The Number One Myth Surrounding PTSD

This is the second post in the series Invisible Illnesses. To read the first post, click here.

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Humans are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are complex beings, an intricate tapestry of mind, body, and soul. Advances in research continually enhance our understanding of the mind-body connection, yet scientists and laymen alike continue to minimize the power of this perplexing organ.

As Christians, we believe in the unseen. We have confidence in the power of God to heal. We know the war of the mind rages daily. The bitter irony, then, is how we treat those with “unseen” mental injuries as though they are weak-minded sinners:

“If you just had more faith, you could be healed.”

“You need to pray more. That will fix your depression.”

“That guy simply needs to stop making excuses for his PTSD.”

As if it’s so simple…

If I were to say, “That cancer patient is downright lazy. He needs to get on his knees, start praying and have more faith in God’s power to heal,” what would happen? Death threats. Accusations of insanity. Disdain. Derision.

Why?

God, in His infinite wisdom, does not always give us healing. It might be our time to go home and be with the Lord. It could be our “thorn in the flesh” training us to patiently endure. Yes, faith can move mountains yes, prayer is powerful; but God’s will is the final word. Sometimes the answer is “no,” or “not yet.”

The world we live in is plagued by diseases of all kinds. We conquer one outbreak only to be assaulted by another. Tuberculosis used to be the great killer, now it’s cancer. People feared Polio, now it’s autism. We strive endlessly to circumvent disease, but the world has been the realm of hardship since the first sin.

Mental illnesses are invisible diseases, often created by physical stimuli, but we (particularly Christians) treat them as though they are self-inflicted wounds, controlled by our will alone. We completely ignore the physiochemical side of the issue.

It is far too complex be treated so lightly.

The #1 Myth of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

During the tumultuous election, I numbed to the cringe-worthy statements from the-candidates-whom-nobody-wanted. Then, out of the blue, Mr. Trump said something in total ignorance—and I was no longer numb:

“When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of folks in this room have seen many times over and you’re strong and you can handle it but a lot of people can’t handle it. They see horror stories, they see events you couldn’t see in a movie, nobody would believe it …”

Donald Trump, October 3, 2016 (emphasis mine)

Open mouth, insert foot.

Mr. Trump merely stated what most people already believe—PTSD only happens to the weak.

That would be Myth #1.

PTSD results from traumatic stress, hence the name. Furthermore, nobody has been able to crack the code of the human brain to determine why one person gets one set of symptoms and another person does not. One thing the experts all agree on is this: PTSD is NOT the result of weakness.

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) states: “PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control.”

The VA estimates that eleven to twenty percent of veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD. They also estimated the number of Vietnam Veterans with PTSD is only slightly higher—about fifteen percent. I’m a little skeptical of their numbers because most people—men in particular—are reluctant to admit there is a problem due to the social stigma surrounding PTSD. Furthermore, the needs of veterans returning home from Vietnam were ignored (read: treated like garbage) and so it is likely that number is also inaccurate.

What I am about to state in this paragraph is purely my opinion, based on my eye-witness observation and reading: PTSD—particularly when manifested in military veterans, law enforcement, and first responders—is a sign of deep courage, conscience, and compassion. We were designed to desire justice and mercy simultaneously. It is not in our nature to find joy in death and destruction. If one sees rampant devastation and remains unmoved, something is seriously wrong.

We watch movies and TV shows of people going through trauma. After each life-threatening situation, they move on with life as though unfazed. Consciously or subconsciously, we consider these characters tough. In real life, we would think they were sick and twisted at best. One cannot be confronted with such high, unremitting levels of violence and remain unaffected, unless there is some underlying sociopathy. We civilians cringe at the sick humor of doctors, nurses, soldiers, and cops thinking them to be callous. They are not unhinged— humor is their coping mechanism. They are deeply affected by what they see day after day, month after month, year after year.

People with PTSD are not weak, and Christians in particular need to grasp this truth.

