MOVING FORWARD

I’ve been writing blogs here now for several years, and as thing progress, I find it necessary for me to progress too! I will be moving to a new blogging site now. If you’d like to follow me, and I hope you will, you can find me by going to:
http://www.dnlakeshore.org. Scroll to the bottom of the website and you’ll see a list of services. “Blog” is listed, and if you click on it, you’ll find me!

I appreciate your input and your loyalty over the years. As I have grown through my PTSD, and in my desire to learn about emergency preparedness planning, I’ve been blessed by your participation either as a reader, or with your words of wisdom too. Thank you for making this experience worthwhile for me. I hope to see you at the new site!

Chris

FACING THE DARKNESS

I have, at various times in my life, been overcome by the “black dog” of depression. I guess most people face times when they just feel trapped and unable to move forward, but this is even deeper than that. It’s the darkness that falls on you like a weight and leaves you wondering if you can even stand up under the pressure it creates. During one of my worst bouts, I decided I needed more help than I could get from family, faith, and friends, and I went to the local Community Mental Health for help. I’ve never regretted that decision.

I told my therapist that I felt like a black cloud was following me, and that I was always waiting for something else to go wrong. For the first time, someone explained to me that I wasn’t “crazy,” I had PTSD.

I spent several months in therapy confronting the demons in my mind. Then I finally began to climb out of the hole I’d been living in and could finally feel the sun again. Since then, I’ve have not had to return for more therapy, but it has helped just knowing that it was there if I needed it. I’ve learned many tricks for “bumping” myself off the stuck position so I can move forward again: art therapy is one of my life-savers. I also use music therapy, prayer, and talking to a special, non-judgmental friend. I’m fortunate to have these tools available to me. They’re available to you too, if you need them.

KNOWING WHEN YOU’RE STRESSED

Stress, even good stress, can take quite a toll on us. It is helpful to learn to recognize the signs that you are becoming overstressed so you can take steps to alleviate it.

Recognizing the signs you are feeling too much stress can require some self-monitoring. Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • Tapping your foot repeatedly
  • Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. This may occur most often in your sleep, but you will often feel the results in the morning when you wake with a sore jaw.
  • Feeling anxious, nervous, helpless or irritable.
  • Frequent accidents (we often rush too much when we are stressed).
  • Forgetting things you usually don’t forget.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Fatigue and exhaustion.

When you realize you’re feeling stressed, try to figure out what’s causing it.  This is a good time to use your relaxation methods to relax.

If you know what’s causing your stress, that’s a great first step to dealing with it. You can begin to work on solving the problem before things get out of control. Remember, nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine can make the situation worse, so try to avoid them.

Use the techniques that work best for you; exercises, meditation, music, etc. If you find you remain stressed to the max, consider contacting a therapist or perhaps your spiritual advisor. Sharing the problem can often give you a better perspective on it or how to deal with it.

 

RELAXATION AND STRESS REDUCTION

One thing we can do in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, is remember to relax. As silly as that might sound, too often we allow ourselves to get wound up by listening to all the hype in the media (indeed, it’s difficult to escape these days) until we reach the point we are operating on autopilot and in a state of almost constant anxiety. It’s time to take charge again and chill out!

Indulging in a little mind-time can be quite rejuvenating. Relaxing doesn’t have to be a big production, although there is room for more complicated techniques too. But, consider taking a few minutes each day to try one or more of these methods of relaxation:

  • Take a hot, soaking bath. Throw in a handful of bath salts, light a candle and turn out the lights. Maybe even add some soft music.
  • Read a good book, one that gets you right into the plot and right out of your head!
  • Play your favorite music. Sing along, and crank it up!
  • Go for a walk in the woods. Not necessarily a power walk, but taking the time to notice the sounds, smells and beauty of your surroundings.
  • Visit the local beach. Yes, take care to adhere to social distancing recommendations, but there is something about watching the water that is relaxing and compelling at the same time.
  • Play with or cuddle your pet. Contact with the pets we love can lower blood pressure and be heart healthy for us.
  • Indulge in your favorite craft, be it wood-working, sewing, painting, etc.

There are many other ways to relax. Not all will work for everyone. Not all will work instantly. Sometimes it takes 10-12 repetitions before you start to develop a habit and the activity becomes something enjoyable. Try different methods until you find one or more that work for you, then don’t feel guilty for taking some time for yourself.

DISORDER OR INJURY?

I’ve seen several programs on television recently that have included a character that was suffering with PTSD.  In one episode, the main character said it should not be called PTSD because it is not a disorder, instead, it is an injury.  PTSD occurs because you have witnessed an atrocity.  It is caused by an injury…an injury to the psyche.  It is also a disorder because the injury causes actual physical damage in the brain, resulting in how chemical signals are processed.  It is a wound in the psyche and therefore requires healing to take place in the psyche, not just the physical body.

