Archive for » November, 2014 «

Finding the “New You”

Finding the “New You”

The most difficult part of PTSD, whether you are the one living with PTSD or the one standing beside them, is life changed. Even though you are still you so to speak, there are different ways life is lived now, different things you have to do or maintain in order to live life with or beside PTSD, and your life becomes doing whatever you have to in order to manage the symptoms and everyday life… so life can still exist.

In all of it you may at some point find yourself saying, “Who am I?”
That is a VERY real and truthful question! It also really weighs on you mentally and physically when you are at that point.

I know Craig and I both have faced that question, and in reality we are both still working on it.  It’s not a secret that our lives completely changed when PTSD and other disabilities became a huge part of both of our lives. But, PTSD is a diagnosis not a definition of who EITHER of us are!

When you spend your entire life forming and developing who you are, building your character, building your career, discovering what you love and what brings joy to your life of what makes you, you, then in a matter of one (or more) trauma(s) life changed, everything changed… You in a way lose who you are. With that you become lost within yourself and life, so to speak. In reality, it’s also one of the many reasons people give up on themselves.

Many people will have limitations now. It does not matter if PTSD is on the milder side or to the extent of severe, PTSD still effects how you have to live your life, what you can do or cannot do, and a huge part of you and your energy does go towards managing the symptoms and trying to be the best you can be. In that, sooner or later that same question can come to light, “Who am I?” or even “What can I do now?” because things have changed.

The most difficult part in this… letting go of who you were and finding the new you now. I do not know of anyone that wants to let go of the good parts of their past. I mean reality here, those were good things and the things or who you are that you worked your tail off to create. But at times, there are parts of who you were in the past that no matter what you want, what you try to hold onto, no matter how hard you try, those things are going to be difficult if not impossible to hang onto.

When this happens it can cause so much discontent within yourself, how you view yourself, and even how you are in life now. You may start viewing yourself as a failure or fear you will fail at something new, feel that you let others or yourself down, and the guilt that comes with it… it can be unbearable! Those “what if’s” of PTSD are going to be front and center. When these things weigh in on you, the reality is they are going to hold you back from finding who you are or can be now, as well as what in reality you are capable of.

Taking that step forward, oh no it’s NOT going to be at all easy to do! Reality is, you may be starting from scratch! But I view it this way, if you could do that [whatever that was in the past], then can you even imagine what you can do now? It might be something completely different, it might contain parts of who you were or what you liked before, but you cannot dismiss whatever limitations are at hand now. It does not mean you cannot do anything! It means you just have to find your new you and what your life needs as a part of it, what you are good at, and what you enjoy now.

All fine and dandy right? NOT! How do you do that? Where do you even begin?

Think of it as an adventure. When you take an “adventure” you are going to have lots of trial and error, somethings are going to work out and many may not. You will discover things that you would have never dreamed you would have liked or enjoyed before, then other things you will be quick to discover “oh no way, that’s not for me or who I am”. You will come to roadblocks where you have to turn around and go a different direction. You may come to a mountain you have to scale and it’s a challenge. No matter what comes out of each thing or step you take, with an “adventure” you keep going, you face the challenges, and you keep looking and searching… it’s kind of in a way like a treasure hunt. But in this case the treasure you seek is MUCH greater in value than anything else in life, it’s the “New You”. You are creating and discovering who you are now.

Your “adventure” could include so many different things. We do have to stick to reality and that PTSD is a part of life, so your adventure can include simple things for the tough days, and more elaborate or challenging things for the days you know you have the energy for them. Pace yourself, there is not a rush, you want to find some sort of peace and joy in discovering your new you! You do not want to become overwhelmed, getting to that point will just cause you to become stuck.

So what are some examples?
(And we are talking about reality here, this goes for those with PTSD AS WELL AS the ones standing beside them)

– What kind of music do you like?

Sounds silly doesn’t it? It really is not! You would be shocked at how many people get into the habit of listening to what other people listen to and really do not know their own preference in music anymore. Flip through stations or online and listen to as many different types of music you can. Find which artist or band you like, and which type of music you like.

– Your appearance.

Here’s one that comes with a challenge! One of the largest life changing things that come with life with or beside PTSD is what you see when you look into a mirror. PTSD wears you out, you do not get as much or any good sleep, the negative changes in thoughts set in, you get use to being at home a lot, and the medications… oh the things they can cause, etc. All of those weigh on your self-esteem, and then it rolls over to your appearance. One of those vicious cycles form.

Look in that dreaded mirror. Make a list of things you want to change. Maybe you want a new hair style or color, maybe you want to shave more often, maybe you would like to lose some weight or tone up your body, maybe you notice you don’t wear makeup anymore, maybe it’s as something as simple as you use to wear jewelry and don’t wear it anymore. It could be anything!

