Cold Weather

Winter used to be my favorite time of year, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s fallen lower and lower on my favorite’s list! I’m afraid of falling on the ice, yes, but it is more than that. It’s the dark, gloomy days, the lack of activity outside with accompanying sunshine, the spontaneity of jumping in the car for a late afternoon drive. Now the afternoons are dark and I’m afraid I’ll get stuck in the snow on these country roads. Winter is no fun anymore.

I suspect a great deal of my negativity towards winter is actually SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. With a lack of sunshine, the body does not respond as well. Neurotransmitters are slower to make their connections and the result is depression and an overwhelming sadness. It’s already starting and winter hasn’t even officially arrived!

Taking care of myself in the winter months is even more important as I’ve aged and my world has somewhat narrowed. It is important that I watch what I eat, get enough exercise, and don’t isolate myself during these long, cold months. I have to push myself to do the things I know I should do because I’m in enough of a depressed mood that I won’t do it unless I force myself to. That’s okay. I’ve learned over the years that no one is responsible for me except me, and that means I have certain obligations to myself. Taking good care of me is one of those obligations.

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The Angry Side of PTSD

I try to work on controlling my anger every day, but, it’s always still there, always something I have to remain aware of so the tiger doesn’t get lose and hurt anyone. I hate getting angry. I can escalate at the drop of a hat and it only ever hurts me. Anger destroys relationships. Anger hurts innocent people. Anger leaves me feeling ashamed and hopeless. I hate my anger.

I have heard that anger is not a primary emotion. We don’t start out angry; we start out afraid, frustrated, hurt, or some other emotion. Anger follows and, at least partially, it’s a way of responding to our fear, hurt, frustration, etc. I don’t believe anger is always a horrible thing. But anger can push me further than I want to go in my relationships, and that is terrible. I don’t want to be out of control. I know that handling stress requires that I think clearly, and anger does not lend itself to clear thinking. Quite the opposite, anger leads to blank rage where I don’t know or care what I’m saying or doing, just as long as it hurts the other person. That’s no way to live.

Gaining control of my anger has taken years to learn. Fortunately, I don’t lose myself in anger much anymore. Now I’m cooler. I’d like to believe that age has helped with that. I tend to think first and speak later. That’s made life much easier as I no longer have to eat my words as often!

I don’t count to 10 to control my anger. I try to head it off before it gains control. When I feel myself slipping into that rage mode, I try to walk away from the situation and consciously release the emotion involved. That leaves me more clearheaded and able to think things through better.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to control my anger, but it’s something I’m glad I learned. Life would be much different if I had not learned the lessons I have. I hope you will work on controlling the tiger too. Life is better because of it.

Sleepless Nights

I spend too many nights not sleeping. I find that it can be very frustrating, especially when I am tired but sleep still won’t come. There is no easy answer for sleepless nights, but I have found one of the most important things for me in dealing with them is to not fight it. I used to get mad when I did not fall asleep right away. I would rage at how tired I would be the next day and how unfair it was that I would feel so exhausted, yet not sleep. Now I know better. It is just a waste of time to get angry over not sleeping. It changes nothing and does not help at all. There are, however, some things I have found that do help.

I find a hot shower or bath makes a world of difference. I believe it is because it helps relieve some of my pain making it easier to relax and fall asleep.   I also have found that many of the traditional solutions work: go to bed at the same time each night, do not drink caffeine after noon, sleep in a cooler room, and do not do heavy exercise before bed. All of these things help.

I may not have the magic solution for falling asleep each night, but I do not lose a lot of sleep over it! I do the best I can, and those nights I am lying there wide awake, I get up and read or listen to music or do other things to try to engage my mind without getting me too excited. I wish I could drift off at the drop of a hat, but it is okay when it does not happen. I will still be able to make it through tomorrow. Sweet dreams!

PTSD and Feeling Disconnected

PTSD can leave you feeling isolated and disconnected from others.   Those of us who have PTSD need interaction with others in order to stay in touch with our own feelings, and because we need social interaction with others. We are designed to be social creatures.

You can reconnect with others by focusing on being present in the moment and tuning in to what you are actually feeling at the moment. Being mindful of what our senses are telling us keeps us grounded in the present moment. Focus on what you are feeling, seeing, and hearing. For example, you may want to try to focus on one specific thing until you are ultra-aware of it. Try focusing on the chair you are sitting on. Feel the pressure on your body as it supports you. Be aware of how it holds your arms, back, seat, and legs. You can focus on almost most anything: your feet, hands, eating, the colors of things around you, etc. By focusing your attention on your feelings, you remain aware of what is going on in your life right now.  This makes it easier for you to be present for others too.

There are other suggestions you may want to try on PTSD Coach Online. It is free and you can work at your own pace. Go to: PTSD.va.gov/Coachonline.

The VA Home Loan Program

Many veterans are not taking advantage of the housing programs the VA offers. It is estimated that over 85% of qualified veterans are not using the VA loan program that allows veteran to borrow up to 100% of the value of the home and pay no money down.

The VA home loan program does not require mortgage insurance, and that can save the home owner hundreds of dollars on their mortgage payment each month. In addition, if you already have a VA loan, there are programs that can help lower your monthly mortgage payment when interest rates are low as they are now.

For more information, a simple survey will show you whether you can save money on your housing situation. The survey is free. Go to: https://blog.militaryfinance.net/veteran-housing/.   Take the survey. You have nothing to lose and possibly much to gain!

PTSD & Guilt

We all have things we are sorry about; things we wish we had done differently. Guilt involving the trauma that caused your PTSD only delays your healing. It may be survivor guilt, or you may feel guilty that you did not choose another way of responding than you did.   You may feel you should have acted differently in some way, but you have to remember that at the time you did what you thought was best. When an event is happening, we have to do the best we can choosing how we react. We usually have to make snap decisions. We can second-guess for the rest of our lives what we could have or should have done. The fact is we did the best we could at the time.

Forgiving ourselves can be difficult. We often expect more from ourselves than we would ever expect from others in the same circumstances. It may help to join a PTSD support group and gain some perspective from others who are in the same situation.

Guilt and blame are not healthy responses. They do not help anything or anyone. Work on accepting that you did the best you could, and let go of the guilt.

Ground Hog Day

I find it so frustrating when I have gone for months and months without having a flashback, then out of nowhere comes a blitz that knocks me off my feet. It seems so unfair to collide with an unwanted memory. For one thing, as time goes by, I start thinking I likely have healed to the point where I won’t have them anymore. Then, something triggers those memories and it is like revisiting hell all over again.

I remember the movie “Ground Hog Day” starring Bill Murray where he has to continue reliving the same day over and over again until he makes the right choices. I don’t get the option of changing the way I think and the flashbacks stop. I just relive the events again and again without having any control.

Those are the times I have to stop and remind myself that I am still making headway with this PTSD thing. It may take the rest of my life (in fact, I am sure it will), but even though I may never “get over it,” I am doing a better job of handling it. I cannot turn off the television or change the channel, but I can recognize that I am moving forward and there are longer and longer periods of time between flashbacks. That is part of healing too.