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.

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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.

Controlling Anger

There is little doubt that anger can be a problem! Most of us can control our anger most of the time, but when anger gets out of control, our problems just seem to get worse. You may not have known that anger has an impact on your physical health. Anger affects:

  • Blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart disease
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dental problems (from clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth)
  • High cholesterol
  • Weak immune system
  • Stomach and digestive system problems
  • Early death

There are other problems that occur with excessive anger too, such as problems with your relationships or at work. Anger often leads to:

  • Frequent arguments
  • Strained relationships and divorce
  • Injury to self or others
  • Domestic violence
  • Child and pet abuse
  • Work-related problems
  • Road rage and traffic tickets
  • Jail or prison time

What can you do to control your anger? Learn to be assertive rather than aggressive. Assertive people can work through their anger without becoming aggressive. Assertiveness means recognizing that you have the right to feel what you feel, but the other person has that same right.

 

WHEN STRESS TAKES OVER

After having a particularly stressful day, I got to thinking about PTSD effects our stress levels. I believe that if it’s a stressful day, my baseline increases dramatically due to my PTSD.  My sister will tell you my temper has a hair trigger, and that used to be very true.  I’d like to think it’s not the case so much now, but, it is what it is.  I know that I react to everyday frustrations very quickly, and it’s something I have to keep at the top of my consciousness and work to control every day.

It used to be that I did not realize I was so stressed until I had an emotional melt down. I don’t like myself very much when that happens, so I try to ensure that I’m paying attention enough now to stop it before things get out of hand.  Sometimes that means stepping aside for a voluntary “time out.”  That means I disconnect from whatever is stressing me and focus intently on something enjoyable.  Often I’ll use music to regroup, or maybe I’ll sit down at the computer to play a game or two, or take a ten minute ride in the car.  Basically, it means I’ve had enough stress for the moment and I need to disconnect in order to allow myself a cooling off period.  I really don’t think my family realizes how necessary this is for me, but it is something I feel I have to do for myself to maintain my mental health.

Try monitoring your stress levels throughout the day. If you practice doing this on a daily basis, it will become easier as you go.  Intervening before your stress takes over allows you to stop the cycle of “blowing up” and taking it out on everyone else in the vicinity.  I know I don’t like being known as the person with a temper that explodes on a hair trigger.  Even if others around you don’t understand what you’re doing when you refocus, it’s better for them and you to not let stress push you into the danger zone.

LEARNING ABOUT COMMUNITY RESOURCES

I’m all in favor of utilizing whatever community resources are available in the fight to cope with PTSD.  Too often, we either can’t afford, or we aren’t willing to tap into resources that might be helpful. One of my favorite sites is: www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/index.asp.   The attraction is that it is a self-help site where you can work on your problems at your own pace.  There are modules on anger management, anxiety, hypervigilance, and many other topics related to PTSD that will help you assess where you are and where you want to be.  The nice thing is that so many of these sites are anonymous and free!  You can’t get much better than that for a treatment option!

There are other options too, such as the National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov/.  And, don’t be afraid to check out local counseling centers or talk with your doctor about antidepressant medications and other medications used to treat the disorder.

There are a lot of resources out there to help if you’re struggling with PTSD.  Don’t be afraid to try them.  It’s important to find the resource that will help you move forward.   If one doesn’t work for you, don’t give up.  Try another, and another, if it’s necessary.  Coping with your PTSD means taking control of your life again.  Don’t let PTSD manage you!

SLEEP DISORDERS

Sleeplessness is one of the more frustrating symptoms of PTSD.  It leaves you feeling sluggish during the day, and, at least in my own situation, angry that I can’t sleep when I’m tired and want to sleep. Oh, I’ve read all the reports on that things you can do to help yourself get through insomnia, and none of them work with the exception of one: surrendering to it.  I have found that if I don’t fight sleeplessness, I can at least live with it.

My night generally goes like this: I am exhausted and want to go to bed fairly early since I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.  I average about 5 hours per night, if I’m lucky.  So, around 9:00 pm, I want to crawl into bed and go to sleep. When I do, I’ll be fortunate if I can actually get three to four hours of sleep.   It’s more likely I’ll wake by midnight or slightly before with my mind racing, sometimes drenched in sweat and trying to fight my way out of a nightmare.

Interestingly, what I’ve found helps the most is to not fight it.  I simply get up when I wake up, whatever time it is, and I stay up for several hours until I’m tired again.  I have several books by the bed, some crossword puzzles, and my ipad is handy.  I can play some games, listen to music, work a few puzzles and relax, or I can lie there and curse my misfortune at being awake.  Seems like a no-brainer to me!

I am fortunate in having several little dogs to keep me company, and since they sleep around 20 hours a day, they don’t mind getting up in the night to be scratched and told how wonderful they are.  It makes it feel less alone and I find I go back to sleep much more quickly than if I fight it.

Next time you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, think about how you could use your time more productively.  I am lucky in that I can sleep in the next morning if I want.  I also acknowledge that, for me at least, it’s ok to get by on 5 hours of sleep per night.  While I’d like more, I am comfortable during the day most of the time.  Instead of fighting your sleeplessness, try working with it.  It reminds me of the poster I once saw that said, “The best way out is through.”  That’s true here; it doesn’t help to get mad and rage against the dark.  Chill out, enjoy the extra time.  It sure beats getting worked up over something that I can’t change.