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Choosing a Service Dog (SD) candidate and Self-Training or Not

PTSD service dogs

Service Dogs for PTSD (or other disabilities): Part 2
Choosing a SD candidate and Self-Training or Not

Okay, I had MANY questions coming to me after my Alex and service dog write-up yesterday, which I felt calls for a Part 2. PLEASE understand that training was my profession/career for years before becoming a caregiver, so I do have the knowledge and years of experience needed for training and training service dogs (even though Alex is not one, by choice).

This write-up is only intended to help you to be aware of what is involved in choosing and training a dog with the goal of it becoming a service dog. I cannot tell anyone if self-training or use of a service dog is for them or not, that is something that only you can decide for yourself. I do ask that you be completely honest with yourself before making a decision. There is a lot involved in training and/or using a service dog, that man are unaware of.

In order to understand what is involved in having and using a service dog, and deciding if a service dog is even right for you, you HAVE to do a lot of research! Another thing that I will preach, is are you far enough along in your treatment and continuing treatment to use a service dog? This is very important to be honest with yourself about! A SD is not a cure all! You have to consider… can you control anger/frustration, will you be able to manage your symptoms well enough for the dog’s safety, will you be able to tolerate when a SD acts like a dog, will you be able to keep up the dog’s training after fully trained? Will you continue to dedicate yourself to that dog, as that dog is going to do for you? You are a TEAM when you use a service dog.

Using a service dog is a choice for the one with the disability to make (exception would be service dogs specifically trained for children or adults with disabilities which require a guardian, the guardian is responsible for the SD and works with the team). If a person with a disability does not want to use a service dog, please respect that decision! A spouse/partner cannot make that decision for them, however they do need to know they will at times be in situations to where they are needed to care for the SD, it happens. A service dog is your lifeline and takes dedication to be a team.

And the biggie… Have you tried everything else first to see if other options of treatment help before jumping straight to “I need a service dog”? I have personally seen some with PTSD get a service dog right up front when diagnosed and symptoms are high, the first thing they turn to, then once that person gets used to getting back out, learns coping skills, or other treatments help, that SD gets left at home. When this happens it is NOT a good situation for the SD! They are trained for the job and love to work. A service dog is literally with you 24/7! Are you ready for that responsibility and for the number of years that SD is capable of working and their lifespan?

Another thing I will state up front, a SD is an animal and unforeseen things happen, medical expenses, dogs do get old… Are you prepared for those things? The reason I want to address this up front, and many people don’t unfortunately, is because once you get used to using and having that SD with you all of the time, one unforeseen thing can cause you personally a mental setback if that SD can’t work any longer. I saw this personally with Craig! His first service dog had to be retired after less than two years working due to an unforeseen vision problem, and Craig hit rock bottom again when she had to retire at such an early age. That’s why Alex became a part of our family, and why I trained him, even though Craig has chosen since then not to use a service dog. I do personally feel and have seen the benefits of a service dog to Craig, however he is not ready to use one again and I have to respect that decision, it is a choice only he can make.

If you do not have, and make the time to research, then you really should not even consider self-training, not to sound harsh, just stating the facts. Learn the service dog laws (Federal and State), talk to other service dog teams, visit quality (a word you will hear me say A LOT!) organizations, talk to trainers, watch how quality service dogs actually work, see for yourself what goes into training, learn what expenses are involved in maintaining a service dogs health, and understand that you will at times have issues when out in public if you choose to use a service dog… you have to know how to “correctly” handle these situations. Outbursts over a service dog conflict, especially in businesses that are uneducated are NOT going to benefit you or other service dog teams.

There are many GREAT self-trainers out there. It will all depend on the time and effort you put into it, as well as the dog’s ability! Not every dog will be a service dog, just a fact. Many may make great emotional support dogs (which do NOT have public access rights) and many may make great pets. Be honest, if a dog is not a service dog please have respect for SD teams out there and don’t take it out into public as a service dog.

For those of you that are asking how to pick a suitable candidate (dog/puppy) to train as a service dog. Honestly, it takes experience, and even then not every dog will make it to full service dog work. If you are not experienced in choosing a dog, basic and advanced obedience training, task training (a task is a specifically trained command(s) to mitigate a disability), and not experienced in animal behavior, I HIGHLY recommend getting help from a professional if you choose to AND can honestly dedicate the time needed to self-train!

If you know your life has many interruptions that could interfere with the time the dog needs then you may want to look at professional trainers or find a suitable, quality, organization. Also know, when you self-train, you are putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Not all dogs make it to full service dog status, so keep in mind all of your hard work, time, and money (oh yes it costs money even with self-training) may leave you with a pet or having to decide if you would re-home the dog if it washes out of training, develops health issues which would prevent it from working, and you have to start over with a new candidate. I think it’s 1 in 10 dogs tested/chosen make it to full service dog “quality” work, the last I read.

First, what breed is suitable for YOU, your lifestyle, and family??? What size of breed will be needed for the tasks needed, as well as compared to your own body size… the reason I state this is if you are a tall or larger built person with PTSD‬, a smaller dog may very well draw more attention to you than what already will be. 😉 We learned that one with Craig’s now retired service dog Maya (who I used in the photo), she looked like a puppy compared to Craig even though she is not a small breed. You CANNOT pick a pup/dog because they are cute, pretty, have loving eyes gleaming at you, or you feel you need to save them! The activity level of the breed and breed characteristics you choose MUST suit your lifestyle or the lifestyle you want to get back to or get to, and the tasks that will be needed. It is also important that the dog be matched correctly to you including personality and willingness to work for you.

Then decide if you want to get a pup from a breeder or not, and if you want and have time for a puppy or younger dog. If you choose a pup or younger dog, I want to state, there are different stages that pups go through and it is important to know and understand those stages, so training can move forward with as little setbacks as possible. There is also a stage where the pup can very easily pick up on and mimic anxiety and other PTSD symptoms, maintaining balance and training is important so that does not happen. IF it does, you may need to seek professional help from an animal behaviorist to assist you in training.

There are pro’s and con’s to every age level of pup/dog. A young pup is my personal choice. However, young pups take MUCH more time, house training, etc. and the late night outings are usually not an issue with PTSD being a part of life because majority of us are up anyway. 😉 The older the dog, the more corrections in behavior you “may” find need to be done.

