, FloridaSNMOM, Cassandra Waites, oopsaDaisy, tapestry, Liberal Granny, Lorinda Pike, S F Hippie, BeerNotWar, Otteray Scribe, RhymesWithUrple, chuckvw, undercovercalico, asterkitty, seabos84, SwedishJewfish, CornSyrupAwareness, old wobbly, TheFatLadySings, Old Gardener, vigilant meerkat, karmsy, science nerd, tin woodswoman, timethief, Throw The Bums Out, jimstaro, G2geek, ms scarlett leadpipe, ms badger, Velocity, blueoasis, aaraujo, Wee Mama, Ginny in CO, kurious, timewarp, AbominableAllStars, Aaa T Tudeattack, gnutpnut, madame damnable, kevinpdx, rhubarb, bnasley, Regina in a Sears Kit House, Creosote, bakeneko, Mighty Ike, CFAmick, WI Deadhead, Horace Boothroyd III, shopkeeper, Amor Y Risa, Steveningen, congenitalefty, OLinda, Nowhere Man, dotdash2u, mjfgates, AllisonInSeattle, mookins, dear occupant, janatallow, devis1, DawnN, ogre, kurt, chimene, peachcreek, James Kresnik, WearyIdealist, GreyHawk, bkamr, truong son traveler, OleHippieChick, Blue Bronc, BusyinCA, hazey, molecularlevel, yuriwho, jarbyus, glitterscale, artisan, dull knife, paxpdx, zerelda, Athenian, Thinking Fella, Jakkalbessie, pvlb, BlackSheep1, oldcrow, beka, linkage, kait, one person, ramara, trumpeter

    One of these days, I'm gonna learn that I'm only really good at convincing people when I'm being a wiseass. Reviewtopia.net

    by detroitmechworks on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 10:50:43 AM PST

  •  Det, our collective best wishes to you. (38+ / 0-)

    If ever you want a shoulder, or two, just ask. I suspect that you might even receive a huge group hug, for as long and as hard as you want. Perhaps longer.

    Best wishes. If some artwork would cheer you up, message me, and I shall forward a few pieces for you.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 10:53:08 AM PST

  •  Thanks, mech (38+ / 0-)

    Thanks for helping us try to understand it.  It sounds to me a little bit like a serious panic attack, the ones that can almost paralyze you.  Terror that seemingly comes out of nowhere.  I know a little bit about what you mean but I have never been in war or hit by an IED so I realize I can only relate a little bit.  There are some other forms of PTSD that I have learned about that come from long term abuse in smaller doses and they bring about some similar effects.  

    Your triggers are tough ones to deal with, I would imagine.  It almost sounds like your brain is trying to warn you -- it remembers the conditions that were present when you were attacked and wants to protect you, put you on alert.  Now it's a matter of convincing your brain that there is not danger in every instance when those conditions occur.  But when something so horrifying has happened under those conditions, it must be really hard to unlearn the things perceived to be danger signals.

    I wish you all the best and a lot of peace.  Thanks again for writing.

  •  That's How Every Vet Who Ever Described it To (23+ / 0-)

    me put it.

    Civilian trauma works the same way in my experience, triggered so often by similar little things that as you say were going on.

    Like so many boomers I was raised, taught and counseled by WW2 veterans which included many combat vets. I remember some very surprising anger at kids showing up for camping or hiking bearing war surplus ammo packs and such, surprising to us given the saturation of popular entertainment with WW2 stories and the cowboy/frontier stories that were often staged like wars.

    So at least a few of us were not completely surprised when the Vietnam vets started to come back. And as we matured and studied literature from the postwar periods following every war, all the same struggles are there. It's the worst kept secret of warfare.

    I hope you're getting the support you need, and can work through some of this.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 11:09:35 AM PST

  •  For me, it has been a decades long effort (24+ / 0-)

    to put all of the puzzle pieces together of my experience in Vietnam....with heart pounding interludes and some seriously bad dreams.

    I was not a warrior, I just worked with them in Vietnam and the hospitals after I got "home".  "Home" was an interesting search for me as well.

    So, if there is anything that I can say to help in your personal searches, it would be to keep writing and talking about what you experienced.  I found serious comfort in online vets groups...crying and typing.

    You mention your children.  My child is a repository of many of my stories...sometimes I worry about that...does she have to carry too much of it...but she has seen me to my depths and heights (for that matter).  She has even laughed with me at the dark humor of it all.  Your children are your treasures.

    •  Bless your treasured daughter (10+ / 0-)

      I think I may know a little bit of what you feel - the worry about her having too much to "carry."  

