Our Lives With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury

Posts tagged “Anxiety

4th of July

070811_1913~01     I finally did it! After eleven long years, I finally attended a fireworks display with my kids! Guess what?! I survived not only the fireworks, but navigating the crowds with three little ones…by myself!

 

All in all, I actually enjoyed myself! The girls were able to play on the bouncy houses, get their face painted, and even stood in line for patriotically over-priced snow cones! The girls were able to get those twisted balloon things that end up being made into all kinds of things (one had an alien that rode on her shoulders, one had a sword, and one had a flower). Granted, none of the balloon characters made it home, but they were free, so I wasn’t terribly heart broken (especially since I’m allergic to the stupid things).

I had originally decided to attend because my teen invited me. I figured with her there, I’d be able to get through the fireworks. Well, she went AWOL with her friends and I only saw her once the entire evening. Thankfully, my best friend and her family showed up just minutes before the show started. Between her and Chauncey, they got me through. I purposely sat far enough away that I couldn’t hear them launching, and I enjoyed all but the absolutely largest shells. Those were the ones that I could feel the repercussion of their explosion in my chest and that would trigger me, but as I said, my service dog Chauncey (who did amazingly well with the fireworks) and my best friend saw me through.

I definitely think we will do it again next year. Perhaps I will be able to convince a couple of my fellow veterans to attend with me. Just showing up was a huge step for me and I hope I can share that with others next year.

Moral of this story: don’t be afraid to face your fears…you may be pleasantly surprised at the results. If they aren’t what you expected them to be, you will at least know that you tried. Perform an after action and see if there is anything you could do differently next time to improve the outcome!

 


Battle PSTD, Not Each Other

In the PTSD community there seems to be a discord between those who’s PTSD was caused by combat action and those who saw no direct enemy action but were deployed and lastly, those with PTSD who never deployed. It is a longstanding view in the military that those who have never deployed are somehow less of a soldier than those who have and that lends greatly to this problem, but what about the group who has deployed but never once had to fire their weapon?

I will readily admit that I am a part of the second group. I deployed with a Combat Support Hospital. I never once fired my weapon; not that we were ever issued ammunition to defend ourselves if we had to…in fact, for my entire deployment, I never had a single round issued to me, even while I was outside the wire in Iraq (but that’s an entirely different story, the majority of my PTSD symptoms are related to multiple mass-casualty incidents throughout my career and an MST in 2002).

Excluding TBI, the symptoms of PTSD are the same, regardless of what the stressor was that caused the disorder. Some cases are much more severe and debilitating than others. That should not change the way we support each other. With all that we have endured, all that we still endure (our own demons, respect and common courtesy from our chains of command, the fight for our hard earned benefits, VA backlogs, etc) we should find a way to come together. The fact that we do have PTSD should be a uniting factor, not an issue that further divides us. We need to come together, support each other and work toward finding a way to heal, to remove the stigma, remove the barriers to effective treatment, fix the VA’s backlog and staffing issues, and to work to find a way to help those who will come behind us. Our predecessors have set the stage for us, it is up to us to carry that torch forward, but we cannot be divided in doing so. Its time for the pissing matches to come to an end. Its time to form a unified front and fight that battle that lies before us… The fight against PTSD.


Renting Space

I have struggled for the last month with a potential post. It has bounced around in my head repeatedly, sometimes angrily, others sorrowfully. I have continually talked myself out of posting it because I have this horrible habit of not wanting to offend others. Today, I have come to the conclusion that I am done renting space to this situation in my head.

I realize that everyone reacts to their stressors in different ways. Some people internalize, some people actually ask for help and I had the unfortunate opportunity to experience others lashing out in response to their stressors. While I will freely admit that I did have SOME part in what transpired, I am by no means the villain in the situation.

Anytime you get multiple people with PTSD together, there is always the possibility of volatility. When it’s a group of women, you also have the possibility of cattiness, cliques, and more drama than a prime-time soap opera. When one member of that group arbitrarily decides to play the mother roll and then step-child another member, well, things are bound to get ugly eventually.