Now, as an example, Alex was 6 months old when we got him, even though I personally prefer an 8-10 week old pup, he tested beautifully, however 3 weeks into having him and everything going great, we discovered he had a fear of large chains. This was a fear that I had to work him through and correct, which he did recover from the fear. However this is a good example.

With shelter dogs, as much as I do love them and they have my heart, I’ve had many over the years and they were/are awesome, you have to be prepared for any behaviors, temperaments, quirks, etc that they may have developed or experienced and be prepared, have a plan, for anything that may come up. Now, a young pup may go through the same exact thing as they develop, they may form fears, behaviors, etc. They are animals not robots and things can happen. Being prepared on how to handle or know how to handle different behaviors which may develop is important.

There are testing guidelines out there for choosing a pup/dog, however if you are not familiar with them and animal behavior I HIGHLY advise having an experienced trainer (that has service dog knowledge) help you choose a puppy/dog, even if you choose to do the rest of the training yourself or only turn for professional help for task training. Again, do your research first before getting a pup/dog!

Testing a pup/dog includes a lot to look for/at, such as temperament, aggressive responses, desensitization level to other animals, sounds, vision, touch, objects, etc., startle response and recovery time, dog’s body language and what each action/stance/position actually means for THAT pup/dog, social interactions, degree of dominance/submission, ease of handling in different situations, level of focus, retrieval, and anything that would be needed for specific disability work. Emotional support, comfort, love, and “making you feel safe” are NOT tasks and do not qualify as such.

(Remember there is no slacking, it takes hundreds of hours to train a service dog, a good base time frame is 2 years of training. Then after becoming a service dog they will need reinforcement training to keep them up to date on skills and tasks.)

Expense of a Service Dog. Please do not think that just because you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, or are given a “free” puppy/dog, that there is going to be less of an expense. NO dog is free, and especially not a service dog. Again a service dog is a lifeline, with that comes maintaining their health and other things needed, including quality food and treats, vaccinations, health exams… such as eyes and hips, proper work and/or vehicle equipment if or what is needed, toys/training toys, poop bags and clean up kit/hip pack, classes (which I recommend doing), CGC certification… this is not required or not in all areas however I highly recommend it for all service dogs, lead and collar, water/food bowls and travel bowls, liability insurance (another thing I recommend, they are still a dog), some people get health insurance for routine or emergency medical expenses, flea control, heartworm preventative, grooming if you are unable to do it yourself (Want to see someone frown on seeing a service dog in public? Take an ungroomed one out and that’s what you will get along with a lot of rude comments), nails MUST stay trimmed/short… or it can be a safety hazard out in public for the dog, as the dog ages there may be a need for medications or special beds… you have to keep in mind dogs age, and many other things… but those give you a basic list of expenses.

Another question I was asked…
Can my pet dog I already have become a service dog?

Some dogs do have the ability to. Some are still at a young enough age to train, age is important to think about… how long will that dog once fully trained be actually capable of working before retiring IF they make it through training? And is the dog of age to train for what is needed for the job?

The other thing to consider is what amount of pet training has already been put into the dog and MASTERED? Let me define mastered… having to tell a dog multiple times before the dog responds is not a skill mastered. Sure, they are still dogs and will have bad days where they don’t respond every time, but overall they should respond when commanded. This is also for the safety of the dog, there are many situations you will come across and proper response can be urgent.

However, I personally frown on this option of using an existing pet dog, I will never say it can’t be done because it can be in some cases, but there is a lot to consider, let me explain why. A dog that is an awesome pet and great at home with you, may not be the same way out in public around many people, new places, sounds, sights, smells, elevators, buses, trains, planes, other animals, food, etc etc. Some dogs can train through this, many won’t. Many are already settled into the home environment and routine, changing that may be stressful on them, which may bring on new behaviors.

The other large things to consider are habits that have already formed at home. People food is a huge one, many people don’t think twice about feeding their pet dog from the table or allowing them to eat food that dropped on the floor. Service dogs cannot do that! Those are already formed habits that would have to be corrected. They MUST be well behaved out in public which includes not sniffing which includes other people, animals, or food, not picking things or food up unless commanded to, not focusing on a child, squirrel, etc… focus needs to be on the handler and tasks trained to help the handler, barking is considered disruptive unless it is a trained command for alert or get help and used correctly, not using the bathroom or marking in stores or non-designated areas, not pulling to the end of lead (that is considered not being in control of your dog)… a SD should be right with the handler unless commanded otherwise such as pulling or opening a door, and the list goes on.

So you may find a lot of time has to go into re-training to correct habits already formed if you choose to attempt training a pet dog you already have. It can be done in some cases with some dogs, however you will be putting in additional time correcting any unacceptable behaviors. So that is something to keep in mind as well.

Okay, I think I’m writing a book here. 😉 So let me close with this, quality service dogs are awesome! I support them 110% and then some, I have seen firsthand how they change lives for those with disabilities, as well as for the family, for the better. They are by all means worth every second of time, work, and money that goes into them… and even worth the wait time it takes to train one or wait for one to be trained for you. But they are not a rush to or quick decision to make, and they are not a cure all. They will be your partner, and your lifeline if you choose to use one and honestly need one. Please take the time to do the research, think about what you need, as well as what they need.

I hope this helps answer many of the questions that have come to me.

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

Service Dogs for PTSD (or other disabilities): Part 1

Service Dogs for PTSD (or other disabilities): Part 1

Okay, I’m breaking my own rules here, I am going to talk about Service Dogs for a moment! But first, I want to share something that is special to our family…

It was four years ago today that I made a trip to the local animal shelter to see this crazy, goofy looking, little pup that Craig insisted that I take a look at and test… that he saw online, to see if it would be a match to him, and capable of being trained for the job of his service dog. Sure enough, the pup tested wonderfully and was a good match to Craig. That day we named the silly pup “Alex”.

I trained Alex to mitigate Craig’s disabilities, put in the time… hundreds of hours, effort, and a lot of daily/nightly work including task training. Alex by all means could carry the title service dog, however he is NOT a service dog. Craig has chosen not to use a service dog (at least at this point), which is OKAY! Alex works for Craig at home and is a wonderful part of our family. I could not imagine our lives without him! I think the picture collage to this says it all. 😉 These are random photos from day one of Alex being with us to present time.

