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PTSD vs Survivors Guilt

I want to touch on something today that many forget about or don’t even consider when it comes to one with PTSD.

PTSD vs Survivors Guilt

This is a topic that I have found effects many with PTSD. It is very apparent in the many Veterans I have spoken to or been in contact with, but does not effect only them, it stretches to anyone that has survived an episode where someone else didn’t.

The questions and statements brought up range widely…
-Why am I alive?
-What could I have done differently that could have saved them?
-Why am I the one that came back and they didn’t?
-I should have saved them.

The list is endless. The fact is, if you are hearing any of these things from a PTSD loved one, most likely you are not only dealing with PTSD but there may very well be survivors guilt there as well.

This is probably one of the most difficult things to cope with. Many Veterans ( I speak from the Veterans side since that is what Craig is, but it does go for anyone.) I know have found that helping others or helping other Veterans is a good way to cope with this. To feel useful, to unwrap some of the burden they feel to at least speak of it, they might do it because their doctor wants them to, and the most sincere… they know it might just save the next life. It’s in reality a form of survival. There are many that do not yet understand what PTSD brings and I know first hand that these very Veterans who shared their stories with me, as well as their guilt of the losses they saw or in some cases caused in the line of duty, brought a new understanding to me that I am very grateful for. Without them opening up the way they have done, it would have been a very difficult road to me understanding my own husband.

It goes back to a story I shared a little while back. Every one of the Veterans thanked me for listening, told me how much it helps them to be able to talk, but in reality they all helped me too! They are the ones I am thankful for. See, if they indeed weren’t the ones to survive, where would the next generations learn from? I believe that there is a reason for everything, I don’t know all of the answers to why lol because we sure don’t wish anything bad on anyone, but there’s a reason.

The ones who suffer from survivors guilt I have found are very hard on themselves. Almost like they are punishing themselves for surviving. And I can’t see through the computer but I bet there are a lot of heads shaking yes right now. My friends, don’t punish yourself, there’s no reason to. Without you and what you can bring to the rest of us, this world would be very incomplete! I know things happened that haunt you and your dreams, but you have a life to live that will change those of the future. I also know that there is nothing I can say that will change the way you feel, but I can say I am still proud of you and proud you are here today. You bring the rest of us wisdom, understanding, compassion, and hope.

To those of you who have a loved one which show the signs of survivors guilt, it’s not something to turn your back on or brush off. It’s real, it comes from real events, real feelings, and you have to make sure you make an extra effort to try to understand the best you can with not experiencing what they have and be there for them with extra love and understanding when these feelings surface. This is the time they will need you the most and also the time they might somewhat pull away. Be cautious of this. They need their space but they also need you! Especially during these times!


Comments from those who wrote in on this subject: (with permission given to share)

” Yes, I have not been able to enjoy a holiday or any special occasion without the guilt, thinking of those who never got the chance. I often think why did I make it!”

~John, PTSD Veteran

“Could not have said it better,Bec–you do have a way with words. I was one of three who survived an ambush, out of fourteen, and the only way I found to get over the guilt feelings was to go and contact the families of the fallen, and share what I could with them–the good times, character quirks, stories shared, etc. You know, just about every one of them invited me in, had me stay for dinner, or lunch, and seemed glad to hear about the final hours of their loved ones—it helped me—thanks for your understanding, and your sharing.”

~Larry, PTSD Veteran

PTSD and Memory…

~Journal March 19, 2011~

I must say, besides depression, memory issues must be one of the hardest things to handle with PTSD. You as the spouse/other know in your head things that happen, the way things happen, the time, place, conversation, or even acts that have happened or are happening. PTSD limits this to the person who has it. It is what we call “hit or miss” to what is remembered and is not. On some days the person might recall 90% of their day, on other days 10% if they are lucky! WOW, amazing numbers huh?

This is what leads to communication problems between people and relationships, problems at work, or even doing something that is simple to everyone else like going to the store.

PTSD can cause…you know what, Craig said I can use him directly as an example on here, which I am really trying hard not to, however this is one of his difficult tasks so I will here….

With Craig, again every case may be a little different, on almost a regular basis I have to remind him to do the things that we find simple such as brushing his teeth, taking a shower, picking up tools he left out, or the biggy… TAKE YOUR MEDS! PTSD really does effect everyday life, and not just for that person but for the people around that person as well. PTSD makes Craig feel like he is a burden on basically everyone. He is a VERY strong man with an “A” personality that has never taken well to others having to remind him of things. So this has been a huge adjustment for him. How’s he taking it? Day by day :). That’s what you have to do with this illness. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone in life, it doesn’t mean no one will love you! It means you have to have help which you might not have needed before.

As a spouse/other you have to stay strong. You have to hold your chin up and remember to smile. You have to make sure you stay on top of everything to keep your loved one functioning and not let them stay, as the doctors refer to it as “stuck”. Oh yes, that’s a nasty stage for another note.