I will admit this…I had some problems adjusting to this group dynamic. I know I have issues with isolation, I have different cleaning habits than others. For example, I eat a meal, step outside for a cigarette while others finish eating, THEN I go back inside to clean up. It is not my fault if you have differing habits.

I also have a HUGE problem waking up in the morning. At home, I have a couple alarms, a husband and several children who make sure I’m up on time. I mentioned this issue repeatedly and was repeatedly told no one would (not could, would) help me with that issue. Not only did they refuse to help, they (I’m using ‘they’ generically, in reality, it was one single member of the group) proceeded to cuss me out and verbally abuse me when I overslept. I am a grown adult. I also have PTSD (as do the other ladies in the discussed group) but it effects everyone differently.

I was, on more than one occasion, cussed out, made to feel inferior and ultimately called a hypocrite because I was “acting like a victim”. I’m sorry if my honesty as to what was going on with me (at YOUR inquisition), my inability to overcome some of my shortcomings, and your obvious problems with people who don’t measure up to YOUR predetermined stereotypes makes me a hypocrite.  If you ask me what is wrong and I tell you, that does not make me a victim. If I ask you for help with a problem (again, at YOUR inquisition) and you refuse to help me and I can’t overcome that problem, that also does not make me a victim. It makes you a bully and honestly, I should have told you that to your face, especially after you lashed out at me while I was trying to do a nice thing for you.

During this whole experience (regardless of the above discussed issues, the intended purpose of the group was exceedingly and overwhelmingly positive, especially in the long run), and in the month since, I have allowed this situation to fester in my head. In doing so, I had forgotten something that I was taught while I was there…I can’t let the problems of other people rent space in my head. I can only control my own actions, not others reactions. In this situation, I can only control my reactions, not another person’s actions. I can honestly say I left knowing that I did not levy a single ounce of the abuse I received.

Considering all I gained from this very short period of my life and since, I am hereby serving a notice of eviction. No longer will I allow your abuse, your dual-faced friendship and your holier-than-thou attitude to continue to bother me. From this day forward, I will strive to remind myself that I did everything I needed to do, that I set out to do and I have improved because of and since that experience. You have only served to show me how to be grateful for those who have left my life, and to finally get me to stand up for myself. I know I was not fully innocent in the entirety of the situation, but I also know that enough other people saw the real you to know that they don’t believe I was the bad guy either. For that, I thank you. I wish you well in your life and hope you find some peace so no one else ever has to receive the abuse that I had to endure in your presence.

For those who have read this, thank you. I do apologize that this is not the typical post that I intended for this blog, however, for me it is something that I need to do to be able to move on. Sometimes we just need to get something out of our heads in order to view it for what it is and move on. That is what this post is about, nothing more…nothing less.


Facing the Future

As I discussed earlier, I am at a sort of cross road in my life. I know the path before me and I can clearly identify the forks in the road. One path leads down the path I’ve been traveling all these years. The path of denial, depression, and isolation associated with my PTSD. Then, there is a second path. A path unknown to me. A path that, from all reports, leads toward recovery. Its not a path to a cure, I have long ago conceded that there is not cure for PTSD; I have suffered too many traumas for there to be a cure. But…and there is always a but… this path will lead toward a better future.

I have always been terrible with change. I’m not talking about change as in rearranging the living room. I’m talking about bigger changes. Adding a member to your family, moving to a new base, my husband deploying as well as when he returns. Those major life changes that require you to rethink your entire daily routines. I know the path I am choosing to take won’t be all rainbows and lollipops. I know it will require hard work and determination. It will require me to come outside of myself to care for this dog. It will require me to get out of this house and actually get some fresh air and potentially some exercise. It will cause me to interact more with my children as they get to know Chaunsey. It will change virtually everything about my daily life. That alone terrifies me. My stomach is in knots, my nerves are frazzled and my head is swimming. Just the thought of leaving my family for three weeks is enough to send me into a panic attack, even though when I’m here at home, I tend to isolate myself away from everyone.