I may not be saying this well, but I believe it is why PTSD is so difficult to heal.  How do we heal a psychological wound that has physical manifestations?  I believe the answer is that we must resort to healing modalities that result in psychological healing.  Prayer, meditation, and talk therapies are perhaps the most powerful methods, those that put us in touch with our psychological side.  Perhaps that is also why the things that are esthetically appealing also seem to help us heal.  Things like walking in the woods, or stopping to appreciate how beautiful the flowers are in springtime, or sitting by the river watching the water.  All of it touches a place inside us that has suffered a significant wound.

Does it matter whether PTSD is a disorder or an injury?  No, what matters is that we seek until we find those things that put back into our spirits what has been damaged and torn away. Only then will we begin to heal.

MAKING GOOD DECISIONS

I’ve been working on finding a way to make better decisions, and I’m having some luck working with the “Pros and Cons” method.  It simply means making a list of both the good points and the bad things about what you are considering.  While it sounds quite simplistic, it really has helped me to think through the possible consequences of a course of action, and understand that sometimes, while I may want something quite badly, now is not the time.

Making smart decisions is more than doing what you want.  It means looking at both sides of a course of action and weighing the consequences of each side.  It really isn’t an informed decision if you haven’t considered both sides of an issue.  If I want to make a smart choice, then I need to know what I’m going to be sacrificing in order to get what I want.  That way I can determine whether it’s worth it or not.

Simplistic, yes, working with this method is certainly that, but that doesn’t make it less effective.  I’ve had some hard choices to make this past couple of months, as I know you have too.  Looking at both sides of the issue has made me more confident of my choices…and that’s brought me some peace of mind.

 

 

 

THOUGHTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE

What you think affects the way you feel. We can’t separate our mind from our body; thoughts affect our health. By changing your thoughts then, you can change, at least to a degree, your health status. Let me give you an example.

Suppose you are very upset because you believe something bad is going to happen, such as having your car slide off the road in a winter storm. You fret over whether you should go out at all, and you realize you are physically uncomfortable too. You don’t feel good in a general way – your head may not ache, but you feel congested and tired. Your back hurts and you feel sore all over.

Then you go out on your trip – and you don’t slide off the road. In fact, the sun comes out, the snow melts off the road, and you realize you’re feeling better! Sound familiar? What we think affects how we feel. Therefore, how we think can have an impact on how we feel.

There are many ways to change our thoughts – prayer, meditation, relaxation exercises, and talk therapy, to name a few. Not all of them will work for everyone, and it may take some time and persistence for any of them to work. Don’t give up trying different methods though until you find what works for you!

FINDING THE SWEET SIDE

Everything and everyone seems to be focused on Covid-19 these days, and while I understand our need to stay updated and informed, I think there is a danger of forgetting there are also good things happening. While these may be the times that put pressure on all of us, many, many people are stepping up and reaching out to help each other. It’s heartening and it reestablishes my faith in humanity.

I have a friend who is extremely functionally disabled. He struggles to stay independent, working with multiple disabilities. His friends have stepped up and are bringing him food and dropping off his medications so he doesn’t have to go out (one of his disabilities is COPD). They are calling him almost daily so he doesn’t get lonesome, and they will even drive to his home, sit outside while he stands on the steps so they can visit while respecting the social distancing order. He’s making it through; without these friends, I don’t think he would manage.

Another person I contacted recently told me that a local church member had dropped off a basket of food for her. She was wondering how she was going to manage as she was so afraid of going to the grocery store.   She also has breathing difficulties and felt it was too dangerous to go outside her home. She was so thrilled because it seemed to her as if each item had been specifically hand-picked for her enjoyment. And, remember, this was not a church where she attended.

There are many more stories of people who might not have made it if someone hadn’t helped. Can you lend a hand today? Is there someone you can call, someone you can befriend who could use a little help? Try reaching out to someone in need today and find the sweet side of life again!

A TIME FOR CHANGE

While all of us shelter-in-place in an effort to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, many businesses and organizations are working to find ways to continue providing services. Most non-essential appointments have been cancelled, as well as most scheduled surgeries that can wait.

As a Veteran, you may find your appointment at the VA Med Center has also been cancelled. That can be a frightening prospect if you were seeking changes in your current treatment plan, or were expecting to have your prescriptions renewed. All is not lose, however. If you would like to try a teleconference or a video conference instead of a face-to-face meeting, you can contact the VA to arrange one by going to: https://www.va.gov/coronavirus/.

If you are looking for accurate information on what Veterans need to know about COVID-19, you can access the VA’s website for the answers by going to the Frequently Asked Questions page. And, if the pressure becomes unbearable, and you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 for assistance. You may also access the Crisis Line at: www.veteranscrisisline.net.

 

SEEKING THE GOOD

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.