Traumatic Brain Injury & PTSD

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is not classified by the severity of the symptoms the victim experiences, but by the amount of injury that occurs to the brain: either mild, moderate or severe. The primary cause of TBI in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are blasts, blast plus motor vehicle accidents, motor vehicle accidents alone, and gunshot wounds. It is not unusual for veterans with TBI to also experience symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, insomnia, impaired memory, and lowered tolerance for noise and light. Mild TBI may result in an increased risk for psychiatric disorders including depression and PTSD. These symptoms are often time-limited though and, with appropriate treatment and healthy behaviors, are likely to improve.

Even veterans with moderate or severe brain injuries can make remarkable recoveries if they receive ongoing rehabilitation. Education for the veteran and family early in the course of recovery can improve outcomes and help prevent the development of other psychological problems. Many of the same treatments for PTSD can also work well for Veterans with mild TBI. Veterans with moderate or severe TBI may benefit from occupational rehabilitation and case management. Coordination of care between providers is a critical element of successful treatment.

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Controlling Pain

Fighting pain day after day is exhausting. Pain medications help, but there are many misconceptions about pain meds. Medications help control pain; they don’t heal it. Take the prescribed dosage, not more or less. A smaller dose may not be enough to control yur pain, and a pain crisis may result. A larger dose may be dangerous.

Many people refuse to take their pain medications unless they are in severe pain, but once pain is controlled, it is much easier to manage if you just keep taking a maintenance level of medication. Preventing pain from developing is much easier than treating pain once it has become a problem.

There are also those who feel taking pain medication is an indication of weakness. For a long time, there were billboards that said, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” That is so untrue! Pain is a sign that something is wrong in your body, it is not a sign you are weak!

Another reason people fight taking meds is their fear of becoming addicted. After working for many years in hospice, I have found it true that medications used when you are in pain go to the site of the pain, not to the pleasure centers in the brain.

Pain can be controlled, and following your prescribed dosage and frequency schedule is key to managing your pain.

Never, Never, Never Give Up!

There are times when the fight to overcome PTSD may feel overwhelming and you may think you’ll never win, but that’s not true. Progress is often won an inch at a time, not by the mile, but it’s still progress. Over time, you’ll find you’ve become more comfortable with who you are, and that it’s a bit easier coping than it was in the past. Sometimes we just have to look at those small victories instead of how far we feel we still have to go.

In the fight to overcome PTSD and find the joy in life again, you must never give up! There is so much to fight for: all of your relationships, your laughter, your happiness, the joy in every day. And, best of all, it can be done! PTSD does not have to own you entirely. It is but one piece of who you are, and it’s a piece that makes you stronger even if you’d rather not have it.

Each day, you are healing, bit by bit, and one day, you’ll be comfortable in your own skin again. PTSD is a condition, it is not who you are.

PTSD Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout can affect anyone living with an individual with PTSD due to the stress involved in providing care for that individual. Symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion
  • Depression

In addition to burnout, caregivers may experience Secondary Traumatization or Vicarious Traumatization. When this occurs, the caregiver has some of the same symptoms as the individual they are caring for who has PTSD. Secondary traumatization comes on suddenly. It is believed it occurs in caregivers who are traumatized by the distress and suffering they see in the person they are caring for.

PTSD can be hard on everyone it touches. If you find you are suffering from caring for a loved one who has PTSD, please, get help. A qualified mental health professional can help you deal with the stress.

Finding the Sun Again

When you have PTSD, it can be difficult believing that life will be good and that you’ll find peace again. PTSD changes us, that’s true, but that doesn’t have to mean that you’ll never feel the pleasure of the sun shining on you again. Learning to cope with PTSD can take a great deal of effort, and it may take years before you feel you are totally relaxed and comfortable in your own skin again, but it can and does happen.

As we learn to cope, it becomes easier and easier to enjoy life. It doesn’t mean we don’ t have problems, we do, but there are good days to off-set the bad and good times that help us find the joy in life again.

Don’t let go of the belief that you can life with PTSD and live well. Don’t lose faith. Things will get better. You will learn to cope better. And life will become sweeter for the effort.

Reengaging in Life

There are times when I know I should participate in an event or activity when I just don’t feel like it. With PTSD, it’s hard to overcome isolation and apathy, but doing so is an important part of healing. By reengaging we begin to forge those relationships that are so important to life satisfaction. Our friendships improve, and our intimate relationships become stronger.

A very wise old woman once told me that if I didn’t want to be involved in something, then at least go through the motions and pretend to be interested. If I just force myself to participate, after a while I’d realize I was no longer just putting in time, but actually becoming engaged in the activity. My enjoyment would become real again. I’ve found her words to be true. If I get in there and just do it rather than thinking of all the reasons why I don’t want to be involved, then after a short while, I find I’m actually having fun.

I think perhaps the thought that most convinced me to go ahead and try new things again was that if I didn’t, nothing would change. Everything continues the same, and that was definitely something I didn’t want. While I may not want to go to a crowded movie theater with my friends, or accompany my niece to her recital, if I go, and if I feign interest, before long, I’m no longer pretending – it’s real! If I didn’t go at all, I’d miss out on all those things that make special memories.

Written Goals

In dealing with PTSD as with other areas of our lives, setting goals seems to be a part of successful coping. If I set a goal of taking a step outside my comfort zone and attending a family gathering, or plan an outing with a friend, it helps me get through the event. For example, if I decide to go out to a movie with a friend, this one time I can manage it.   It doesn’t mean I have to make it a weekly event, or even that I have to go to the theater. I can choose to go to the drive-in movies if I want. It’s still an outing and by planning on it, I can manipulate the circumstances so it becomes something I can handle and even enjoy.

Writing goals down has been shown to influence their success. I wonder if it’s not because when it’s written down in black and white, I think more about it and can visualize what is going to happen. By mentally rehearsing the situation, I’m more prepared to handle it with finesse. While I may not like pushing my boundaries, it’s a healthy thing to do. It strengthens my relationships and it helps me feel better about myself too. My main goal is to not let PTSD rule my life, and that’s a pretty good goal to work toward!