Thursday, March 25, 2010

Does PTSD Last a Lifetime?

Realizing that many may be roaming on my blog, due to my guest post on 100 Pounds, please feel free to explore past posts.  My blog certainly isn't as specific on its content as others may be, but life isn't specific either.

Lately my life has been emotional and physically whelming.  I never realized how I would react to my gym closing, but when it happened, I became very stressed.  Where would I go, would they have the equipment that I've become so accustomed to using.  I think the comfort zone that we all end up in can have a profound effect on our confidence, as well as our ability to deal with things that come up in our lives.

I started this post last night, at about 10:30.  Mostly, it was because that was when I had finally been able to process my busy day, and all of the information I had discovered; it was painful, yet relieving. 

PTSD.  Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.  Most people know that the Soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan or dealing with this psychological problem in more numbers then expected, and in more numbers than we realize.  But what about older veterans?  Does PTSD last a lifetime?

In this case, it does.  My stepfather, who will be hesitant to tell you anything about his service in the Vietnam War, has been dealt a tough hand recently; I believe his past is finally catching up to him.  His problems didn't start until after he left the service.  While his history is long and details may be grim, his only physical proof is in his poor hearing and through his eyes.  I would like to say that it started when the recession hit; when a small town that survives on the operation of a potato plant started to feel the pinch of people not wanting fried potatoes, but for him it started decades ago.  He is only now able to come to terms with all of his emotions, and since he has only recently publicly admitted them, he refuses to be in his own house.

He served in Vietnam.  My great uncle once told me he remembers when soldiers came home and people spit on them; it didn't matter if they were walking, in wheelchairs or still in stretchers, the soldiers were a disgrace because of the war.  But my stepfather still had hopes; he started a family, had 3 children and a wonderful home.  It was a wonder why alcohol would become his problem and would ruin that happy home.  After a divorce, and living a lonely life for several years-maybe even decades, he met my mom.  I can't describe why or what it was that drew the two of them together, but after ten years I still see love.

Although I have a close relationship with my stepfather, I don't know that much about his past.  I mean, I KNOW about his past, but I don't know how he feels about it, or how some events effected him.  When his oldest daughter died, life became abnormal.  It involved a lot of alcohol and my sisters and I walking on our toes to avoid any negative disturbances.  I remember a night where he had drank quite a bit, he told me right in my face (literally), that I was just like his oldest daughter-his favorite.

I can't describe my reaction just then, but I know I have remembered it.  It had become part the start of the intertwining of our father-daughter relationship.

Since then, he has healed-as much as a father could-but every year there are two days where no matter what is going on in life, he isn't smiling; his daughter's birthdate and the date she died.  Nonetheless, he was still able to enjoy life as best as possible, he had a loving wife, wonderful grand kids and had been able to form a close family between my mom, sisters and I.  Since he retired, 4 years ago, things just haven't been the same.  His life is now drowned in one medical problem after another; a rare nerve disease, leg problems, back problems, heart disease, small strokes, he's suffered a major heart attack, is living with severe depression, and he falls asleep in the middle of sentences, the list just keeps getting longer.  While the VA has been supporting his medical needs, they are hesitant to say any of this relates to his service in the war. 

My stepfather copes with alcohol.  Looking back, I realize that its more to for his sake, than anything else.  I was recently told by my mom that he still has nightmares, he always has to have a drink, or three, before leaving the house-I didn't realize that was why they had 'happy hour' before we would all go out to dinner.  I had finally been able to understand his world, but just barely.

Now, my stepfather has finally shared intimate details of his past with his therapist.  Now, his therapist is understanding to his drinking and his defensive attitude towards talking about his past.  She told him, "This is clearly PTSD."  She will recommend he recieve in-patient treatment to overcome his lifelong obstacles.  But is this too little too late?  After a lifetime of living with nightmares, cold sweats and violent reactions that a person can't explain, does it matter if he goes through treatment for those now?

Yesterday, I discovered the depth of their hardship.  With my stepfather unable to work, and my mother laid off every few weeks from work, their income has drastically declined.  While they aren't behind on their house, in a few days it won't have heat, electricity or water.  They just had their phone shut off, and are going to my sister's in order to make phone calls and watch tv-one of their only 'escapes' from their situation.  It is sad to see my parents go through such turmoil.  It is sad to know that I can't help them.

Before yesterday, well, really, before a few months ago, I would've told anyone that I hadn't seen the effects of the recession, that PTSD was just a problem for veterans in this most recent of wars.  But yesterday my eyes were opened wide, and I saw the effects, not only of the recession, but of war, hatred and violence.  I wonder, maybe if the recession hadn't come along for my parents, would my stepfather had faced his demons?  Or would he still be sitting at home, with a bottle of wine, wondering when life will finally give out on him?  And after all of this is over, will he finally feel as though his past is really behind him, or will this only make it worse?


  1. Thanks for sharing something so personal and difficult to talk about.

    Anything stigmatizing like PTSD, depression, etc is difficult for everyone involved. Getting help must be difficult - especially if those feelings are so deep that talking about it is such a struggle.
    I'm hoping things get better for you, your family and especially your step-dad. Hopefully the healing process has begun.

  2. Thanks for the input-It helped me to put my own 'simple' life difficulties, and makes me wonder how he functioned during his life.