Surviving PTSD

Having PTSD takes a lot of energy. Those of us with that diagnoses know that we are “on point” 24/7.  We monitor everything and know what’s going on around us all the time.  Being hypervigilant is frustrating, to say the least, but it has become such a way of life, that we can’t even conceive of things being any other way.

Keeping track of all that’s going on is not an easy job, but it is part of who we are. Anxiety drives the hypervigilance, and our thoughts drive our anxiety.  Learning to control our thoughts then is the first step in learning to manage our anxiety.  Remember, our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all connected.

Our thoughts are shaped by our life experiences, and while they may well have been right on target immediately following the traumatic event we experienced, as time goes by they may become less accurate. We may perceive something as a threat when it actually isn’t anymore.

There are four types of feelings we can experience connected with PTSD: fear, sadness, guilt and anger. Think about a feeling that’s bothering you.  Now, weigh the pros and cons for why you feel the way you do.  Weighing the pros and cons helps you decide if it’s worth holding on to those thoughts.

If keeping those thoughts outweigh letting them go, then you need to keep them for now. But, if it’s time to let them go, try looking realistically at what’s behind them.

If you decide it’s time to let them go, it’s the first step in changing your feelings. PTSD affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  But we can take back some of what we’ve lost so far.  Take the time to identify what your feelings and thoughts are, and then weigh the pros and cons of keeping those thoughts.  If the cons outweigh the pros, then it’s time to start changing your thoughts.


Living With Lung Cancer

The VA is promoting a new clinical program to help veterans diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. When the individual is first diagnosed, physicians will take a biopsy of the tumor for targeted genomic sequencing.  This allows identification of the DNA sequence that makes up the tumor.  With this information, doctors use drugs specifically designed to target that type of tumor.

The treatment also allows veterans the opportunity to take part in clinical trials of new drug treatments. By identifying the specific mutations that cause the tumors, and targeting the treatment using drugs known to be effective, there is a much greater chance of success.

If you have lung cancer, never give up hope. Do everything you can to stay strong, such as eating healthy, and staying active.  You may find it difficult to maintain your weight, so focus on eating foods that are high in protein and calories.  Eating more small meals during the day may help too.

Staying active improves physical and mental health. Try to work in some physical activity every day.  This may help you sleep better and increase your energy.  Staying active can also help reduce side effects of medications.  Focus on being active when you feel energetic and rested.  Don’t overdo, rather stick to moderate activities such as stretching, walking, swimming or biking.

(For more information, go to Myhealthevet).


Chances are you are already taking more than one medication or over the counter (OTC) drug each day. It’s easy to make a mistake in remembering what to take, why you’re taking it, and what drug interactions may result.

Here are some tips to help you avoid making any errors when taking your medications:

  • Keep a current list of all the medications you take: prescriptions, OTC, and any vitamins and herbal supplements
  • List the name of the drug, the dosage and frequency, the reason you’re taking it, dosing directions (such as whether you should take it with or without food), and the date you started taking it. For prescription drugs, also list the doctor who prescribed it and the pharmacy where you get the prescription filled
  • List all allergies and intolerances, and any other information that may apply
  • Make copies for yourself, and for your medical file at the VA. Place a copy on the refrigerator for paramedics and give a copy to your doctor
  • Keep the list updated!
  • Ask your doctor to clarify his/her handwriting on prescriptions you can decipher
  • Write the condition being treated on each bottle. If multiple medications are being used to treat the same condition, talk to your doctor
  • Use the same pharmacy. Their records will match yours. This also allows your pharmacist to be alert to any potential issues or interactions with other medications you’re taking
  • Learn what the possible side effects are and any possible drug interactions

This material was adapted from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Caregiver Support.

Effective Communication

PTSD may result in our feelings flavoring our interactions with others. The result is that people avoid us because we treat them aggressively rather than assertively.  If you are unsure about the difference between the two, assertiveness is:

  • Knowing what you want or don’t want
  • Considering your rights and the rights of the other person you’re speaking with
  • Expressing your needs in a way that is respectful and clear enough to get the outcome you want.