When Craig forgets things you can “read” it on his face. It’s become almost my second nature to even know exactly what it is he is looking for lol. Laugh sometimes, it helps you both through it ;). If I’m not sure why he is frustrated or seems lost…signs of the memory issue, I directly ask him, “Did you lose something?”, “Can I help you find something?”, or other things I have found a way of saying to where he doesn’t feel like he can’t do anything for himself…you sure don’t want them feeling that way. 😉 When I can tell what it is, like for example he’s going outside, I know he always wears his hat and sunglasses. If they aren’t on the hooks that we have put in place for those items, I will walk around and see if I can locate them if I don’t already know where they are. Then I will say in passing, “oh by the way I saw your glasses and hat” in such and such location. He replies as “oh thanks babe” and he goes about his way outside.

Conversations. OH a HUGE one. We have tried the making notes, carrying note pads, recorders, emailing reminders, etc. Basically everything you can research and try to do to help. Then we, in our situation, find those things only work if he remembers he is using them or if he remembers any of it at all. So the memory is an everyday event, for lack of better words. To the spouse/other it is also a constant repeating yourself…you don’t really know what part they will contain in memory and what part they won’t. This can be a little frustrating to Craig then I have to simply remind him that I don’t know which part he recalls and which part he might not. This is done in a calm fashion so he doesn’t get irritated and can understand why I repeated myself. So in all reality, I repeat myself close to equal what Craig may repeat from his memory not functioning correctly…funny in a weird way I would say. Do not ever expect your PTSD loved one to remember everything you tell them, they normally won’t. Now, with Craig, his PTSD is military related, so he seems to recall most everything from before the “event” that happened to him. This is awesome, and probably one of the main reasons we are still together. People that didn’t know the “true him” before PTSD really have a hard time understanding the change in him. People that meet him now, well we tell them up front PTSD and educate them on it so they understand they can still be friends with Craig, just be prepared for him to tell you that ol’ ship story one or two times extra lol. Laugh or you will cry!…YES, throughout my writings on this subject you will see lol, rofl, hehe, haha, and many more. It’s not that I don’t respect what is happening, it’s that I respect that the person with PTSD IS still a person and sometimes if you lighten the subject with a smile it will make a lot of things easier.

So lack of knowing a conversation existed, to a person with PTSD leads to what?

Arguments, Frustration, Spouse frustration, Confussion, etc.

This is when you as a spouse/other have to keep a grip, which is hard to do at times. You have to re-explain what you talked about, then get your loved one to realize that this conversation actually took place. This can be a little heated on the PTSD part. As a spouse you sit there, only say what needs to be said, if you talk too much trying to explain yourself it might just cause further frustration. I find myself sitting in front of the door with keys in my pocket until the frustration lowers. Sit there long enough and it usually does. Then you can talk. AGAIN, no doctor here, but it works for us. Bedrooms or master bathrooms are great places away from everyone for these discussions ;).

See, there are a lot of different things that come with PTSD and this note on memory could be a mile long. Everything from conversations, to leaving things on that should be turned off, to forgetting directions,forgetting where you parked your car in a parking lot, again the list goes on.

I will continue to add to this note I’m sure when I think of things or other things happen. It’s been 8 years now that I have been living with Craig…and unknown to us at the beginning he was been battling PTSD…so there is a lot to write.  Everything makes sense now though, now it’s living through it and keeping that chin up 😉 PTSD is NOT the end of the world as one may feel. There is still life with it, it’s just taking the time as with anything else in life and learning how to live with it…rather it’s you or your loved one that has it 😉


I want to start this journal of mine by saying “Welcome” to everyone! My name is Rebecca also called “Becky or Bec” by my family and friends. This is my little part of the world where I can share what life is like living beside PTSD chronic, Depressive Disorder (formally diagnosed as Conversion Disorder), and other disabilities. I’m not a doctor or in any medical field, I’m “just” a spouse 😉 . No one ever expects life to turn out certain ways, especially when mental illnesses become a part of it, but my family is living proof that even with these illnesses involved life does NOT end. It takes learning, coping skills, educating, and adjusting …but life DOES still exist 😉

My husband served proudly for this country of red, white, and blue …and asked for nothing in return. The result…he suffers from these illnesses which effect his everyday life. You know what, he would do it all again for each and every one of us! I stand proud of him and always will. Together we chose to no longer remain in the shadows and silent. Instead, we do share our life story in hopes it will help another individual or family make it through another day and to even be able to carry a smile with it 🙂 NO ONE deserves to stand alone!

See, PTSD and other mental illnesses do not pick a nation, skin color, adult or child, they are not only military related, and do not choose an age. My belief is it does happen to what I call “the best of the best”, the strong ones. I have found that in the world of PTSD you will find the most understanding, compassionate, and caring people that would give you the shirt off their own back if they could. I find it sad that these very people are the ones judged and carrying the stigma that goes with mental illnesses/disorders. They didn’t ask for this to happen, just as a person fighting cancer or one whom has lost a leg did not ask for it, it just happens.

YOU being here and reading this is a huge step no matter where you stand on the subject. You might be the one suffering from it, the spouse/partner, the parent, the child, the relative, the friend, the one that is just curious, or even the one that does not believe it exists. Fact is, you are here and that means something to the world. TOGETHER each and every one of us CAN make it through life living with or beside PTSD… 🙂

I Welcome you to my story, our story… “A Spouse’s Story…PTSD”,