Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of questions about PTSD and Hurricane Sandy. This week’s question is a composite of what I’ve been asked.
If you are having problems like those described in the letter, you should know that a free emotional support group for Sandy Survivors meets Mondays at 7:30 PM, in my office. Please call (516) 880-4173 if you’d like to attend.
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, you can send it to me via email at email@example.com. Please include a nickname. Your questions will be kept confidential within the limits of the law and common sense.
Dear Straight Talk:
My wife and I have lived in Oceanside for the past forty years. Our kids are grown and we are both retired. Our home was badly flooded during Sandy. Everything in our basement and lower level was destroyed, including all our family pictures and scrapbooks. This was completely unexpected. We never had a problem before.
Though we were lucky enough to have kids we could stay with, every day since has been a struggle. My wife has been crying a lot, and I think she’s getting depressed. I’ve been focused on fighting with our insurance company and trying to fix everything. My wife says that I’m very irritable. I know that I walk around angry. I’ve also had some nightmares that were bad enough so that I woke up my wife.
I’m a combat veteran, and I consider myself to be a very strong person. My wife believes I may have PTSD as a result of the hurricane. Is this possible? What should I do about it, if anything?
-- Wiped Out
Dear Wiped Out:
The first thing I want to tell you is that you aren’t alone. Many people who were hit hard by Sandy are experiencing temporary emotional problems. Most of them will recover on their own or with just a little bit of help. This has nothing to do with strength under fire or emotional strength in general. Coping with a disrupted life, massive losses, and frustration can grind anyone down.
Unless you were one of the most unlucky people in the storm, you probably don’t have PTSD. Post traumatic stress disorder should only be diagnosed when someone has had to deal with a situation involving death or severe injury, or the threat of it, and only when they responded with extreme fear, horror, or helplessness. It can happen as a result of military service, but it can also happen to police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and nearly anyone else. The most frequent cause is being in or giving help after a bad car accident.
It is much more likely that you and your wife are both suffering from adjustment disorders. This is a fancy way of saying you’re stressed out and feeling overwhelmed. Adjustment disorders usually go away on their own within a few months after the source of stress has been eliminated. In the meantime, they can be very painful and they can get in the way of your coping with the real world situation.
Whether or not you need or would benefit from a support group or therapy depends on you and your symptoms. If you’re feeling worse now than two weeks ago, or if things get worse over the next month, try seeing a therapist for a real evaluation. If you’re hurting and you find it difficult to do the things you need to do to get back to normal, try to get some support. If you’re upset, but coping, it is optional. A good therapist or support group will help you recover more quickly than if you tough it out on your own.
Try not to beat yourself up about responding emotionally to the stress you’ve been under. When things feel too awful, take a break, step back, and give yourself a chance to relax.
Straight Talk is written by Etan Ben-Ami, LCSW, a psychotherapist with a practice in downtown Lynbrook. He specializes in short-term treatment for anxiety and depression. He can be reached at 516-880-4173 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please take a look at his website at www.nassaupsych.com.