PTSD Spirituality: Dealing with Setbacks and Hopelessness

Part of the PTSD survivor’s journey is dealing with setbacks.  Things are running relatively smoothly in one’s life, avoiding self-medication, controlling anger and trust issues, and staying careful about known triggers.  Then suddenly there is a PTSD episode.  Symptoms flare up, often a relationship gets strained or annihilated, one may return to alcohol, drugs, or porn to offset the memories, to offset the burden of feeling one’s own existence so acutely.  At this moment, the PTSD-Identity will encourage you to give up hope, isolate yourself from healthy relationships, take the drugs, and eventually kill yourself.  What can we do?

Easy Answers?

It is almost too easy to just say, “Don’t give in!” or “You’ll get over it.”  For those readers who have had PTSD symptoms and for family and friends who have experienced how a loved one seems to fade away into PTSD-Oblivion, we know there is more to it than just cranking out a pithy statement or two (It’s one of the reasons that my PTSD Spirituality essays are so long and tedious, er, I mean informative).

While there is some veracity in those statements, they hold little weight when administered by someone who does not understand how PTSD ravages our soul and tries to program us for despair and self-death.  In trying to heal PTSD soul wounds we must think in terms of journey and process.  We must consider forgiveness, reconciliation, and moving forward.

Acknowledge It, Name It, Learn and Move Forward

First: Acknowledging I Have PTSD

If I find myself back in the mire of PTSD symptoms and behaviors I need to do something which is fundamentally important: I have to acknowledge that PTSD is active again.  This is harder than it sounds.

Some people are unaware they have PTSD.  They experience severe changes in personality, behaviors, and relationships, but they lack the knowledge to understand what is happening to them.  This will make PTSD worse as we usually self-medicate as we try to figure out what is wrong with us.

They may be aware of the word PTSD and deny they could possibly have it because of the stigma attached to the illness of PTSD’s soul wounds.  If they are military they know it can damage a career.  We would have fewer soldier suicides if PTSD were acknowledged as a normal risk of military service, that it can be treated, and soldiers need not despair and commits suicide.

The same holds true for survivors of rape, clergy abuse, and other forms of trauma, such as a brutal divorce or adultery case.  Yes, we can get PTSD from an abusive spouse.

Regardless of how I got my PTSD, I need to recognize that it will periodically lift its ugly head and spew out fear, despair, anger, abuse of substances, and abuse of relationships.  All of these symptoms spread PTSD shrapnel to those we have relationships with and cause hopelessness and despair in us and them.

Just as a doctor needs to understand a broken bone to help heal it, we need to acknowledge PTSD so we can start healing ourselves and others.

We need to acknowledge we have PTSD.

Second: Name It and Understand It

If I am beset with PTSD I must struggle to analyze what is happening to me and why.  Having acknowledged that I have PTSD, I will then go on the life long journey of understanding my own set of triggers and the voyage of hope and healing.  These PTSD triggers catalyze my PTSD and may make me dysfunctional.  The PTSD triggers get things started and then make symptoms more severe if I don’t get myself away from them.

Known Triggers

We have triggers that we know about.  Some triggers are almost universal.  Many people, regardless of how they were traumatized, will have trouble with loud noises, loud voices, fireworks, crowds, and helicopters.

If we know we have these triggers then we can better defend ourselves from them.  If I know, before the event, there will be fireworks I am less likely to be traumatized by them.  If I know beforehand that there will be a crowd present, then I am less likely to develop symptoms.

We need to take our temperature and see how active our PTSD is.  Some days I can be around fireworks, others not.  This is where I need to do self-assessment and make my own decisions.  If I am having PTSD trouble that day then I should stay away from fireworks.  Other days I may be less vulnerable and be able to take part in the company picnic.

Unknown Triggers

In the first ten years of having PTSD I need to learn what my triggers are.  What is especially likely to cause a PTSD episode?  Not everyone has the same triggers.

In my case, I came close to be killed and eaten by wild dogs when I was in the military.  Later, back in the States and as a civilian my memories of large feral dogs plagued me. Presently, I avoid dogs (and really resent when dog owners push their animals at me).  If possible, I avoid dogs, I hobble off with my cane or my walker, but I need to be away from dogs most days.

