The Goal = Health (Claim Your Freedom #4)

Emotional health (in fact, health in general) isn’t so much about what’s wrong with us as it is about what’s right- and walking into what’s even better. In our medically-driven, diagnosis-prone Western world we’ve been conditioned to look at problems rather than seek solutions. And, we’ve been trained to “fix issues” rather than walk in wholeness.

This applies to emotional health, too.

Whenever I speak to a group about emotional wholeness, many people assume that my goal is to convince people they have emotional scars which need healing. That’s simply not true.

Therefore, my goal is never for people to “get a diagnosis.” Or even to take a psych eval. I’m simply honest about my story because, well, that’s my story.

My goal is to help people walk in freedom. Period. 

If a diagnosis or even just an evaluation is the path to freedom, so be it. Many times, it's not, though. In fact, most of the time simply having the information is enough. 

That said, let me show you something about Post Traumatic Stress.

 

Been around as long as people 

Many people think PTSD is new. Turns out, it’s not. In fact, it’s been around for an incredibly long time. In fact, it’s probably been around as long as people have been. 

For sure, the actual term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t come into popular usage until after Vietnam. However, historical evidence indicates even warriors in ancient times suffered its effects. In fact, though it may have been identified by different terminology, we see examples throughout history.

  • During the Civil War it was called “soldier’s heart”
  • During WWI & WWII, it was called “shell shock”
  • During the Korean and Vietnam wars, it was known as “combat” or “battle” fatigue

You’ve probably heard these terms before. Each one references the same internal struggle. 

As it pertains to military service, it is important to note that its effects are not unique to American soldiers. PTSD is experienced among those on both sides of a conflict. 

Again, “soldier’s heart” and “shell shock” are concepts which have been around for  decades. I remember hearing each of these terms when I was a kid, generally in reference to an older veteran in our church. The terms were most often used anecdotally, pointing to someone who had trouble adjusting to social norms. 

Thankfully, our perspective on PTSD has changed. Shannon Polson, a Clinical Social Worker featured in the documentary Honoring the Code, notes that its formal recognition as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder did not occur until 1980 when it’s entry into the DSM-3 put PTSD and the field of traumatology on the map. According to Polson, this was the first time it was ever formally acknowledged, lending credibility to the field.

Some people disagree as to whether or not we should use the word disorder when referring to PTSD / Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: 

  • Some people feel the word disorder carries a stigma that may hinder people from seeking treatment.
  • Others point to the fact that psychological diagnoses fall on a spectrum (like we discussed earlier in the book) and that you can be greatly affected by something and not “qualify” for a diagnosis. 
  • Still others remind us we don’t label other common human health concerns- broken bones, the common cold, or even cancer- as disorders. We simply diagnosis them and then move forward with treatment protocols. 

Generally, people opposing the use of disorder prefer substituting the word “injury” or the word “symptom” or they omit a fourth word completely. 

I recently watched an interview with a Democrat Presidential candidate who is a veteran. When asked about trauma he experienced in war, he referred to “PTS.” 

When you hear the terms Post Traumatic Stress Symptom or Post Traumatic Stress Injury, the same soul wounds are being addressed. This is certainly an important discussion, but as PTSD remains the term used for diagnostic purposes in the current DSM, it’s the identification I’ll use in this book. 

 

What PTSD looks like

Experts generally agree there are four broad categories of symptoms that help them to recognize and diagnose PTSD properly. Note: you can experience multiple symptoms concurrently. 

  1. Hyper-vigilance— can’t relax and has difficulty concentrating and sleeping. Everyday sounds, such as a car backfire or fireworks may cause anxiousness or even elicit a trained response, such as duck and roll. They may tend to sit with their back to the wall in public places in order to be aware of the environment before them.
  2. Re-experiencing symptoms  nightmares or flash backs where they feel like they are back in that traumatic situation. Certain sights or sounds may trigger these memories of that danger or stress. 
  3. Avoidance symptoms— does whatever they can to avoid anything that reminds them of that trauma. They may want to avoid riding in a car, watching certain movies, or being around certain people— and avoid talking and even thinking about the hurtful memories. 
  4. Negative feelings— may be extremely depressed, have angry outbursts, or just can’t control their emotions. They may be fearful of others or are not able to trust other people.

You might read those four points and think, “Those responses seem fairly common.”

Turns out, they are. Depending on this situation, you may have experienced each of these symptoms before. I have. 

This is one of the reasons I advocate walking in health far more than I encourage seeking a diagnosis. Besides, a diagnosis means nothing if you don’t follow through with the intention to live healthy and whole.

That said, the result of feeling these symptoms generally takes two opposite approaches, depending on the makeup of the person:

Some people fight. Some people choose to turn and face a direct threat. They may become aggressive and launch a retaliatory assault- even against perceived (yet unreal) threats. 

You may have done this yourself or you might have experienced this being done to you before when someone “pops off” verbally in a way that’s disproportional to the actual threat they’re experiencing. “The best defense is a great offense” is the mantra of survivors who choose to fight.

Others take flight. That is, they avoid the conflict altogether, protecting themselves by removing themselves from the situation.

