Staying positive during all this stress is difficult, yet, like everyone else, I need to focus on maintaining my sense of humor. With the news about the Coronavirus focused on how many victims have expired, I’m flooded with negative images and thoughts of how this could affect me, yet I’ve been through hard times before, and I’ll make it through this difficult time too.
I’ve found that limiting my exposure to the news and all the hype helps. I tune in once a day and listen to the latest reports on what’s happening locally and worldwide, then I stay away from the news. Instead, I’ve been reading books, working on my craft projects, playing music, and taking walks. I avoid other people when I’m walking, and I’m lucky that I’m sheltering at my sister’s home while this is going on. I figured if she or I got sick, we’d be able to care for each other. I didn’t want her to face this alone, or to face it alone myself. It’s nice to have someone to share the burden with!
I’ve been impressed by the good I see coming out of this pandemic. It warms my heart to hear of those who have medical experience that are answering the call for help in New York and are flocking to step in where needed. That to me is the essence of the human spirit! I try to remember that when I hear about the selfishness of students who don’t care if they spread the virus to older people simply because they are young and won’t likely die from it. Perhaps they don’t care if their parents or grandparents are victims? And, perhaps it says something about the youth of today and how morally barren some of them are…but isn’t that true of every time in history and every culture?
Staying positive is hard work, but it’s something we all need to do in these troubled times. There is good coming from all of this, and it reminds me of the old saying, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Perhaps that’s true too.
You certainly don’t have to have PTSD to be anxious over all the implications of COVID-19, the Coronavirus that is currently making its’ rounds throughout the United States and the world. If you turn on the television or your computer, you are flooded with reports of how people are being affected by the virus. Most of the news consists of projections for how serious the outbreak can be. For those who are already anxious, this additional stress can be almost as overwhelming as having the virus itself!
While it is understandable to be concerned about the Coronavirus, immersing yourself in a constant barrage by watching the news all day long only makes things more problematic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the utmost authority in the U.S. about preventing and controlling pandemic outbreaks. Follow their advice and you will reduce your risk considerably. 8
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Properly dispose of used tissues.
- Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, arm, or elbow if you don’t have a tissue.
- Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
- Stay at home if you are sick.
- Avoid contact with those who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect objects or surfaces that may have come into contact with germs.
- Make plans for what will happen if someone in the home becomes ill or if quarantine or shelter-in-place measures are ordered.
While it is wise to keep abreast of what is developing with the Coronavirus, do not watch television or follow it on your computer all day long. Remember, most people who get the virus will get through it just fine. Even if you are elderly or your immune system is compromised, it is not a guarantee that you can’t survive the virus. Do not give up hope! Do not give in to fear. We will get through this and we’ll be stronger for it.
Why is it that when we have PTSD, we deny ourselves experiences where we can have fun? I see that in myself all the time. It’s rather sad because all of us deserve some fun in life and I’m no exception. Neither are you.
Depression can lead to inactivity, and feeling anxious about interacting with others. Sometimes we just don’t want to make the time to deal with other people, but isolation doesn’t help us at all. It may help if you think about the activities you used to enjoy and start by trying one or more of them again. Think about some of the things you really used to love doing. Make a list if you can, because when you’re depressed, you may find you have difficulty thinking of what those activities were.
Now plan a time to do one of those activities. Set a firm date because if you wait for a time when you feel like it, it may never happen. Choose the day and time for your activity, and add it to your calendar. Are you finding you are hesitant to schedule activities that involve being with others? That’s not unusual, but try to carry through with the activity anyway. You may find it’s not as painful as you first thought, and the more you interact with others, the easier it may get!
Life has challenges, it’s true, but in order to be balanced, it needs to have some fun too. Allow yourself to find your joy again. It makes life worthwhile, and after all, you deserve it!
If you have PTSD, chances are fairly good that you are also having nightmares. Add a little depression or anxiety in with your PTSD, and it increases your likelihood of having nightmares. Nightmares are difficult to deal with because they increase your fear, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, panic, and screaming or crying in your sleep. Absolutely no fun. But the negative effects of having these nightmares continue even after you wake. PTSD nightmares can result in a higher increase in REM sleep than normal, an increase in night-time awakenings and extended periods of being awake, decreased amounts of deep, restorative sleep, decreased sleep time, and problems functioning the day after due to exhaustion.