Then take that list and use it to work from. When you work on your appearance, it does not matter if you are one that does not ever leave the house or not, you are doing it for YOU, what you see in that mirror, and how you feel about yourself.

– What do you like NOW?

Every single person needs something they enjoy in life! We also know that PTSD causes you to lose joy of things, so we have to work on finding something to fill that void. You may find with this one you have small parts of what you use to like that can play a part in this, or you might start from scratch.

Hobbies. They are the easiest way to find what you like. I will say though, through the trial and error stage of this, be cautious of the expense, some hobbies can become very pricey quickly! If it’s a hobby that does cost a lot but you want to try it, do some research to see how easy it will be to sell leftover materials if you discover it’s not the hobby for you.  If you can manage a class, look to see what local classes, small classes, or even private sessions are offered.

There’s another thing that is very important about finding a hobby you like… It MIGHT lead you to a new business or work that you can and want to do! And ENJOY doing!

– Getting out of the house.

A HUGE challenge for many with PTSD, and also those standing beside them. Home is your safe zone, your safety net, your place where you know you can retreat to. Which is awesome, but… it can become such a comfort zone that you do not challenge yourself to what is in reality outside those walls that you may enjoy or find you are able to go to.

If you know you cannot handle crowds, look up your local parks, nature trails, if you like animals check out local horse farms, rescues, or even shelters, etc. Many places offer private tours, need volunteers, or are places where there are not a lot of people around. Take a drive through the country. Nature can be good for PTSD, and you might find that special spot not far from home that you can visit. It also gives you exercise and outside time which is good for you. Sunshine, get it when you can. It’s a known fact that many with PTSD lack Vitamin D, something you need to help maintain your health. You can also get one of those extra “motions” in with this one (what we talked about yesterday), pack a picnic lunch or take a walk together… you might just make a special someone in your life very happy. Now that can be a two for one deal!

Some of the most relaxing, peaceful places for PTSD, are the ones that you find and are not well known by the public.  Take an adventure outing.

– Watch different types of movies.

Life with PTSD can cause you to lose your “character” so to speak. You may not realize or know now what makes you laugh, chuckle, or even smile. You may have those numb feelings that are hard to break through. You would be shocked at what good things you can discover about yourself from watching different types of movies. (Just be cautious of movies that contain triggers ) Then you can take those funny, smiles, or heartfelt things over to real life. Maybe you discover you like comedy and humor, maybe you find yourself sunk into a romance, maybe you find you have an interest in seeing if you can play an instrument, or you find you have a keen love or enjoyment for animals. It’s all about using a different way to find what you enjoy or may enjoy in real life. I would say stay clear of the fairy tale stories for this “finding the new you” purpose though, you want to head towards reality in life, not away from it lol. 

Okay, those are a few of many examples but you get my point.

Just because PTSD became a part of life, does not mean you do not exist anymore! Whether you are the one with PTSD or the one standing beside them, it’s important to find your “new you”, your individuality, and discover what you like, enjoy in life. And it sure makes life with or beside PTSD much easier! Your old you may be gone, or there may be little parts of it still remaining, either or, life did not end just because PTSD became a huge part of it… it just changed. And with that you changed too. 😉

“PTSD is a diagnosis, but not a definition of who you really are.”

YOU are still a human being, you ARE still important, and YOU can find your new you in this life with or beside PTSD…

Today’s challenge 😉 Start finding something, whether it’s great or tiny, that is a part of your “new you”.

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD

PTSD can sure put one’s self-esteem in the gutter!

PTSD can sure put one’s self-esteem in the gutter!

You know, for those with PTSD it’s hard enough managing the symptoms that PTSD brings… The re-experiencing symptoms of nightmares/terrors, flashbacks, and frightening thoughts. The hyperarousal, being easily startled, feeling on edge, and frustration and/or anger. The avoidance, of places, others, anything that is a reminder of their trauma experience, the numbing feelings, guilt, depression, or worry, the loss of interest in things one use to enjoy, the disconnect from loved ones. The anxiety and what if’s it causes. The negative changes in views of one’s self, others, or even the world. Many experience dissociative symptoms, and there’s just so much more that can also be experienced with PTSD.

That is a lot! Add all of that together and battling everything that comes day in and day out, it can really put one’s self-esteem in the gutter! It can make one feel like they can’t do anything right, they may view themselves as a burden, broken, damaged goods. One may start viewing themselves as they are not worth anything, that they are not needed, not wanted, and may at times even feel that others are better off without them.

PTSD in a way blocks, or “masks” as I always say it, them from seeing the true self they are!

