Part of dealing with PTSD is trying to work through what I call the “what ifs.” We have a tendency to want to remain in our comfort zone and not try new things because, “what if” something unexpected happens? What if someone yells at me? What if I try something new and get hurt? What if…
You can play the “what if” game in your mind and let it control your life, or you can learn to practice “scripting.” What is scripting? Well, it means taking a good look at what your excuses are and playing them out in your mind, then coming up with a way you can respond to the situation.
For example, if you’re not using public transportation and you say to yourself, “what if I trip on the bus and break my ankle?” then you would allow yourself to realistically look at that scenario and think it through. Ok, what if that really happens: you step on the bus and as you’re moving to the back, you misstep and stumble and break an ankle. Now what? Well, it’s pretty likely you’d have at least two choices. The first one would be to have the bus driver let you limp back off the bus (if you could) and you could go get help. The second choice would be to tell the driver your ankle is broken and ask to be taken to the hospital.
I can’t guarantee the bus driver would take you to the hospital, but I do believe he or she would take you back to the bus station and make arrangements to transport you to the hospital for treatment.
What else might you do? Perhaps, if you have a cell phone on you, you might call for help and have a friend pick you up when you reach your destination and take you to the hospital.
The thing is, you can play the “what if” game in your head all day and let it limit what you do and prevent you from finding any joy in life, or you can begin looking at the reasons you’re not doing what you want and begin to script a way you can manage your fears. Scripting is a good way to look at your fears and determine if they are valid, then plan a way of handling them so you can get on with your life.
The most frustrating part of having PTSD, I think, is having to constantly challenge my thoughts and feelings in order to heal. It took me many instances of being uncomfortable before I got to a point where things started not being such a bother to me. I was never more aware of that than when talking with a friend recently and discussing the progress we’ve made since first being diagnosed with PTSD.
I explained to her how I could “work” a room. I’d know where ever dangerous person was standing, and their proximity to me and the exits. It took so much energy to keep track of everyone, I never wanted to do anything socially because it was so exhausting. Although I hated going to social events, there were times I could not put it off and, in the long run, I’m glad I couldn’t. Eventually I found I was going to events and no longer worrying about my safety. I finally realized that although I may always have PTSD, it can get better over time.
The key to getting there though was having to push the limits of my comfort zone so that I did the things I didn’t want to do. By doing that, I allowed myself to develop new habits and to reinforce that just because I took a risk, it didn’t necessarily mean I was going to get hurt.
Don’t let PTSD own you. Fight back; leave your comfort zone. If you start a little bit at a time, you’ll be able to regain some of what you’ve lost. And that’s the first step toward healing!
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that whenever you are dealing with anything medically related, you have to hang onto your goals like a bulldog. In so many instances, I believe things get forgotten, derailed, and ignored. If you don’t stay on top of things, you’ll get lost in the sea of paperwork and your health problems will continue to plague you.
Although it’s hard to attend to medical appointments, diagnoses and treatments, it is necessary. If you don’t do it, it isn’t going to get done and you are going to continue to suffer. The advice I give to the veterans I work with is to get a calendar specifically for your VA-related appointments. Write everything down! Keep a record of the dates you spoke to someone, what was said, and what plan was made for treatment. When you hit a brick wall and can’t proceed any further, then contact a Service Officer to help you get the authorization you need to go to a local health care provider and use their services.
Being your own advocate is difficult and time-consuming, but it does make things much easier if you are willing to do it. Keeping a log of your appointments, what is said by any medical personnel, and what plans are being made for treatment will help you stay on track.
The worst thing about having PTSD is that whatever problem you’re dealing with, PTSD makes it worse. Coping with the death of a close friend or family member can be devastating, and well-meaning friends can add to your burden by telling you how they think you should respond.
Grieving the loss of someone you love can be overwhelming at the best of times; it’s unthinkable when you suffer from emotional numbness. Intellectually you know you should be feeling terrible, but you may feel nothing at all other than the same sense of being overwhelmed you felt before the death.
If you don’t suffer from emotional numbness, grieving for a loved one may add to your sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Again, that can happen to anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, but it is double trouble for someone with PTSD. These kinds of problems are called “complicated grief,” and they are much harder to heal from than what someone without PTSD has to handle.
So, how do you grieve the loss of a loved one when you have PTSD? There is no easy answer to that question, but the best response may be just to go through it as best you can. If you can do that without fighting the pain, so much the better.
That’s the ticket to surviving grief: allowing yourself to experience it. When you have PTSD, then you (along with your family and friends) must realize that the pain will come when it comes. No one can grieve on demand. You have to allow yourself however long it takes, and that can be hard to do.
Don’t let anyone else tell you how you’re supposed to feel. When you are able to process your grief, it will happen. Allow yourself all the time you need. You have enough on your plate coping with the PTSD right now.
Be gentle with yourself. You’ve been through a lot and you’re going to need extra time and support to get through your grief, but you’ll get there. It just may take a bit more time and effort.
When I was in college, I was asked by my psych professor to explain in an essay what it was like to have PTSD using only one or two sentences. It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer: “It’s like waiting for the other shoe to fall.” He loved the answer, and I received an “A” on the paper.
If we are listening in apprehension (as we do when we have PTSD), we are hyper-aware of what is happening around us. We know the first shoe has fallen to the floor already, and now we wait for the second shoe to drop. With PTSD, we are stuck in that little time warp. The first “shoe” as it was, is whatever happened to us to cause the PTSD in the first place. We wait for the trauma to come again. And, we don’t seem to move on from that place very fast; if something awful doesn’t happen, then we just keep waiting for it.
Many years have passed since I was in that college class. I’m glad to say that, while I still have PTSD, I don’t spend near as much time waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t enter a room and immediately assess everyone in it to determine the amount of danger I’m in. I don’t relive on a constant basis the trauma that caused my PTSD. There are still some bad days; that’s a fact of life I’ve learned to live with. But there are more good days now and I think having PTSD has, in a way made me a stronger person.