SERVICE DOGS & PTSD

I like the idea of combining two topics of great interest to me: dogs and healing from PTSD.  When I first learned that PTSD was one of the training programs a dog could complete to help veterans, I was intrigued.  What, after all, can a dog do to help someone with PTSD other than offer a few licks of comfort?  I’m learning there is much, much more these animals have to offer.

PTSD dogs receive special training to recognize when the owner is becoming increasingly anxious. They reduce stress and increase feelings of security. The dog can be trained to respond to crying, covering your face, hyperventilation, or even heavy breathing.  When the animal recognizes you are becoming more anxious, it reorients you to the present by nudging you, licking your face or climbing into your lap.  It can be taught the cue you prefer as well as accepting your command that you are ok and want to be left alone.

A dog trained to be a PTSD response animal can learn a “block” command.  When in a crowded room, asking the dog to “block,” cues the dog to step in front of you and effectively keep other people from getting too close.  Body contact with the handler is maintained to “reorient” the veteran to the present so s/he doesn’t get pulled into unwanted memories.

PTSD dogs can also be taught to turn on the lights in a dark room, and add to the confidence a veteran needs to venture out into public places again.  By working with the dog, a veteran with PTSD learns new ways to confront the disorder and cope with it.

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HOLDING THE REINS TO YOUR TEMPER

One of the most negative results I see from my own PTSD is anger.  I have to monitor it closely, because, like my father before me, I can lose my temper quickly and woe be to anyone in the immediate vicinity if I do!  The problem is, I don’t want to be remembered as the person most likely to go off on you, or the spoiled brat who wants everything her way.  I’d like to be thought of as more mature than that.

Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned to control my temper and now I realize that I have a responsibility to control myself.   Some of my friends will tell me others “make” them lose their temper.  That’s a lie they tell themselves to justify striking out in anger.

The fact is that no one “makes” me, or anyone else, feel anything.  I am the only one responsible for my feelings and for how I react to things.  I’ve found that it is a choice to “allow” myself to go off on others or to control my temper.

As an adult, controlling my temper is desirable.  Having watched my father hurt everyone in sight when he lost control, I understand the devastating effect it can have on those around you.  I don’t want to do that to my family, friends or even my pets.  I’d much rather be known as the person who may has strong opinions, but who allows others to voice other opinions too.

Controlling my anger means recognizing when I’m losing control and stopping it before it gets away from me.  It takes a strong hand and a lot of effort to control myself, but it is certainly the more mature way of reacting and, more importantly, it’s how I want others to see me.  It’s who I want to be.  I don’t want to be the baby who throws a tantrum every time she doesn’t get her own way.  I want to be the adult who is above that.

I hope that you will take a look at your own way of dealing with anger.  Do others cringe when they see you coming?   PTSD can be devastating enough without letting it ruin the lives of those around you too.  Please, rein in your temper.  If you can’t, get help in learning how, because if you don’t, those you love most will pay the price.

REBUILDING TRUST

One of the saddest side effects of PTSD, I believe, is the inability to trust.  It’s sad when trust is broken; rebuilding it can be a life-long venture and may require a great deal of patience and perseverance to achieve.

So often, veterans isolate themselves because they do not feel they can trust anyone.  Many won’t go out in crowds, or even small groups of people because they no longer feel safe.   Those who are willing to stretch their comfort zone and venture out into public places often work very hard to maximize their safety doing things like making sure they don’t sit with their backs to the door, or driving on back roads rather than highways.  The worst part is that in doing all the things they do to keep themselves safe, they often miss out on things that would benefit them and make life more enjoyable if they could just engage themselves in the various activities required.

Sometimes, in order to rebuild trust, we have to take baby steps.  It requires a lot of courage!  It may be you will never learn to trust people enough to have the emotion support you need, but maybe it’s possible to adopt a cat or dog and begin by learning to trust that animal.  I think animals can be great healers.  Dogs, cats, horses, they love so completely and accept us as we are – that’s a key element in healing when you have PTSD.  They provide the unconditional acceptance so crucial to healing.

However you rebuild trust, try to be willing to take some small steps toward getting better.  Remember, growth never comes without change, and if you aren’t willing to take some risks, you’re probably not going to overcome the PTSD.  Good luck!

VETERAN SUICIDE

Current statistics show that 30,000 to 32,000 Americans die each year from suicide; about 20% of these are veterans. In most instances, those who commit suicide are struggling with mental illness, so it only makes sense that our suicide prevention programs include high quality mental health care services.

Along with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), other factors can play a part, such as clinical depression, alcohol or drug addiction, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.  Veterans need to be asked directly if they are thinking about committing suicide, and service providers need to pay special attention even if the veteran denies having a plan. The reality is, a veteran may not admit to considering suicide as an option due to the stigma associated with mental illness or fear of being forced into treatment.

If you are a veteran contemplating suicide, help is available. The VA has established a suicide prevention hotline where veterans, or those concerned about a veteran, can call for help. The line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255 and then press 1 to be connected to a VA mental health professional.

In addition, each VA Med Center has a suicide prevention coordinator, whose job it is to ensure vets identified as being at high risk for suicide receive appropriate care. This may include follow up for missed appointments, safety planning, weekly follow-up visits and getting the veteran connected to appropriate services and resources.