      Obviously, there are things that she shouldn't hear about until she's at an age where she can understand them.  But you honor her by sharing your stories, memories and feelings with her.  You honor her by letting her know why you are the person that you are.  What would be tragic would be not letting her know who you are and why you are the person you are, and leaving her to figure it out for herself.  

      My mother had some dark experiences in her life.  It was not until she was in her late 80s and in an early stage of dementia that the disease allowed her to let down her guard so that she could tell me those stories.  Otherwise, I would not understand her, or respect the difficult things she had to overcome.  I grieve over things that happened to her, but I'm glad that I know them.  They help me understand a lot about why I am the way I am, because of ways she behaved that I imitated.  

      So I think you are doing the right thing in talking to your daughter, trinityfly.  

      Very best to you and your daughter.
      Elizabeth

      I have no help to send. Therefore I must go myself. Aragorn

      by Old Gardener on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 04:58:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for putting this out there. I got the same (23+ / 0-)

    Reactions from the VA too. "No you aren't crazy, this is a
    "normal" thing for somebody who has been in combat, blah blah, blah. " Well, when does it go away? "We expect you to
    get better."  Thanks for not really answering my question....
    How much combat did you say you were in? "Oh none, I
    was in the Air Force reserves during the Korean War."
    Oh...so you don't really understand....fucker.

    DetroitMW-some things you wrote that were the same for me
    Were my instant anger at someone pointing a toy gun at me or even pretending to shoot me with their fingers, your descriptions of what flashbacks are like, and especially the
    Knowledge that there are many,many combat vets out there who are struggling with the effects of combat and are getting little or no help because the Army or VA says there is nothing wrong with them.
    Kinda losing it here, but mostly want you to know that things do get better- or maybe the meds make coping easier, but I know that I am not anywhere near as bad(dangerous in society) as I used to be.
    Take Care buddy, things will get better .
    Combat vet, Vietnam '68-69

  •  Quibble about 1 thing, strongly object to another (7+ / 0-)

    Quibble is that you are sometimes using flashback and PTSD interchangeably. A flashback is one potential symptom of PTSD.

    Strong objection is to your assertion that your diary is "about something totally inconsequential". I'd say it's pretty consequential for you, and a lot of other people.

    from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

    by Catte Nappe on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 11:34:05 AM PST

  •  I hope it gets better for you, dmw. (8+ / 0-)

    I hate you (and others) having to carry this along with you.

    “In Texas, we do not hold high expectations for the [governor's] office; it's mostly been occupied by crooks, dorks and the comatose. Molly Ivins

    by glorificus on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 12:16:14 PM PST

  •  What a service you have done (17+ / 0-)

    that is the single best description of PTSD I have ever seen. And in words anyone can understand. Thank you dmw
    You will get better. You will get stronger. I can feel it. I believe it.

    Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause. Mohandas Gandhi

    by onceasgt on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:28:53 PM PST

    •  One of these days... (15+ / 0-)

      I'm gonna get around to writing my "Catch 22" script about Iraq...

      One of these days, I'm gonna learn that I'm only really good at convincing people when I'm being a wiseass. Reviewtopia.net

      by detroitmechworks on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 02:15:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think so too. (13+ / 0-)
      that is the single best description of PTSD I have ever seen.

      Yes, this diary is excellent.  I hate all the objective-sounding "psychobabble" definitions and explanations of PTSD ... and I am a therapist who has done years of PTSD counseling.  None of it really touches the experience of it, as dmw does here.

      (In my case it was in the field of domestic violence.)

      I used to draw a diagram of the workings of The Mind --(whatever that is, but there is such a thing) -- for people, going into how the energy flow through the mind relates to past experiences, emotional charges, and so on -- so they could at least recognize and understand what was happening to them when it happened.  

      I always said it was no more fanciful than a diagram of a car engine:  if you know how all the parts relate to each other, and how the energy flows through it, then if you see a symptom over here, it helps you find the real source of the problem over there and deal with it more efficiently.

      And, despite what people think, there is no definite line where you either have PTSD, or you don't.  It is all a spectrum which everyone is on because no one has a trauma-free life.  Unfortunately, war experience tends to put people on the really, really high end of the spectrum.

      And, dmw, to be told you don't have PTSD when you clearly do ...  That strikes me as just rank incompetence to the point of unethical.  But then, I wouldn't expect the doctors working for the same organization that gave you PTSD in the first place to be the most objective and honest about taking responsibility for that fact.

  •  War sucks. (0+ / 0-)

    We should be doing everything we can to prevent more people from being put in the circumstances that created these flashbacks for you.

