PTSD Awareness Story

steve adams relaxes for a photo

Steve Adams Recounts His Personal Experiences with PTSD

“I always have to have my back to the wall and my eyes on the door.  I’m always alert in any situation, but I’m getting better with that through counseling,” said Steve Adams, City Mission’s Manager of Veterans Services and a Desert Storm veteran who experiences symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

In Desert Storm, Adams was in the thick of multiple firefights, including the Highway of Death, a two-day bombing of enemy forces along a stretch of highway between Kuwait and Iraq.

“I existed in a situation where my base survival instincts were needed at all times,” he explained.  “I was in a hostile territory, never knowing if the enemy was just around the corner.  Then I came home, and I couldn’t shut it off.”

A symptom of PTSD known as hyper-vigilance makes combat veterans feel constantly on edge or “keyed-up.”  Many who suffer from PTSD have difficulty relaxing and enjoying everyday life.  They struggle to sleep, so they are always exhausted, and they have difficulty maintaining work performance or building relationships.   It creates a paradox for the combat veteran, because the very thing that kept them alive during their deployment, is now making it difficult to function post-deployment.

At City Mission’s Crabtree-Kovacicek Veterans House, Adams works with homeless veterans, including many who suffer with PTSD or struggle to assimilate into society after their service has ended.  

A symptom of PTSD known as hyper-vigilance makes combat veterans feel constantly on edge or “keyed-up.”  Many who suffer from PTSD have difficulty relaxing and enjoying everyday life.  They struggle to sleep, so they are always exhausted, and they have difficulty maintaining work performance or building relationships.

“We make sure a guy knows he’s safe here. If he needs a meal, we get him a meal.  If he needs clothes, we get him clothes,” said Adams.  “And I share my story with them.  And my story is their story.”  

As a combat veteran and someone who struggles with PTSD himself, he is uniquely qualified to help homeless veterans, and the Veterans House is specifically designed to address the unique needs of homeless veterans.

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“A veteran is much more willing and able to talk to another veteran than they are to talk to anybody else,” he said.  Adams works to create a customized program, tailor-fit for whatever each veteran is going through.  He listens, provides resources, and connects them to the services that meet each unique need.

Additionally, Adams has developed many contacts and connections with veteran organizations over the years.  The Vet Center, a counseling service within the Veterans Affairs organization, is a good example.  

“The Vet Center is a wonderful resource.  Most people don’t even know it exists,” he said.  The Vet Center even has a presence on the City Mission campus.  They set up in City Mission’s medical clinic and provide counseling sessions to residents.   “The Vet Center has been a wonderful source of help for me,” he added, and for the residents who seek help there as well.  

Veterans Affairs (VA) defines PTSD as, “the development of characteristic and persistent symptoms along with difficulty functioning after exposure to a life-threatening experience or to an event that either involves a threat to life or serious injury.”

Symptoms of PTSD vary greatly from person to person and may appear slowly over time, but they are often filed into 4 separate categories.  First, veterans may have flashbacks where they relive the traumatic over and over in their minds.  Second, they go out of their way to avoid people, places, situations, and experiences that remind them of the event.  Third, they tend to have more negative feelings than before.  Fourth, they always feel on edge.  

In her article, PTSD Treatment for Veterans for the National Center for BioTechnology Information, Miriam Reisman explains that PTSD affects about eight million adults in the US in any given year and as many 500,000 US veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan alone.  

Many veterans who experience PTSD also experience other simultaneous mental health problems like depression, anxiety, or drug and alcohol abuse.  In fact, Reisman cites statistics showing that 74% of Vietnam veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder.

Supporting a loved one with PTSD can be very difficult. Carl Castro, Sara Kintzle, and Anthony Hassan state in their article, The Combat Veteran Paradox that combat veterans with PTSD experience paradoxes that make it difficult for them to communicate openly with their loved ones and difficult for their loved ones to understand how to support them.  Combat veterans feel strong and courageous, but they are often afraid of being viewed as weak, so they avoid seeking help.  In one sense, they feel invincible and are unafraid of death, but on the other hand they stay on high alert, because they feel constantly vulnerable.  These are just a few of many examples.

These paradoxes send mixed messages to loved ones and create confusion.  If you have a loved one who struggles with PTSD, Adams warns that there is no simple answer for how to best support them, because every situation is so different.  “It’s important to know,” he said, “that the way we work with veterans is very different from how you’d work with civilians with PTSD.”  But he does advise, ““You don’t want to push them to talk.  Set yourself up as someone who cares and wants to listen. That way they know you’re not a threat.”

Most likely, someone with PTSD will not just come out and tell you what is going on or what they need.  You have to build that trust over time by looking for subtle changes in behavior and responding with patience and compassion.

It has been 30 years since his combat experience, but Adams still struggles to find peace.  Just four months ago, he almost drove off the road and into a barrier because of loud construction noises just outside his car window.  But through counseling at the Vet Center and a lot of inner work, he gets a little better every day.

June 26, 2020
Gary Porter - Communications Manager
Gary Porter
Communications Manager
Gary has been with the mission since 2017. He writes many of our resident stories, getting to know many of them and seeing their transformations at the mission from the start.
gporter@citymission.org

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