Some Facts About PTSD

According to the DSM-5, the following is the Stressor Criterion:

The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: (one required)

  1. Direct exposure.
  2. Witnessing, in person.
  3. Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
  4. Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Irritable or aggressive behavior
  2. Self-destructive or reckless behavior
  3. Hypervigilance
  4. Exaggerated startle response
  5. Problems in concentration
  6. Sleep disturbance
  7. Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories.
  8. Traumatic nightmares.
  9. Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) which may occur on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness.
  10. Intense or prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders.
  11. Marked physiologic reactivity after exposure to trauma-related stimuli.

Getting Treatment

 

The biggest obstacle to recovering or coping with PTSD is failure to get treatment.

What do we do if we have a bacterial infection? We usually go to the doctor and get an antibiotic. If we get in a car accident with severe injuries, we don’t stand around bleeding. We go to the hospital and get help! PTSD needs proper treatment just like any other bo`dily trauma. 

What is proper treatment?

I am not a doctor, so I would first advise you to find a medical professional with specific experience in counseling trauma victims. A marriage and family therapist is not usually an expert in this area. Be specific in your search. You wouldn’t see a gastroenterologist for an eye problem. Don’t see the wrong kind of therapist for this either.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an emerging form of therapy making waves in the mental health industry. There is, of course, disagreement about it’s effectiveness, but I’ve heard from both professionals and patients of it’s amazing results.

Other forms of treatment include (but are not limited to): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, family counseling (for the family affected by PTSD), and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Click the link to read more in-depth.

If you are a war veteran suffering from PTSD, I highly recommend getting in touch with Headstrong, a non-profit organization created by Veterans committed to helping fellow veterans recover from PTSD by getting them connected with EMDR therapists. I connected with them last year to inquire about help for my best friend, but since his PTSD wasn’t connected with his military time, they couldn’t help. However, the person I spoke to—a vet who had personally gone through this therapy and recovered—went out of his way to get me the names of clinics using EMDR therapy that he had personally vetted.

Don’t leave God out

We pray for healing of our illnesses, we pray for help with our struggles, and we ought to pray for recovery from mental illness with the same conviction. If you have a family member suffering from PTSD, you also need prayer and support. Give your pain over to the Lord—He is a safe harbor in the storm. Like any illness, we pray for healing, good treatment, and wisdom for the doctor. We pray for God to do His work and we also do what is within our power to do.


If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, take heart. There is hope for you to lead a happy and full life. Do not succumb to societal pressure to ignore the problem. Get the treatment you need and lean on God for support.

 

Invisible but deadly

qpe5988qvom-quin-stevensonHe cradled his head in his rough, battle-scarred hands, breathing heavily. The accelerated pace of his heart drummed so loudly he could hear nothing else. Sweat beaded on his forehead as blood pounded in his temples. He inhaled deeply, attempting to calm himself. He was thankful to have found this temporary refuge, even if it was a grimy old bathroom. The grinding of the pneumatic impact wrench securing nuts on wheels sounded eerily similar to the battle zone. Before he could acknowledge the trigger, he’d felt his body go into a tailspin. With herculean effort, he stood very slowly, making a deliberate B-line for this small sanctuary.

This was all so humiliating.

Stupid, stupid STUPID! Why did he have to be weak like this?!?

None of the guys from the hundred and first had this problem! They were still smoking and joking about the war like it was some video game. Only the weak ones contracted this illness.

His hair brushed back and forth over his hands as he shook his head, acknowledging the lie as it snaked its way through his thoughts. Hadn’t he just been to Jameson’s funeral? Continue reading

Justice is weeping today.

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Photo from Wikipedia.

I don’t normally discuss politics or national news on this blog; I typically devote all my articles to learning about God and how to walk with Jesus. I hope you’ll indulge me, just this once, in a short commentary on current events.

