Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.)
My own definition of P.T.S.D. can best be explained with one of those heat packets you buy at Walmart or Target if you are going out in the cold for any length of time. In order to create heat, you merely shake the packet and it begins to get hot. Here’s the correlation with P.T.S.D. Once the packet is heated, try reversing the effect and putting the chemicals back exactly the way they were before you shook up the packet. Obviously, that is impossible. Once shaken, you get heat as long as it is designed to make heat, usually about eight hours. That is P.T.S.D. in a nutshell.
When your veteran, Police Officer, or Fire fighter has been exposed to a trigger, a chain of events is set in motion that “heats” his or her brain, and it cannot be put back the way it was just seconds before until the reaction in the brain has subsided. The trigger can be a comment, a look, a request, anything. Fatigue from sleeplessness sets up conditions that are ripe for “heat.” This is what most spouses and children don’t understand about P.T.S.D. The veteran cannot simply shut off the anger or depression because a spouse wants him or her to. At Reformation Christian Counseling, I’ve been there, done that, got the T shirt, and now the T shirt is a rag. I will show you how the spouse’s mediatorial ministry to his/her veteran can achieve far more than you can ever imagine. As the apostle James stated, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Do you ask God for wisdom or patience, believing He delights in your prayers? This same James also wrote: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
For instance, here’s what happens when I am triggered to anger or sadness so that my P.T.S.D. goes into hyperdrive, seemingly out of nowhere. Through years of encountering triggers, God has been teaching me internally a sensitivity to His personal presence, and to the temptation not to try and control the situation. I am to rest in Him and submit to its effect on me, but do so in an attitude of believing prayer. God can bring light out of darkness. Trust me.
My wife knows that her place is equally to submit to what is effecting me. She begins to pray for me. But the glorious aim of this episode has as much to do with her as it does with me. God is equally working in her a likeness to Christ, just as He is with me. We both need a lot of character building. Notice what the apostle Paul wrote: In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning's too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. The Holy Spirit, Himself fully God, prays for us every time we go through these P.T.S.D times. Why? So that each trial will work out for good, so that we will be justified (made right with God) and finally be glorified in heaven with Him. That verb “predestined” declares to us God’s sovereign watch care over His people. What’s your plan?
I remember years ago, my wife and I were taking a trip back to St. Louis. We had not left town before someone cut us off in traffic. That was the trigger. I wouldn’t talk to Catherine for several hours since I went from anger to deep depression. I couldn’t “kill” that driver, but I could go within myself as my only way of escape. She began to pray for me that God would mercifully enable me to go through this event quickly and come out of it in a better mood. That’s exactly what happened, and it has happened repeatedly when I am triggered. The worst argument Catherine and I ever had was over my desire to go to a particular seminary, of all things. My wife has an infinite supply of horse sense that I do not have. She knew we did not have the money at that time. That set my brain off. I wasn’t throwing a tantrum, but the “packet” had been shaken. I knew I needed further education and so did she, but there is a time for everything, said Solomon. I was angry for a week. I couldn’t shut it off and it ran over the family and me. I had not been diagnosed with P.T.S.D. yet, so everyone assumed I was acting like a juvenile. I couldn’t stop it because I didn’t know what “it” was. Around 8 pm, a week later, I felt the pressure and anger release. I was able to apologize to my wife and children. I was clearly wrong even though I felt helpless to stop it. I have had no further events like that since.
These types of scenarios have played out hundreds of times in our married lives. What is crucial for your dear spouse, is to understand that God has given you both a gift called P.T.S.D. God’s priority for all marriages is to reflect Christ’s loving and holy bride, the Church. Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered. So it is with His bride, the Church. My wife prays for me when she sees it coming on. She’s learning not to take any of it personally. God has her actively engaged in my P.T.SD. We are a team. The Lord has me wrestle with it from the inside, when my brain is on fire and I feel like a piece of useless drift wood being pushed down stream amid a raging flood. I’m not of course, but it so often feels that way. Yet I am never alone in those times. “There is,” said Solomon, “a Friend who sticks closer than a brother.” I’ve learned that He guides me into this “hole” at a specific moment, and that moment is for my own good and His glory. There’s always a starting point, a duration and intensity, and then He causes it to cease; there’s always a halt to it.
Oh, one more thing. I haven’t lost anything because of Vietnam. I have gained a Savior, a Friend, a Defender, a High Priest, a Prophet, a King, and a Brother in Jesus Christ.