What does PTSD look like?
"I'm fine, how are you?"
Many years ago, John thought PTSD didn't exist. He believed it was weakness. It was in one's mind. It was imaginary. Those were irrational beliefs that started in his early Army days. Superiors would drill into the soldiers that they were strong and they could handle anything. They were tough. That they couldn't be beat. PTSD was in the mind of the weak. It wasn't real. PTSD was for cowards. PTSD was for sissies.
Needless to say, when obvious symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety crept in, a soldier programmed with the above nonsense would deny it. Denial. A human's most effective and most important defense mechanism. Denial is the soldier saying, "I'm good. No problems. Can't complain." He picks up and carries on. Or does he? Does a warrior battling these inward emotions and issues really think that he's alright? Maybe he really does or maybe he has a war within his very being . Likely he is struggling with the real plague of PTSD symptoms and that programming of "Suck it up soldier."
"I'm fine" is such a typical response. Americans mutter this incessant crap without even thinking about it. It seems innocent enough, yet it is affirms a stereotypical aspect of our society. We're good. We're well. We maintain appearances and a Persona that we are whole, healthy, successful, and without problems. Most people utter the usual, "Hi. How are you?" without ever wanting or caring what the addressed party has to say or how they truly are. They expect a thoughtless, "I'm fine. How are you?" in return with none other than a "Doing well" type response.
For starters, I don't ask one how he or she is unless I truly want to know or I care. I think I began thinking this way sometime during my first year of graduate school when I was studying Clinical Psychology and we were challenged to be more aware and genuine in our interactions.
If someone asks me, "How are you?" He or she should likely back up for an atypical response. "Tired" is my usual response if I sense that someone is in a hurry or simply uttered the phrase without conscious concern. However, if you sincerely ask me, "How are you?" you might want to sit down for a cup of joe because it might just take a while. On the rare occasion a stranger or acquaintance asks how I am and I reply with a quick and hurried, "Fine." I back up and internally shake myself. I really do. I ask myself, "Are you fine today? Likely not. What was that about?" That's how I shake myself back into a greater awareness of how I am. Now you think I'm talking to myself and that might lead to other diagnoses so we'll get back to PTSD.
Now, maybe you can see how PTSD is an invisible illness. People with PTSD can often hide or mask their symptoms. They can recede into their own homes and personal lives, avoiding interaction when they don't feel like dealing with people or the world. They can learn great (or so they think) coping skills, like denial, so it appears that they are fine.
However, when one wants to really conquer PTSD and conquer his symptoms of the illness without it dictating life as he knows it, a few things have to change. The hardest part is acknowledging that PTSD exists and it is real and it is happening to you or your loved one. Not covering up or making excuses leads to a greater acknowledgement of the illness and symptoms. Unfortunately, I think about all the years that we simply covered up or made excuses for the ugly symptoms and actions of my husband. Looking back, it didn't do anyone a favor. Now we make the covert overt. We acknowledge it. We talk about it when we can and we are more honest. A doctor or mental health professional cannot help what they don't know about. Your family can not be encouraging or supportive if they don't know the honest truth about what is going on. Your spiritual network, church, or confidants can't lift you up in prayer and thoughts if they are not aware of the situation.
Few people are discerning enough to take a "I'm fine" response and decode when you are actually not "fine" and offer the help and support that is essential in making progress with PTSD or other aspects of your life. It is essential to open up.