I know I am not alone in these feelings. I have already talked with one of my classmates and she has described feeling very much the same way. I’m sure all of the graduates of K9s have also felt some level of what I am feeling. They are the ones who have kept me moving forward to the place I am now.

I am looking at these two paths. One is familiar and comfortable to me, even though my PTSD is anything but controlled. The other, the path that I am actively choosing to follow is the new one. I am choosing to step outside my comfort zone with the hope and determination to fight back against my PTSD. After all THIS is what this blog is supposed to be all about…fighting back. Realizing we are not alone and that there is always hope. Learning that there are ways to find some level of peace with our inner demons, deciding that we are no longer going to be the victims of our trauma’s but survivors.

We can fight PTSD. I choose to do so. You can also choose to fight, or you can choose to take the familiar path. Ultimately, its entirely up to you. Which path will you take?


A Brighter Future

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by PTSD or depression, its hard to find that silver lining. Its hard to imagine that there is hope for the future. Then, all of a sudden you stop and realize that today is actually a decent day. You catch that glimmer of a chance that things could work out.

When we are in our darkest hours, those days where getting out of bed is a physically painful feat, that is when we need our silver lining the most. That is when we need to reach out to our supporters and let them help us. That is often the hardest part for veterans… letting someone else help. We have been taught to work as a team, but the team members have changed; instead of battle buddies, we have spouses, friends and family. We have to find even the minutest crack in the walls we have built around ourselves and find a way to let them inside. They don’t need to know all the gory details… but they do need to know the triggers. Knowing what triggers your symptoms can go miles toward healing these wounds. However, this is not enough. We also have the responsibility to find our own voices. We have to speak up about what it is we need when this monster takes hold. Some people find comfort in the arms of their spouse, some need to disappear into a dark room to self-sooth. If our supports don’t know this, then how can they help us? My husband knows when my symptoms start rearing their ugly little heads to give me a few minutes then let me curl against his chest while he holds me until I’m feeling safe again. He wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t told him. Now he knows, when I curl against his chest like that, its because I’m feeling overwhelmed, anxious, hyper-alert and all the other crap that accompanies PTSD.

Its hard to find hope when you’re dealing with PTSD. But taking these TWO simple steps can help so much. Please, take the time to sit down and think about your triggers as well as your comfort zones. When you have identified them, write them down, try to be as specific as possible without going into uncomfortably details; if you need to leave a crowded room, say so. Once you’ve compiled this list, share it with you supporters. Let them know that this list will allow them to help you. As they begin to understand more about your PTSD, you will begin to see that hope that had been so elusive before.

The last step to finding your hope is to reach out to other veterans and get help. Do not be ashamed to admit when things become too overwhelming. We have stood side by side, sweated together, cried together and more often than not bled together. We have been there and done that and burned the t-shirt. Your brothers and sisters can point you to the resources that you need to get control of your life again. They can help you up when you find yourself facing rock bottom. But… here’s the kicker…. YOU have to let them know that you need help. If your supporters don’t know there is a problem, they can’t help you figure out how to fix it. It is that plain and simple. We are the ones with PTSD, it is our own responsibility to ensure those around us know what they can do to help rather than keeping them guessing on egg shells.

In the end, finding that hope as you’re walking through the storm is entirely up to you. You can choose to reach out to those who care about you or you can choose to attempt to weather it alone. A burden shared is half as hard to bear.


Dear Friends I Have PTSD

I wrote this to explain to friends and family what it means to have PTSD.

As you may already know I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As terrible as it is that I have PTSD I can understand that it must be distressing to know you have a friend with PTSD. I am writing this so you can better understand me and what it means and what I ask of you.

I think its important I start off by telling you what you should not be doing. First off, do not be a social worker or another therapist. I have one of those and they are doing a good job and I do not need another. Also spare me the platitudes such as “Stay positive” or “Take it easy.” If it really were that simple then I would not have PTSD. I also do not need to hear that it could always be worse or about some person you know who you think has it worse then me.

The most important thing you need to be doing as a friend is to simply be a friend. I do not need you to have all the answers or ask the right questions. I am not looking for anything insightful. If anything just do your best to treat me as you always have because it is what I need the most right now. Feel free to ask me how I have been doing and what I have been up to.