For those of you that do not know much about tasks or are just starting to learn, let me tell you about the photos. They include retrieving items (due to memory/cognitive issues), alerting to people or unusual sounds, working depression, nose/scent work… which he is trained to alert to migraines, he also does house searches, helps with getting one with PTSD‬ and/or depression‬ outside, grounding from nightmares… he is also trained to get me out of the bed when nightmares start if I’m not already awake, working anxiety and grounding from triggers, grounding from flashbacks and helping maintain focus. There is a list of other things he is trained as well. 😉 For a more complete list and my personal writings regarding service dogs, please visit the service dog section of my blog…
“My Journal: Service Dogs” A Spouse’s Story PTSD

So now that I’ve taken a moment to be so very thankful for Alex, let’s get to the service dog talk!

I do want to state up front, I do NOT like spam. 😉 So please do not post specific names, trainers, or organizations. I have found it’s better to keep SD talk in general.

There is one major thing that I have discovered when talking about service dogs… Many do not know or have not seen a “quality trained” service dog! There are many out there, however do you know what they look like, act like, and what they should be like? There unfortunately are many people that take their pets out into public as “service dogs” when they in reality are not or are not trained correctly for the job at hand. Which in return makes it extremely difficult for the true service dog teams.

So I thought, how can I show others what a true service dog looks like? How can I show the extensive hours of work that goes into them? What is a true service dog like out in public (I found a good video that shows the differences as well 😉 )? I mean come on, there are some awesome obedience dogs out there, why can’t they be a service dog? Because a service dog MUST be specifically trained tasks to mitigate a disability, and the handler must be disabled and need a service dog. Not every great pet or obedient, loving, dog will be able to complete to a full service dog working status, just a fact. Even though all dogs are awesome in their own ways and we love them, it does not mean they can all be service dogs.

So I set out on a mission… to find videos for you to watch, that show what quality is and tasks trained for different disabilities. Boy was that a serious mission, lol! Finding quality service dogs (or good examples of SDiT) at work, exercising tasks correctly, and not just people telling about their SD or advertising for someone… was a difficult task. But I found some. 🙂

Just to note: Myself, this page, and my website are in no way affiliated to any of the following people, trainers, or organizations. I have not personally seen these dogs in action or met their handlers, and have not visited any facilities which may be linked to the following videos. They are NOT in any specific order. The videos just show the quality of what I look for to be in a true service dog. 😉 that I wanted you to be able to see.

Tribute to an Assistance Dog

David and Saint skills“- Canines for Service

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks (pressure)“- Rebecca Potenberg

Block/Cover Training“- ServiceDog Vlog
… And let me tell you, this young lady has done a great job! So you may learn a lot from her other videos too. (please note this is a fully trained service dog which is being re-trained from wheelchair work to chutches, so learning a new position for this task)

Canines for Service Skills Demo“- Canines For Service

How to train a one way alert to service dogs (hearing and medical alert dogs)“- Donna Hill
…This is another great trainer to watch even if you are not self-training. By watching Donna’s videos, they give you a good idea of what is involved with training a service dog, as well as seeing the quality results.

Service Dogs and Public Etiquette” (Bad and Good etiquette examples)

So today as we enjoy AND appreciate Alex being such a huge part of our lives, and Craig’s life… even though he does NOT carry the title service dog, I hope those of you that have been curious and asking questions about service dogs enjoy the videos I found. 😉

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

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That dreaded comment that cuts the deepest for me… As a Caregiver.

That dreaded comment that cuts the deepest for me… 
As a Caregiver.

So… I’ve been up for awhile now, hours throughout the night actually, coffee already done for the day. I’ve been sitting here just thinking this morning. You know, even after so many years of needing to be a caregiver, the awareness that I provide to others, the personal things regarding our lives that Craig and I share in hopes of helping others, there are still those that I can do nothing but shake my head at. I won’t judge them, but I do hope to educate them.

As much as I would not wish this life on anyone… ever, at times the thought does cross my mind “If only you could spend a few days in either of our shoes.” (NO disrespect towards Craig or anyone else with disabilities intended by any means, with any of the following. I am writing this in hopes of giving others a little insight.) Sometimes I think that would be the only way for some people to understand what life is really like for us. Just come spend some time here and see for yourself, firsthand what our days and lives consist of. Sure the first few days one with PTSD and/or other disabilities may be able to wear a mask, put on a good front, but that mask does come off eventually and real life can be seen.

You know, my husband did not ask for his disabilities and sure not the combination of disabilities he has. I never dreamed that I would ever be in a caregiver role taking care of him, especially not at our ages. We were both working professionals. But it’s the hand in life we were dealt and we do the best we both, and each of us can to make it through each day. Craig will tell you in a heartbeat that I am the only reason he is still alive, and that’s by no means a pat on the back, no one should ever have to say that, but it is what this life brings.

It never fails, every year when the weather starts warming up and I mention I got outside (which I won’t stop mentioning), someone mentions that heart gouging comment “It must be nice to be able to do whatever you want to, whenever you want to, while the rest of us are working”.

I don’t get mad at that comment anymore, it’s simply just a person who does not understand our lives. But, that does not prevent it from cutting deep when it’s said.

The old saying “the grass is always greener on the other side”, well there you have it, we would love to be the ones ABLE to go to work every day. We would love to be the ones able to take a date night without PTSD‬ and all of the symptoms on constant alert or not making it even possible. We would love to be the ones able to have family gatherings and be able to remain at them the entire time, or throw parties, gatherings of friends, attend events or school functions anytime we wanted to, etc etc etc.

We try hard every single day, just to be able to make it to the next does take a lot, but those things other people in reality take for granted, have not been a part of our lives for a very, very long time… years. It it’s not because we have not tried, and we do continue to work towards those things being a part of life again.

The comment made directly at me really shows a lack of understanding. I am a full time caregiver. That is a 24/7 “job”, without the title to call it “employment”. It does not come with retirement benefits, it does not come with being able to set my own schedule or do my own thing whenever I want to. It does not even come with a regular time to sleep. But it does come with a demanding and rigorous routine of taking care of someone else so they can still exist and function in this world, to try to live at whatever level is possible.

