The agency where I work had a PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) client who was particularly abrasive to my colleagues and me. Our work environment became unsafe due to his physical and emotional outbursts. PTSD is a term we tend to associate with men and women in uniform who never truly come home from the uncertainty and brutality of war zones; however, as was the case at our agency, PTSD is by no means confined to the military. Victims of any sort of abuse are also subject to this horrific disease; and, as with all mental illnesses, PTSD’s effects reach far beyond the afflicted victim.
At the agency, dealing with our fear of the client, my colleagues and I turned to each other for support. In one instance, I even begged people to stay with me after their shift ended because I didn’t want to be left alone. I had difficulties leaving my stress at work—it hung on me like a heavy weight, wherever I went. I would come home and go straight to bed, hoping in vain for a good night’s sleep, visited by nightmares instead. I found that no amount of self-care was helping as I had to face the daily encounter with pervasive negative energy at my work setting.
Given what I experienced, I could easily see how PTSD affects families. Withdrawn from the lives of their loved ones, those with the sickness are prone to violence and self-medication and can become abusers themselves, resulting in exclusion from social circles and problems with functioning in the larger community. Court systems and social programs buckle under the weight of crime, homelessness, and other ailments relating to “hard times”.
As clinical social workers, we will come into situations that force us to bear the weight of others, no matter how heavy, in helping them to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Like the client with PTSD, I have been exposed to a beast that neither of us wants, but that we must deal with—all of us.