Let’s say for conversation sake, I had one wish that would be granted, and that one wish could NOT be PTSD and it’s symptoms not existing… sorry that one is not an option. I would use my wish to grant everyone with PTSD the chance to see themselves through my eyes!

You know, this is what you would see…

You would see yourself as someone who is special, yep even with PTSD.

You would see that when you try, the positive things, words, and actions that DO come from that trying.

You would see yes, a person that gets worn out at times but also a person that knows how to keep going, battling, never giving up, and figuring things and this life out.

You would see the unique characteristics of your own individual that makes you important, special, unique, loved… the things that make you, you.

You would see the accomplishments you have and can make.

You would see that even through PTSD you can love, you can care, and be close to others… even if it’s only from time to time or does not feel constant.

You would see a person that is loved by others, yep even with PTSD.

You would see a person that is and can be beautiful on the outside but also within.

You would see a person who in reality is very strong, intelligent, and well worth the fight.

You would see and feel things so deep within the heart that it would take your breath away.

You would see things and feelings so deep that you would question, “Is that really who I am, what you see in me?” My answer would be, “YES! That is what I see!”

Craig and I were talking last night, and I made the comment that “I wish I could bottle my views of him and the positive things I see in him, as well as what comes from him when he tries. Then him drink and fill himself with what I see.” Figure of speech of course, but you get my point. If I could record every moment that I see him trying and play it back to him, I am pretty sure he would ask who that person is… because he does not see himself the way I see him and the things I see and know he can do or be like. I wish he could use what I see, to help his self-esteem. If he could do that, WOW, there would be no self-esteem issues at all! But, the reality is PTSD masks those views of himself… with it’s negative changes in views and thoughts, and guilt.

The reality is, Craig’s not the only one that struggles with that. It is a battle that every single person who has PTSD battles, or has at some point.

The symptoms are not going away. PTSD is not going away. Life changed. Reality. But, the reality also is YOU ARE STILL YOU! Even if you can’t see it, can’t feel it at the moment, even if your true you is buried deep inside… PTSD is only masking who you really are.

One thing that seems to be very common is with the numb feelings and negative thoughts that PTSD does bring, it can make one feel like life is not real, or when or what you try is “faking” it. Like you are just gliding through the motions. It can also cause you to stop trying because you feel like it’s not getting you anywhere.

Craig and I talked about that last night also. You know what, here’s how I view and see that… It is OKAY if it feels like it’s fake. It will probably feel that way because that is what PTSD causes. I understand PTSD, I understand what it causes. But even if it feels fake, it does not mean it will always feel that way with everything, and to feel that, you are going through some type of motions.

I asked Craig last night, and told him to be completely honest, don’t just give me the answers you think I want to hear. “Do you honestly love me?” Of course he looked at me like I was crazy and it was a trick question lol. His answer was, “YES!” Then I asked, “Do you honestly care about me and how I feel?” Again his answer was, “YES!” I then said, “Were those hard to answer?” He said, “No!” You know what, right there is a start. I was not crazy and those were not trick questions, it was a way of me getting him to realize that even with what PTSD causes, he does still have feelings and he does care about me and how I feel. And he can use that.

Every single person knows their spouse/partner (or even family member or friend) better than anyone else. You would not be with them or around them if you didn’t, PTSD or not and either person. You know what they like, you know their quirks, you know their deepest darkest and lightest feelings, you know how they are going to respond to things, you can probably finish their sentences for them. If you are unsure where motions start, right there is a good guide to take that first step. What is something they like, what makes them happy? You do not have to overwhelm yourself or smother anyone… oh please no smothering… start with something simple.

PTSD loves to make steps seem difficult, it loves to challenge you, but if you think about the simple things, focus on them, the things you know so well, there are some pretty simple motions you can start with. And even though each person has to find their own self-esteem, you can still use each other to help you find it also. You can build each other up instead of allowing PTSD to tear each other down.

When you go through the motions, that means you are trying, and that means more than you could ever imagine! It means you are making the effort NOT to stay stuck. Reality also is that you are probably taking steps that are positive and PTSD is just not allowing you to see them. You have to start somewhere, even if that somewhere feels odd or fake, it’s a start. And… come on you know I’m going to say it… “Motions lead to Emotions” and that has been proven to be the most valuable and honest statement we have ever been told pertaining to life with or beside PTSD.

And it is not only about relationships, it’s about anything that life actually holds. I used the love and caring questions in our relationship as an example, because it shows and I know that beneath everything that comes with and from PTSD, there is still a positive there, and that positive can outweigh what PTSD causes and motions can build from it.

