If your loved one has seen war, he or she has PTSD at some level

Part 1 of an interview with Welby O’Brien, author of
Love Our Vets: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD

Affecting millions in the U.S. alone, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is rampant and escalating at an alarming rate. For the sufferer facing this disorder, life is fraught with stress, anxiety, difficulties and heartache. However, for every one person struggling with PTSD, there are many more friends and family members who are also deeply and profoundly impacted. Author Welby O’Brien offers help and hope to families of PTSD sufferers in Love Our Vets: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD (Deep River Books).

Q: We hear a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) but may not really understand what it is and how it affects those who have it. Can you help us grasp a basic understanding of what PTSD is?

Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone, and it results from exposure to an experience that is horrific or life-threatening. They become locked into emergency mode (fight, flight or freeze survival) and will stay permanently programmed in that emergency mode at some level for the rest of their lives. They live 24/7 as if the trauma or an impending crisis could reoccur at any moment. It totally overwhelms their ability to cope, so when something triggers them back into survival mode, they have no reserve with which to handle it.

Q: How many people suffer from PTSD? What percentage of veterans have some form of PTSD? 

According to the National Center for PTSD, about eight million adults in the U.S. alone struggle with PTSD. Most people do not realize it also profoundly impacts all of those around them as well. Researchers have a hard time pinning down the actual numbers of just who and how many have PTSD because anyone can experience trauma and also because, sadly, only about half of those who need help actually reach out for it. 

Chances are that if your loved one has seen war, he or she has PTSD at some level.

Q: In Love Our Vets, you explain that PTSD can affect anyone, not just veterans. Who is at risk for it?

Since PTSD is a result of exposure to a horrific or traumatic experience, anyone who has been — or will ever be — exposed to trauma is at risk. The trauma could be a single event or continue over a long period of time. It could be abuse, a tragic loss, an accident, a serious illness, a terrorist attack, a severe storm, an earthquake or anything where your life feels threatened. 

Q: Your book, Love Our Vets, is divided into three parts: reaffirm, replenish and reflect. Can you tell us more about how the book is set up?

I wanted Love Our Vets to be user-friendly in that it is not necessary to read from cover to cover because some areas may not be applicable to every reader. The first section, Reaffirm: Our Questions, includes more than 60 questions and answers that are unique to loved ones of those with PTSD. Readers can glance at the Table of Contents and go right to the page that addresses their concern.

The second section, Replenish: Our Needs, is all about self-care. It is set up in a checklist format so readers can see how they are doing in twenty-one specific areas and find ways to grow personally.

The third section is Reflect: Our Wisdom. This is a treasure chest of advice, helpful quotes, encouraging words and testimonials from many others who also love their vets.

And the last part of the book is a collection of various appendices offering more help and hope for PTSD warriors and their loved ones, including “A Prayer a Day,” which are short prayers for each day of the month.

Q: What are some of the most frequently asked questions about PTSD you answer in the “reaffirm” section?

(As PTSD affects both men and women, he/she can be interchangeable.)
  • How do I get him to “come back” to me when he is withdrawn or shuts himself off?
  • As parents of a veteran, how do we know what to do and when to just back off?
  • I have a terrible time trying to sleep with him because of his nightmares and thrashing, etc. How can I help him sleep better so I can sleep better?
  • How can I get friends and family to understand?
  • Why is he unable to handle conflict like “normal” couples? Just what are the rules for conflict when PTSD is a factor?
  • Sometimes I feel like I’m married to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Is that typical, and how do I manage with those extreme and unpredictable behaviors?
  • I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. How do I know when to say I’m done?

Q: How do patriotic holidays such as Fourth of July and Veterans’ Day affect those with PTSD?

Anything taking them back to the original trauma can stir things up. What may be a trigger for some might not bother others. Some typical triggers are crowds, parades, loud noises, bright lights and fireworks especially. The unexpected loud booms send most of them right back into the battlefield.

There was a local patriotic event here recently honoring Vietnam veterans, and unfortunately some of them were severely triggered by the surprise Huey helicopter that landed in the stadium.

It is good for veterans and their loved ones to be aware ahead of time about what might be a problem for them and to take special steps to avoid it or not be affected by it if possible. And always have that lifeline of good peer support around you.

Q: How can people help change the stigma surrounding PTSD?

Change happens one person at a time. For many people, just learning more about PTSD or someone who struggles with it will make a difference. I encourage people to visit our website (www.LoveOurVets.org) to glean a wealth of helpful information and to share it with others.

One tool we have developed that has been a huge hit is “PTSD Basics.” It is a simple graphic that can be shared on social media, downloaded and printed out or sent to you in a 5x7 glossy card. I share what PTSD is and what it is not. It also includes what not to do or say to someone with PTSD as well as what we can do that is helpful. 

Q: There is no cure for PTSD, but what can be done to ease the symptoms?

Trauma and its indelible impact cannot be erased, and therefore PTSD cannot be totally fixed. However, it can be helped. That is what Love Our Vets (the book and support network) is all about: We can live happy, fulfilled lives in spite of PTSD.

The good news is there are more beneficial therapies available today than ever before. Since each person and their situation are unique, the best thing to do is research the options, talk with others and take that first step toward getting the help you need. A good place to start is our website under Resource Links.

Q: Although you are a Christian and wrote the book from that perspective, readers will not find scripture references in Love Our Vets. Can you share more about why you approached the book that way?

Many veterans and others with PTSD often avoid things that are clearly “religious.” Although I do talk about faith and love and include a “Prayer a Day” for those who would like to use that section, Love Our Vets was not meant to be an obviously Christian book; rather it is meant to serve as a doorway, inviting people to connect with others and to explore our website, which offers a wealth of faith-based resources.

We want Love Our Vets to be received by anyone, regardless of their faith, so it is purposely intended to be a crossover book. As a result, it is able to be used by Veterans Affairs groups and other non-religious organizations.

Love Our Vets offers plenty of wisdom and practical help for those who may go no further and an invitation to explore more for those who are open.

Q: What faith-based resources will readers be able to find on your website, www.LoveOurVets.org?

Some of the things we offer are a short gospel video for veterans and loved ones and tips on how to minister to those with PTSD. There are also links to organizations offering retreats or in-patient PTSD treatment, support groups for veterans and for loved ones and local military-friendly churches. We also have an awesome evangelical veteran Chaplain and his wife available by phone or e-mail 24/7.

Learn more about more about Love Our Vets and Welby O’Brien at www.LoveOurVets.org or on Facebook (LoveOurVetsPtsdFamilySupport).