Doing Our Part To Give Thanks and Help

November 6, 2009
By Rev. Paul N. Papas II

We have two days this month to give thanks; Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

Veterans Day celebrates those who made it home, those who did not come home, and those who are trying to make it home after fighting for our freedoms. Freedom is not free as it requires that men and women fight and die far from home.

Thanksgiving celebrates the fruits of the first harvest in new home. It was a time when new friends thanked God for seeing them through time times. The new settlers lost many who made the trip from England during the first year. They could not go back to England, so they resolved to put their best effort into making a home here.

War Veterans, the Pilgrims, and many people today have a few things in common. They experienced a lot of trauma; they witnessed one or multiple events that forever changed their very being and lives.

And once you do have such an event it’s your response to that event that makes the difference. In general many people have a great deal of resilience, and when they are presented with extraordinary traumas they march through them, they make their way, they adjust to them.

The stressful event is an out of the ordinary experience that people would go through. So war being one of them that perhaps is most familiar to many people, but there are certainly a variety of childhood traumas and tragedies that can occur that are outside the normal experience. One of the consequences of people experiencing a stressful event is what has become known as post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

The other kinds of things that are more typical of a post-traumatic stress response and post-traumatic stress disorder fall into two broad categories. One is a numbing type of response, and the other is an alerting or alarming response. Numbing response often will occur after or in some cases immediately after the trauma, but the people who get the alerting, agitation, they are very upset by it, that’s the most immediate and the most common response that people are used to thinking about in post-traumatic stress disorder. Reliving traumatic events can produce, sweating, rise in blood pressure, pulse rate is high, and eyes are dilated. It’s a fight or flight type response as it’s been known for almost a hundred years.

There is a lot written on PTSD and some symptoms are worse than others.

Sometimes people get very vivid dreams that will keep them up at night, will wake them up, bordering on nightmares that they will have and that these dreams sometimes start so intrude into their daytime life, and they start to become experienced as almost hallucinations or flashbacks that go back to the traumatic event, and they are constantly re-experiencing it. Things that are just the most subtle reminders will sometimes bring the whole event back, the classic example being from the soldiers from Vietnam when they would smell diesel fuel, that they would start to get the reminders of napalm, and they would then have a whole flashback to a whole series of perhaps traumatic events where they may have been injured themselves or one of their buddies may have been killed. Another example would be when they are hearing helicopter sounds, and it will trigger a flashback to being under fire in a very dangerous situation but again they may have actually gotten injured in. That would cause an alerting, hyper arousal that can be noticed.

Some Veterans do make it back to their home town, but their thoughts and reactions are still stuck in the events. This is what I meant earlier when I said some are still trying to make it home. The Veterans Administration spends a significant amount of time and money trying to bring the Vets home. Vietnam Vets experienced such things as having a “friendly” person by day attacking them by night. A person they trust is actually their enemy. Therefore trusting people can become a major issue.

Some would say that children are very resilient when facing devastating circumstances such as divorce, death of a parent or abuse. It is not true.

To be resilient means that when something happens, you return to your original emotional cognitive shape. That means a child becomes who they were before the traumatic event took place. An abuse child does not become as if he or she were never abused. A child who loses a parent never returns to being the child who had that parent. Children are shaped by those events.

Police Officers and other first responders to an event, such as the twin tower attack on 9-11-01 or a local car accident are among those who suffer from PTSD.

It is significant to note that New York State has authorized Workmen’s Compensation insurance payments for 9/11 volunteers who where not employees of the state or City of New York for such certain claims such as PTSD.

Some Katrina volunteers suffer from PTSD.

PTSD can be an unwelcomed consequence of people helping people or people witnessing or being a part of a traumatic event.

PTSD is not a dreaded disease. There is help and people can get to the point where they are able to function normally. It just takes time and work. PTSD is a medical condition of a mental illness.

I don’t know of any records going that far back, but I would imagine that the Pilgrims also suffered PTSD, especially in their first year here.

It is a great day when a Veteran finally returns home mentally and physically, as some as still on that journey.

As we approach Veterans Day and later Thanksgiving this month let us all remember how we got here and be thankful for what we’ve come through, what we have, and for those who helped get us here.

The celebration continues as each person is made whole. We all have a part and can all join in on the celebration.

Rev Paul N. Papas II is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries (located in MA and AZ), founder of the Family Renewal Center and past President of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Framingham. NAMI has a variety of support services for family, friends and those who suffer from a Mental Illness http://www.narrowpathministries.org, http://www.familyrenewalcenteraz.org,

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