    One way is to change our language.  No more of this "hero," "warrior," "service," crap.  That serves as encouragement for more of our young people to join.  Let's change the language to "mercenary," "cannon fodder," and "hireling for the Imperialist 1%."

    It's a lot more honest.  And it serves the purpose of discouraging more volunteers'

    Make the warmongering fuckers try to draft us.

  •  Thank you for sharing (13+ / 0-)

    There is all kinds of PTSD in this house.   I for one have a lot of what you describe but never been diagnosed.  Something other than war as well.  I also live with the war flashbacks.  An ovwerwhleming sense of doom and sadness and then like a severe panic attack and tears.  Right back where your trauma was.  Again thanks for sharing.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 02:44:22 PM PST

  •  As a person with PTSD, I can tell you two things (17+ / 0-)

    1. You're not crazy.
    2. Your description is spot-on.

    EMDR helps. A lot. If you've never heard of it, it's a simple, physically painless (emotionally draining) procedure administered by a counselor or shrink. It doesn't cost more than the price of an appointment.

    Have you made it through the detached-from-humanity stage yet? That's usually in the second or third year and in my experience it was the absolute worst part of it all. I felt like I was living underwater, barely able to see or hear other humans. It was as if I was stalking my own life from across the street. I was a ghost without the ability to be invisible.

    If this starts to happen to you...and it might...find somebody to give you EMDR treatments. And play tetris.  

    Tetris as a Vaccine Against PTSD | Psychology Today

    Free Tetris is my favorite game...next to Centipede, but I think I'll keep that to myself 'cause it makes me old.

    •  EMDR can work wonders. (8+ / 0-)

      I am not trained it in and have never done it, but some of the people I worked with in the domestic violence field did very well with it.  I would love to learn more about doing it.

      I have done some hypnosis work related to PTSD, and I suspect the underlying principle is the same:  accessing the buried emotional charges in a really, really immediate way ... feeling them in all their fury -- but in a safe, contained setting -- and over time, in a controlled way, letting them burn themselves out.  

      (I always likened those emotional charges to toddlers having a temper tantrum.  If you just let them go, finally they wear themselves out.)

      You're right, that's where the emotional draining part comes in.  One client I worked with likened it to being emotionally constipated -- but, boy, do you feel light and free when it has all come out.  

      •  Not to belittle its effectiveness, but I can't (7+ / 0-)

        imagine that getting certified to administer EMDR is a difficult process. I seem to recall my counselor saying it was very short training. The simplicity of simulating REM to process brain trauma is frankly, amazing.

        If you work in DV counseling, learning EMDR could help in a genuinely tangible way; and long term. How often do you get to really do that in DV?

        •  The experience is so odd. I would go through a (8+ / 0-)

          treatment and then, at some random point within three days of the treatment, I'd start to go through intense flashbacks. And then, at some point, all the colors around me started to look brighter and I started interpreting things differently and realizing I was in a different place in a different time.

          PTSD is like being a time traveler. Parts of ourselves are left behind somewhen else. We have to go back, find that person and bring them forward into the present. Otherwise, we remain stuck at the same age we were and unable to mature or work through whatever it was that happened.

          And even though it all went wrong I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah! -Leonard Cohen .................@laurenreichelt

          by TheFatLadySings on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 05:06:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The mind is really, really strange. (5+ / 0-)

            I always said that down in the subconscious, time goes all funny.  

            To the emotional energies living down there -- waiting to be felt and dissipated -- it is still the time when they were first formed.  They don't know it's 2001.  To them, it may still be 1968, or 1945, or 1910.  

            They may have been waiting years to be fully felt and processed, so when they finally get to pass through consciousness and be felt (which is all they really want), it can be really disorienting to the person in question.  If the energies come out too fast and intensely, the person can actually have flashbacks and think she or he is really back in that time.

            I had one woman -- who had had a whole life of horrible abuse -- call me, saying she had fallen to the floor and was feeling waves of terror, which she couldn't understand at all because her life was safe and stable now.

            We talked about all this stuff, and she put it perfectly.  She said, "So these emotions are real?"

            ME:  "They're definitely real.  I mean, you're on the floor, aren't you?"

            HER:  "But ... [thinking it out] ... they're out of time."

            That's it exactly.  Knowing that -- how the mind processes these things, and that she wasn't "crazy" -- she could let herself let all the old rubbish flow out, riding it out, and afterward she called to say she felt very light.

            I love this stuff!

        •  Very strange. What I've been told is it's ... (6+ / 0-)

          ... a pretty long-term, intensive training.  I've heard of one process where (I seem to recall) you do the first stage training, then have to get a certain number of supervised hours, then a second stage training ... and so on.

