There are many challenges a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has to overcome due to their condition and no two people are the same. In fact, there are far too many challenges an individual PTSD sufferer can experience to cover them all in such a short article. Therefore, this article will concentrate on just one which I am very familiar with and have struggled with for many years; anger and jealousy towards non PTSD sufferers.
For some of you reading this article, it may be hard to fathom why those like me with PTSD would be angry and jealous of you. I understand and will give my best effort to explain it to you. Put simply, some of us have lost the ability to enjoy the good things in everyday life and society. We lost it because we are anxious around large crowds or have flashbacks during social events.
Each Sufferer is Different
It is important to understand that each sufferer’s condition and symptoms are different because the events which caused their PTSD are different for each individual. Therefore, the next time you wish to thank someone for their military service, don’t assume they are angry and jealous with you. I point this out because not every PTSD sufferer has anger and jealousy towards non sufferers. I am just speaking for myself and those who I have spoken to over the years who feel as I do. My experience has shown that there are a lot of us who feel this way.
Anger and Jealousy
The anger and jealousy in which I am referring is not the ordinary type. The anger and jealousy which I am talking about is what I feel when I see people relaxing in restaurants with their backs to the door. They are not worried about seeing or knowing when someone new comes in. They simply are unconcerned and feel safe in any environment. It is their level of comfort which they have and I can no longer achieve which makes me angry and jealous. So you see, though I am angry and jealous of those people, it is really my own inability to do things which ordinary society does that makes me angry.
I see people sitting in crowded stadiums watching softball games with not a care in the world that they are closely packed with hundreds of people who they don’t know anything about. They don’t jump at loud noises but they look at you funny when you do. They don’t see garbage bags along the sidewalk or road as anything more than unsightly where as I and those like me look at them as potentially dangerous. I even get jealous when someone describes a new war movie to me but I know I will never go watch it because a scene could cause me to have a flashback.
The Anger Is Still There
I am now retired from active duty and have become accustomed to the anger and jealousy and even understand where it comes from. However, I would be a liar if I told you that I no longer grew angry when I see or hear certain things. On a weekly basis, I come across people who ask if I am military and then thank me for my service. Some even go as far as buy my meals in restaurants or my coffee in Starbucks. I end up looking at them and thanking them politely but then disengage from them as soon as possible before they and engage me in conversation any further. I do this for two reasons. First, I view my military service as me volunteering to do a job. I wasn’t drafted and I originally joined simply to afford college. I view it as me simply doing my job. Besides, there were a lot of times I had to do stuff which I really should never be thanked for.
Second, I look at my anger and jealousy towards others as wrong though I can’t change how I feel. I can’t help but wonder if after all these years as I look back on my career that perhaps the cost of what I did was too high. Was it too high if I can no longer enjoy the society I spent so many years protecting? Was the cost to high if I can no longer enjoy a football game in a stadium because I can’t relax enough in a crowd that large? I and many others with PTSD struggle with this challenge every day. We don’t begrudge others for their ability to enjoy life but we miss the carefree mentality which they still have and that we can no longer enjoy.
It Is More Difficult For Some
The challenge of overcoming the anger is harder for some like me. Specific training and the number of missions during a career can make the anger more intense and because of that some of us have to avoid certain situations. For example, I can no longer drink alcohol to the point where I get drunk. My flashbacks are more powerful to the point of blackout if I drink too much. Some would say this is a sign of a drinking problem but I have blackouts during other times as well so I do not blame the alcohol. Either way, it is not good, nor safe for someone with my training to have a flashback in a public bar. I unfortunately have hurt a few people until I realized what was happening.
This is a good example of why I am angry and jealous of non PTSD sufferers. It may not sound like much but simply having the ability to sit in a restaurant or bar and enjoy time with my wife and friends is something everyone would miss if they were suddenly unable to enjoy them. Previously, I had found bars a relaxing place to meet up with friends. I still go to bars but I go with my very patient and understanding wife during a bar or restaurant’s non-peak hours. She gives me the ability to concentrate on her and provides an azimuth check for me if I start to feel nervous or if something happens.
