What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

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The Nation of Australia, in the year 2010, has almost forgotten the deaths of more than 500 of our young men in the Vietnam War and countless thousands since.To put it bluntly, approximately 36 tons of bone and flesh; 1,540 pounds of brain matter; 600 gallons of blood! It was our country’s longest war (1962-1973). Many more hundreds have since succumbed to their war-caused disabilities. Many have taken their own lives believing in their minds that life wasn’t worth living; to end the hell they were living within; that they had been robbed of a life that they could have reasonably expected to live if they had not been sent to war. Good soldiers – bad politicians!

ADRENALINE – Friend or Foe?
Adrenaline is a necessary for life stress hormone allowing the ‘super-functioning’ of our body during extreme stress or danger. Properly functioning adrenal glands, not only give us the ‘edge’ in life-threatening situations, but also play roles involving protein, carbohydrate, electrolyte and water metabolism in our bodies.

THE EDGE – Fight or Flight?
The two hormones secreted by the adrenal glands, adrenaline and noradrenaline, function to give our bodies a patterned response to danger. Adrenaline is asociated with our ‘flight response’ and noradrenaline with our ‘fight response’. These two stress hormones act quickly to prepare our bodies to respond to danger or stress. The brain receives increased blood supply and its accompanying oxygen (hyper-alertness), heart rate increases to keep skeletal muscles and the brain well supplied with blood, although the tendency to bleed from a wound is decreased. The eyes dilate, lungs become more efficient and white blood cells increase to counteract infection or injury. Digestion and other non-vital functions are slowed.

The hyper-alert mind quickly gathers and analyses all available sensory information (sights, sounds, smells, memories, training) and a decision is made…fight or flee! In a matter of seconds the body has moved into ‘high-gear’, ready to deal with the danger. The adrenaline charged person now has ‘The Edge’! This stress does not stop with the individual, but will in fact give the whole team ‘The Edge’, linking them together in their common danger or goal. This linking is akin to an electrical current allowing the group to function with little or no verbal communication, and as a ‘whole’ under extreme stress or danger. ‘The Edge’, the adrenaline charged stress response is the friend of the soldier…it can mean his survival.

STRESS DISORDER – Pseudo-addiction:
For a war Veteran, whether loading bullets, jet fuel, on patrol, or in direct support, ‘The Edge’ meant the difference between success and failure, gaining your objective or losing your ground…between life and death! The soldier becomes dependent on adrenaline to cope with the stresses and dangers of war.

For many, this daily dependance on the ‘rush’ of adrenaline with its hyper-alertness and mental clarity made life without ‘The Edge’ dull, boring and even confusing.l This pseudo-addiction was undeniable as many soldiers in their early 20’s returned home from Vietnam with grey hair, drawn faces, withdrawn personalities and with what is now called that infamous ‘1,000 yard stare’.

Even today, many Veterans seek only the ‘high risk’, ‘high danger’ and ‘high stress’ lifestyles that will keep them on ‘The Edge’, but with a price…The adrenal glands are not treated for constant stimulation. Over-stimulation and release of these stress hormones disrupt the Immune System, and probably contribute to the high incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure and peptic ulcers now seen in Veterans – higher than their civilian counterparts! Dependance on adrenaline (pseudo-addicrtion); seeking to stay on ‘The Edge’, now moves this natural stress response over to the foe side of the sheet.

TRIGGERS – A Blast from the Past:
The role the adrenal glands play in survival is so vital that they seem to have ‘hair-triggered’ response. The brain does not reason, or analyse a danger before the adrenaline is released. It seems that any form of sensory information can ‘trigger’ the release of adrenaline, including imagined or remembered information. In other words, the brain won’t tell you the ‘danger’ that caused the adrenaline to be released was from a 25to 30-year-old memory until all that ‘fight/flight’ is pumping through your system.

These ‘triggers’ can be on a conscious level, such as the sound of a helicopter, the night sky, pouring rain etc., or a ‘trigger’ may be on a sub-conscious level, such as expecting others on you team (family) to read your mind (hyper-alertness) during a stressful situation (like running late) and they don’t!

Once the ‘trigger’ is pulled there is no going back. The hormones are off and running – they must run their course. This uncontrolled ‘trigger pulling’ and subsequent pumping of ‘fight-flight’ hormones through the body moves this abnormal stress response to the foe side of the sheet.

ADAPTION – The Key to Victory:
Adrenaline and noradrenaline, although vital to our health and survival, can also work against us through uncontrolled over-stimulation. Society, family and circumstances does not allow the natural responses of ‘fight-flight’ to the triggered release of these stress hormones. The victory over these ‘life-saving’ turned ‘life-destroying’ responses comes through adaption. Adaption is the key to victory over adrenaline stress-related disorder, and understanding is the key to adaption.

Author and counselor Stephen Arterburn, in his book “Healing is a Choice” (Thomas Nelson Inc. 2005) counsels on page 89, that if our mind is causing us distress, then the sooner we get help the better! He quotes from NEWSWEEK, September 27, 2004 an artilce by Josh Ulick in which he says that, “…the body can harm itself if we do not relieve the problems of our past and conflicts”. Arterburn then explains how a chemical reaction takes place that sets our bodies into action, and that if we don’t know how to respond to it properly it can cause all sorts of health problems.

He explains what happens when we are under threat, “First, the hypothalmus gland secretes a substance called CRH that stimulates the ptiuitary gland. The pituitary gland secretes the ACTH molecule, which travels to the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland releases cortisol, a hormone that helps keep bool sugar up and give the body extra energy to act.” He illustrates that if you were a caveman attacked by a rhino, this would be good. When the rhino is chased off, the levels fall. But, if you were an office worker you prabably would become distressed through not knowing how to deal with it!.

He says that the adrenal gland also exretes epinephrine, which increases heart and breathing rates, the better for fighting and that blood pressure increase rise also sending more blood to the legs and arms for more energy. His reasoning is that the effects of lingering stress from the past can be quite damaging. He says that immune system becomes weakened and that high blood pressure,stomach ulcers, digestive problems and skin problems and etc., can result! His advice? Deal with it as soon as possible to avoid the adverse side effects that can really damage us for life.

Understanding PTSD, is to understand how the war experience is continuing to be fought or resolved in a Veteran’s mind. Understanding adrenaline triggers is understanding how the war experience is continuing to be played out in the Veteran’s body. Family, friends and support groups are vital to ‘trigger evaluation’. The Veteran must feel safe, supported and loved. Point Man Outposts can provide these needs for recovery and the restoration of self-worth.

SURRENDER – Disarming Your Triggers:
‘Triggers’ are dangerous to your health as well as to your relationships with loved ones, friends, fellow workers and with God. Understanding ‘your triggers’ adaption, and tools such as ‘Trigger Charts’ will give you a measure of victory over some aspects of stress disorder.

To completely render harmless your ‘triggers’, you must surrender them to God. This above all else is the option that has had the most success over the years. It doesn’t work to fight your ‘triggers’, or to run from them, asking God’s help in ‘disarming your triggers’ gives you the ‘Real Edge’!

Contact your nearest Veteran Counselling Service office in your area to find the mates and support you need to gain victory over your ‘triggers’ and find ‘Peace with your past’. Remember, the Bible promises, “…and, the PEACE of God shall guard your HEARTS and MINDS in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7)

 

About Fred Grigg