          Of course, I suppose that is if you want to do EMDR well and safely.  Now that it's become more popular and well-known, I think I've also heard there are other less -- well, safe trainings.

          EMDR can be quite dangerous and traumatic itself, if done by a bad therapist.  I always say the subconscious has a built-in safety mechanism:  It won't let more come up than you're ready and able to deal with.  That is a HUGE thing I've come to respect when doing hypnosis.  You simply do not mess with those energies down there.  You walk really, really lightly.  

          Unfortunately, some therapists don't respect that safety mechanism, and try to yank open the door to the subconscious by force, going too far too fast.  I worked with one woman who was really traumatized by an EMDR therapist who did that.

          How often do you get to really do that in DV?

          I always felt there were three levels of DV counseling.  The first is the crisis management -- which usually has little effect unless it moves to the second level ...

          ... which is the educational aspect.  It's more in-depth, and can be very helpful, but things were likely to fall back into the same patterns unless the clients moved on to the third level ...

          ... which I call "personal transformation" counseling.  That is the EMDR level, like physics or chemistry of the mind, where you really go and work with the deep, powerful energies and forces, releasing some, letting others expand and grow ...  

          When you do enough of that, there's little chance of backsliding, because you're changing on a really basic level.  I always said, in reference to that level of counseling, that a butterfly can't backslide back into a caterpillar.  Unfortunately, most people aren't willing to work at that tough, rather scary level.

          •  I agree EMDR has significantly (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            niemann, AllisonInSeattle, DawnN, kurt

            improved PTSD treatment. Initially there were problems and I don't remember parts of the story. What I recall is the woman who discovered it was unwilling to share some of the basics because she was afraid it would not be done correctly and cause problems. That led to a lot of demand that could not be met because her training program was not expanded enough.

            I think since other people got involved in the science, equipment, treatment and training, it has really gotten much better.

            I have many anxiety/stress issues that I lost control of a few years ago with the crash. Last summer I started counseling with a very exceptional PhD. He uses EFT as well as EMDR and I have found both very helpful. The EFT has been very effective for PTSD also. I had read about it in The Promise of Energy Psychology. It wasn't until Dr Price had me do it repetitively during a session that I had results.

            I have 34 years working with vets from every war since WWI. Lots of PTSD, including the only WWI vet. The triggers described here are all familiar. Note to all: memories are often linked to odors, music, and others described here. It I get a whiff of the brand of soap my grandmother used, the mental image of their green tiled bathroom with sun coming through the window is right there.

            The vets have always been a personal nightmare because they were too often from unnecessary wars and always ignored, disgraced, shamed, etc. The probable PTSD casualties (and injuries with lousy pain management) for Iraq had me in the streets for months before 3/03.

            Then they pulled the stupidest, most dangerous tactic to give the impression the soldiers were getting treatment. Soldiers in combat zones who complained of PTSD symptoms were give prescriptions for SSRIs, and immediately sent back
            to the combat zones - with their guns, etc. Many here will know that these drugs can take 4 to 6 weeks to work and sometimes they cause really bad side effects fairly early. (Nor are they particularly effective for PTSD)

            Last summer I ran across a report of an initial study done in Switzerland. My reaction was, Finally... They discovered that a large percentage of nurses with 15 + years of experience have ongoing traumatic effects.  One of our dKos members was a paramedic for decades. Like many of them, he suffers from years of traumatic experiences.

            DMW, Great diary, thank you. You seem to be on a good track and I hope your recovery keeps progressing- we're here and happy to listen, share or whatever as needed. I think the discussion has reinforced PTSD is a long standing and widespread problem for vets, with many other individuals experiencing it in civilian life. Maybe we should have a PTSD community?

            "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

            by Ginny in CO on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 07:19:32 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Yes, it did amazing things for me. (3+ / 0-)

      It finally got so bad other people couldn't help noticing. I got to the point where I burst into tears every time I looked at two people whom I couldn't avoid and really liked and had never done anything to harm me. It was really effecting my ability to do my job.

      And even though it all went wrong I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah! -Leonard Cohen .................@laurenreichelt

      by TheFatLadySings on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 05:01:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  link (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AllisonInSeattle, Eileen B

      America is so not like her hype.

      by OLinda on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 08:57:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this diary. (4+ / 0-)

    It’s the never ending story of combat veterans, and has been ignored for all the wars in my memory, and that’s a bunch.  WWII, Korea and Vietnam.    