Those that can work, your job relies on you to show up and do your job when you are scheduled to. When your work schedule for the day is done, you are free to do whatever you want to or what you as a family or friends do together, you can go where you want when you want to once your work day is done. As a caregiver, my “job” is another human being relying on me 24/7, and there is not a time clock to punch out on. My “job” does not stop just because the clock hits a certain hour or reached a 40 hour work week. My “job” as a caregiver is here, at home, around the clock. Another person’s life depends on it, on me.

Sure, I could continue working and not be the one taking care of my husband, it is a choice a family has to make per family based on what will be best, and there is a lot involved with making a decision of what is best. But when you weigh the pro’s and con’s what do you come up with? For me, to work away from home I would have to hire someone to come in and take care of him then when I got off work I would still be taking care of him until a hired caregiver came back for me to leave for work again. That would still leave me working around the clock, as well as additional expenses which cannot go dismissed. Or, my husband would have to be placed into a full time assisted living facility, what do you think that would cause him on top of what he already goes through with his disabilities?… He’s only 44 years old now and has a combination of disabilities. I have been taking care of him for 10 years, officially through a newer caregiver program for just over 3 years. At this point in time, a facility is not an option that would be in his best interest, and his doctors back that decision. He is best here at home in a familiar environment, and with his family taking care of him. And I have no issues with that, and am thankful I can be here for him.

But there’s another part to being a caregiver. In order to maintain that “job” of taking care of another person, you HAVE to take care of yourself also. If you don’t, you will become worn out, overwhelmed, start having health issues of your own, and you will eventually fail at being able to help that person who needs you and relies on you.

When I state “I got to soak up some sunshine today”, it is really heartbreaking at the number of people who view that in a negative way. That is approximately one hour, one hour, of my day that I get to myself in order to take care of myself in a way that is good for me, which in return is good for my husband because it helps me maintain my personal balance and health. It’s also an hour that I have to make sure that someone else is here for my husband, that knows how to take care of him while I’m outside for that one hour. That one simple hour comes with a lot more to get it than just walking out my back door and opening my lounge chair to enjoy the sunshine.

Several years back now, that hour was only 10 minutes per day, if I was lucky. I now get one hour per day, most days but not all, and one day per week or every other week “off” when someone else is here. (As a caregiver I am REQUIRED to take a minimum of 30 days per year of respite care/time, which I do.) That is a huge accomplishment to build up to when being a caregiver. And not all caregivers are at that level of “me time”, self-care time yet.

Now, imagine working a job that was 24/7, and the only break you got was 10 minutes per day. I guarantee you, you would not survive for very long, at least not without consequences. I can make that guarantee because I myself was there once and know exactly what it causes, even with my strong will, determined, hardheaded self I am lol, 10 minutes per day is not enough break time for anyone to survive a 24/7 “job”, and remain healthy.

I will take that a little further, why do you think many of these unseen disabilities are even so? I can tell you, because one pushed themselves so hard for so long through whatever they were faced with (including traumas for many), and kept on going, many were in positions where there was not a choice, they did what they had to do, and now many of them have unseen disabilities due to it all.

Those people making the “it must be nice” comments, should be happy for me when I take time to take care of myself, or for any other caregiver or person with disabilities that succeeds in doing things that many take for granted in everyday life. Those what seem to be simple things, are in reality large accomplishments, and also ways and things to take care of themselves.

I do not understand anyone, to be blunt about it, who is jealous of a person who is a caregiver and the life they live, or jealous of one who suffers with disabilities, all because one can’t work. Those who are jealous are simply uneducated to what this life really contains for caregivers, as well as those with disabilities.

Before making comments such as “It must be nice to… while the rest of us have to work”, consideration of what that person’s life actually consists of with or beside one with disabilities really needs to take place. I guarantee you they would rather be in your shoes but are making the best of this life they know how to.

Judging another person’s life, when you in reality don’t know what their life is like unless you are seeing it firsthand beside them 24/7, is just uncalled for, and can be damaging. Don’t do it, have a heart… you would want them to if it were you in their shoes.

I am proud and honored to have the ability to be my husband’s caregiver, to be able to provide him with the care he needs, and to live this life beside him. I do miss working, so does he, but I have NO regrets of the “job” I do now. Life just changed, for both of us.

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook page

PTSD and Disconnection From Others

PTSD and Disconnection From Others

You know, we live this life with or beside PTSD‬ and/or depression‬ day in and day out. It does become our new normal. What we do now, how we handle or manage things as well as symptoms, how we support each other and help each other. We learn the tricks of how to make it from one day to the next, and keep on making it.

Craig and I have been battling this life and forming a new normal for 11 years now. This morning while I was looking for one of my older articles for someone, I came across one that I wrote almost 2 years ago regarding PTSD and numbness. Unfortunately it made me realize that in reality Craig has become more disconnected, much more, than he was two years ago.

Disconnection is the one part of PTSD that has been a battle for so long and no matter what I try or come up with for him or us to try, it just does not seem to help him, or us. Every symptom with PTSD and depression that he and we battle, I have been able to find something, no matter how great or small, to help it be battled, but the disconnection? It’s the one that gives me a run for my money, so to speak. And I say that with no disrespect towards him, it’s just a part of the battle at hand that is real life.

I’m one that will not stop for anything to research, read, try new things, find new ways of doing things, I send Craig links to articles that I think may be of positive help to him and us, as a couple. Things to think about or that give different views that may help him battle what he feels (or doesn’t) and that may help in some small way. I try to enjoy each day we have together and just live in the now, and make the best of each day. I accept him for who he is and the disabilities he has.

I mean I love Craig. I will never give up on him or us. I’ll never stop researching, reading, and trying new things in the hopes that something helps. I will never stop trying to make the most of each day. But the disconnection that comes with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder makes things and life extremely difficult. It’s just a hard fact that comes with this life.

This life beside PTSD can be extremely lonely which in turn brings a lot of guilt to those with PTSD, they don’t want or mean for their spouse/partner to go through that or feel that way, they know or view it as it’s not fair, and in return it causes them to pull away even further. Another vicious circle in this life with PTSD and/or depression.

I was asked, “How do I keep my partner from being or feeling so disconnected from me? I know I’m loved, I’m told I’m loved, but it ends there. I know their disconnection from me and even others is really strong, I know PTSD causes this. What can I as the partner do to help?”