To most people, PTSD means experiencing something distressing previously and then flashing back to the event later and being distressed about it. That description barely covers it so a few things you need to know about PTSD. Having PTSD is distressing. Knowing you have PTSD is just as distressing as the PTSD itself. PTSD destroys your normal brain activity and makes it function in ways you can not control. The worst part for me with PTSD is it makes my brain very active.

As part of this increased activity I experience things like flashbacks, distressing images, hyper-vigilance and panic attacks. My whole life is about living on the edge waiting for something bad to happen. It is why something simple like a tap on the shoulder or somebody standing behind me can give me a major adrenaline rush and cause me to panic. I understand logically that these thought processes do not make sense however I am unable to control it.

If we ever decide to hang out together you will have to forgive me if I am sensitive about the venue. I like places that are not very noisy or crowded and I prefer to sit near a wall where I can minimize the activity around me. You will also forgive me if you find me not talking and staring off somewhere. Sometimes there is just too much activity for my brain to process and it needs to rest a little. If we are picking a venue or activity please do not give me a lot of choices and try to keep things simple. If I abruptly change the conversation on you, its probably getting into topics that will trigger my PTSD.

If I do not answer your phone call or return your text message or e-mail please forgive me. It is sometimes a struggle for me to remain in the present or keep track of what I have to do. My brain will sometimes shutdown and will forget things or even who I am and where I am. Other times my brain is simply overloaded and I need to minimize stimulating it. I will get back to you but if I am not as fast as you want then I hope you will understand why.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this letter to try and better understand me. You will never understand what it means for me to have PTSD (and hopefully you never will) but hopefully you can at least understand what I need and why I sometimes do the things I do. I am confident that with time I can resume a normal life but for now I am going to be fighting the good fight.


Survival

You would think celebrating your child graduating from kindergarten would be an exciting thing to witness. For those of us with PTSD its anything but exciting. Sitting in a room full of people watching their little darlings graduate is nothing that even resembles fun. It’s excruciating. By the time its over and you’re able to leave, you are simply grateful you survived without having a panic attack (assuming you actually did so).

This shouldn’t be a matter of survival. I’ve faced scud missile attacks, I have worked in too many mass casualty incidents, you would think I could handle a simple graduation. The fact of the matter is, I cannot. Being in a room full of people terrifies me…..me, the person who used to thrive on being the center of attention, the person who was in theater, choir, and the dance team. The person who had no problem whatsoever getting up in front of people and give a speech and actually enjoy it. That woman is gone. In her place is a woman who begins to tremble at the idea of being in a crowded room, who can’t walk through a grocery store by herself. I have spent quite some time morning the loss of the woman I was not so long ago.

You see, when you’re exposed to a traumatic event, something in your brain begins to change. When you are exposed to multiple traumatic events it only serves to alter the brain further. The way information is process is now different. Our primal brain has been awaked and everything becomes a question of survival. Emotions don’t process correctly and often begin to express themselves at inappropriate times (like being fearful in a room full of kindergarteners and their parents). There is no reason for the emotion, for feeling like you need to react as if you were in peril. There are many coping techniques that you can use, but there are times when even those don’t work. Today was very nearly one of those days.

I hate that I can’t even enjoy my daughters graduation. I hate that we couldn’t stay until they were ready to leave. But I had to leave and I had to do it ‘NOW’. I will admit that I lasted much longer than I thought I would make it. When I arrived I made a point to speak with the school nurse. You see, all morning I was feeling feint and wanted her to know that if it happened, I did NOT need an ambulance, I simply needed a quiet place to calm myself. I also spoke with the principal. She gave me her seat against the wall and slightly away from the crowd. That probably helped me more than anything else.

These next 16 days can’t pass fast enough. Knowing that at the end of my training at K9s I will have an additional tool to aid me in recovering parts of my life is what keeps me going right now.

If you are or know a vet with PTSD, please consider looking into getting a service dog. There are many programs national wide, including K9s for Warriors.


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