Communicating assertively rather than aggressively is important because it allows you to get your message across without alienating others and increasing your isolation. The benefits of communicating assertively include:

  • Helping develop your self-respect by giving your own needs the same importance as those of others
  • Helping you get what you want
  • Helping you handle stress better

There are five basic styles of communication behavior:

  1. Passive, where you let things happen without saying what you want or need. Passive people usually feel guilty for having their own wants and needs. The problem is that you aren’t likely to get what you want. Being passive with others causes them to feel resentful.
  2. Aggressive, where communications are basically hostile, demanding or threatening. Aggression ignores the other person’s rights and feelings. People often react by becoming defensive and angry, and by avoiding you.
  3. Passive-aggressive, where you resist requests from others by delaying, or active stubborn, or sullen. Passive-aggressive people often say one thing while meaning another. People respond by becoming angry and confused and they lose respect for you. You seldom get what you want this way.
  4. Manipulative, where you try to get your needs met by making others feel bad for you, or afraid and guilty. It allows you to play the victim in the hopes that others will give you what you want. Manipulating people causes them to become upset and to avoid you. They often resent and mistrust you too.
  5. Assertive, when you ask for what you want in a clear way, respectful of others. Being assertive increases the comfort level of the other person because you are clear about what you want. The other person feels respected and heard, and you’re more likely to get what you want using this style rather than any of the others.

Assertive communication is possible when you take the time to consider the position of the other person, then voice your own wants without running their position down. It can make interactions with other people easier, and remove the hostility that the other styles of communication elicit.

(This information was adapted from the VA’s PTSD Coach website:



One thing about PTSD I’ve realized, is that to a large extent, I can define whether it’s going to have a totally negative effect on me or not. While I wish I didn’t have this particular diagnosis, I’ve had to admit there is a legitimate reason I have PTSD, and that, having it does, to an extent, protect me.  After all, being hypervigilant means that it is very rare for anyone to take me by surprise.

I’ve had one friend point out that I’m probably one of the safest people he knows just because I am so tuned in to what’s going on around me. When I get out of my car, I’m always aware of others in the area and I’m always evaluating whether they are a danger to me or not.  While that doesn’t mean I won’t get hurt in the long run, it does mean that subconsciously I’m doing everything possible to ensure I won’t be stuck in another traumatic situation again.

Trying to view something in this manner is called reframing it. By acknowledging that my PTSD has a positive effect on my life in some way, makes it easier for me to live with it.  PTSD is something I wish I didn’t have to live with.  But, I have had to acknowledge that it’s possible to view things in a different light and recognize that there are silver linings to my clouds.  PTSD is a way my mind has responded in order to keep me alive…and that can’t be all bad, can it?

Many veterans deal with back pain on a daily basis. Whether the problem is caused by injury, or from carrying a heavy pack while hiking, the result can be life-long suffering.  Now there is new evidence that physical therapy, spinal manipulation and yoga can be as helpful as surgery or drugs, while posing far fewer risks.  In a Consumer Reports survey, 3,562 individuals with back pain were surveyed, with 80% of those who had tried yoga, tai chi, massage therapy, chiropractic intervention, or physical therapy finding the treatment helped reduce their pain.

In the past, these types of treatments were considered fluff in comparison to conventional treatment which usually consisted of drugs to mask the pain or surgery. Now, it is evident that a combination of supportive alternative therapies can be just as effective.  Tai chi and physical therapy strengthens muscles that support the back, while improving balance and flexibility.  Chiropractic intervention can realign the spine and improve posture and balance as well.  Massage therapy helps muscles relax, and reduces inflammation.  A combination of these alternative therapies can bring relief when traditional methods fail.

In the past, alternative therapies were not regarded as viable treatment options. Now they are taking their place as legitimate treatments and are being recognized by medical professionals as valued forms of treatment.


It never seems to matter which holiday it is. When you have PTSD, no holiday feels like a celebration.  Feeling uncomfortable in crowds makes July 4th one of the worst.  The kids all love to go to the parade, but that’s the last place I want to go! And then there are the barbecues, the relatives, and all the other traditions that make holidays one big pain in the neck.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If we bow to the fear that comes with having PTSD and worrying that something else horrible is going to happen to us, then we miss out on all the good things that can happen too. And, I really believe there are a lot more good things out there than there are bad.  Sometimes it’s good to visit with family you haven’t seen in a while.  And barbecues can be fun if they aren’t too big and too much work.

It’s up to you how much celebrating you want to do on any holiday and how much effort you want to expend in entertaining. While you may never want to go to a parade, or have your relatives all over for dinner, or host the neighborhood block party, find the boundaries of your comfort zone and do some celebrating within them.  Don’t let the fear win!  If you can’t manage the parade, then take part in a cook-out with your family.  If you can’t go to the movies, then treat the kids to a special video and popcorn in your home.  Don’t give up on all celebrations.  Find ways to participate in the joy of the season.