By RD Farmer, Heroes Recovery Network
As if it wasn’t enough to live with the lovely symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, it is frequently accompanied by two other major problems: depression and anxiety. Until this year, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (by which doctors live to diagnose a disorder, disease, or illness) considered PTSD an anxiety disorder. Now it is not. Instead, when accompanied by anxiety, it is diagnosed as comorbid which is a fancy way of saying that PTSD has a sister illness.
So for those of you out there working in a profession that puts you at risk for PTSD, you are also at risk for anxiety disorders and depression. What does anxiety and depression do to the symptoms someone with PTSD already experiences? It exacerbates them. Where once you might have felt short periods of sadness or the sense that hope is lost, depression makes the sadness feel permanent and hopelessness an attitude rather than a momentary problem. Feelings of nervous tension that could be overcome by deep breathing exercises, distracting activities, or a calming physical exercise like Yoga, anxiety turns into panic attacks that can make a person wonder if he’s having a heart attack.
This is when medication is most frequently needed and when self-medicating needs to be most avoided. I know it seems a lot easier to pour a finger of scotch or grab a beer when the anxiety builds but ultimately, doing that is like adding a scab on top of a scab. Eventually the scabs have to come off and the more of them there are, the longer it’ll take to get to the wound and heal it. And the more it’s going to hurt.
Why? Because emotional scabs don’t work the same way physical ones do. Physical scabs protect the wound beneath, helping it to heal and eventually disappear. Sometimes it leaves a scar, sometimes not. But emotional scabs only cover the wound. And the more the wound beneath is ignored or masked, the more painful it’s going to be when the scab finally gets ripped off.
So do yourself a favor. When the urge to silence the emotional pain you’re feeling surfaces, talk to someone. Find a trusted friend. Alcohol is isolation’s best pal and your enemy. Avoid it at all costs because one shot might numb the symptom today but one quickly becomes two, then three, and eventually stops working altogether.
About the Author
Renee Farmer, founder of the Heroes Recovery Network, is a veteran currently completing her PhD in Crisis Intervention with a focus on the creation of virtual PTSD therapy that can be delivered anonymously and without diagnosis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.