The negative effects don’t stop there either. PTSD nightmares keep you in your traumatic “flight or fight” mode of heightened arousal. You may find you avoid going to bed at a reasonable time because you are apprehensive about having more nightmares. PTSD nightmares may even prompt you to turn to using drugs in an attempt to prevent additional nightmares. PTSD nightmares have a negative impact on your quality of life.
Treatment for PTSD nightmares is often an arduous journey, slow and frustrating, but treatment can help. Stress reduction and relaxation techniques can help calm you before sleep. Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) is a cognitive-behavioral therapy where you focus on a different ending for your nightmares, replaying the scenario over and over so eventually the new ending will replace the nightmare ending. There has also been some success using orientation techniques to ground you in the present moment following a nightmare.
There are several other considerations those with PTSD nightmares should keep in mind. Recent research indicates that many people who have PTSD nightmares also have sleep apnea. This research indicates that restricted oxygen intake keeps the brain from its normal attempts to sooth itself, and this makes the nightmares worse. Treating the sleep problems may well resolve the nightmare issue.
Other possible treatments include somatic therapy where you focus on movement and sensations to work through the physical and emotional aspects of the trauma, and EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy.
Whatever form of treatment you try, remember that PTSD nightmares do respond to treatment and life can get better. You deserve a calm, peaceful life. Don’t let PTSD nightmares keep you from it!
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!
If you are living with someone with PTSD, you may find you are feeling some of the same symptoms as the person you’re caring for. You may find that being responsible for running a smooth household while getting the kids off to school, making sure nothing disrupts the life of your loved one with PTSD, and having your own needs go unmet, leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, individuals with PTSD may not be very available for their spouse’s emotional needs. If you are the caregiver, you may find yourself constantly walking on eggs as you try to keep the home quiet and make sure no one does anything to aggravate your spouse. You can end up feeling like you have a shadow version of PTSD. You may even exhibit some of the same symptoms: sleeplessness, hypervigilance, isolation, depression, and anger.
Living with someone who has PTSD is not easy for anyone. It can take its toll leaving you emotionally drained. There are a few things you can do to cope though:
- First and foremost, take good care of yourself. You have to do this; no one else will. Try to get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, and get some exercise.
- Make sure you take some time for yourself each day to nurture yourself; you’re worth it and you deserve it!
- Make good use of your friends. Talk to them, go out with them, and let yourself relax a bit. Don’t feel guilty for tending to your needs – if you don’t, you won’t be able to care for your loved one with PTSD.
- Be gentle with yourself; forgive yourself if you make mistakes. As tired and overwhelmed as you are, you get to be human too, and no one is perfect.
- Go for counseling if you need it. Meeting the needs of everyone else can leave you feeling drained and empty.
PTSD takes a toll on the whole family, and as the spouse of a loved one with PTSD, you are at risk of feeling like you have a shadow version of the disorder. Take care of you. What you do is priceless and your family depends on you to make it all work. Taking care of yourself is your right; don’t let anyone take that from you. You do great work and you deserve to be happy too.
How difficult it is to find peace when you live with PTSD. I am not the person I once was, nor do I seem able to be the person I want to be. I don’t like giving PTSD that much control, so I fight. It makes me think of the story the Native American grandfather told his grandson. It was about two wolves fighting within us all the time. One wolf fights to do right. The other wolf fights to do wrong. The grandson asks the grandfather, “Which one will win, Grandfather?” The grandfather replied, “The one you feed!”
I think there is a lot of wisdom in that story. If we feed the wolf of anger within us, it will grow. The problem is, how do we feed the wolf of peace? I think part of the answer to that must be that we actively have to feed the wolf of peace, not just sit back and think if we don’t feed the wolf of anger it will just dry up and blow away. It may not grow much, but it doesn’t seem to shrink either. However, if we take the time to culture the growth of peace within ourselves, there is a favorable pay off, I think.
So, how do we feed the peace wolf? I think we each have to seek the answer to that question as it’s probably a bit different for most of us. Prayer, meditation, peaceful music, aromatherapy, massage, there are many possibilities. It may be that no single method is the answer, but a combination of many. I sometimes think that it’s mostly the effort I make, not actually what I do, that makes a difference.
I don’t have all the answers. I’ve lived with PTSD for many years and I wish I were in better control of it now. The one thing I do know is that I won’t sit back and just expect I’ll get better as time goes by. I won’t allow PTSD to take over one more moment of my life if I can prevent it. Why? Because I know the value of finding peace again. Good luck to you too.