For most PTSD survivors, dogs are a comfort items.  For many people, dogs are true friends and companions and show the outpouring of unconditional love that helps beat back the PTSD-Identity.  Some even have therapy dogs and benefit immensely from the dog.  I am not such a case.

Thus, we need to learn what traumatizes us.  From that list we can then self-assess how vulnerable we are on any given day.

I know that large dogs can trigger my PTSD.  It is not that I hate dogs; it is more as if I have an allergy to them.  We need to figure out what we are allergic to when it comes to PTSD triggers.

Third: Move Forward

If I have a setback then I need to take special care of myself and eventually move onward.

PTSD wants me to give up at this point.  It wants me to say that every day will be a rotten PTSD, self-medicating, massive symptoms day.  If I stop and think about it, I realize it does not have to be this way.

The PTSD-Identity is always angling for us to despair.  It wants to set the hook firmly and then reel us in.  It wants us to give up hope.

Managing to a Level of PTSD Normal

Between my physical disabilities and PTSD I will never be “Normal” the way most folks think of it.  I know there will be good days and bad days, and I have to be careful that I don’t program my future based on only bad days.

We have to be careful about controlling our expectations.  This applies to both extremes.  If I have been doing well for a while I must be careful not to make plans and commitments based on that level of ability.  If I have a week where I am effective for four hours a day, I am careful not to program all of my future commitments to reflect a four hour window of ability.

I Need to Be Realistic About My PTSD

I know what most of my triggers are.  I need to be realistic about my triggers and how many effective hours I have in a day.  I must be careful to not take on too much activity.  I definitely should have some activity, no matter what.  I need to keep somewhat socialized or the PTSD wins.

If I over commit beyond my abilities, then I end up disappointing others and myself.  This can lead to my withdrawing into negative behaviors and despair.  If I cannot sustain a four hour day, then I need to cut back, but not quit altogether.

If I feel like I let people down.  If people tell me I let them down.  Then, I am more likely to be coaxed into despair and quit altogether.  People need to be realistic about my abilities.  And, so do I.

PTSD sets us up.  It wants us to over (or under) commit and then fail.  It wants us to cope with our failures by going back to negative behaviors – drugs, alcohol, porn, violence.

This keeps us in the downward spiral as those behaviors will reinforce the feelings of worthlessness and shame that go with the PTSD soul wound.  They will help to sever relationships and isolates us.

We need to figure out what is reasonable.  I know what my worst days are like and what my best days are like.  I need to program my expectations so that I can achieve what I set out to do.  This means I don’t create my expectations based on extremes.  If I do, then I will fail.  If I fail, I may go down in a PTSD spiral.

Constant Need to Reassess

Once we have survived PTSD for a few years we need to keep reassessing our abilities and our expectations.  If I am healing my triggers may not zap me as often or as much.  Sometimes I discover new triggers.  They may show up even ten or more years after the initial trauma.

If a trigger does not bother me as much as it used to, then I can perhaps do more with my time.

The PTSD Journey

If you have PTSD, regardless of how you got it, then you have been thrust onto a lifelong journey (Welcome Aboard!!).  PTSD wants us to fail, give up hope, aggravate others, and then die.  Don’t give it the satisfaction.

Just as someone who has lost an arm or a leg must be more aware of their environment and abilities, so must we.  We have a compound fracture in our soul.  We must plan and act with the knowledge that we are soul-wounded.

There is much we can do.  Some of us me may be disabled from the job market and that will certainly be a challenge.  But we are not disqualified from life.  We get to still live, find joy where we can, nurture healthy relationships.

We will have good days and rotten days.  But we do not have to give up hope.  Through constant self-assessment we can do the steps:

  • 1. Acknowledge PTSD
  • 2. Name Our Triggers
  • 3. Learn and Move Forward

Last week I had a rotten PTSD day, several days to tell the truth.  But it did not mean I had to give up forever.

Don’t be surprised if you have done well and then have a setback.

Whatever the setback is, you can recover from it.

