When you live with PTSD, things can act as triggers, setting you off in a fit of rage. It’s the responsibility of those of us who have PTSD though to make sure we channel that anger into acceptable directions rather than allow it to hurt other people. So, how does one do that?
Knowing what triggers your anger is the first step. It can help to keep a journal, noting those times you’re raging over something. Being mindful of what is happening not only to you, but within you, can help you intervene before you find yourself out of control. What irritates you beyond the normal? When the kids are screaming and having a good time, does the noise trigger your anger? If your spouse is nagging about financial fears, is that the burr that gets under your hide?
If you can recognize what’s setting you off, you can often manage the environment so that you stop the anger before it gets a grip on you. When the kids start screaming, send them outside. When your spouse is complaining, take a good look to see if those complaints are valid. If they are, then try to problem solve and seek realistic solutions. If they aren’t, look at ways to offer reassurance. It may be that the real issues isn’t the finances at all, but other fears you aren’t even aware of at the time.
Whatever you are facing as a trigger to your rage, brainstorm ways to head it off before it grows bigger than you can control. Look at alternate ways you can respond other than giving in to your anger. Is it easier to just let your rage lash out at others? You bet it is! But the courageous way to handle the situation is to accept responsibility for your anger. You are responsible for the ways you hurt others. In the long run, it’s may take some effort on your part to control your rage, but your relationships with family and friends will be stronger and healthier for it.
Living with PTSD certainly has challenges! I accept that I have changes in my brain chemistry due to how my body responded to long term trauma, but I’m not sure other people really understand what that means. With PTSD, my body remains in a state of “fight or flight” continuously, and I am more easily irritated because I am already mentally aroused and ready to defend myself at all times. I think most people think of PTSD as a state of “mental fatigue,” and that it’s something that we should just “get over.” That’s not the reality of living with PTSD.
PTSD means that I’m wired now to respond to threats in the blink of an eye. That means that alertness-wise, I’m on my toes ready to run or do battle all the time. It’s an exhausting way to live, and the thing is, it’s not by choice that I live this way. It is something I cannot control.
In the long run, having this response makes sense to me. It is a form of ensuring survival of the species. If you are on your toes all the time waiting for something to happen, then when it does, you are able to react more quickly. That response time may just save your life. I guess that’s the upside of having PTSD…if there is an upside.
The thing is, if you have PTSD, your life is different, you respond differently to perceived threats, you live on the edge. That is the reality. I can’t “get over” this. It is a part of my life. The reality is that PTSD is part of who I am whether I like it or not. Fortunately, over time it becomes easier to live with.
I attended a conference this week where we were led through a guided meditation to help us learn to cope with PTSD. While we did some basic yoga breathing exercises with the meditation, the guide told us to allow ourselves to go to that place where we felt safe, secure and happy in the past and then to stay there a while, in that memory. I found myself traveling back 40 years to when I owned my first horse, Koko. She was a huge bay mare, 16 hands high, with golden dapples on her sides. She was, I believe, part Tennessee Walker and part draft horse. She was gentle, fun to ride, and she was my best friend. I was surprised at the warmth of the memory I found from that long ago.
As the meditation ended, I found myself quite surprised that this was the memory I most associated with safety and happiness. I would have thought that a more current memory would have come to mind, but as I sat and thought more about it, I realized that this was the first time in my life I had felt safe. When I was riding Koko, no harm could come to me, or at least that’s how I felt.
Those years are long gone now, but it was so pleasurable returning to that memory that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it soon. With PTSD, we don’t often allow ourselves to let down our guard long enough to revive old, happy memories like that. I want to do it more often. I don’t want to lose the memory of that joy and contentment. It made a believer out of me as far as meditation goes. I hope you’ll find a similar memory to revisit soon.
Excessive noise is a trigger for me, sending my PTSD into overdrive. It took a long time for me to realize that loud noise irritated me more than it should have, but I finally was able to see what was happening. I hate when I start feeling like “something” is about to happen. Loud noises make me feel that way. I need to manage my environment so I can survive, yet this is an on-going problem. The steady drip of the faucet, a barking puppy, the television being on when no one is watching it – all of these things, and many more, make me a nervous wreck.
Managing the environment is one way of reducing the triggers that set my PTSD off. Unfortunately I can’t always have things the way I want and need them to be, but I can make every effort to keep things down to a dull roar! I’ve found that I need to respond quickly when I hear the faucet dripping and make sure it’s fully off. If the puppies are crying, I have to get right up and see what’s wrong so they quiet down. If the television is on and no one is watching it, I turn it off.
I can’t manage everything all the time, but I can make every effort to do what it takes to keep my PTSD under control. Learning to live with PTSD often means making an extra effort to keep things on an even keel. Fortunately, I can do that!