A small bit of advice for those like me, I strongly encourage you to find someone to help you like my wife helps me. She has prevented me from hurting more than a few people, even if they were stupid and probably deserved a butt kicking. I am no longer a reliable judge in a crowded setting as to whether I am reading a situation correctly. She provides that for me and I have come to rely on her judgment. Besides, the kind of people who you come across in a busy bar really don’t deserve someone with my training coming at them and putting them in the hospital simply because they were drunk and stupid. I have enough guilt to worry about without having to worry about adding to it because someone was stupid and I read the situation wrong.
No Longer Carefree
This is an extreme case of course but relevant to the point I am trying to make. I miss the carefree person I used to be. I simply am no longer capable of viewing the world as society would term as normal and need my wife to ensure I am not literally a danger to society. Therefore, the only thing I can do is continue to attend therapy and psychology appointments and work through this particular challenge. I struggle with it on a daily basis and because of that I feel angry and jealous at the world I left behind. It sounds pathetic but I can’t help it. I feel anger when I see someone walk on a sidewalk without a care in the world. I feel it when I go to Star Bucks and I see people sit and have normal conversations. I am jealous of the man who can stand in the bar with his back to the door and not get nervous or jerk around when someone yells in the bar behind him.
I Now Understand What My Father Said
When I was a kid, I remember seeing news reports in the late 70s’ and early 80’s about Vietnam vets who lived in isolated places of the country away from society. The news reporter would talk about how the veteran he interviewed simply couldn’t stand to be around people. He viewed society as full of people who were stupid, or idiots, or crazy and he preferred to live away from everyone because it was more comfortable for him. At the time, I didn’t understand and actually made fun of the veteran for living in a cabin or camper in the middle of nowhere.
However, my dad voiced sympathy for the veterans during each interview and I couldn’t understand why. He would say it wasn’t their fault and that people should try to give the veterans more understanding. I found out much later after my father had died that he suffered from nightmares and anxiety when in large crowds. My mother told me he tried to explain to her once that he was angry all the time and he couldn’t relax in crowds. He had the same desire to hide from people and avoid situations in the same way as the Vietnam vet.
One of the biggest regrets in my life is that I couldn’t understand at the time what my father was saying to me and that it was only after he died and I spend so many years in the military that I could understand. I now understand why my dad, who was a World War II vet, had sympathy for the veterans in the interviews. It is the same sympathy I have now because I have the same desire from time to time. I too feel more comfortable when I am not around people and so I came to understand why the Vietnam veterans in the interviews lived away from people.
Most Things Are Insignificant
Simply put, this entire article has been about how I and other like me feel anger and jealousy toward people around us because they can get enjoyment and happiness from things and situations which we are no longer capable. In a further attempt to explain to non PTSD sufferers the challenges some of us have to endure, it is important to understand there are other issues which complicate the problem. I am referring to how most things in day to day life hold no importance to us, even the ordinary, day to day life maintenance things.
The more sever sufferers of PTSD no longer look upon these things in everyday life as important or even necessary. I know this from personal experience. This even extends to those things which ordinary people would view as necessary and important. This is one of the most important things to understand for people who call PTSD sufferers husband, wife, brother, sister, or friend. In my case, doing thinks like filling the truck up with gas or buying groceries simply aren’t important.
My psychologist and therapist have explained to me why this is. Because I spent so many years in mortal danger from rockets, snipers, ambushes, IEDs, and doing the things which kept me alive that they had become the only things of importance. My outlook on living had become making life and death decisions and anything else had lost its meaning and wasn’t important. In other words, so much of my life was taken up with life and death decisions that paying the electric bill had ceased being important. It also made it to where being paranoid was an asset.
I don’t know if the reason above my psychologist and therapist gave me is correct but it is the best explanation I have come across over eight years of therapy. I have also learned that recovery from PTSD is a process which takes years. One of the most difficult things I had to come to grips with was that there is no cure for PTSD. That is an article for another time however.
I hope this article has assisted some of you in understanding why some PTSD sufferers seem to be angry all the time. They appear surly and grumpy and they look at you and the world as a whole as if everything bothers them. They may not talk a lot and when they do talk, they speak in short phrases or one word answers. All of the above is me describing myself of course but is true for many other PTSD sufferers.
If you take nothing else away from this article then take this. They are not really mad, angry, or surely at you necessarily. They are angry at what they have lost. They are jealous that people around them still have the ability to relax and enjoy themselves. I just ask you to understand they have given up a lot and they simply want it back
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