I also know as a spouse, the reality is I can’t make my husband see what I see. I can be honest with him, I can tell him what I see, how I view him, the positive things I still see in him and from him, even through the worst days of PTSD. Then the rest is up to him. All I can do is hope and put all of my heart and effort into it, that somehow, someway, he will choose to accept my views, and use them to break through what the negative of PTSD brings and causes. And I know for a fact, it has been proven, that he can do that… and you know what, the reality is so can each of you. 

So… now don’t run for the hills on this one.  I promise it does not have to be difficult or overwhelming. But I want to give you a challenge, and kind of sort of really hope you will choose to accept it or even part of it.  If you absolutely cannot do it today because it’s just one of those really bad days, and you try but can’t, come back to it another day… that’s okay! And this is to the ones with PTSD, their spouse/partner, mom/dad, a friend, all of you really no matter what the relationship is.

I want you to really think, focus on, and find ONE thing today that you can use as a “motion”, and do it. And I want you to share ONE positive view you have of your loved one or friend, with them. And if you have a positive view shared with you, no matter what you think or feel about yourself or them, I want you to focus on what they are saying to you, and accept it as it is the honest truth. In a way, view yourself through their positive view of you. 

I get asked all of the time, “How do I get my self-esteem back when PTSD makes me feel the way I do?” asked from both sides of the fence of PTSD. Whether it’s as part of a relationship or just something in everyday life, you have to start somewhere, and I hope this that I have said here will help you find a start.

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Nope 😉 no way we were getting through Thanksgiving day without me getting a smile and a kissy pic out of Craig! And of course his favorite place… in the kitchen lol.  We made it to my parents for a few hours to eat and to see the family. YES! Mission accomplished. 

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PTSD and Building a Stronger Relationship: Part 4 PTSD and the “Roommate” feelings.

PTSD and Building a Stronger Relationship: Part 4
PTSD and the “Roommate” feelings.

After receiving so many comments a few days ago regarding people feeling like roommates to their partners, I felt we needed to talk about this. It is a VERY real feeling that can come or exist when PTSD is a part of a relationship.

PTSD and the symptoms that it brings…feeling of distance, the feeling of alone, the avoidance, the numbness, the negative changes in views of one’s self, others, or the world in general… can be really tough at times, and very real. Those things are real even when two people know they love each other, and are sitting in the same room together or together all of the time. These are symptoms that do effect both people in some way.

Sometimes you have to put your foot down and say this isn’t us and take that time to just be with each other to try to find even a small part of what PTSD snatches away from you. Anyone that states love, closeness, feelings and emotions should not be “forced” but should just happen… has never lived with PTSD in their lives. It takes a lot of extra time and effort to hold a relationship together when PTSD is a part of it. And the sooner those who have PTSD in their lives realize that, the better the outcome is going to be.

Relationships are not carried on a silver platter when PTSD is a part of life. It takes patience, communication, understanding, working together, and “going through the motions to find the emotions”. “ A relationship consists of much more than only love. It has to, because you have to learn how to break through what PTSD causes to the ones who have it, as well as what the effects of PTSD causes the partner/spouse.

That said a lot within itself, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Relationships are hard with PTSD being a part of them. It does not mean by any means that there can not be relationships or good ones, it just means you have to work extra hard at them, for them to work. You have to except that PTSD is a part of life now, and with that what use to be viewed as a “normal” relationship has changed.

Craig and I are no different than anyone else going through this. We are very lucky, in my opinion, that we had a strong relationship before PTSD became a huge part of our lives.

And I will get to that in a minute. But, I will be honest… sometimes the fact of knowing the person before PTSD became a part of life can also have it’s down side. I did know Craig before, I know what he was like, the things he loved in life, the funny character he was, how he could so easily make me laugh, how goofy he was, how he loved the spur of the moment let’s do this or let’s go there. I watched him excel through life with his head high, no fear in the world, and a person who would take on the world without thinking twice about doing so. He would go out of his way to help anyone. He loved life and everything he could possible experience in it.

He loved teaching our kids as well as others about airplanes through the EAA Young Eagles program that we were a part of. He loved flying, being outdoors, and he dearly loved his job as an air traffic controller with the military. He/We loved travelling and being able to see the country and meeting new people. He loved teasing me (in a good way) about my love for dogs and animals in general (which at times he still does  ). He loved family gatherings, loved having cookouts with friends, he loved going out and to large events, he just loved life to it’s fullest. All of the things he loved and person he was brought a larger sense to us and who we are as individuals as well as a couple. If you do not believe in the term soul mates, you should, because if there is any belief in that word, Craig and I are living proof of it.

