Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from War Impact Families

“Ripple Effect: Because Of The War” is a novel I wrote to show how post-traumatic stress disorder from combat can impact one person and everyone in a family.

Before the war, two characters deal with normal issues of relationships; meeting, falling in love and marriage. War impacted everything. A child lost her mother. Secrets were buried. Her adopted father returned with PTSD, and family life changed.

Richard, the air-force, hero, returned with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The handsome, charming, practical, loving man changed. His behavior became controlling, with aggressive anger and abusive interactions with his family. He couldn’t deal with conflict without becoming agitated. He startled easily, with loud noises or unexpected sudden events. These reminded him of being under attack, triggering his instant alert responses to fight back. He suffered from insomnia, nightmares and flashbacks about his war traumas. He became withdrawn, irritable and defensive when challenged. He avoided any discussion about his behavior and refused to talk about his war experiences. He avoided anyone who would remind him of the past. He became depressed and attempted to change his emotional state with alcohol. His alcohol use began to take over and his health suffered. Suicide was a possibility.

Many veterans now suffer from similar symptoms.

This is a typical response to war trauma from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf war, Afghanistan, September 11, and terrorist attacks since then. In fact, ever since wars between nations existed, warriors’ minds and bodies have been damaged. It used to be called shell shock or battle fatigue. Men were labelled as cowards and weak. That judgment has changed somewhat. Now it is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; a mental health diagnosis. It carries its own stigma. It shouldn’t.

Post-Traumatic Stress is not just for the military. It is experienced by anyone in civilian life. Trauma can be from a car accident, witnessing a death, witnessing a shooting, experiencing a home invasion, a house fire, a near-drowning, being hit, a concussion, sexual abuse. All are traumatic experiences where there is an intense fear of death, threat, pain and helplessness.

The symptoms experienced are similar to that of a combatant in war. The brain is impacted, by an extreme ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, flooding the brain and body with adrenalin and stress hormones. The brain becomes ‘hotwired’ so that a trigger in the present will instantly set off the reactions, actions and memories of the past.

A trigger may be a loud sound like a car backfiring, sounding like a gun. The sound of a helicopter or plane may trigger a fear response. For a firefighter, it could be a certain burning smell. The brain can usually recover, with debriefing and therapeutic interventions as soon as possible after an incident. This can prevent traumatic stress from becoming chronic.

After school shootings or an accident in the workplace, Critical Incident Counsellors are called in to begin to talk about the experience and encourage follow-up care. If stress symptoms persist it becomes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even so, PTSD can be treated more successfully now.

In the novel, ‘Ripple Effect: Because Of The War’, the family members suffered exposure to Richard’s PTSD behavior and became reactive and combative themselves, critical, depressed or withdrew from interactions. Love and compassion for each other gradually eroded.

The reader judges the behavior and begins to dislike Richard. Things had to get worse before help was accepted. An incident happened that precipitated him to get medical and therapeutic help. Then the reader begins to feel compassion for the man and the negative judgment disappears. The loving, caring man reappeared from his internal hell. The reader rejoices with him and his family as they all struggle to find hope and healing, and reconnect.

This is only one thread of the stress within a family with an absent or returning veteran.

The stress of an absent mother, father or other family member produces other emotional problems. This can cause attachment issues with children growing up without the significant parent, causing discipline, anxiety, depression or learning issues. The spouse may suffer loneliness, feel overwhelmed with responsibility if raising a family alone, may use alcohol or other drugs or act out depression or anger in other ways.

The novel shows the ripple effect of war on the people of Britain in the WWII era. The reader follows the everyday lives of a family struggling to survive, learns their personal wounds and secrets, the effect on individuals, and the family as a whole. It also shows how strength and compassion can grow, as wounds heal.

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