You may have to ask for forgiveness if you harmed a relationship, but that is part of maturity regardless of your PTSD status.  People who say never apologize are trapped in their ego and insecurity (Some morons even wrote books called “No Apology”.)  To apologize, at its root, means “to explain.”  I may get real forgiveness if my apology includes an explanation of my PTSD and what it can do to me.  It takes maturity to apologize and it takes maturity to forgive.

If you have a PTSD setback then take good care of yourself and strive not to fuel a downward spiral through self-medication.  Then ask what the triggers were that started the spiral.  Then get back up and keep going.

  1. Don’t quit. 
  2. Figure out what happened and why. 
  3. Then set reasonable goals and keep going.

I have been at this for a couple decades.  I know I will have an uptick in symptoms at times.  But that is not a call to surrender.  Rather, it is a call for hope.  It is really, really, really, (Yes, Really!) tough to get back up after a PTSD setback.  But you can do it.  I have seen many people, including myself, have a PTSD setback, then reassess, and then get going again.  You can too.

You have value.  And, that is why, even after a sudden setback, you can keep going, keep healing, and experience authentic love and relationships.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Thank you for sharing. It helps me when I find folks, like yourself that are compassionate. Recovery is hard work for me. I want to self medicate most of the time. But I have a great therapist and relapse brings on rage, so I have to learn to breath regularly and guided imagery is helpful. It’s extremely difficult to form friendships. I withdrawl when I sense someone wants to get to know me. I do acquaintances fine. I know how to keep people at a distance. The key point for me in your writing, was giving myself permission to stop when I begin to feel overwhelmed. Some people seem to want to keep me locked in to their needs. Anyway, tortured when I was 5/6. I can’t stay indoors for long periods of time. So I sleep or zone out thru a intense emotional movies. I ‘ve shared a lot here. Just wanted to thank you so much for sharing.

    • Hello Kat,
      You’ve been through a lot, both back then and still now. There are times the ripples of PTSD from the initial traumas can be as bad as the traumas themselves. perhaps even worse.

      Giving yourself permission to stop when getting overwhelmed is crucial. Otherwise, people will use us up and discard us. You are too valuable to be discarded, so some self-protection is important. Just being able to have acquaintances is in itself a sort of victory over our PTSD. Considering that PTSD wants us to totally alienate, then isolate, and then self-harm, if we are able to have some acquaintances, then we are disrupting that hateful PTSD pattern of destruction.

      Your sharing and your comment are valuable to myself and others. It took some courage to write it. Allow yourself credit for that.

      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • Thank you so much Doc, overwhelmed by kindness, just a little bit of understanding can sadden my heart. And thank you for your service protecting us from harm.

  2. Harry Martin says:

    Dr Z, it seems our cycles have synced; I, too, had a setback Saturday. I alerted all my medical and psychiatric team, and we made more appointments. Hope your day is going well. 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    Brutal divorce and/or adultery cannot cause PTSD. This is upsetting and insulting to those of us who have it and struggle with it every day. Shame on you.

    • Hi there,
      I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.
      That said, I will stand by my statement of: “The same holds true for survivors of rape, clergy abuse, and other forms of trauma, such as a brutal divorce or adultery case. Yes, we can get PTSD from an abusive spouse.”
      This statement does not denigrate those who have received PTSD from other sources, for example military service and/or rape trauma.
      As you have mentioned your own struggles with PTSD in your comment, I sincerely hope that you may experience some degree of relief and healing. It is certainly a hard journey to be on.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

    • I would respectfully disagree that adultery and divorce cannot cause PTSD symptoms. But, please don’t shame ppl who already may be experiencing toxic levels of shame via their own suffering. Many of us who are incest survivors, for example, have PTSD and often crippling levels of shame. So, reading the phrase “shame on you” really just perpetuates suffering that wasn’t necessary for the person to experience in the first place. We are all attempting to heal from what was out of our control. Peace and blessings to you.

