American medicine consists predominantly of knives and drugs. We don’t know how to cut the PTSD out of our brains (yet).
As one of my group friends and I were introducing our wives to each other in a social setting, his wife shared that they were married before he went to Vietnam. I commented that she had been through the whole thing with him, then. She replied, “Yes, and he’s not going off his medication.”
Medication saves lives, marriages, careers, and minds. It is not a cure.
Reminder: For the next few months, this blog is dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.
I am not trained in medicine, and I shall not try to explain the many medications used to treat symptoms of PTSD in combat Veterans. Some of my friends rely upon them, and others refuse them. These are decisions to be made by an MD (e.g. psychiatrist), the Veteran, and his or her family. If you are interested, I suggest you begin with Dr. Hart’s book and expand your search from there.
Trauma such as combat changes our minds and our brains, including structures, biochemistry, and function. Not only do we learn through classical conditioning to react to stimuli in ways conducive to survival, we also learn through operant conditioning to modify our behaviors in ways which might relieve the pain and discomfort of these changes in our brain biochemistry and function. We become obsessive/compulsive. We aggress or isolate. We ruminate and despair. Sometimes, we medicate ourselves.
Legal and illegal mind altering substances appear to reduce some symptoms of combat PTSD, at least to the sufferer. They relieve the pain of anxiety and dread—and maybe even the resentment and rage. Just to be clear, I am including alcohol, THC, and other substances commonly called drugs as well as caffeine, nicotine, and over-the-counter pain relievers and supplements.
Yes, I know that is extreme, but some of us (me) are very sensitive to such things, and they are chemicals that can be called drugs.
Both substances and behaviors are addictive. As a group, combat Veterans exhibit many forms of addictions from coffee, soda, tobacco, and alcohol to illegal and exotic substances to gambling and porn. Sometimes we are simply addicted to aggression—verbal or physical.
It’s a chemical thing. We have problems maintaining certain levels of brain chemicals related to comfort and relaxation, serotonin for example. One treatment for PTSD symptoms is the administration of Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). While they may be quite effective, like most drugs and behaviors, they have unintended consequences (i.e. side effects). SSRIs often result in symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction.
The brave young men we sent to war in the 60s and 70s are now faced with a dilemma: Be mean, irritable, and unreasonable husbands, or be what they see as less of a man. Don’t see this in recruiting posters, do we? My friends with supportive families and productive lives are functioning much better than those without.
You bet you can make a difference—sometimes all the difference.
I do not take medications at this time, although I believe some might have helped me had I been diagnosed earlier. I am blessed both with mild symptoms most of the time and with a very supportive family including my daughters and my wife, Nancy. I was also fortunate to have had limited direct combat experience inVietnam, certainly nothing like Tet 1968 or the repeated traumas of our combat medics. I am one of the lucky ones. I will consider drugs if and when they may be indicated, but at this time I prefer to focus on cognitive and behavioral efforts such as writing novels and this blog dealing with combat PTSD recovery.
You can help our Veterans by Supporting Troops After Return (STAR). Continue to learn about the symptoms and treatments. Continue to consider ways you can support through education, employment, and social invitation. Volunteer at VA hospitals, clinics, or centers. Participate in community groups that reach out to Veterans and families. Make room in your hearts and lives for imperfect people who are trying to become a little less imperfect. Tolerate our imperfections, even the side effects of our prescribed medications.
With or without medication, together we can make D for Devotion rather than for Doping.