I would be untruthful if I said I did not miss many of those things in him. He is right here but yet it seems like he is so far away much of the time. I do get to see a glimpse of him from time to time, and I hold onto it when it comes, but for the most part PTSD keeps the true him hidden, PTSD changed his life, and our lives. But I would not trade living life with him for the world!

I am very thankful for knowing Craig before PTSD, and being able to have the memories and have enjoyed that part of life with him. I would not change things at all and value every step of life we have experienced together, and will continue to. But at the same time, I see the changes PTSD has caused. I love Craig with every ounce of my being, and I love him as he is now and accept that our path has changed, and I sure don’t hold any of it against him, none of this is his fault, and I do hate seeing the guilt he carries caused by PTSD.

But it doesn’t take away the fact and feelings of missing who he was, the part of him I knew before PTSD. It is only normal to have those feelings from time to time, it’s part of being human and it’s a part of the grieving process that does come when life changes in such drastic ways and with that so does the person you know so well. They are real feelings, not meant to be hurtful in any way, but at times they do exist, for BOTH people.

I also know that that part of him is not gone, it’s still there, it’s who he truly is, it’s just masked by what happened to him and by PTSD. So knowing how he was before PTSD also helps me understand what we have to work towards, who he is, and through PTSD. It gives myself and him hope.

I also face the fact that I have changed. How could I not? It’s just a fact that comes with PTSD being a part of our life. My career changed, my/our dream life changed, my way of handling and viewing things changed, life has changed. I know I don’t laugh as much as I use to, even though I have learned to find humor in much more these days. I know some days it’s hard to find an extra smile. I know I am in a position that I have to handle things more seriously then I use to, there is a lot more to manage. I also know what it takes for me, myself, to maintain my own balance.

PTSD has changed me too. How could it not also change a spouse? I accept that though and still push to move forward each day and put more effort in making sure there is positive in our life. I know I have to find that smile and hold on to myself through this “different than it was” life, and I’m okay with that. I accept it and I never lose hope, I make the best of each day that comes. I would not have it any other way!

But not everyone has been in our exact shoes. Many relationships form after PTSD has become a part of life. You don’t know what they were like or who they really were. You accept them for the now. Which this is still life, and things can still change.

It’s okay to in a way grieve over the feeling of loss of who a person was, it’s okay to miss them or who you were, and it’s okay to wonder who they were or what they were like before you met them or before PTSD became a part of life. You own those feelings and they are very real. But you cannot get stuck in the grieving process, or it will bring BOTH of you down and that distance between you will become greater.

And to the ones who suffer from PTSD, please do not pull away further or leave because your partner may go through this from time to time. I know it can effect you greatly. I know it causes hurt because you do not want them feeling these things. But it’s also a process to move forward and to a better future. When this happens take every strength you have and hold on to them, it’s really what they need so they can move past this.

You as the one feeling the loss or distance, either person, cannot stay stuck dwelling on it. Own it, feel it, go through the emotions that come with it, then use it to move forward and make things better for both of you.

And don’t get me wrong here, it’s not only the ones living beside PTSD that feel this way. These are very real feeling for the one with PTSD as well! They feel the loss, the distance, etc. and it weighs on them greatly. You have to work through these feelings and also guilt they may bring together!

I have had many people ask me which is easier, knowing them before PTSD or not? I can’t answer that. It’s really a catch 22. There are good and bad with both, like with anything else in life. But I do know it’s what you do today that will make a difference. And accepting PTSD is where you start.

PTSD comes with so many things. The flat-line effect or roommate feeling is very real. And it’s not just the one with PTSD that can experience this, the partner can too. It’s where you feel numb, feel disconnected from others, when you know you love but can’t find the feeling to go with it. It’s that feeling of being there but yet it doesn’t seem real, it just seems distant… you are just there. Things get so wrapped up in trying to get better, trying to find and manage a new normal, that the real life right in front of you gets put to the side. Then you add in other PTSD symptoms and effects, avoidance, anxiety, the what if’s, the worry etc. it all just added to it… from both sides.

The closeness becomes distant, the intimacy energy shifts to battling symptoms and life or each other which trust me that part can and needs to change, the negatives from changes form walls between two people, and the next thing you know, the two people who knew each other better than anyone else, start feeling like roommates.

It’s so easy for relationships to get sidetracked when PTSD is a part of the relationship. There is so much involved in helping yourself or the other person, then finances, work, children/grandchildren, then throw life itself into the mix, relationships are where the suffering occurs.

This is when you have to plant your feet in concrete, as Craig and I say it. You have to take a time out to focus on you as a couple. Even with everything in life being thrown at you and all of the symptoms still there with PTSD, you can still maintain a good relationship. It’s not going to be easy, Craig and I both will tell you that. It comes with many feelings, emotions, and also lack of both. It is very easy to end up in that flat-line or roommate feeling of a relationship, where you are just there. You are both right there but the relationship feeling is lacking, and by either or both people, it’s more like a feeling you are roommates sharing a space in this world, than a couple.