  4. Thank you so very much for this post. I am so glad I found it. My ptsd is from a lifetime of extreme abuse, to a point that the counsellors I have had are amazed that I can still function. God has done a great work of healing in me, even helping me to forgive the primary abuser. But just because you love God and know you are loved and helped by Him doesn’t remove the soul wound. I had an extremely bad and sudden relapse this week from stumbling on a new trigger and it sent me into a blinding rage and renewed hatred of my abuser. I see a trauma specialist weekly and told her how tired I am of this being a part of my life! I’m sick of doing the soul work and I’m sick of finding my way through the trauma and back to forgiveness. I’m tired of the work because it’s so very, extremely hard. No one gets how hard this is!! So reading your post was a real blessing and benefit to me. This is a relapse. A new trigger which I think may be the soul’s way of saying, “Okay, now you are strong enough to get this bit of poison out of you. So … BOOM!!! There it is! I was reeling from it and really scared by it. I try to keep as much if this from my immediate family, who are very loving and supportive, just because I don’t want to burden them. As long as I’m seeing a good psychologist weekly, I want to spare them from this as much as I can. But then today, I had to have a breast biopsy. No big deal to me. I have a crazy, weird body and have learned to go with the flow. But, I thought I had made it clear that my husband had to stay with me. The last time I had a biopsy, the surgeon let him stay with me, but this one refused. I was too close to this last flare-up and I started crying immediately and it was really, really bad. It was like experiencing a time warp and being in a place of absolute terror and helplessness. If I can have him just hold my hand, it is like a land-line tethering my soul to the here and now where I am safe and well-loved and. Are for. But not being able to hold him just sent me reeling. They let him sit right outside the door and kept the door open, but that didn’t help. The doctor kept thinking I was crying from the pain of the biopsy and, don’t get me wrong, because of the location, the pain was very bad! I tried to explain to her that what was happening was not why I was crying, but she didn’t understand. I asked if she had ever dealt with someone with trauma befor and she said that she hadn’t. That’s why I got online doing a search to see how to explain a ptsd flare-up to someone who doesn’t understand. I didn’t find anything good about that, but I find your post and it helped tremendously. I’m going to read it several times. Thank you for turning your pain into a way to help others.

    • Hello Lee,
      I can only imagine the physical pain involved in that sort of procedure. To have spiritual pain thrown on top of that with a layer of incomprehension by the doctor is devastating.
      Part of what is so admirable here, beyond your fortitude to just get through it, is your willingness to engage the doctor and try to help her understand what this procedure is like for a trauma survivor. The more medical professionals who begin to understand that we are not only a collection of organic components but have personalities, souls, and are affected by more than the mere mechanical apparatus of our body, then the more they can genuinely become people who heal the whole person.
      Thank you for sharing this. Our PTSD is a tough, horrid, journey. Yet, we can get through it. Sometimes we end up being the person to help someone else (like this doctor, perhaps) become more aware and more compassionate.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  5. Thanks this has been very helpful to me I was diagnosed with PTSD about 10 years ago but nothing was explained to me about it and I didn’t know to look it up on the Internet. Narcissistic x husband. I have had many breakdown and hospitalized for suicidal thoughts but they only treated me for my depression. I also had ECT treatments that has left me with memory loss and I’m now on a pension from work. I did not realize about the triggers that explains a lot to me now. I just started seeing a therapist two weeks ago because I couldn’t afford to pay the psychologist that helped me 10 years ago it was very expensive. I’ve been pretty much dealing with this on my own .if you have any more information about this I would greatly appreciate your help. Sincerely thank you

    • Part of the PTSD journey is our discovery of what our particular triggers are. We also find out how sensitive we are to different triggers based on how we are doing with other parts of our lives.
      Your therapist should have plenty of useful techniques to learn what your particular triggers are and how best to work with them.
      One of the keys to not just surviving our PTSD, but learning to thrive even though we have PTSD, is to never give up hope. This is easier said than done, of course, but with hope, and as we progress experience, we learn to not give in to despair. We learn that while any given moment may be horrible due to our PTSD, it does not mean we won’t heal. If we had a bad yesterday, it does not mean we have to have a bad tomorrow. There is always hope.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  6. I am a counselor who serves a lot of people with PTSD. It is important to acknowledge that what happened is “NOT OK.” It WASN’T your fault, you DON’T have to forgive anyone and you can go on with the wonderful strengths you have (even if you don’t feel like you have them at the moment). EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a best practice for treatment of PTSD. It helps connect the thoughts of, “I should be over this” and the “I still hurt from this.” Connecting the heart and mind can be a big relief.

