Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a time for remembering…but some of us don’t want to remember. Some of us pray daily that we’ll forget, and there is no need to feel guilty about that. There are things that you shouldn’t be forced to remember. That doesn’t mean you aren’t patriotic or that you don’t care. It just means you are protecting yourself from the past and the trauma it has caused.

I, for one, do not believe that those who died in the name of freedom would want anyone to spend the day reliving their trauma, that’s not what Memorial Day is all about. It’s about recognizing that our freedom comes at a price, and some of you pay that price daily on the installment plan.

This Memorial Day it is okay to do other things and find ways to make it a good day, or at least another day. It’s okay to look forward instead of looking back. We can honor the lost that way too.

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Feeling Out of Sorts

The weather has finally turned beautiful and it’s time to enjoy summer…but what happens when we don’t feel like enjoying anything? Along with the fun parts of summer life come the difficult parts: mowing the lawn, sticky heat, kids under foot during summer break, etc. Sometimes I don’t feel like being happy. I just want to hide out and let life roll on by. And sometimes that is okay too, but not all the time.

The worst thing about feeling out of sorts is that I know it bothers my family and friends. They just don’t understand that sometimes I can’t pretend that everything is perfect. Sometimes I just need to have a “rotten day!”   While I don’t try to be nasty to the people around me, I just don’t want to socialize with them. I guess maybe it’s a case of my needing to wallow a bit before I move on.

Whatever the reason, those are the days I try to simply shut up and stay low.   I avoid my family and friends, and it’s really for their own good: I know I’m not good company. I don’t even want to be good company! But, it doesn’t last forever and they need to know that too.

Sometimes I just want to do my own thing and not have everyone wondering if it’s because my PTSD is “acting up.” If it is, it’s my own business and I’ll get over it. I try to let those people who are important to me know that they don’t have to worry. I’ll be okay. I just need a little time on my own, and that’s not such an awful thing.

Not Feeding the Beast

One thing I have discovered as I’ve gotten older is that if I’m angry and I let myself focus on that anger, it intensifies. Focusing on that anger, or feeding it, allows it to take off and very shortly, I find I am out of control. Once I realized what was happening, I knew I had to stop feeding the anger beast in order to keep it from growing.

Out-of-control anger is not something I want people to associate with me! It seems that I become angry more easily these days, perhaps because as I age, problems are getting more difficult for me to deal with. I do not have the energy I used to have, or the strength. When problems develop, I still have to resolve them. I just need to keep my anger in check as I do.

Not feeding the beast can be harder than it sounds. It requires considerable effort to consciously focus on tamping the rage down in order to stop it. Yes, I can be mad. Yes, I can express that anger, but I do not need to express my anger at my loved ones or at everyone. I just need to acknowledge that the situation is frustrating and handle it.

Everyone gets angry at times. Sometimes it is even necessary, but never do I want it to lash out and strike the people around me. I do not want to be known as the person who is out of control when something goes wrong. I would rather be the person who maybe had reason to be angry, but kept cool instead.

Journaling

Sometimes writing about an event or just about your life in general can help you identify your feelings and work through different ways of thinking about negative events. Writing can help you process your feelings and see alternative ways of thinking about what happened.

When I journal about events and experiences that I have encountered, I try to express some of the physical feelings I associate with the situation by adding some color to the paper. For instance, if I am talking about an experience laden with negative emotional overtones, I might surround what I’ve written with black or dark colored ink.   While it may seem simplistic, it helps me visualize my feelings in relation to the event. Somehow, expressing those feelings helps me release some of the tension associated with them.

Journaling can be one way of releasing some of the stress related to specific experiences that have a negative impact on our lives. Writing down what happened, how it made you feel, and other ways you might try coping with it can help you release the emotion surrounding the event. Doing that seems to reduce the power it has over me. I hope it works for you too.

Returning Home from a War Zone

Service members returning home from a war zone will usually experience a variety of reactions. Common physical reactions may include:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Stomach upset
  • Headaches
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing
  • Existing health problems becoming worse

Common mental and emotional reactions may include:

  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Flashbacks
  • Anger
  • Feelings of guilt, nervousness, self-blame, or helplessness
  • Feeling sad, rejected or abandoned
  • Agitated and easily upset
  • Hopeless

Common behavioral reactions may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance
  • Avoiding other people
  • Drinking or smoking too much or using drugs
  • Poor self care
  • Aggressive driving habits

Having these reactions does not mean you have PTSD. Remember, these are common reactions to returning from the war zone. You may find it takes a year or longer to feel normal again. However, if these feelings continue longer than six to eight weeks, or if they begin to infringe on your daily life, you may want to consider seeking help.

The Burn of Anger

Anger is a side effect of PTSD that most of us deal with. I talk about it often because it is so destructive to us and to those we love. Anger hurts us in so many ways. It causes or contributes to the following:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart disease
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dental problems (from jaw clenching and teeth grinding)
  • Increases cholesterol
  • Weakens the immune system
  • Upsets the stomach and digestive system
  • Early death

In addition, anger affects our personal relationships. It can lead to:

  • Arguing
  • Divorce
  • Injury to self or others
  • Domestic violence
  • Child and pet abuse
  • Work-related problems
  • Legal and financial problems
  • Road rage and tickets
  • Jail or prison time

Anger can burn us if we don’t learn to control it. Unchecked, anger becomes aggression and people begin to fear and avoid us. So how do we control our anger?

Anger increases when we indulge in negative “self-talk.” I often call this “psycho-babble,” where we hold a conversation in our heads about a topic. As we concentrate about what we are angry over our anger grows until we work ourselves into a frenzy. That is the thing about anger; the more we think about it, the more we feed it until it grows so big it breaks free and spills over onto someone else. That is bad for them and for us.

Learn to control your anger rather than letting it control you. Don’t let anger burn you or those you care about.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

As I get older, I’m finding that I have less patience, less strength, and less ability to bounce back from stressful situations. PTSD always seems to make the situation worse. I’m finding that what I really need to do is work smarter, not harder.

For one thing, I can’t work harder. I no longer have the strength I did when I was younger. As a senior citizen, I’m only able to do a part of the work I did in the past, at least where physical strength is required.   I’d like to think I automatically work smarter, and I believe I do, but I need to slow down and think things through more often so I’m using my head and not my limited muscle.

While I may find it more difficult to recall things than I did when I was younger, I now have a world of experience to draw from and a lot more savvy. That makes a difference. I am learning to listen to my body when it tells me it’s time to stop and take a break, even when I’m in the middle of a project. I will get things done, just not all at once, and the quality of my work is better when I come back at it fresh rather than trying to force my way through.

I often grump about how old age is so awful, but I need to remember that the alternative isn’t that great either! I can either use my head and take a bit more time to get things done, or I can try to bull my way through and pay the price later on. I’m sick of paying the price. My body hurts too much for that anymore. It’s really time to work smarter, not harder.