PTSD – Not just for combat veterans

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My brother is a Marine. We had a horrible fight because I have PTSD and he thinks only war victims get PTSD.

I’m in college. When I was in high school I was bullied relentlessly. I was sexually assaulted while being told horrible things about my body by two boys.

I lost weight by playing volleyball, but I’m still self-conscious about my body.

I still have nightmares about those two boys who assaulted me. I dream that I can’t get away and think I’m screaming, but no one hears me. I wake up sweating and breathing hard.

I went to a therapist and she said I have PTSD.

When my brother came home during a leave, he got really mad at me and said I was just trying to get attention and that I don’t know what PTSD is.

I’m not trying to get attention. Now I have no one at all. I can’t live like this.

Signed, Alone with memories

Dear Alone,

Anyone can experience a broad spectrum of emotions after a dangerous and traumatic experience such as your sexual assault.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may be frequent enough to interfere with school, work, and relationships. PTSD can last months or years.

Only a psychologist or psychiatrist can make a PTSD diagnosis, but these can be indicators:

Re-experiencing symptoms: flash-backs, nightmares and physical symptoms (like your dream with anxiety) and they trigger re-experiencing symptoms

Avoidance symptoms: staying away from reminders of your traumatic experiences, such as not dating

Stimulation and reactivity symptoms: being startled, tense, difficulty sleeping, or experiencing angry outbursts

Cognition and mood symptoms: negative self-thinking, distorted blame or guilt, loss of interest in your usually enjoyed activities

PTSD is a serious medical disorder that can’t be self-diagnosed. Too many people casually say they have PTSD, which may be why your brother feels it’s not taken seriously.

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. Physical or sexual assault, abuse, and accidents, hazards, or disasters, among other causes, may trigger it.

Please ask your brother to visit your therapist with you if possible. Explain that you need his support and he needs your support.

The National Center for PTSD reports 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some time in their lives.

Our culture has minimized true diagnosed PTSD with casual self-diagnosis, however, sexual assault, such as yours, needs to be treated by professionals.

Signed, Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

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