THEY CALL IT SERVICE – I CALL IT HONOR

As someone who works with veterans, I’ve heard time and time again, “I don’t deserve anything…I didn’t see any action.” I’ve seen veterans who were discharged from boot camp due to serious injury during training, or veterans who were not injured and felt their time didn’t count for anything because they didn’t come under fire. I sometimes want to shake them and say, “You were lucky, but you still served with honor!”

It doesn’t take injury or the horrors of being directly in the line of fire to make heroes. Boot camp is well known for toughening soldiers up; you didn’t get through it? Well, you still were brave enough to sign up not knowing what the future held. You still went through the mental anguish of knowing you might get sent overseas. You could have been called into action at any time. There is honor in stepping up and taking the risk of being sent into battle.

You were there if the call to action came. You trained and stood proud in defense of your country. That means you stood for each of us here at home. A hero isn’t necessarily someone who is maimed or killed in action; a hero is someone who steps forward fully knowing and appreciating what the possibilities are. You’re my heroes.

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Sleep and PTSD: So, What am I Doing Wrong?

Sometimes I have trouble sleeping…ok, if I’m honest, most of the time I have problems sleeping. It drives me nuts that I can be exhausted all day long, then go to bed and not be able to sleep. What’s that all about?

I have been diagnosed with PTSD. For me that means I have a long history of sleeping lightly, of being able to wake up alert and ready to fight. Nightmares and trouble sleeping are just two of the more common symptoms of PTSD.

So, what’s behind the person with PTSD having sleep problems?

I don’t have to put a lot of thought into why I can’t sleep; I understand it’s because I want to feel safe and prepared for anything. What does intrigue me though is what can I do to get around it?

The VA has some suggestions:

 Change your sleeping area. Take a good look at your bedroom: is it helping you sleep or making your sleepless nights possible? Is there too much noise, light or activity in your bedroom? Turn off the computer and the television. Turn the lights down and try putting on some soft, peaceful music. In my case, it means kicking 4 puppies out of my bed!
 Maintain a routine sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and try to wake up at the same time too. Don’t get involved in activities that require a lot of activity. That only energizes you and makes the situation worse.
 If you can’t sleep, don’t fight it. Get up and read or do something quiet until you start to feel sleepy.
 Don’t exercise within 2 hours of going to bed, but do get some exercise earlier in the day.
 Get out in the sunshine if you can. It helps reset your body’s sleep and wake cycles.
 Keep caffeinated drinks to a minimum.
 Don’t nap during the day.

If things don’t get better, consider talking to your doctor about the problem. There are drugs that can help. You might also want to look into alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, breathing techniques, and guided imagery.

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING

It’s not really the flip side of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Instead, it’s what I like to think of as the best possible outcome of having had PTSD. Think of it as your reward for making it through the rough times.

Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is a term coined to reflect the growth and maturity that develop from insights we gain following a traumatic event. As we learn to successfully live with the trauma by identifying what our priorities are, we develop new coping mechanisms, thoughts, and behaviors that actually indicate emotional growth.

Although we may still have the symptoms of PTSD, we can monitor the forward movement of coping with it on a daily basis. PTG tells me there is something good that comes out of the bad. It’s not just about better coping mechanisms, but more with how we come to view and accept ourselves. How we integrate our experiences into that which makes us who we are. It’s kind of that “What doesn’t kill us makes us strong” type of thinking.

The surprising thing is that now that PTG is in the lime light, it’s actually more common than you’d think especially in light of how much attention PTSD has been getting. Estimates are that 30 – 70% of those diagnosed with PTSD report having positive changes as a result. It’s nice to know there can be a silver lining even to the dark cloud of PTSD.

PTSD AND TRUST

We know that when a veteran has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), s/he is not the only one that suffers; family and friends are affected too. The diagnosis usually includes issues with lack of trust and poor communication. Veterans who have PTSD tend to keep to be loners, isolating themselves from not only new people, but new experiences. Letting new relationships develop and allowing others to get close requires trust, yet that may be extremely difficult for the veteran to handle.

There is a flip side to the coin too. Family and friends may be struggling with their own feelings of rejection or anger over the differences between how the veteran was prior to deployment and after returning home. Flashbacks may bring the war right into the home, and the resulting fear creates a barrier between the veteran and other family members.

Part of the cure for PTSD is to learn to trust again, to interact with friends and family so you remember there are people you can count on. Social interaction can be a strong healing force. Having intimate relationships can help the veteran feel less alone and reduces depression. Showing interest in and caring for a partner may also help. Nurturing others can lead to better self-esteem, reduce depression, guilt, and feelings of isolation. Sharing feelings openly and honestly is a large part of the recipe for healing.