  •  Sorry you have this going on. (6+ / 0-)

    I can only begin to imagine what you're experiencing, but not because I was ever in a combat situation, or any military situation. I did watch a car come at me and though I managed to jump almost out of its path, it still caught my leg against a lamppost. Then I watched that. For a couple of years or so, I'd be walking along a street and suddenly a car would be coming right at me and I'd start to jump and there was nothing there. Once there were no cars on the street at all. Over the years it's toned down. Cars squealing don't get to me much now, nor slamming sounds. I have often thought since that accident about the effect of one incident on me - despite the fact I almost died and did lose my foot - it was a freak, random once in a life accident, and almost fifteen years later I have jumpy times. One trauma. I feel for people like you, who have been in such horrible, constant, unnatural situations because you chose to represent and defend your country, affecting your quality of life forever. Thank you for your service; I'm sorry our nation used you so poorly and is not giving you the treatment you now deserve for showing us such love. Time has  lessened my experience; I'm glad you have a supportive family to give you good experiences, helping slip those memories farther back. Peace.

    "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." H.L. Mencken, 1925

    by cv lurking gf on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 03:26:48 PM PST

  •  Ptsd and me (10+ / 0-)

    A song (Ozzy is off limits in this house, to the point I mute the family singing Crazy Train in the car commercial), a smell, someone swinging a bat or similar object, being grabbed from behind, car shows or old MOPAR cars that are following me for too long, and someone calling and hanging up when you answer. Many of these I can limit exposure to, all of them can cause either a panic attack or a full flashback depending on stress levels and other things. There are other smaller and more specific things to my ex that will set one off.

    Three years of abusive marriage, and he's currently out of jail and once again a potential threat. I've been through counseling twice, both times I was told there was only so much they could do while he was still a stalking threat. He lives across country, but he's shown up in my state at least once confirmed and tried to break into my house, that was 8 years ago. We divorced in 1991.

    Det: I wish you the best, seek counciling.. it DOES help. Seek it in the private sector if you can't get it through the VA. Mine is much more under control than it used to be, though I'm still prone to panic attacks and I'm paranoid about internet privacy and keeping track of what information is available out there about my location. (To the point that I wouldn't go to my local Occupy because I was afraid I'd show up online.) But the flashback frequency is down and I know how to deal with the panic attacks when they happen. The constant vigilance and paranoia is something I just have to deal with.

  •  "something totally inconsequential" No, dmw, no.nt (7+ / 0-)
  •  It really is bad. (5+ / 0-)

    I cant pretend to know what its like for someone in the army, But I do know very well what PTSD is. Mine came about through much smaller means over a very long time but, as I'm sure you would be the first to say, the source doesn't make it less real.

    The emotional devestation. the pain from medical work. The confusion, and the fear. It comes so fast that you don't have a chance to stop it. Before you know it, your heart sinks and all that pain and hurt rushes back. It feels utterly hopeless.

    I go to lengths that even I know are ridiculous to drown out this. What I write next, please understand, I am not particularly proud of:

    The last time I had to remove fear, I did the following: Took a bath, smoked pot, and played two different versions of pokemon. Simultaneously. I do this in an attempt to simply not be able to think about anything else. Usually, I fail and end up in a panic attack.

    But its never that easy of course. I had a little sanctuary from the world in taking baths. for 23 years of my life I had this. Then, all of a sudden, I had my panic attack, the terrifying one that started my disorder..In the bath tub.

    My sanctuary is now the place that both calms me down and terrifies me. Again I have no idea what it would be like transplanted into a military role. But I also know that this is a good community, one that wont call my issues fake just because I wasnt being shot at.

    "Devestating" is such an understatement, to describe those feelings. But no matter how hard I try, I cant find a better one. People note that I do not look or act like someone whos bee ndepressed and in terror for so long. My reply, "How many do you know?"

    Those closest to me know. They know that this is the result of years of forced mimicry, because I was tired of everyone being uncomfortable around me. Its not at all fun to get into fights with people when you are basically trying to copy their emotional inflections in real time...Kinda causes problems, heh.

    I dont act upset because I dont want to be upset. Its actually a really weird deal you know? My symptoms havent gotten better, but I see in others the same things. Its so much worse earlier on, but it gets so much random later.

    I feel kinda lucky. In my teens, I had a sort of revelation. When depressed, in pain and suicidal, the thought suddenly occured to me: I didnt want to die. I wanted to be happy.

    For whatever reason, that time, it stuck. That time it burned into my mind and aside from the extremely sharp pain momentary thoughts ("This pain is so terrible ill kill myself and oh wait its gone now, what were you saying?") which Im pretty sure dont count, it hasnt been an issue.

