Understanding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Saturday, August 24, James Glaser and his service dog, Jack, went into a local Massachusetts restaurant called Big I’s for lunch. Moments later, James was being forced to leave by the restaurant owner, for having a “fake” service dog.  James Glaser is a disabled Iraq War Veteran, and is suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

To help James overcome attacks of PTSD, he was given a service dog, who James says is the only thing that can calm him during stressful situations.   “When I start getting upset he smells the difference in me and he will claw at my chest and he will put his arm around my neck,” said Glaser. “We just got into the restaurant and I hear get that fake service dog out of my restaurant.”   Restaurant co-owner, Russell Ireland, says he doesn’t consider Jack a true service dog.   “This is a post-traumatic stress dog. It’s to give him emotional support. How much emotional support do you need when you are eating breakfast,” Ireland said.

Not all people fully understand what PTSD is, or how you get it. If you have experienced severe trauma or a life-threatening event, you may develop symptoms of PTSD.  Maybe you felt like your life or the lives of others were in danger, or that you had no control over what was happening.  You may have witnessed people being injured or dying, or you may have been physically harmed yourself.   Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD are recurring memories or nightmares of the events, sleeplessness, loss of interest, or feeling numb, anger, and irritability.  But there are numerous ways PTSD can impact your everyday life.

As one veteran recalled, “Even though I knew they were just fireworks on the 4th of July, to me they still sounded like incoming mortars. It took me right back to my deployment…”   “I used to get mad, yell, break things,” Glaser said, explaining his PTSD.  That’s why having his service dog with him at all times is so important, to help Glaser prevent such actions from happening.   The American Disabilities Act says restaurants and other businesses must, “allow someone with PTSD to bring in a service animal that has been trained to calm the person when he or she has an anxiety attack.”

Ireland is learning the hard way about what PTSD is, and how to accommodate persons who have it. The incident drew criticism on social media and harassing phone calls, and threats to burn down his business.  Passing drivers showed their anger by honking their horns.  Ireland says he now has a better understanding of the situation because veterans have come in or called and explained to him how an animal can help veterans cope with PTSD. “I’m changing my mind and my stance,” he said.

Ireland has apologized for throwing Glaser out of the restaurant, but Glaser said he has yet to hear from Ireland directly and is still planning a rally at Big I’s on Saturday to draw attention to the issue. Treatment for PTSD, on top of using service dogs to help relieve stress, includes counseling and medication.  Professional counseling can help you understand your thoughts and discover ways to cope with your feelings. Medications, called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, are used to help you feel less worried or sad.

In just a few months, these treatments can produce positive and meaningful changes in the quality of your life. They can help you understand and change how you think about your trauma, and change how you react to stressful memories. In addition to getting treatment for PTSD, you can adjust your lifestyle to help relieve symptoms.

For example, you can contact other veterans who are also experiencing PTSD, letting you connect with others going through similar things that you are.  Exercising can help reduce physical tension. Volunteering in your community can help you reconnect with your community.  Also, let your friends and family know what places and activities make you uncomfortable.   Your friends and family may be the first to notice that you’re having a tough time.  Turn to them when you are ready to talk.  It helps to share what you’re experiencing, and they may be able to support and help you find treatment.

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