So what do you do if you are sitting in that position right now?

“Motions lead to Emotions”

Those are the strongest words there are when it comes to a relationship that has PTSD as a part of it. Emotions are not going to form or come back if you don’t do anything to make them. Even if you are numb and feel nothing at all, don’t lose hope, don’t sit there stagnant and allow it to continue. It will only get worse if you don’t do something.

Follow through on motions, it could be a simple smile, wink, hug, holding pinky fingers, laying on the couch together to watch a movie, gently touching one’s face or kissing them on the forehead. Take a walk, even around the yard, sit and eat a meal together and talk about things you enjoy together or use to enjoy… not about the news or what’s going on with someone else… but about “us”. Leave a nice note or send a text or email, give a compliment, start exercising together, do coping skills together, learn meditation…

And for those that have never heard of tantra (no matter what religion or non-religious beliefs you hold), investigate it, try it, it might help bring a spark back to your relationship!  We thought a doctor was CRAZY when we were told to look into it, we were actually told to attend a class which NOPE we did not do! But being told what we were, we did look into it and let me tell you, just some basics of it brought a whole new and exciting spark to our relationship. (TMI, I know lol but intimacy and/or sex is a part many are missing in a PTSD relationship) And it can help step past, even if for only that moment, many of those things PTSD can cause for either person when it comes to the intimacy and/or sex part in a relationship.

Use your imagination!

There are so many things that can help get a relationship back on the right path or going in a better direction. And acknowledge when one does something for the other, a little acknowledgement can go along way for helping both of you. Use the motions, it sure can’t hurt any worse than doing nothing.

Relationships take a lot for the average couple, and relationships with PTSD take a lot more. They are work, they take a lot of extra effort, understanding, communication, working together to find solutions or what works best for the two of you. They are not just going to happen!

I know all of us go through a lot, but through all of it, don’t forget to add in the motions so you can find or restart the emotions to your relationship. It can make life a little if not a lot better. Don’t forget the “us” in life, make the time for each other. Don’t allow a flat-line or roommate feelings remain in your relationship, you as a couple and as individuals are worth more than that!

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD :FaceBook page

PTSD and Psychological Distress in Spouses/Partners

secondary traumatic stress compassion fatigue

PTSD and Psychological Distress in Spouses/Partners

I have had many questions come to me regarding the effects of PTSD on spouses/partners, and I have found that there are many that do not realize the depths of effects that can be experienced. I am hearing from many that have stated that family members or even their PTSD partner do not believe or understand that as a spouse/partner of one with PTSD, that there can be psychological distress similar in nature to PTSD itself, experienced by the spouse/partner.

**I will tell you now, this is going to be long because it IS extremely important! So PLEASE bear with me on the length.**

It is extremely important that we talk about this to get a better understanding. Just as one with PTSD needs positive support and understanding, so does the spouse/partner.

There are different types of psychological distress that a spouse/partner can experience. Not every spouse of one with PTSD will experience these the same way, but many may have or will at some point experience the following. It’s important to recognize them, so you can learn how to manage them, no different than one with PTSD learns how to manage their symptoms.

***Just to add my note in here… I’m not a doctor or in any medical field. I share things from our personal experiences and the knowledge we have learned living life with or beside PTSD and Depressive Disorder. I am using references for this write-up due to the importance of professional information and knowledge needed, they are listed at the bottom of this posting.***

So let’s start by going over different types of psychological distresses…

SECONDARY TRAUMATIC STRESS (STS)
(Commonly known as Secondary PTSD)

This is a term that many times is over used or incorrectly used. It is also very controversial to what it contains depending on who you speak to. So this is based on what I have personally been told as well as researched.

(We will say spouse for this example, however it could relate to anyone that is around the one with PTSD on a regular basis and/or at times medical professionals who treat those with PTSD).

This is when a person has been exposed to the “accounts of” the trauma of another person to the point that the spouse develops PTSD symptoms “based around their PTSD partner’s traumas”. In other words, the spouse did NOT experience the trauma themselves, but has been exposed to the trauma through communication/talk and form a visual of the trauma, causing the trauma of the one with PTSD to become a secondary trauma to the spouse.

The spouse takes on the trauma of their partner as if it were their own trauma. This type of secondary exposure can be a natural emotion and behavior response to helping one that has experienced a trauma and has PTSD. (This can be related to military or civilian PTSD even though some quotes are related to military findings.)