    Best luck on your continued recovery. Its a long and stupid road...Its not just me right? Everyone else who suffers these problems thinks they were acting so ridiculously once the attack ends? its embarassing. Thankfully, my friends are nice people.

  •  Didn't really know who to reply to with this... (9+ / 0-)

    Since everybody has really been sharing a lot of very helpful information.

    For me, the way I deal with it is to:

    A.  Try to avoid triggers.  That means I don't watch a lot of war movies, try to avoid Mosul type weather, etc...

    B. Concentrate on minute tasks.   I paint miniatures and really enjoy strategy games, so as a result, a game of 40K or Battletech REALLY helps me.  The mental exercise is very helpful, as is the amount of calm and control involved with painting a face smaller than your pinky fingernail...

    C.  Not being in the Army anymore.  I can't even IMAGINE what this must be like for the guys who are getting on the plane to their third deployment.   IT must feel like one of those recurring nightmares where you're back in the worst place you can imagine... except it's HAPPENING.... oy... just frightening.

    D. Being a wise ass.  I know... kinda stupid, but finding the humor in things really helps me.  Occasionally I misfire, but for the most part, I seem to be a better writer when I'm being sarcastic or snarky...

    But thanks folks... for the recommends and the good thoughts.  You've really made my day for a diary I expected to be totally ignored.

    One of these days, I'm gonna learn that I'm only really good at convincing people when I'm being a wiseass. Reviewtopia.net

    by detroitmechworks on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 05:07:51 PM PST

    •  EMDR. I can't recommend it highly enough. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AllisonInSeattle

      Here is a link.

      And even though it all went wrong I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah! -Leonard Cohen .................@laurenreichelt

      by TheFatLadySings on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 05:11:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I have PTSD, abuse related, not war. I always (0+ / 0-)

      wondered whether the different circumstances that created the involuntary reactions would mean there was no common experience.  The description you shared in your diary, is so familiar, just change a few details, and its what I  go through.  

      My heart goes out to you and thanks for writing down your experiences.  I know that's a huge thing for a traumatized person to do.

  •  Hugs to you, and thank you for sharing... (9+ / 0-)

    Some information about PTSD recovery here- There are 4 stages. I think if you read it, you will know what stage you are in (althought they overlap a bit) I believe I'm in between the 3rd and 4th stage, so my experience is a bit different and my flashbacks aren't as visceral and painful as yours. But it took me 10 years to get here.

    My triggers are not really visual, they are tactical (the feeling of being restrained, even if it's just tight clothing or a seat belt) smell (a certain kind of cologne, vanilla air freshener, and leather) and reading or hearing accounts of rape-IF I am not mentally prepared to do so. I can now read other survivors accounts and talk about it myself, but I have to be in the right place. Sometimes I'll just be reading or watching someting, on an especially bad day, and it will just come out of nowhere- and then it gets bad. Then it's exactly like that sense of dread you describe, of being out of control. I hate that feeling more than anything in the world.

    My visual flashbacks are not to the actual rape anymore, thankfully...I've trained my mind like that over the years. Now I see a picture- as vivid as the day it happened. I'm looking through the windshield of a car, that is parked in an abandoned lot- the wipers are going because it's pouring rain out. I'm staring at a chainlink fence, on top of a cement wall that has grafitti on it- focused in on the various items trapped under the fence where it curled up at the bottom- a plastic bag, a baby doll covered in magic marker, a milk jug, some overgrown weeds. I have trained my mind to stop right there- because after that is when the horror began and I don't let myself go there anymore. That is the picture I see. That is  all I see anymore, and then I can move on.

    But it has taken me 10 years to get to this place- 10 years of emotional hell and sleepless nights, years of doing things I'm not proud of to dull the pain, and trying to kill myself without committing suicide because I thought I would never be normal again, and pushing everyone in my life away because of all the shame and the anger I felt. It took my daughter being born to force me to get my shit together, and go to therapy. And now, I'm ok. Or at least, like you said, getting better. And the more we talk about it, the better we get.

    So, let's keep talking.

    R.I.P. Troy Anthony Davis
    October 9, 1968 - September 21, 2011

    by SwedishJewfish on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 05:31:21 PM PST

    •  One more thing (5+ / 0-)

      I think it is especially brave of you, and important, to speak out. It is unfortunate that there is still a stigma with men and PTSD, especially within the army culture. But being in combat is one of the most stressful situations a human being can live through- being put in that situation, time and time again- back to back deployments in the longest wars in our history- the impact that has on a person is devestating. The suicide rates of our returning vets are just appalling.

