By Stacy Kess
The Delaware Police were dispatched four times in response to suicide threats between Monday and Wednesday. They were also dispatched to one suicide; the victim was dead on arrival.
Depression and bipolar disorder have become well known as mental illnesses with a high risk of suicide.
There is another culprit: post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is discussed far less, perhaps due to misunderstanding of the relatively new diagnosis.
Fifteen years ago, I went through hell. For 14 years, I did not get the right help. I suffered and stagnated. Over the last year, while I’ve work through an intensive treatment program, I have learned to be very open about my diagnosis.
I do this because we are the forgotten, the misdiagnosed and the misunderstood – and I want nothing more for us than to be heard.
PTSD has gained some attention in our soldiers, but it affects civilians too. Yet, it is still misunderstood and and missed in both. And, worse, there is still not enough treatment out there.
PTSD is a far different beast than depression and bipolar disorder. It starts with a trauma – a situation where we felt in danger, witnessed destruction or could not help those in danger. It starts with war, rape, assault, hurricanes, disasters, abuse or death of someone around us.
We suffer from a situation unfinished or a situation finished far from how we would have wanted.
When any person is placed in a traumatic situation, the body responds with something called the autonomic nervous system – fight, flight or freeze. This is normal. For us, when the situation was over, our bodies never let go of the autonomic response; it just kept going. Ours is not a mental illness, per se; ours is a mind-body illness that we cannot control.
PTSD may not appear right away; it may take years for us to show the symptoms. When we do, we are misdiagnosed because the symptoms can look like so many other things. We don’t understand the symptoms ourselves.
We are angry. We snap, sometimes seemingly unprovoked. We relive our trauma in nightmares and during waking hours when something – anything – triggers that memory. We flashback and lose the present in the past. We startle easily. We loathe ourselves now and our actions from the past. We suffer from pain and sickening fear. Often, we suffer in silence.
Then we begin to avoid everything that can bring us back to the trauma. We avoid sleep so we don’t have the nightmares. We avoid triggers so we don’t have the flashbacks. We avoid the memories and bury them to a point where we can’t remember them consciously. We avoid others and ourselves.
The memories of our traumas break into pieces; we break into pieces along with the memories. We can’t just “get over it,” no matter how much we want to move on with our lives.
We feel alone, confused, numb and anxious. We don’t know where to turn. We are non-compliant patients and skilled liars to doctors, our loved ones and ourselves. We push away those that can help us most. We turn to drugs and alcohol to dull our pain. We seek out physical pain to hide the pain inside. We become destructive to ourselves. We put on a good face. We look for a way out – any way out.
We have lost so many with PTSD to suicide – those who did not seek treatment, those who could not get treatment and those who did not get the right treatment.
There is not enough treatment out there for us. There is not enough understanding from the medical community, the mental health community or those around us.
This is not just about us. When we suffer and those who are closest to us suffer.
My partner deals with my anger, fear, frustration and self-hatred. He holds me through the nightmares. He does his best to reorient me during my flashbacks. He responds with love to my fury.
This is not true for many couples. We are broken, so we look to break everything around us. Our relationships break and often cannot be fixed. Then we find ourselves alone – a dangerous place for us.
I refuse to lose another brother or sister suffering with PTSD, though I know it is inevitable.
I ask just one thing as we move into a time of year when suicides seem to increase for unknown reasons: please do not forget us.
For more information on PTSD, visit www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics; though it is written for military personnel, I find it one of the best at describing the disease. For loved ones of someone with PTSD, I recommend a personal account of daily life at aspousesstoryptsd.com/blog.