In that older article I wrote, there were two quotes that really hit me hard.

The first one was a quote from the movie “The Vow”, a true life story about a wife that has TBI, that Craig and I can really relate to due to the memory issues involved…

I wrote: The husband in the movie told his friends, “She fell in love with me once, so I won’t lose hope she will fall in love with me again.” -Quote from the movie “The Vow”

The second thing I wrote in that article that hit me was…

“Sometimes one with PTSD needs a guide so to speak through the numb feelings. Craig told me last week he needed help through the numbness, he’s not sure how to get through the numbness to feel the love he knows he has for me, how to find the motions or what they even are.”

(I’ll add the link to that full article at the end of this for anyone that would like to read it.)

The only way I know how to answer that difficult question that came to me is this…

Don’t lose hope, don’t stop trying, don’t stop showing your love for and to your PTSD partner. And make sure you are taking care of yourself through this life, that is one thing that you are capable of no matter what.

A spouse/partner is not a cure, you cannot make PTSD and Depression or their symptoms go away… so don’t put that on yourself. All you can do is be your best, be patient, supportive, learn, find new things to try, and do what you are capable of doing and be there for them. The rest is not up to you, one person can only do so much, not everything. There are many things one with PTSD and/or Depression can work on even with the symptoms they do experience, some things can change… at least to some level, one can at least give things a try to see what helps and what doesn’t. Other things may never change and there will have to come a point in time where you just accept this is the way they are now. And I cannot answer, which will be which or what will be what. Each person will be different and have different circumstances.

Disconnection and avoidance are very real life symptoms of PTSD, as well as depression. Too many are faced with having to let go or are let go of, the disconnection PTSD brings is normally a huge factor in that. PTSD and depression can cause life to feel or become very lonely, for both the one with PTSD as well as the one standing beside them. Don’t lose hope, don’t stop learning and trying new things, don’t stop believing in each other, and don’t lose that grip of each other’s hand. You, your partner, and your relationship are worth it, hang onto each other.

I myself will not lose the hope I hold onto, that Craig and I will someday have that connection again like we used to have between us. It was the most amazing feeling two people could experience together, full of love, passion, excitement, mental and physical closeness. It was a connection that people envied and were jealous of, they wanted what we had together. I will not give up on finding that personal connection again that we had, even some small part of it… even with PTSD and Depression being a part of our lives now.

As I am known for stating and believing,
“The battle is PTSD, not each other”

April 4, 2013: “PTSD vs Numbness

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Facebook Page

“Invisible Wounds” or “Unseen Disabilities”

“Invisible Wounds” or “Unseen Disabilities”

I have a really heavy heart about posting this, and had NO intention of doing so! I made it for a totally different purpose. But I’m posting it because Craig told me he wanted me to, and I am going to honor that request. He said that “people need to see and understand what invisible/unseen disabilities look like”, such as ‪#‎PTSD‬, Major Depressive Disorder, and with him chronic migraines, “and actually do to a person”. As Craig told me yesterday, “I have seen all of those photos so it’s not like I don’t know what has happened to me, they were me, my life, how I was before and is the reality of what I am like now.”

I made this collage of photos yesterday morning (without the writing on it, I added the writing for the purpose of this posting) to help show someone the differences that our family sees in Craig, the differences that Craig sees in himself and what he himself compares himself to on a daily basis.

People call mental health conditions “invisible wounds” or “unseen disabilities”, I beg to differ to a certain point. No, there are not any scars to see for many, but you can see the wounds, just look at the changes in a person that mental health conditions cause. Look at the change in personality, the symptoms that are present, the change in appearance, the change in their routine and what they can or can not honestly do now. To me, those are all visible signs, and for many they are drastic signs of what and how one is affected by “unseen” disabilities.

Craig is one that tries hard to be the person he was before these disabilities, he pushes everyday to be the best he can be now. He gets regular treatment, he’s on medications to help with symptoms, he uses coping skills, he pushes himself, and I am so very proud of him, he honestly tries! But even with all that he does and we do, these photos really show the real life differences in him. PTSD and ‪#‎depression‬ are not things that one can suck up or brush under a rug and just get over. Every day it takes a lot of effort to be the best possible, to push through each day, and to battle the symptoms that come with these disabilities.

The top and bottom rows of photos are of Craig just before his disabilities became severe during his service time (Craig’s disabilities just happen to be military related, but many that are non-military suffer from the same types of disabilities), the middle photo is of Craig yesterday.

No one can convince me that PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder are unseen.

(Craig I love you dearly and thank you for your strength in showing others what mental health conditions do cause, what can be seen. You are my rock, my soul, the other half of every heartbeat my heart takes… and no disability will ever change that! Love, Bec)

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : FaceBook page

Do you have a “care manual”?

I have been working on updating my “care manual” and it got me to thinking, I’m not sure it’s something I have ever written about in depth. But NEED to!

With being a caregiver, I have a small book that has a monthly calendar, daily notes calendar, notes area, a “daytimer” basically that I keep track of everything in regarding Craig’s health. my own, and schedules. It’s the easiest way to remember more then what the brain has room to hold at times. It also is helpful when someone else may come to help out. It helps life stay organized lol! 

I am curious to see how many others have one of these as well? Or is it anything you ever even thought of doing? BE HONEST! 

I thought I would share what mine contains AND why…

* Monthly Calendar

A given must have. The quick view of everything. It contains doctor appointments, respite dates, my respite care person’s schedule, special events, birthdays, anniversaries, school/child schedules, symptoms… yep I track migraines and symptoms when they are high, etc etc etc. Each color coded of course 

* Note section per day

This is where I document anything pertaining to health: changes, increases, decreases, new symptoms, how meds are or are not working, changes in meds, migraines, sleep patterns, nightmares, anything that will be of importance to remember or report to the doctors.

* Emergency Contacts

A list in order of people to contact in case of emergency AND/OR back up help is needed. Phone numbers and addresses, including any other contact information and how each person is related.