      As a woman, I always had sympathy for what happened to me. Really, to the point where it made me uncomfortable, because it bordered on pity. But because of my gender, and the nature of the crime (stranger rape- the only socially acceptable kind) I was always seen as a "true victim".

      It is different for men. And it shouldn't be. And you should never be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed to say "I hurt, and I need help"

      R.I.P. Troy Anthony Davis
      October 9, 1968 - September 21, 2011

      by SwedishJewfish on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 05:54:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks (5+ / 0-)

        I just am surprised at the response to this.  To be honest, I expected a lot more "Call the Waaaahmbulence" style comments.

        However, you're VERY right on the Army.  They do want you to shut up and do your duty.  About the only time they complain about you not seeking help is when it begins to impact your performance...

        and then they give you the "We had help available! Why didn't you go?" speech.  Never going into the fact that they throw up every stigma and roadblock they can so you DON'T go...

        sorry, that's a bitter rant about my last year in the army... feel free to ignore that.

        One of these days, I'm gonna learn that I'm only really good at convincing people when I'm being a wiseass. Reviewtopia.net

        by detroitmechworks on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 06:12:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No need to apologize (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          glorificus, DawnN, kurt, BusyinCA

          that's exactly what I'm talking about.

          I didn't seek professional help for years, and I never got that speech when I finally did. I got tons of help and support when I reached out for it. It should have been the same for you. That it wasn't is a huge problem.

          I was in a serious relationship with an Army guy, I saw what he went through. His best friend died in his arms (won't go into more detail than that but it was bad) and when he came back he had PTSD so severe that he was waking up drenched in sweat, crying, and during his blackouts he got violent with me. And he almost drank himself to death. I've never seen a human being as broken down as him, he was literally not the same person he was before his deployment (which was only 7 months) But 9 months later, they sent him back. Didn't give a shit that he was barely functioning and suicidal, they needed boots on the ground.

          They need to get some better policies in place quickly, because they are going to see pain and suffering at epidemic proportions as more and more of our soldiers come home. They need to have resources available and get rid of the stigma. Otherwise it's going to be really, really bad.

          R.I.P. Troy Anthony Davis
          October 9, 1968 - September 21, 2011

          by SwedishJewfish on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 06:58:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  My brother was in Vietnam (8+ / 0-)

    and the sound of helicopters and lawn mowers would cause a flashback.

    And any musty smell.

    My nephew was in the "Invasion of Iraq" and he says the only thing that bothers him is sand.  And growing up in a beach community- it really bothers him that he's lost the fondness of sand- now he can't stand any of it.

    Growing old is inevitable...Growing up is purely optional

    by grannycarol on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 05:48:52 PM PST

  •  No one who hasn't experienced it can fully... (4+ / 0-)

    understand, but it's not difficult to know that such experiences as you've had leave a deep and lasting psychic impact.  Not all wounds are visible, but they are all very real.  

    I don't know when, or if you've contacted the VA for diagnosis or treatment, but in July, 2010, the VA enacted New Regulations on PTSD Claims:

    "2. What does this final regulation do?
    This final regulation liberalizes the evidentiary standard for Veterans claiming service connection for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)..."

    There are many different treatment modalities used by the National Center for PTSD.  

    Wishing you all the best.

  •  Thanks for all of the information (6+ / 0-)

    And heartfelt comments. It can't be easy to reveal so much, even within the warm embrace of the DKos community. Those of us who love people with PTSD benefit from the wide range of experience and means of coping that all of you have shared. Here's to a greater understanding for all sufferers and their loved ones.

    Eat organic food, or as your grandparents called it, food.

    by madame damnable on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 07:00:00 PM PST

  •  I get flashbacks from ambulance work (5+ / 0-)

    anytime I smell any combination of alcohol and blood, or blood, gasoline or transmission fluid. And this was a situation out of control only for the MVA victims. I can't imagine how awful it must be for you. My hat's off to you, and thank you, because I work with PTSD sufferers every single week. This helps.

    Have you explored EMDR??

  •  Thanks for your excellent description (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DawnN, kurt

        Sending you a big hug, bro.  You should know that this stuff gets better with time and talking about it.  Good intelligence and the ability to think about the experience, and put it into words--as you are doing in this diary--is a positive sign and really helps in your recovery.  

         This is a fascinating and terrifying look at the aftermath of people trying to kill you.  Your experiences have a lot of what I understand to be panic attacks.  These are clearly related to your combat experiences.  I'm glad to hear they are getting better.  I mention that these experiences have the quality of panic attacks because PA's usually respond very quickly to the SSRI antidepressant meds.  