“Although STS/STSD connotes a specific set of symptoms that are linked to service members’/veterans’ symptoms, researchers often use general measures of distress or generically worded measures of PTSD symptoms to assess STS/STSD” (Excerpt: “Distress in Spouses of Service Members with Symptoms of Combat-Related PTSD: Secondary Traumatic Stress or General Psychological Distress?”, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

A spouse can experience symptoms nearly the same as the one with PTSD… intrusive thoughts/images, avoidance, psychological arousal, distressing emotions, and/or functional impairment.

To give a couple of examples to bring a better understanding:

– A spouse who has nightmares that are based around what their PTSD partner has told them of the PTSD partner’s trauma.

– A spouse who reacts/responds to triggers that would relate to the PTSD partner’s trauma.

COMPASSION FATIGUE (also known as Caregiver Burnout) Or VICARIOUS TRAUMA

(Here’s where terms get tricky. These are other terms commonly used by some for STS)

This is often referred to as “the cost of caring for others”. These are the ones who deeply care about others, and many times can relate to or have experienced a trauma of their own, and have empathy and understanding towards/for others. Many were taught from a young age to care for others or even animals before caring for themselves. Unfortunately to the point that it starts effecting ones own health mentally and physically.

They are the ones who are there day in and day out meeting the needs of others. Many caregivers or those in the medical field can develop an emotional or psychological unbalance themselves when caring for or helping one that has PTSD, while controlling your own reactions to what you are hearing or experiencing on a daily basis. This is where the term “walking on eggshells” we know so well applies. When compassion fatigue develops, it can lead from positive help/caring to turning into negative attitudes.

“Vicarious Trauma is what happens to your neurological (or cognitive), physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health when you listen to traumatic stories day after day or respond to traumatic situations while having to control your reaction.” (Excerpt: “What is Vicarious Trauma?”, Vicarious Trauma website)

The symptoms are a natural result of chronic stress that comes from caring for, being the one listening or lending an ear, and the environment related to the work/caring that one chooses to do on a daily basis. Which takes a negative toll on one if not managed correctly. Many who develop compassion fatigue are the ones that have not yet learned or taken the time to take care of themselves.

So what are the symptoms of Compassion Fatigue?

“Cynicism” is one of the major signs of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. This is VERY common in many that live life beside one with PTSD. (Now don’t hate me for this, it’s honestly something that comes with compassion fatigue) This is when one (caregiver/spouse) is sarcastic or negative towards others (others can include the one with PTSD, family, friends, co-workers, etc) or have negative attitudes towards others, rolls their eyes so to speak at others in disbelief, distrust, and only believe another person’s actions or motives are selfish and only to serve their own wants or needs. They may have a negative or bleak outlook on life or their future.
Now, to be fair here, one can also become this way BEFORE learning about, learning how to manage, or accepting PTSD.

Physical and Psychological Signs and Symptoms:

Exhaustion, Headaches or stress induced Migraines, Getting sick more often, Not sleeping, stress-induced Nausea, unexplained Fainting Spells, Anxiety, Depression, Gastro-intestinal symptoms, Avoidance of friends and family, Negative self image, Reduced ability to feel empathy and sympathy, having Resentment, Feeling Helpless, Lack of enjoying things they use to enjoy, develop Irrational Fears, Seem to “space out” otherwise known as dissociate, Experience intimacy issues, Hypersensitivity, Insensitivity, Feeling loss of hope.

Behavior Signs and Symptoms:

Increase drug or alcohol use, Missing work or appointments, Anger and irritability, Avoidance of people, Impaired ability to make decisions, Problems in personal relationships, Inability to offer or compromise of same level of care you use to offer.

PTSD OF THEIR OWN

This is one that cannot be dismissed. There are many couples where BOTH partners have experienced trauma, and BOTH have PTSD.

WOW! Is that an eye-opener or what! Spouses/Partners, even close family members, can experience some of the same or similar symptoms as those of PTSD, and some spouses may have PTSD of their own. So what do you do now?

Have a lot of patience with each other and learn how to work through everything that may be at hand TOGETHER! Spouses/Partners and family members can use the same types of therapies and coping skills as one with PTSD does. It only makes sense, if many symptoms that a spouse can experience is similar to those of PTSD symptoms, then the same ways to manage them can help both people.

To Spouses/Partners,

You also need to learn and recognize your limits. You know I would say it, “You have to take care of yourself in order to help or take care of another”! Please make and take the time to care for yourself. It will help you find and maintain a healthy balance so all of these things mentioned above do not develop OR will help decrease them. And listen to your PTSD partner! They know the signs of symptoms better than anyone!!! If they point out you are becoming snappy, negative, or not acting like yourself… there is a very good chance they are right. 

