VOLUNTEERING: ENDING TUNNEL VISION

When we have PTSD, we tend to be primarily focused on ourselves. We think no one else understands or has ever gone through the troubles are experiencing. That’s not true. PTSD can give you tunnel vision, where you see only the problems you have, not those of the family and friends you interact with every day. That’s why volunteering can be so powerful for us.

We have many talents and skills to share; after all, we are survivors! When we volunteer and share those skills with others, we start seeing their problems as well as our own, and that often helps us cope better with our issues.

Volunteering can help you as you interact and help others. It can allow you to experiment with working again to determine whether you can take on a 9 to 5 job. It can lift your spirits, help you develop or sharpen your skills, and it can even reaffirm your believe in society as a whole. That’s a lot of positive impact coming out of a single step.

Please consider volunteering your time to help others in some way. Look at how you can share your passion about a sport, a skill or a way you can share part of yourself. You’ll grow from the process too, and helping others…isn’t that what it’s all about?

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PTSD: FIGHTING BACK

Here are some things you can do as a family member of a veteran with PTSD that can help:

  • Take good care of your own health. It can be difficult when the focus is always on your loved one with PTSD, but you can’t help someone else when you’re having problems yourself.
  • Take the time to do things that you enjoy and find relaxing. Dealing with a loved one with PTSD can be exhausting and hard on your physical and mental health too. Pamper yourself; you’re worth it!
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself. You can’t be everything to everyone. Be as patient with yourself as you are with your loved one with PTSD, and if necessary, consider seeing a counselor or therapist.

If you have PTSD,

  • Don’t isolate yourself. Plan enjoyable activities with your family and friends.
  • Make a plan for how you will deal with a crisis if it arises…before it happens.
  • Be patient with yourself and with others. PTSD can leave your irritable and cranky. Don’t let it take over your life.
  • If you find yourself getting out of control, contact your VA Medical Center and ask to talk someone there. You aren’t in this alone!

 

Caging the “Temper Tiger”

With PTSD, we often have issues with controlling our anger. Due to chemical changes in the brain, we operate in the aroused state most of the time, and that can make us super-sensitive to what’s going on around us. Because of this, we may over-react to what might otherwise be considered normal behavior in our children and spouses.

Caging the temper tiger isn’t always easy! We have to work at controlling our temper and we often must learn different ways of channeling that anger into more positive responses. Fortunately, the National Center for PTSD offers “PTSD Coach Online.”

PTSD Coach Online is an excellent program where you can work on your anger issues, getting guidance without having to bare your soul to the world. One entire section is devoted to Anger Management. There are segments on changing your feelings through changing your thoughts, noticing your thoughts and feelings, relaxation through visualization, changing negative thought patterns, planning enjoyable activities, relaxing your body, looking carefully at your thoughts, relaxing through breathing, and weighing the pros and cons of your actions. You can access this material by going to: www.ptsd.va.gov/app/PTSDCoachonline/tools.

COPING WITH LONG-TERM STRESS

When we experience long-term stress, our brain functioning is affected. This is due to the chemical changes our body goes through when we are in a continually aroused state. When we are in “flight or fight” mode for an extended period of time, the body continues to secrete chemicals to keep us ready to either rumble or run. Unfortunately, we weren’t meant to remain in this constant state of arousal.

With PTSD, we are in this chemically imbalanced state to start with. Adding more stress is like pouring gasoline on a fire. We just keep escalating until we are so burdened, we can barely function. Is it any wonder then that what we want most to do is just hide out until the danger blows over?

Taking care of ourselves is the first step in coping with excessive stress. We need to focus on eating well, sleeping soundly, and not adding to our problem by ignoring our own basic needs. It’s a time to put into practice all those ways we’ve learned to cope: meditation, deep breathing exercises, prayer, music, art, etc. Whatever it is that works for you, now is the time to use it.

Taking care of yourself is only one step though. If things are really bad, you may want to consider getting some counseling, not because you can’t cope on your own, but to help you relieve some of the stress so you can cope longer and better.

Talking the situation over with someone you trust can be very helpful! Sometimes just putting things into words helps you get a handle on the emotions that are involved. Getting a second opinion about what’s happening can reassure you that this isn’t your imagination running away with you.

Stress can cause even the healthiest person to become exhausted. For those of us with PTSD, added stress can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Watch out for long-term stress, and have some ways of defusing it in your tool box. Be kind to yourself!

MANAGING YOUR MEDICATIONS

There has been a lot of attention given to opioid use in the tabloids lately as they are so often abused. Like most other pain medications, opioids can be dangerous if misused.

Opioids are often found in prescription medications and in illegal drugs such as heroin. If taken incorrectly, the can negatively impact your respiratory system. Taking too high a dose of an opioid can cause you to stop breathing.

Opioid use can also be addicting, or you may develop a tolerance if you use them on a daily basis. Tolerance causes you to require larger and larger doses to achieve the same amount of pain control. You should always check with your doctor before increasing or decreasing your dosage. Do not take someone else’s medications, including opioids, and don’t share your drugs with others. Someone else who takes your meds might not be tolerant.

With opioids, as with all other medications you are taking, know what it is you are taking. If the medication looks different from what you’ve been taking and there is no notice to that effect on the medication bottle, ask your pharmacist before proceeding. Take your medication exactly as prescribed and directed. Do not mix medications with alcohol or other drugs.

Opioids, like other medications, can be wonderful for controlling pain, but if misused, they can cause you much grief. Use caution when taking your medications. They are prescribed to help you, not harm you.

GETTING OVER PTSD

Do we ever get over PTSD? I think once we have it, we may learn to live with it and to become more comfortable, but we aren’t “cured” of it. We can get better than we were though.

PTSD causes changes in the brain. Under normal circumstances, the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus and cerebellum communicate with each other. With PTSD, those communications are disrupted and the rational part of your brain cannot tell the amygdala that you are no longer in danger. You remain in an aroused state continually. The hippocampus cannot process information and store it as long-term memory, so you remember the trauma all the time and feel you are still in danger. It is not hopeless though—you can improve.

By using relaxation methods, cognitive therapy, and other treatment modalities, you will begin to improve. Although you may never “get over” PTSD, you will find it easier to live with it as time goes by, provided you get treatment for it. We don’t have to remain locked in the grip of post-traumatic stress. We can choose to move to a better way of living. PTSD doesn’t own us; it is just something we have to deal with as part of who we are.

The Effects of PTSD on Family

If you are the spouse of someone who has PTSD, you probably know what a challenge it can be to keep your household in harmony. Avoidance, nightmares, flashbacks, and so many other symptoms intrude on life and can make things miserable for everyone in the house.

When someone with PTSD avoids social functions, it can leave the spouse feeling abandoned. It can be even worse though if you try to force the issue and insist your spouse attend the activity with you. It’s not a good situation to mix avoidance with anger and fear. The situation can quickly escalate to dangerous levels. Likewise, it can feel like a no-win situation when you attend functions without your spouse and find out later s/he was afraid for you and it increased frustrations.

The one thing you can do to help the situation is to take good care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep, and don’t feel guilty for taking some time for yourself each day. Living with PTSD is not easy, and you are in it for the long haul, so it’s important for you to keep yourself as healthy as possible.