         If it is a severe kind of panic attack, it might be easier to treat than full blown PTSD with all the other symptoms, such as emotional numbing, nightmares, depression, exaggerated startle response, hyperalertness....well, you know what I'm talking about.  You can read the list of criteria in DSM-IV or ICD-9

           I'm sorry the VA isn't helping you.  Check for the Ombudsman that most VA's have to help vets who are getting stonewalled.  In addition, the VFW, Legion, or other vets' organizations might help advocate for you.  

          Could it be that the VA is saying that you don't have "PTSD" because you don't have all the other symptoms that they require to make the diagnosis?  Clearly you have a severe anxiety disorder and ought to be getting help with it.

          I've treated quite a few soldiers with PTSD and some of them have flashbacks that they describe as a reliving the terrible experience.  You make a good point that these are not, "like a movie".  These are more like, "Oh Shit! I'm gonna die." Gut wrenching, or terrifying experiences that feel real, and that you know will end badly.  

         You are one of many that this country has placed in danger and who suffer emotionally because of it.  It really helps to connect with the others who've been there too.  Isolation makes it worse.

    Bush hijacked the US with lies about 9/11 and crashed it into Iraq, killing over 500,000 human beings. So far, he's avoided arrest and prosecution.

    by Zydekos on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 08:56:25 PM PST

  •  Decades of Hell (0+ / 0-)

    I have been in the VA PTSD program for almost 2 years now. The best thing I have done for myself.  2 years ago, about this time of year, several friends bluntly suggested I inquire about the new PTSD programs the VA was implementing.  It took two paperwork visits, one was with the psych and I was scheduled in for the next program.

    How do you describe nightmares so horrible that my cat runs and hides for a day after my thrashing and screaming? Nightmares so horrible I am paralyzed and can't even scream when waking up? Flashbacks from loud noises that leave me shaking and crying and unable to walk? Tears just reading about others with the same.

    Looking at airport runways always brings back horror that comes from watching a plane go in - and not being able to do anything except see the flames and smoke and the smell of burning JP4.

    I did have a couple sessions in a civilian psych office before the VA PTSD program. I found that the civilian approach did not understand what we do in the military. The very first VA group meeting was so good. When we said something everyone in the group knew what he or she was talking about.

    PTSD sucks. My great-uncle had it from WWI, uncles and family friends had it from WWII and Korea. And then me. At least my kids never went in the military. They will be spared.

  •  Traumas of all sorts are also treated (0+ / 0-)

    with NLP, neurolinguistic programming, of which I am a practitioner. It is possible to desensitize the memories without any need to relive them.

  •  It is good that you have written this diary. (0+ / 0-)

    A lot of civilians have suffered from PTSD along with our soldiers and sailors and pilots. Without some discussion about it, the folks who haven't suffered it, or even the folks who have, might not be able to get an understanding of the mechanism.

    I beg all of you who have suffered from this to please tell us in as much detail as you can what happens. It is only then that we will be able to start understanding what is happening with our sisters and brothers and be able, in a small way, to aid in your healing.

    Congress is at 9% approval rating - within the +/- of making herpes more popular than congress! - Webranding

    by glitterscale on Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 07:33:04 AM PST

  •  Good luck, most of my friends and family who saw (0+ / 0-)

    combat had lingering effects, violent nightmares, moments of dread, that lasted for upwards of 30 years, some part of it never goes away, at least for many.

    May you live in interesting times--Chinese curse

    by oldcrow on Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 11:00:24 AM PST

  •  Ask people to talk to you some more, here, there. (0+ / 0-)

    http://www.mental-health-today.com/...

    this is a place in detroit that does EmdR. I did it, too and suffered worse from ptsd than now. Someone tried to kill me and slit my throat. I had to run through the jungle for help. I think it's a miracle a Doctor in a small clinic with dirt floors operated 6 hours and saved me.

    Otherwise you can go to craigslist-detroit and put in a free ad to start a group of other vets who want to meet new vets. It feels good to have someone to talk to that knows what you experienced.

    I hope you can find peace. Hang on to your children and let them love you. Try to explain how you feel in ways they understand so they don't get scared for you. You didn't say if you had a partner. If you do, let them get close to you and explain it's not them that makes you uncomfortable. They won't always understand because they can't. It isn't their fault they weren't there. They have there own fears they lived with when you were gone. Try to love each other.

    Good luck and Love to you and your familly.

    I will think of you. Ask the VA or vets at the VA if they want to get together in a group and meet once aweek. It will help.

    Love to you.

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