I am a spouse and caregiver myself, I know firsthand what we go through. It really is not the fault of your partner, it’s PTSD and what it causes. A lot of the things listed above, I too experienced at one point. I had to learn how to recognize when things were starting with me and learn how to manage them and take care of myself. By doing so it made huge changed in myself as well as myself as a spouse and caregiver. You can do the same! Do not dismiss when things start weighing on you, address them and get help when you need to! And do not be afraid to ask for help, you are human too! You are not going to be 100% perfect all of the time, the sooner you realize and accept that, the sooner things can start improving.

Those with PTSD,

Having PTSD is not easy by any means! The things is causes and the things you experience from it are beyond what anyone should have to experience. I know the negative changes in thoughts, numbness, GUILT, avoidance and emotional distance are huge parts of PTSD. BUT, you would be amazed at the positive things you too are able to do for others, especially your spouse!

Even through what PTSD brings, you are important and are needed as well. Your spouse/partner would not be standing beside you if you were not important to them. Talk to your spouse, listen to them, work together to figure out what works for the two of you. And you know what, let them know it’s okay to take a break and to take care of themselves too! It will be what is best for both of you as well as your family.

Many spouses will not take a break because they are too afraid of letting you down or not being there 24/7 for you, make sure they know it is okay to think of themselves too. Spouses have a tenancy to try to carry all of the weight themselves, it will not lead to any place good, and many may already be to that not so good point. PTSD is going to want that fight when this happens, try to keep in mind that a spouse may be experiencing things similar to what PTSD is causing you. Help them through it, help each other through it. And try to avoid that fight the best possible. You are still an important part of their life too, and you do have a voice and can help them when you see them stumble.

One important thing I want to share with you, trying to hide PTSD or trying to protect a spouse is pretty much impossible and can cause larger problems. Come on, your spouse is the one person who knows you the best and sees the changes or what PTSD causes whether you want to realize that or not. When the “protecting” of sorts stops and the learning how to work together starts, huge positive changes can come, a balance can come which in reality can help both of you.

Spouses are known for worrying, if you work on communicating it will relieve some of that worry. It is okay to share how you are feeling at the moment or things that are bothering you, it’s all a part of learning how to manage things together. They want to be and chose to be there with you, let them.

To the Family Members,

I cannot tell you enough how important your role is to BOTH the one with PTSD and their Spouse/Partner! You can be the one to offer positive support, if you choose to. With PTSD there are two sides to everything and PTSD does effect both sides. Please do not dismiss either of your loved ones that really need you!

Unfortunately, one of the largest things I hear is how a family member wants one person to leave the other. This brings so much extra stress to BOTH people trying to learn how to manage life with PTSD together. If they want to learn how to manage this life together, please allow them to do so. PTSD can be managed, and things can get better than they may be right now, but it takes time and learning how to do it. Ten years ago no one thought Craig and I would make it through what was happening to us, but look where we AND our family are today! It’s not what you may call or see as a normal life, but it’s our new normal, and we could not imagine our family not being together! Give them a chance to see if they can find their new normal. PLEASE offer positive support!

PTSD is not something to dismiss when one has it, neither is what a spouse goes through, trust me, it’s real for both sides of the fence! You can learn also. If you do not live with a family member who has PTSD, you may never truly understand what PTSD is like or causes, but that does not mean you can not try to understand or learn what they go through now, how to respond or react to situations, and offer them positive support of some type. Life changed when PTSD became a part of it, as a family member it changed for you to. Work together as a family. They BOTH need you!

I hope this “book”  I just wrote helps explain things a little better to those that did not understand how PTSD can in reality effect a spouse/partner also. Or what as a spouse you may not have realized yourself or wondered why you were experiencing feelings or changes.

And I will close with all of my heart attached…

“Make sure you make the time and take the time to take care of yourself.”

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD: Facebook page

References:
1. “Trauma Definitions”, lpac.ca
2. “Distress in Spouses of Service Members with Symptoms of Combat-Related PTSD: Secondary Traumatic Stress or General Psychological Distress?”, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
3. “What is compassion fatigue?”, compassionfatigue.org
4. “What is Vicarious Trauma?”, vicarioustrauma.com
5. “Signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma”, compassionfatigue.ca

November is “National Family Caregiver Month”…

November is “National Family Caregiver Month”…

 Thank You to ALL of the family caregivers for the love you offer and the job you do for your loved one! 

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD :Facebook page

A little puppy lovin’ “me time”

I was able to get a little puppy time in today. Nothing like puppies to add an extra smile to the day. 🙂 NO, these are not my pups, I’m just enjoying them when I get a chance to see them.

~Bec

A Spouse’s Story PTSD :Facebook Page