  7. Thank you for this. I discovered a little over a year ago that I had PTSD. I’m still learning how to cope with it. And no, I was never in the military. Mine stems from repeated abuse as a child.

    • Hello, PTSD from child abuse is in some ways even worse than PTSD from military service; one has to endure it longer and in a world that makes even less sense. I am glad that you are on the journey of learning to cope with PTSD. It is not always the most joyful of journeys, but we can heal and our lives can be easier to live. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  8. Harry Martin says:

    I created a code phrase with my partner when I’m having trouble. I’ll tell him, “The PTSD is acting up.” No judgment. No anger. Just acknowledging what is.

    I also learn to laugh at it a lot, making self-deprecating comments about the startle response. I even told the bag boy helping me out with the groceries tonight that I have PTSD and that loud noises will sometimes set it off. No less than 10 seconds later, a loud motorcycle came speeding by in the parking lot and one of my verbal tics went off and I physically was startled. I turned to him, laughed, and said, “There you go.” 🙂

    Thank you for such a wonderful piece to read. It was shared on Facebook’s PTSD Survivors of America a day or two ago.

    All my best,


    • Having a phrase like that can help sustain and strengthen a precious relationship. It also gives us some sense of control where we are not always the helpless victim of our PTSD, but we can at least name what it is that eats at us. Being able to name it, being able to laugh at it, gives us strength over our PTSD. Your technique is one that can save lives and relationships.
      Thank you for mentioning that the essay was shared on the PTSD Survivors of America Facebook page; I am grateful if this website is able to help others.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

    • It is good to know that loud noise and unexpected noise
      are triggers for others. Barking dogs are the worst for me.
      Motorcycles and boom boxes in cars are bad, too.
      I am ok as long as I can get away from them.
      I have a new living situation that I can not get away from.
      I have new neighbors that came w/two big, barking dogs.
      Their back yard and my house for a perfect echo chamber,
      so when they bark, they might as well be in my house.
      I don’t know when it will come and when it does, when it will stop.
      It has put me in a constant state of alert and fear.
      It has totally disrupted my sleep hygiene.
      It is effecting my health, as I have not had any quality sleep in months.
      Thoughts/comments/suggestions welcomed. Thanks!

      • Hello, Dogs can be a real problem for some of us. What makes it worse is that many folks do not want to recognize that dogs can be a PTSD trigger. There are dog-owners in my area and when the dogs get too loud I find that I will try to sleep with ear plugs. I have also used industrial strength ear protection from time to time. This noise suppression head gear does not make me look like the most debonair of sleepers, but at times, the noise (bark) suppression has been able to allow me some degree of sleep. I apologize for not having a deeper range of suggestions for you. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

        • Harry Martin says:

          Car and motorcycle noise is a biggie for me. I sleep with the fan on in the bathroom, and it seems my brain is able to focus on it when I’m asleep, rather than the car noise. (I live just off a busy street.)

          White noise helps a lot.

          I would also suggest writing or talking to the new neighbor in a friendly manner, so they are cognizant of trying to quiet the dogs.

          • Cars and motorcycles are also high on my trigger list. Living in Milwaukee, I get to deal with the Harley Davidson festivals…O’Joy…O’Bliss! Like you, I also use white noise to try an tamp down the street noise. We also have some college dorms and bars not too far from us. Bars close at 2 am, and by 3 am it usually quiets down some.
            Your thoughts on contacting the neighbor are excellent.
            Semper Pax, Dr. Z

          • Harry, good suggestion…unfortunately my PTSD anger idenity has burned that bridge.
            I have already had two ugly confrontations w/these people.
            So, lets explore where I go from here.
            I did not perpetuate this PTSD on myself. It is not my fault.
            The last therapist I went to classified my condition as GAD, general anxiety disorder.
            He said that if possible, you really don’t want PTSD to show up on your medical records.
            I don’t know what to think about that.
            Do you tell people you have PTSD?
            There is a noise ordinance in my city for “habitual” dog barking. It is pretty much not
            enforced because you need two complaining partys that are willing to go to court.
            I do not have that. The way these houses are situated, no one else is really effected.
            It makes me angry to have to go apologize or beg these people to control their dogs.
            I can try the white noise thing. I am very familiar w/that. Have not had to use it in along time.