* Medication List AND Instructions

This may seem like a given, just read the bottle, right? WRONG! As one that manages or helps manage medications you learn so much more than only what the bottle or medication info. tells. To start, you know what meds are taken. Many people do lock meds up and a person coming in to help take care of someone may not know what meds are taken or need to be given. You learn how far apart each medication should be or what is to be taken together. You learn which meds need to be taken at what times. You learn how your loved one responds to meds, if food or fluids are needed with each or not. You learn how your loved one reacts to meds, like blood pressure meds and not getting up too quickly after taking them, or waking up after taking them. You learn what non-prescription meds can or cannot be taken with prescriptions. What meds cannot be taken at all and are not to be given. ETC ETC ETC

* Daily Schedule

From wake time to the moment their head lays back down on their pillow at bedtime, and throughout the night. Anything that is a part of the daily schedule so they can maintain some type of normal to their daily routine while/if someone else is helping out. This is VERY important when PTSD is a part of life!!!

* Daily Care Instructions

This is the HUGE one! If you were not able to be there to take care of or help your loved one, would someone else know what to do? It is very easy for a spouse/caregiver to get so use to everyday life helping another person, that it may slip your mind to what would happen if someone else had to step in for you.

Have you sat down and really written out step by step instructions for someone else to have if you cannot be there or during times that you may be sick or need extra help? From a point of view that a person coming knows nothing about what your loved one needs or experiences each day.

This can include:

– Each symptom and how to manage that symptom. The “what to do or how to handle” each symptom if it comes. Anxiety, Flashbacks, Triggers, Nightmares, Dissociative symptoms, Migraines, Memory, Anger, Frustration, “Fight or Flight”, etc etc etc… AND any physical conditions and detailed instructions.

How to ground a person is VERY important to include… a tip for this one, a speaker phone and a familiar voice on speed dial  If your loved one is not use to the person stepping in to help it can be very helpful to have that voice they are use to just a quick phone call away. Just make sure that person does understand what needs to be said to ground a loved one.

– Coping skills and medications which can be used, when to or not to use them.

– TV, Movies, Music, or News. Which are okay or not okay during different symptoms.

– Anything one may need help or assistance with doing.

– A list of things your loved one likes to do! VERY important! Hobbies, reading, card games, board games, walks, exercise, social media, anything they like to do.

– A list of “Don’t do” things or things that could trigger or increase symptoms.

– Habits. Leg shaking, nail biting, checking locks on doors and windows, pacing… Anything that would allow another person to understand that this is something that is normal for your loved one, so they don’t over react, say something out of line, etc. and so they have instructions on how to manage these or just let them be.

– Food and snacks. Likes and dislikes. When someone different comes in, so do their own likes and dislikes. You want to make sure your loved one maintains correct eating habits and having a list will be handy to help with this.

Okay, I could add examples forever. 😉 You get my point. Basically it needs to be documented in writing every step of a day and any/all information that could be helpful for if or when another person comes in to help out. Life does take those twists and turns at times and it’s always best to be prepared ahead of time for them. 

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : FaceBook

A Spouse’s Story PTSD : Website

Increased PTSD and Depression Symptoms… Month of August

I am seeing A LOT, as in MANY, spouses/partners and family members being caught off guard right now.

I’m seeing and hearing of and from MANY with PTSD that are having a very difficult time right now.


This is the time of year that many with PTSD may have symptoms that seem like they came out of nowhere. They may have increased symptoms from what is normally experienced. They may have seemed to being doing so much better but seemingly “all of a sudden” have taken a turn for the worse. Those with depression are also showing increased symptoms.

We are half way through the month of August… and September comes next. September is an anniversary month for MANY people around the world. It’s an anniversary month for military, civilians, law enforcement, paramedics/emt’s, doctors, nurses, 911 dispatchers, and many, many others… and maybe it’s the anniversary month for you or your loved one. The news and things going on around the world right now are also adding to it! Many are experiencing symptoms that are worse than normal for an anniversary time, it’s because of how many extra triggers are present right now.

This is the time of year that spouses/partners and family members have to give it everything they’ve got! PTSD symptoms are already on the rise. This is NORMAL! This is when spouses/partners and family members open their toolbox, and you get to using those tools!

I am hearing a lot of people say…

“He/She is so angry”
“He/She was doing so good but is now doing worse then before”
“He/She won’t call me back”
“He/She doesn’t want to be around me”
“He/She is being so nasty”
“He/She could care less about my feelings”
“He/She won’t do anything with me”
“He/She just sits around and does nothing”
“He/She is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”
“He/She keeps cancelling our plans”
“He/She said they want us to separate/divorce!”

Those are just a few comments of many, unfortunately.

If these or any of these are what one may be saying right now, and you feel like you have been caught off guard, there’s a simple answer to what this is. It’s PTSD… and a good chance an anniversary time approaching.

All of those things are cues! Please don’t down talk the one with PTSD, don’t get angry or upset at them. They did NOT ask for PTSD! It’s what happened to them!!! These are the times they need you the most. These are the times they need a POSITIVE support system. These are the times you have to remember that this life is not what others would call normal, it’s a life where you HAVE to accept, and I mean truly accept, that PTSD is a real part of life. They NEED you in order to get through the rough times (Even if they won’t say it or admit it!), and there are things YOU can do to help!

* Have Patience!

When you know symptoms are up, you have to have patience. Take a deep breath yourself and remember that the rough times will pass and that person you know so well is still there, PTSD is just masking the true them right now.

* Use what you have learned!

We talk all year long on learning what PTSD is, what the symptoms are, and finding what works for each person or how to respond to them. THIS is the time to use those things! DO NOT forget your toolbox!

* Personal Space

If they pull away, keep in mind it’s not because they don’t love or care about you! It’s because they DO care about you and majority of the time do not like others seeing what one may be going through during the rough times. PTSD does bring real life avoidance.

Do not take personal space as something personal against you, it’s just something that at times is needed in order for one to cope with themselves, their feelings, and their symptoms.

* Take care of yourself!

During high PTSD symptom times a spouse/partner or family member HAS to make sure they are taking care of themselves! You must do this ALL of the time but when symptoms increase you need to pay close attention that you do not slide on your own self care.

* Do not rely on someone else to make you happy.

This is the toughest, most difficult task for many spouses/partners. Sure everyone wants to be happy in and with their relationship, that’s a given to being with that person. But, you cannot rely on another human being to fulfill your entire cup of happiness! You need to do things that make you happy about and with yourself! Start a hobby, do something for yourself, take care of yourself, whatever it takes for you to find happiness within yourself.