Brilliant flashes of colorful fireworks set the faces of my children aglow beneath the darkening Texas sky. We reveled in our new-found Texas freedom and the love of country that swells in this region of the United States. I was thankful to live in this nation, in spite of the issues that plague us.

That was Monday.

Monday feels like an age ago.

This week has been traumatic for Lady Justice and her best friend, Wisdom. They weep unrestrainedly at the black events of the past few days.

On Tuesday, the FBI washed their hands in Pilate-like fashion of the blood of Americans murdered in a preventable, yet cowardly attack in Benghazi. Carelessness by a top official was treated as no great offense. It only resulted in sensitive information falling into the hands of our enemies. It only contributed to the death of a few Americans. It only compromised our national security. It could have been prevented, but, in the words of the offender, “what difference does it make?” My dear, it makes all the difference in the world when you ask for the privilege to lead people whose lives apparently matter very little to you.

The FBI admitted to the commission of a crime, but refused to take legal action. Why?! Only God knows. I’ll spare you my little theories, for that is all that they are.

Justice wept bitter tears.Wisdom cried aloud in anger.

Last night, the country witnessed a cowardly attack on law enforcement. Eleven officers were shot and five were killed.

Five people.

Five people are dead.

Five circles of influence shattered.

Five sets of families are left with a gaping hole.

Five oceans of tears.

Six people.

Six people with survivors guilt.

Six people who will suffer the life-changing agony of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Six families who have to relearn how to live with the one they love, because that person will be forever changed.

Put yourselves outside of your life and into the shoes of these people. Imagine how you would feel if that was your father, fiancee, or friend? These families are suffering, and all the news can talk about is how two police shootings sparked this deadly attack.

STOP THE PRESSES!!!!!!!!

How about we talk about compassion for those left behind? How about we send messages of support during their time of grief? How about we make sure there is funding for counseling for all those involved?

How about we talk about the trickle down effect of disregard for law? How about we realize that our country has given evil far too much license? How about we focus on our very broken (and corrupted) justice system? Instead of criticizing cops, what if we were to give them what they needed, which is leadership that upholds the law instead of undermining it (and administers appropriate discipline towards them when necessary)?

Our President responds with shock. How touching. Maybe if he hadn’t undermined the authority of law enforcement throughout his tenure, we would not be seeing the tragedy that unfolds before us today.

On Monday we celebrated independence. On Tuesday, the powers that be rendered our independence to be unmerited. On Thursday, we experience tragedy.

There is a new kind of tyranny at work today, and our country is enslaved by it—the tyranny of the entitled. They demand everything without the willingness to give anything. They overturn justice. They call evil good and good evil. Nothing is ever enough.

The men and women who stand in the fray, protecting us from things we can barely imagine, are the ones being vilified. The criminals who disregard justice, on the other hand, are exalted as paragons of virtue. Many good men and women are walking away from these jobs as protectors because they do not feel the sacrifice is worth it any longer. What we will get in their place is what many think already have—a corrupt, gestapo-like force.

The leaders of our country consider themselves above the law, even though they are supposed to be beneath it, upholding it. When we allow those in power to flagrantly disregard truth and justice, the citizenry will follow suit.

God, who is righteous and just, sees all these things. He will ensure that, one way or another, Justice has her day. We may never see that day while we live on this earth, but we have confidence that He will carry it out in His own good time.

 

Thanks be to God that we are just passing through and belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken. This week has been another reminder of the fragility of governments and of life. Put your trust in God.

Take time today to pray for the families of the fallen. They need and deserve our compassion.

Feeling overwhelmed?

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Somewhere, right now, there is a young mother standing in her house, the fingertips of both hands pressed into her head in frustration. The house gets cleaned, only to be dirty within a few minutes. She sits down to rest only to be interrupted by another of her children. The sink is clogged, the repairman is calling, the bills need paying and dinner needs preparing.

