It might not “look” like PTSD
What do you think of when you hear or read the word PTSD (technically, the acronym PTSD)? Do you see a grizzled old combat Vet like Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump? Lt. Dan definitely had PTSD, survivor’s guilt, Alcohol Addiction and a few other diagnoses I could add in there, assuming he was a real person. Maybe you see a young woman who was recently raped, afraid to leave her apartment or go out at night. That would certainly be a good candidate for a PTSD diagnosis.
Most people don’t think of their Hooah*, take charge, NCO* as possibly having PTSD. (*I’ll explain these army terms below). They don’t imagine someone that does public speaking, owns their own law firm and helps victims of domestic violence as having PTSD. Why not? It’s true that not every NCO or women has PTSD.
To get technical, the VA estimates 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan Vets have PTSD. So put 5 NCOs in a room, chances are one of them has PTSD. (please note, these could be male or female NCOs) (RAND corporation study, 2015)
Civilian women clock in much lower, with an estimated 10% of all women having PTSD in their lifetime. So put 10 women in a room, chances are one of them has PTSD. (PTSD United, 2013)
Why am I telling you all this? Because I had a personal realization this weekend. For years Mental Health Professionals have urged others to break the stigma and not stereotype mental disorders and the people that have them. I realized, while seeing my Dad “in action” at Greek Fest Friday night, that he doesn’t “look” like the typical ideal of PTSD.
Sure, he now wears his Vietnam Veteran hat proudly, and he was using cane Friday, due to some knee pain, but he was talking to everyone in sight. We arrived to Greek Fest (an annual, weekend long event of Greek food, wine, and dancing) and grabbed a seat in the air conditioned fellowship hall (despite being a September evening, it was still hot and humid). We had Dad hold the seats and then Mom and I did the divide and conquer approach- she took one line for drinks and Dad’s meal, I took the other line for our gyros and fries. (Authentic Greek fries, I assure you.)
Mom got through her line first, and when I got back to the hall, Dad was eating his Greek chicken, rice and green beans and talking to a man about his age. They seemed to be discussing something intently. As I slid into my chair, I leaned over to Mom and whispered “does he know him?” She shook her head and said, “I don’t think so.”
At this point, another man approached, also wearing a Vietnam Vet hat, shook my Dad’s hand and jokingly said “thank you for your service”. “You too!” my Dad replied, and they all shared a laugh. I began eating my lamb gyro (authentic!!!!) and in a few minutes heard glimpses and snatches of some of the same stories I told in the book, all about the food in Vietnam.
I relay this story, because my Dad was not sitting in the chair, arms crossed, sulking, when my Mom and I returned with food. He was socializing with everyone around him- something I always remember about him. When my husband and I were dating he commented, “Wow, your Dad knows everybody!” He was only half wrong- my Dad knows a LOT of people, no matter the setting. He also won’t have strangers for long, the way he strikes up conversations with people he hasn’t met before. “Your Dad would be a good politician, he can talk to anyone.”, other people have told me.
So PTSD might not always “look” like PTSD. The same can be said for any diagnosis, whether mental or physical.
Try not to judge or stereotype. Hidden behind the biggest smile can be pain.
*Hooah= an Army word that can mean whatever you want it to mean, usually, “yes” “I heard you” “Roger” or sometimes “f you”. Here, when I say a Soldier is “Hooah” I mean they are 100% about the Army, exceeding standards and being super patriotic and loyal.
*NCOs are non commissioned officers. Any enlisted with the rank of E-5 and above in a NCO. In the civilian world, they would be managers, where as officers would be supervisors/owners, while Soldiers (E-4 and below) are the lowly hourly workers.