Those with PTSD will NOT be able to fill your happy cup every single day. Please do not have those unreal expectations of them. They do need time to work on themselves, they are going to have rough days or time frames, and their own battle they fight each day. This is NOT them being selfish or self centered!!! It’s them trying to be the best they can be… and in reality, probably for YOU!

Enjoy the good days when you have them, and use them to bring you strength on the not so good days.

* Nasty comments or Comments out of their normal

It happens! PTSD causes anger, frustration, numbness, and more. Including the feeling that one may no longer be in love with someone, which may just simply be what PTSD is causing one to think. It comes from the numbness.

(If you are one with PTSD and experiencing that, refer to the “motions lead to emotions” I have spoken about, which can help. It was the best advice we were ever given! Thank you Dr. Dixit.)

Allow time for the symptoms to get back to a normal level before making harsh, life changing decisions. And PLEASE avoid ultimatums! Many times PTSD will see ultimatums as a challenge OR may be taken as a spouse/partner just does not care enough to stay. That may lead to trust issues. PLEASE avoid these if possible.

My personal question I always keep in mind, that has always helped and always right thus far… “Is this something he would say before PTSD or when symptoms are low?” If the answer is no, then you can pretty much guess PTSD and it’s symptoms were behind the comment, not the true person they are or the way they really feel.

* Communication

It really is your golden key. Even when PTSD symptoms are high, you can calmly find ways to communicate. Sometimes you may have to re-word things several times but that is okay! Sometimes you may have to wait to talk about something, that is okay! Sometimes you may have to limit what needs to be discussed, that’s okay too! Just keep in mind that when symptoms are high, too much talking can be like static noise. Focus is going to be more difficult for the one with PTSD, so do not over talk or add in a lot of unnecessary filling to conversations. Keep in mind the symptoms that are at hand.

For many with PTSD this is the time of year they may be trying to survive. Work with them, not against them through the rough times. So both of you can get back to living, over surviving.

DO NOT give up on yourself. You are better and stronger then PTSD is! 

A Spouse’s Story PTSD :FaceBook

A Spouse’s Story PTSD :Website

The unfortunate passing of Robin Williams…

I did not want to address this, but there is no choice.
Too many are struggling right now.

I was planning on letting this pass, a time for silence so to speak, out of respect for the family and friends, and to try to prevent any triggers or other symptoms from rising for those with PTSD and/or Depression, as well as other mental health conditions, but with as many as I am hearing from and of, I think and hope the family and friends would understand me writing this. 

I know that the news of Robin Williams passing has been a devastation for many. People idolize him for the person he was and the talents he shared with all of us.

I know the details of the news is extremely difficult for many. I know there are many comments being made that are way out of line, not everyone understands the struggles that do in reality come with mental health conditions. I do not think it has been taken into consideration what the details of his passing as well as some of the things being said, are doing to others who suffer from depression, as well as PTSD, and other mental health conditions.

Mr. Williams was a wonderful person, a real person, that struggled through things just as many others do. Even though I never had the opportunity to personally meet him, I know many of you have and this has hit you hard. He had a kind heart, he believed in our military and did what he could to be there for them and let them know they were not alone. He also had a heart for animals and helped out making sure animals had a fair chance at life. He helped many in his lifetime. I do not know much about him personally, but I do know that he touched my life and many lives through his role as an actor. As an actor, yes he was in the spot light and his talents were beyond magnificent. But, he was still a real person and that needs to be kept in mind.

We know that suicide is very real with depression, other mental health conditions, as well as with physical disabilities. Not everyone finds that path of surviving even though they work hard every day to make it to the next.

I had a comment come to me that I could not allow to pass. I realized I cannot remain silent, I have to say something.

I heard, “If someone as famous as Robin Williams resorted to suicide (allegedly based on news) , how am I, a nobody, who’s not rich or have unlimited access to things, suppose to make it?” Unfortunately, I have heard that many people are hearing this same type of comment from a loved one.

The only thing that comes from my heart that I can say, is MAYBE Mr. Williams did not have quite the same things in life as you have or there’s more to it than we are being told (NOT implying anything negative about his family, friends, or support system)… Each and every one of us that come together each day to make sure each other does make it to see tomorrow. A place where you can take that “mask” off and talk about real life as well as the struggles it brings, and find ways together to help each other. Maybe he felt like he had to wear that “mask” too often for too many. I really do not know, and none of us will ever know. Robin Williams will never be forgotten. 

What I do know is we have each other! We have the ability to share the good as well as the bad things that life with mental health conditions does bring. We have the ability to share those things with others who understand and may be facing the same struggles. We have the ability to openly talk about life. And, we have the ability to let others know they are not alone. There are many in this world that do suffer from some sort of mental illness or disorder.

When I call this page a “family”, I mean it. That is exactly what this little space on the internet is, it’s a loving and caring family that is world wide. It’s a place that stigma does not exist and we turn to each other and lean on each other.

YOU have something that not everyone with mental health conditions has found yet… others that can relate and do know what this life is like firsthand. Too many out there are still silent and trying to manage things on their own (not saying this is the case with Mr. Williams, just speaking in general), they need to know they don’t have to walk through this life alone.

Through the struggles that you may be having this week, PLEASE remember that you are NOT alone! PLEASE reach for help, use a crisis hotline number if you need someone to help you through this time. PLEASE contact your doctor. PLEASE use your support system and those that are there for you!

We all lost a wonderful person this week that has touched many of our lives in different wonderful ways. Let’s work together to make sure no more wonderful people are lost. YOU ARE IMPORTANT!!! And YOU ARE SOMEONE! Someone that does matter!

To those of you who do not understand mental health conditions, I hope you take the time to learn and learn what real life with these conditions are like, to the best as possible. People with mental illnesses or disorders really are not weak. They are the ones that struggle through each day to become a survivor, and work hard to make life the best it can be. YOU can help save a life, just simply by learning and helping reduce stigma, and by just simply being there for others.

Much love to each and every single one of you. And our thoughts go out to Mr. Williams family and all who personally knew him.