Some people might choose to fight in some situations while electing to take flight in others. Often, it depends on the type of perceived threat, as well as whether or not they feel responsible for others who are present (example: I might respond to a true threat of a car-jacker differently if I was alone as opposed to if I had my daughters in the car with me).

 

It’s common 

A lot of people think PTSD is rare. That’s another misperception. Turns out, it’s actually quite common.

What’s uncommon is the formal diagnosis. In order to be diagnosed, people must meet specific criteria. 

In the back of this book you’ll find a self-evaluation / Post Traumatic Stress test (chapter 17). When I was writing the book Warrior Hope (for veterans), my coauthor and I located the test on a VA website. 

The version of the test in this book lists 8 criteria related to PTSD.  At the time I began researching it, veterans were required to meet all 8 in order to receive a formal diagnosis. In addition, three more factors came into play- 

  1. The trauma had to be linked to a specific event which they could recall to a licensed professional, and
  2. At least one of two additional “specifications” had to be met. That is, the person had to either de-personalize the issue (i.e., “this didn’t happen to me,” as if they’re living in a dream world) or they had to de-realize it (i.e.,, “none of this is real”).  Furthermore, 
  3. At least six months had to pass between the onset of the issue and the date of the diagnosis. Even if symptoms occurred immediately, time needed to lapse to prove that the issue was now an ongoing soul wound.

In my mind, there are a couple of red flags with these additional qualifiers: 

First, many times it’s difficult to hitch soul wounds to a specific event. That is, traumatic feelings are often the result of a series of events. For instance, 

  • If a soldier survives multiple deployments and takes gunfire numerous times but only feels the emotional pain after she slows down enough to catch her breath and assess what happened, how can she necessarily pinpoint which precise moment birthed the trauma?
  • If a spouse is verbally berated by his wife such that gaslighting and name calling and psychotic control occur on a monthly (if not weekly) basis for decades, is it any “less real” because he can’t determine the exact moment it began to feel less like a regular marital spat and more like one-sided, heavy-handed abuse? 

Because of the nature of life and the changing dynamics of human relationships, in most situations it’s mind bending— if not impossible- to determine which precise instance of trauma is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Second, humans have an uncanny way of white-washing the past, of looking through the rear-view mirror with rose-colored classes. We tend to minimize the emotional hurts we feel, because of two facts: 

  1. Time does heal a lot of wounds (or, at least, it heals them to some degree), as well as 
  2. Someone always has it “worse” than us, thereby causing us to minimize our pain (we’ll circle back to this notion in chapter 7).

As a result, depersonalization and de-realization are real issues that occur even when people are healthy. 

Third, finally, waiting 6 months from the onset of traumatic injury until a diagnosis is received is, on one hand, a positive step, but it’s short-sighted. It’s rarely a good idea for someone to receive a diagnosis after just a few days. The wounds are too raw to completely assess. 

At the same time, we clearly  don’t wait for 6 months to label physical wounds. When something is amiss, we address it. In large part this is because, particularly when it comes to physical hurts, the goal is often to “get well” rather than living in the diagnosis. 

 

A really high bar

That said, those are lofty criteria to meet in order to receive the formal label of Post Traumatic Stress. Since there are only 8 criteria, you must score "perfect” on the test in order to receive the diagnosis. 

And maybe they should be case. After all, we’re looking at a label someone will carry with them for quite some time- a moniker that often lands on job applications, school forms, and every health questionnaire you’ll ever complete in the future.

Let’s say you don't score perfect, though. And, for the sake of argument, let’s say you don’t want the diagnosis. You don’t want the label. That’s probably most of us…

But let’s say you emphatically do want to walk in health + wholeness. That's probably most of us, too…

Are you less affected because you score a 7? Does that mean you shouldn’t address the emotional hurts that caused you that much (but just short of diagnosable) internal pain?

I’ve read and re-read that test dozens of times. I’ve looked at it as I've listed to veterans and business partners and friends share their stories. I believe that most of the people who read this book probably score 5-6 on the test. They’re not diagnosable for PTSD any more than the average person on the street is diagnosable with cancer. 

But not having cancer doesn’t mean we don’t walk in perfect physical health any more than not receiving a PTSD diagnosis assures we’re emotionally whole. There’s always room for greater levels of health- especially when we’re not afraid of labels and we’ve embraced the notion of total wholeness as the goal.

Again, the goal isn’t to receive a diagnosis (nor is it to necessarily avoid one). The goal is complete wholeness. And the reality is that, in some sense, precisely because life is both good and simultaneously hard, most of us have soul wounds.

Where do they come from? And how do we identify them? 

We’ll discuss it that issue more in the next talk.

 

 


Links from this talk

Stream the PTSD documentary, Invisible Scars, at https://www.warriorhope.com/IS

Stream the film, Honoring the Code (Moral Injury), at https://www.warriorhope.com/HTC

Claim Your Freedom- the book- (5.5x8.5, 264 pages)- https://amzn.to/2xwQcEY  

Warrior Hope- the book- (8.x5x11, 230 pages)- https://amzn.to/2NY0Td2  

Take the PTSD Self-Check at https://www.jenkins.tv/PTSD 

 


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