        • DrZ, please do not apologize for not having a fix for me.
          You have provided me w/so much information to help myself.
          I wish…I wish…..that people could think beyond themselves when it
          comes to their personal life style that goes beyond their personal space
          and impacts others around them…..but, it is not to be.

          • I share your desire that we could all live more aware of how are lives affect others. You may also want to consider what Harry Martin wrote in one of the previous comments to this post.
            Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  9. I have noticed my normalcy period with PTSD is ending and the triggers are re-flaring again. I acknowledged this problem from the very beginning and hated the fact, that for the rest of my life, I will always have this experience, this shadow, that will follow me. How did you address this feeling with yourself? Because I came to terms with being a inspiration to help others and a testimony for God, although despite the “positive” aspect of it, the reality of this shadow forever following me, still hinders me.

    I also began to notice my close relationships are suffering and I am pushing the closest people away. My sister in particular has become upset about this, but I did forewarn her about the problems that stem from my ptsd and how I become irritable. I feel that I cause my love ones stress and have given them a problem in life, which they should not deal with. It hurts to know my problem effects them. How can I move forward with this?

    • Hello, I am in the midst of trying to write an essay that will serve your question better than a quick comment reply can do. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  10. thank you so much for your insights. first time i understand my feelings
    was searching for some coping hope tonight, cried in public out of anger while poked and made me angry at myself
    i never knew what to do when i couldnt move out of fear – other times top of he heap and felt it was easy – i have hope now that i can recognize whats coming and maybe stop judging myself This is a huge insight i will try to remember those points to cope

    well wriiten, and understood, thanks again.

    • Learning to not let myself get devastated by a PTSD setback was a major milestone for me. And, I still sometimes find myself getting either too discouraged or too ebullient when I am rather poorly or rather fine. It takes time and our own self-observation to be able to track our own progress and not get zapped into hopelessness by a setback. Each day can bring its own challenges. Sometimes just getting through the day and not surrendering to hopelessness is a triumph in and of itself. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  11. Shannon says:

    Are you still replying to this post?

    • Hello, Yes, I am. Usually I check the software once a day and it tells me if there is a recent comment.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  12. This is an interesting blog post. I find the most difficulty I am having in adjusting to all of this is the isolation that it creates in my life. I still go out to the grocery store, to my therapist, to my doctor, places where i know I am safe. Even then, however, (such as a trigger by an authoritative primary doctor, whom i fired) I can be triggered by simple conflict. I do well in situations where I do not fear my dignity is compromised, where there is mutual respect and there is no abusive/toxic manipulation, exploitation, etc. I simply cannot handle authority figures, as my behaviors automatically appear, whether in a “fawning” way, or with fear. I clearly am not authentic and now I react when I know I am “faking it” around others out of fear.

    Anyway, balance is a word and action that I LIKE. PTSD is a challenge within the realms of BALANCE. I”m having such a hard time with this. I have such a desire for human connection and relationship. Online is easiest for me, or over the phone because it is safe. This isn’t to say that these relationships are not positive and healthy, they actually are and I’ve met some wonderful people this way. I’ve spent hours by phone with my new and healthier friends. The only problem with meeting them is DISTANCE, however, two I will meet this summer. This is the part of my PTSD that is the hardest to deal with without reducing myself to a good self flogging. I can easily go into despair because in some ways, I miss my life prior to awareness, even though I ruined everything and could not stay committed to anything or anyone (except my abusers, ironically). My inability to work is the most distressing to me. I’m looking for creative ways to make that happen at home, but not much luck yet. Isolation is a very big part of PTSD, I’m finding. Many of the survivors I support also deal with this. I have no idea how to get past the major triggers I have except to accept them and find ways to live my life that are fulfilling and giving back, which I do with my blog and support forum. I keep in touch with my friends daily. I fight constant feelings of failure and self pity because my life isn’t “normal” like others lives are in freely being able to go and do anything without the fear of being triggered.