Somewhere, right now, is a man sitting in a hard chair, head in hands, paralyzed by anxiety and grief. The list of honey-do’s at home and the never-ending stress of work has driven him into shut-down mode. He still carries the weight of the dead from his time in Iraq, and there are days it all seems like too much to handle.

Somewhere, right now, somebody you know is feeling overwhelmed.

It might even be you.

The account of Peter walking on the water toward Jesus (and his subsequent sinking/rescue) resonates with people. Waves and storms evoke a sense of overwhelming odds. Waves are powerful, crushing things that rise high above us, giving us the sense that we are insignificant and about to be overpowered. We all have days when the weight of everything is too heavy—our minds can’t focus, our heart rate increases, and we just wish we could hit “undo.”

How do you keep right on going when the weight of everything threatens to drown you?

Here are four tips for the overwhelmed and anxious:

Tip#1: Stop whatever you’re doing… and pray

“But I can’t stop! I have to keep going! I can’t just pause from what I’m doing! Catastrophe will ensue!”

You can stop, even if it’s just for a moment—take 10-30 seconds to pause and pray.

You don’t have to get on your knees or close your eyes. Just make an immediate appeal to God for help. Fix your mind’s eye on Him.

Here’s an example: “Lord, I feel overwhelmed. I know you are always near and said you’d be with me. You see what’s happening and you know how I feel. Have mercy on me and help me to keep going. I can do what needs to be done, but only with your help. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” (This only takes about 15-20 seconds!)

Still feeling overwhelmed? Keep pausing and praying until the day is over. Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you. That phrase is from His Word (Psalm 55:22) and it’s a promise! It doesn’t say He might sustain you, it says He will!

 

Tip #2: Reduce your intake of stimulants and sugars.

If you are having regular feelings of physical panic, it’s time to reevaluate your caffeine intake. Coffee is not inherently bad for you, but in many people (myself included) it causes heart palpitations and panic attacks. This can also include chocolate or black tea. Reduce or remove it. Some have found green tea to be a good substitute stimulant without the negative side affects of panic attacks, etcetera. If you use essential oils, put a drop of peppermint in your hand, rub both hands together, then bring them to your nose and breathe deeply. Peppermint gives clarity and stimulation. To relax, use lavender oil.

Sometimes, it’s just hard to focus. Reduce your intake of sugar and carbohydrates to lessen the 2 o’clock fog. A few simple dietary changes can make a big difference!

 

Tip #3: Make time for quiet.

We live in a loud world. Noise, distractions, and a constant flood of information are, in and of themselves, too much to process at times. Put down the phone, shut off the TV, turn off the music and do something quietly. Write down prayer requests, read a book, pray, or simply shut your eyes and process the events of the day. If you say, “I don’t have time,” you need to make time. Come up with 15 minutes in the morning, on your lunch break, or even before bed. It’s not impossible.

Here is another suggestion: When you get home from work, let the kids have a few minutes of play to themselves and allow yourself to decompress for as little as 10 minutes. Set a timer and tell the kids you’ll be out of your room when the timer goes off. Everyone needs to reset, refresh, and regroup. It’s good to train your kids to have “quiet time” as well. Admittedly, your kids may interrupt you with some catastrophe or other. Start with just a few minutes at a time and work your way up to 10 or 15 minutes. Over time and consistent practice, you will all fall into a healthy routine.

One last suggestion: make time to walk for a minimum of 20 minutes outside (weather permitting). There is something reviving about the fresh air and the solitude.

 

Tip #4: “Do the next thing.”

Writer and speaker Elisabeth Elliot emphasized this idea throughout her work. She derived this saying from an old Saxon poem:

Do it immediately; Do it with prayer;

Do it reliantly, casting all care;

Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand,

Who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,

Leave all resultings, DO THE NEXT THING.

