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.
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.
PTSD and depression can occur simultaneously, with symptoms that often mimic each other. While depression happens to all of us at one time or another, clinical depression lasts for an extended period of time, usually three months or longer. It flavors everything going on in your life and makes it difficult to get up in the morning and keep going throughout the day. PTSD can have the same effect.
It’s not unusual to experience depression following exposure to trauma. If you have PTSD, depression is 3 to 5 times more likely to occur than if you don’t have PTSD. We may struggle as we process traumatic experiences and that can lead to depression. In addition, the trauma may have affected others around us leading to survivor guilt or grieving. The lack of trust we feel when we have PTSD can cause depression too.
Many of the symptoms of PTSD and depression overlap, such as sleep difficulties and concentration. In fact, you may not know which condition is affecting you. Both can lead to isolation and irritability. Fortunately, both can often respond to the same treatment too.
Milder forms of depression can be treated with counseling or talk therapy. More severe forms may involve medications. If you are suffering with PTSD and/or depression, talk with your healthcare provider. Treatments for both work!
One of the more frustrating symptoms of PTSD is being able to sleep soundly. I’ve had years of fighting to get to sleep and then to stay asleep. I think I’ve tried every solution listed for managing my sleeplessness! I’ve made a habit of going to bed at the same time every night. I keep my bedroom cool and dark. I don’t drink any caffeinated beverages in the evenings, or eat before bed. I don’t exercise late in the day or drink alcoholic beverages before bed. Nothing worked successfully for me.
It was only as I got older and stopped fighting it that things got better. I know that sounds impossible, but I believe when I stopped getting angry over not being able to sleep, I slept better! I used to be furious knowing that the next day I was going to be struggling to stay awake at work. Now I keep a book and some crossword puzzles by the bed, and when I wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep, I don’t get mad about it at all. I just quietly turn on a low light and do a bit of reading or work a puzzle and soon I’m dozing off again.
Sleeplessness followed me around like a grumpy bear for years making my life miserable. When I stopped fighting it and simply waited for it to pass, I got a handle on it and found a way to live with it.
Life is all about choices. With PTSD, anger often rules our emotions, but we always have a choice about how we respond to stressors. We can choose to not let things escalate, or we can choose to let our rage go and let it lash out at others. That’s something I don’t want to do. When I’m in a rage, it’s not easy to cage the tiger, but I don’t want to hurt anyone! It’s not just making it easier on my family members, but I don’t even want to hurt the people who are causing me grief. That makes me like them, and that’s something I don’t want to do.
I want to be the stronger person, you know? The one who says just because someone has wronged me doesn’t make it right for me to do something horrible to them. That’s an attitude that never helps, never allows for healing. I want to have the strength to let the rage go and say, “Hey! I’ve done that too.” I’ve cut people off on the road. I’ve stepped on the toes of others without even realizing it at the time it happened. I’ve had others turn on me and scream at me when I didn’t even know what I’d done. I don’t want to do that to anyone.
Expressing my anger towards others is a choice, and I choose to not let my own lack of self-control hurt someone else. That doesn’t make me better than anyone else…it just makes me a better me!
Here are some things you can do as a family member of a veteran with PTSD that can help:
- Take good care of your own health. It can be difficult when the focus is always on your loved one with PTSD, but you can’t help someone else when you’re having problems yourself.
- Take the time to do things that you enjoy and find relaxing. Dealing with a loved one with PTSD can be exhausting and hard on your physical and mental health too. Pamper yourself; you’re worth it!
- Don’t expect too much of yourself. You can’t be everything to everyone. Be as patient with yourself as you are with your loved one with PTSD, and if necessary, consider seeing a counselor or therapist.
If you have PTSD,
- Don’t isolate yourself. Plan enjoyable activities with your family and friends.
- Make a plan for how you will deal with a crisis if it arises…before it happens.
- Be patient with yourself and with others. PTSD can leave your irritable and cranky. Don’t let it take over your life.
- If you find yourself getting out of control, contact your VA Medical Center and ask to talk someone there. You aren’t in this alone!
With PTSD, we often have issues with controlling our anger. Due to chemical changes in the brain, we operate in the aroused state most of the time, and that can make us super-sensitive to what’s going on around us. Because of this, we may over-react to what might otherwise be considered normal behavior in our children and spouses.
Caging the temper tiger isn’t always easy! We have to work at controlling our temper and we often must learn different ways of channeling that anger into more positive responses. Fortunately, the National Center for PTSD offers “PTSD Coach Online.”
PTSD Coach Online is an excellent program where you can work on your anger issues, getting guidance without having to bare your soul to the world. One entire section is devoted to Anger Management. There are segments on changing your feelings through changing your thoughts, noticing your thoughts and feelings, relaxation through visualization, changing negative thought patterns, planning enjoyable activities, relaxing your body, looking carefully at your thoughts, relaxing through breathing, and weighing the pros and cons of your actions. You can access this material by going to: www.ptsd.va.gov/app/PTSDCoachonline/tools.