A HAPPY HOLIDAY

I remember loving Christmas as a child. It was the best of times! I was always filled with excitement and the season meant so much to me. Now, things are different, and it angers me that the innocence I felt as a child was taken from me. That’s one of the things PTSD does: it robs us of the joy in our lives, if it can.

I still love the lights and the scents of the season, but things are different with PTSD. I don’t enjoy the crowds at all. Anyone with PTSD knows the difficulty of living with hypervigilance. That makes shopping difficult too. And, family get togethers…not something I look forward to, that’s for sure.

Holidays are much more difficult with PTSD coming along for the ride. So, I have to look deeper for the good times. I’ve accepted that I have to find new traditions to look forward to, like baking and decorating cookies and dropping them off at the homes of friends rather than going to parties. And, I can still enjoy the music and the lights.

I have to accept that life is different with PTSD, but at least there are still pieces of Christmas that used to mean a lot to me that I can still hold on to. I refuse to surrender everything. The meaning of the holiday hasn’t changed, I have. But that’s okay; I can live with that and still find joy in the season.

The Effects of PTSD on Family

If you are the spouse of someone who has PTSD, you probably know what a challenge it can be to keep your household in harmony. Avoidance, nightmares, flashbacks, and so many other symptoms intrude on life and can make things miserable for everyone in the house.

When someone with PTSD avoids social functions, it can leave the spouse feeling abandoned. It can be even worse though if you try to force the issue and insist your spouse attend the activity with you. It’s not a good situation to mix avoidance with anger and fear. The situation can quickly escalate to dangerous levels. Likewise, it can feel like a no-win situation when you attend functions without your spouse and find out later s/he was afraid for you and it increased frustrations.

The one thing you can do to help the situation is to take good care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep, and don’t feel guilty for taking some time for yourself each day. Living with PTSD is not easy, and you are in it for the long haul, so it’s important for you to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

Dissociating

Dissociation means disconnecting. When we think of it in terms of PTSD, it is a method of self-defense. Dissociating allows us to escape. We just do it mentally rather than physically.

Dissociating is a term it took me a while to learn. When I finally understood it, I was relieved because I had what I thought of a “time blackouts.” For example, I remember entering a room once where I was forced to walk past my father.

Now, my father was a violent man, and I was terrified of him as a child. I stopped in the doorway and wondered if I had the courage to walk past him when I would be in a confined space and close enough for him to hurt me if he wanted. Then, all of a sudden, I was on the other side of the room, past him! I had no memory of having walked past him. It was as if I had been transported through time.

That experience, and others that were similar, were very frightening to me. I wondered if I had “blipped out” because of mental illness or some other strange mental defect. Years later, after much research, I ran across the term “dissociating,” and looked it up. I researched it thoroughly and realized that was what had happened.

I no longer think of myself as being defective for having lapses of memory. I think of myself as having some pretty cool build-in defense systems that protect me from things I could not otherwise deal with. Dissociating is just another way I coped with the horrors I was living with. It is another way I found to successfully survive.

STRESS

Stress can have a severe impact on PTSD. After all, PTSD usually comes with a good dose of anxiety to begin with. Stirring in a load of stress with it just expounds the problems we’ve already been dealing with.

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. I’ve had multiple appliances break down in the house (washing machine, hot water heater, furnace and television). Because most of them we cannot get along without for any lengthy period of time (especially the water heater and furnace!), I’ve had to scrounge to find the finances to cover replacements and repairs. That’s stressful.

At my house it is also “puppy time.” That means all of our female dogs have whelped. So, in addition to the water heater and furnace not working, all of a sudden I had 42 puppies to think about! How do I keep them warm enough? How do I get their bedding clean? Believe me that was stressful!

Over the years, I have learned that if I’m in one of those “heavy-stress” periods, then I need to stop and spend extra time taking care of myself. No one else is going to do it. It means that sometimes I have to leave the regular chores for another day. Or, that I am eating out more and cooking less. It also means I have to think about whether I’m getting enough sleep, and that my nutritional status is healthy so I can handle all this stress. I have to take extra good care of me!

Stress is a factor that is going to affect all our lives. Sometimes it will grow out of control and we’re going to have to hustle to withstand it. Taking care of ourselves is the best place to start! We all know how what we need to do; let’s just make sure we do it!

PTSD & Service Dogs

If you have PTSD, have you considered what a service dog may be able to do for you? If you have ever looked into getting a service dog, you have probably been somewhat overwhelmed. If you try to purchase one already trained, you’ll find it can run you anywhere between $3,000 and $30,000, depending on what the dog is trained to do. Most of us can’t afford it.

If you want to try to find an agency that will provide you with a trained service dog, then you’ll need to get on their waiting lists. You may be on the list for a long, long time as it is not uncommon for there to be hundreds of people with disabilities on those lists and only a few will get a trained dog each year. But, don’t give up hope!

According to the law, you do not need to use a professional trainer to train your service dog (although it is recommended!). You can train it yourself. Now that also may seem rather intimidating if you aren’t a trainer, but many reputable trainers will assist you at little or no charge.

Service dogs for those with PTSD can be taught to block (stand in front of the handler preventing people from walking up into your space), watch (stepping behind the handler to watch his/her back), to alert you when it’s time to take your medications, to check out the house to make sure there is no one else in there when you return after an outing, to wake you from nightmares, turn on the lights before you enter a room, comfort you during panic attacks, and the list goes on and on!

Many of these commands are not difficult to train your dog to do. If you do decide to go this way, make sure your dog is quiet natured, obedient, and willing to work to please you. If you want a professional dog trainer’s assistance, call around and ask how much they charge. Any way you look at it, it is probably cheaper than trying to purchase a dog that is already trained.

PTSD & Sleep

If you have PTSD, you likely also have sleep problems. Nine out of ten Veterans who have PTSD have difficulty sleeping. Four out of ten Veterans have insomnia.

PTSD sleep problems include:

  • Hyperarousal
  • Intrusive memories
  • Excessive worrying
  • Nightmares that disrupt sleep

The #1 recommended treatment for PTSD-related insomnia is not sleep medication. It is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).   CBT for insomnia is a talk-therapy, proven to work. CBT helps you learn to modify the thoughts and habits that affect your sleep. 70% to 80% of those treated achieve better sleep.

Sleep problems often go hand-in-hand with PTSD, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works!

(Adapted from http://www.PTSD.va.gov)

 

HomeFront strong

If you are a spouse or partner of a Post-911 service member or veteran, you are eligible to participate in a web-based program for free. This program is designed especially for military/veteran spouses or partners and focuses on developing skills to promote healthy relationships and strategies for self-care and coping. The program is offered at no cost, and participants can receive up to $140 for completing evaluations of the program.

The program lasts 8 weeks and offers evidence-based strategies to help spouses reduce stress and social isolation, build positive coping skills, change negative thinking, and learn new approaches to self-care. Studies show that participants of the program show decreased stress, depression, and anxiety, along with improvement in coping, positive thinking, and life satisfaction.

For more information, call 734.998.2205, or go to: homefrontstrong@umich.edu. On Facebook: HomeFront Strong.