    I’m curious as to your thoughts on this given your experiences as well as the observances of others.

    • Hello, Part of our PTSD journey is learning our triggers and how to maintain balance. While my own personal journey is a few decades along now, I still discover sensitivities and have to gauge several times a day just how vulnerable I am to my triggers. I still try to get out once a week and try to not let toxic people drive me into anger or bitterness. Yet, sometimes, I know that a particular day is a bad, high symptom, high sensitivity day. On those days I give myself permission to not go out. If I did it would be a program for failure.
      Learning our evolving sensitivities and respecting them is important. Also important is when we give ourselves permission to not be like all of the other “normal” people who do not seem bothered by the sorts of things which trigger our own PTSD. We give others permission to not run and play football if they recently had a compound fracture. PTSD is like a compound fracture to the soul and we need to permit ourselves to not “play every down” in every game. Just as a physical fracture needs an opportunity to heal, so do soul wounds that result from PTSD.
      My thoughts overall is that we will usually remain impaired in some way with PTSD. But, it can also go into some form of “remission” that allows us more normalcy than at other times. The key to whether or not we are symptomatic or not is to (again) recognize the illness and its impact on our daily, hourly lives. It is natural to start feeling guilty or as if we are letting others down. But we must be careful that we don’t let those thought disable us further. I have a reasonable regret concerning my various disabilities, but I must be aware that PTSD will try to change that reasonable regret into toxic self-loathing. And, paradoxically, many people will find their own strengths and healing, through the means of our weakness. While God is not the cause of our suffering, God may use us to help others suffer less. Neither you nor I would probably be helping others deal with their PTSD if we did not have PTSD ourselves. It is normal to feel bad about our limitations and suffering, yet how we deal with them (and those toxic feelings) allows us to promote life for ourselves and others. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  13. Amanda S says:

    How can a helper assist an individual when the individual does want the assistance but does not want the assistance?

    • You have a very good question that deserves a more well thought out reply than I am able to offer at the moment. I am shortly off to give an exam, but hope to provide you a fuller reply soon. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  14. One of the keys you mention here is acknowledging “I” have PTSD or some variation. But this for me isn’t as easy as it sounds, because of the fracturing at the level of my personality. To say “I” am this or that is like drawing a giant circle around a flock of cats…

    • You are absolutely right, it is never as easy as it seems or as some theologian says it is. PTSD survival is a constant journey of self-assessment and self-exploration. I am in my 28th year of PTSD and I still don’t know everything there is to know about PTSD or about myself. There are plenty of folks who know more about it than I do.
      Your image of a “flock of cats” is apt. I wonder if a bit of chaos theory would not apply here. For example why do shoals of 1000s of fish swim in synchronicity? Or, the same question for 100s of small birds flying in rapid, changing motion? They are, at one moment, 100s or 1000s of individual organism, each a unique creation, and yet at the same time all act as one in their movement.
      To be able to formulate, “…is like drawing a giant circle around a flock of cats…” is itself part of the journey of assessment and discovery. I do not mean to sound glib or trite as I say this. Everything is easier said than done, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. Yet, the ability to stop and think on the experience, to attempt to clarify and understand what is happening, this in itself, is an important part of the healing journey.
      Thank you for taking the time to read the essay and commenting. Comments like yours help me to better understand what we are going through. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  15. stephen talley says:

    short note sometimes i feel that never left the vitenam war it’s there every day

    • Hello,
      Recurrent thoughts and memories of those traumatic times stay with us. Sometimes they are acidic and eat at us. Yet, in spite of those painful times, we can strive to continue, day in and day out, to not only survive, but be the positive difference. Welcome Home from Vietnam, and thank you for your service and courage to stay at it despite painful memories.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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