This concept has helped me plow my way through some tough times. If your to-do list is a mile long and you feel like shutting down, ignore the list for a moment a focus on the next immediate task. Do the dishes need washing? Begin! Is your email inbox full? Reply to the first email. Take a few minutes to order your list and then start at the top. Instead of focusing on the mountain, fix your eyes on the first steps…

…And then the next foothold…

…and then the next handhold…

…then the next task, the next job, the next thing. Step, by step, by step.

Don’t concentrate on the list, concentrate on that first customer inquiry. Don’t think about all the demands, just change that diaper. You may only accomplish a few tasks, but you will have accomplished something in your day. With the Lord’s help, we can overcome our mountain of demands.


 

Are you feeling overwhelmed today? God is near and wants to help you. Leaning on Him is like resting against a great rock—peaceful, secure and steady.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;

My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;

My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.

The pangs of death surrounded me,

And the floods of ungodliness made me afraid.

The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me;

The snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears.

He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.

Psalm‬ ‭18:2-6‬ , 16 NKJV‬‬

 

Day 10: Military Veterans

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

In this Aug. 18, 2013 file photo, members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, made up of active soldiers and veterans who were wounded in service, are given recognition prior to a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
In this Aug. 18, 2013 file photo, members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, made up of active soldiers and veterans who were wounded in service, are given recognition prior to a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

He leapt across sand bags and dodged bullets to reach the fallen. His ears rang from the deafening roar of explosions and the crack of gunshots. The air was filled with shouts and screams. The smell of death and blood was nauseating. The medic lifted the motionless body and with great effort, ran back to the Huey and heaved it inside. The sweat poured down his face as he turned around and raced back across the line of fire to carry more bodies and hopefully save a few lives.

When he came home, there were no parades to honor him or his fallen brothers.

Nobody would have given up their seat on an airplane to thank him.

Instead, as his broken unit marched home, he was assaulted by insults… and fecal matter.

These men who had sought to serve the country were spit on by the very people they protected. He was a hero, being treated like a villain. I still look at videos and pictures from that tumultuous time and burn with indignation over the injustice of it all.

My Father was an Army Infantry Medic. I only have a handful of stories about his time in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Many of those stories he kept to himself. He will always be a hero to me. He saved lives in Vietnam and now he cares for those on end-of-life care. There has always been a desire to heal, even in the midst of bloody battles.

Many veterans have stories of war and their adjustment into civilian life. My father’s is one of millions. A few months ago, I read American Sniper by Chris Kyle and it was an eye-opening look into the current war in the middle east and the struggles our men and women face as they exit military life. (Just be aware that there is foul language). If you don’t know anyone in the military, I suggest you read it to gain insight into the challenges of military life for both the soldier and the spouse. I highly recommend the book Unbroken as well. Don’t watch the movie… Read the book. Audible has a great version, (though you might want to have a map handy of the South Pacific and Japan). Louis Zamperini’s story is one of intense suffering and redemption from the chains of PTSD. He nearly lost everything, but he found healing through Christ.


Veteran’s Day is a holiday we celebrate every year in the United States. It’s history began with Armistice Day on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.” It was the end of the Great War in Europe. Millions had died. Millions more had to live with the trauma of war. You can read more about how the current holiday came about here.

Veteran’s Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. On Memorial Day, we remember the fallen. On Veteran’s day, we thank the living (veterans). Many have fought in wars and lost dear friends. Thousands live with PTSD. These men and women sacrificed stability, time with loved ones, and innocence. They are a buffer against the ugliness and brutality of war. It’s because of them that we in the United States retain our freedom.

I am thankful for my freedom in this country. No other country has the vast freedom that we enjoy here. It’s because of these men and women (any many who came before) that we have this freedom. God has blessed us with these brave people.

Take some time today to pray for them and give thanks to God for them.

Take some time today to thank a veteran. I’d start listing names here, but I’d surely leave somebody out.

To all my dear friends who have served, nothing I can say will ever truly express my deep and abiding gratitude for what you have given to protect my family and our country.

Thank you.