A Spouse’s Story PTSD :FaceBook

A Spouse’s Story PTSD :Website

Caregiver/Family Survival Guide… In other words, my “tool box”

Caregiver/Family Survival Guide… In other words, my “tool box” 😉

There are MANY things that caregivers, spouses, and family members can do for themselves. You know I’m going to say it again…

“You have to make sure you are taking care of yourself in order to take care of others.”

Too many are forgetting to use their “tool box”! I will preach this until it sinks in, you HAVE to make and take the time to take care of yourself. And if you don’t, well you might as well pull a seat up right next to PTSD and Depression because you are going to start experiencing some of the same symptoms or other symptoms of your own that are not positive to or for anyone… if you are not already there!

Many people get so stuck in their routine, the overwhelming things/symptoms that come, the hustle and bustle of every day, that they forget OR set to the side and ignore themselves.

When this happens YOU are not going to maintain a healthy balance, mentally or physically. YOU are going to be the one that has snappy tone with others… become angry or frustrated, you are the one that will become overwhelmed, you are the one that will experience anxiety, you are the one that will honestly feel like you are falling apart! When this happens and you don’t do something to manage it and keep a self-balance, the rest of your world is going to fall apart around you.

So once again I am going to open up and share my toolbox with you…

1. MAKE and TAKE time for yourself!

By doing this you are better able to maintain your own self-balance mentally and physically. When you do this it gives you what you need to make it from today to tomorrow and still have life within it. This helps YOU and it helps your FAMILY!

Start a hobby, go window shopping, have lunch with a friend, something, anything that you enjoy doing and that gives you time to maintain your self-balance.

2. Coping Skills!

We talk here about coping skills all of the time. There is a VERY important reason for that, coping skills help you when the most challenging times come, they help you prepare for them and they help you manage through them, they help you keep your personal balance. There are MANY, MANY different forms and techniques of coping…

LEARN them, PRACTICE them, and USE them!

3. Get Outside!

Many caregivers and/or family members are inside a lot, way more then normal. When disabilities are at hand it does become challenging to get outside for a healthy amount of time. You HAVE to! If you don’t you are cutting yourself off from the world, you are cutting yourself off from maintaining a healthy environment, and you could cause it to happen to others in your home as well.

4. Respite Care!

Make sure you have someone that can provide back-up care. This allows you to do the things you need to do. It allows you to take a break (even though we love and choose to be the one to take care of another, you still need breaks!). It allows you to have some time to make sure you are taking care of yourself and maintaining a healthy self-balance.

There are MANY places that can help with providing back-up care!
Family members, friends, neighbors… If those are not available, there are professional companies, if you can not afford those then check with local churches, organizations, VFW’s can provide info if not some back-up care time themselves. There are many things available, use the phone or do the leg work and find them! You NEED back-up and help, do NOT dismiss that fact!

5. Eat!

Many times caregivers are so busy taking care of everyone else that when it comes to themselves, they simply just do not eat, do not eat right, or are too tired to eat. This is NOT healthy! Your body is like a car, it needs fuel in order to function, food is the body’s fuel. Make sure you have the fuel your body needs or you will find yourself on empty!

Keep prepared veggies, fruits, healthy snack bars, etc on hand. These are quick and easy snacks for the whole family throughout each day. Keep a schedule for meals. If you are tired when it comes to meal time, take a few minutes to just sit, relax, use those coping skills  so you feel like eating. And make sure you are drinking enough fluids throughout the day! Staying hydrated helps keep you healthy!

6. Exercise!

It does not matter what type of exercise you do, do something! Don’t think you have time for it? Well try this  So your partner likes watching movies (a common one for those with PTSD), do yoga while you are watching the movie! Now that’s a two for one.  There are a lot of two for ones that can happen… Walk or play outside with the dog or kids, take a walk with your partner, you BOTH get exercise. While cleaning house put on your favorite music and sing/dance that broom away! Anything physical can be exercise, and you can make it fun at the same time.  You don’t need expensive gym memberships or equipment to exercise.

7. Write, Journal, Talk!

It’s NOT healthy to keep things bottled up inside! Come on let’s face the facts, not everyday is going to be butterflies and flowers. You NEED an outlet! Even if you write it out then shred it (what my 14 year old actual does), get it out! Talk to someone you can trust or a therapist! Even a conversation with a stranger in a grocery line, no matter what the topic is, can make a world of difference!

8. Talk/Communicate with children/grand-children

There is one thing many dismiss. If you are a parent or grandparent, if you notice children not doing well, YOU are not going to do well! It’s a fact about being a parent! Take the time to just talk with the children in your life! This not only helps them, it teaches them how to communicate, it helps you know when something is wrong or not quite right, or bothering them, and you can get to the root of things quickly before something becomes a large issue. It makes them feel important! Many time caregivers are so overwhelmed with their daily caregiver rolls and helping that person, that the kids are just there, so to speak. There HAS to be a balance!

I have seen it go the other way in many families also, many times sadly. The non-disability spouse pays more attention to the kids then the one with disabilities. It’s like a protection of sorts, and it can be harmful to the family structure! Some end up with children resenting the parent with disabilities, some end up with marriages/relationships on the rocks or failing, because all of the attention is on the kids. There HAS to be a balance so the entire family as well as your relationship maintains a balance!

9. Which leads to One on One Time!

Everyone needs one on one time! Children need it from both parents/grandparents and relationships need it! Family time is important but don’t forget that one on one time is equally important! You know I’m going to say it… It helps keep and maintain a healthy balance!

10. Unplug!

There is NOTHING wrong with stepping away from that computer or putting that phone down! You have to live real life even though those things help you stay connected to others. Spending too much time sitting in front of a screen is NOT healthy and it takes you away from the real world you need to be living in. It can also become an addiction to where important things in your life take a side seat, folks, that’s not good!

This is a rule I live by! Even though I blog and LOVE communicating with everyone, even though I am in the process of writing a book, even though I enjoy my new phone, I still make sure I step away from them each day. When Craig and I are talking, or I am talking with my kids, you won’t find a phone in my hand etc. My attention is solely on them. I am a wife, a caregiver, a mom… those things come first. It helps maintain a balance, as well as respect, it’s important to you as well as those around you.

No number needed on this one… Respect Yourself!

Have respect for yourself. You are not a superhero, you are a human being and every human being has their limits. Don’t push yourself too far, don’t expect yourself to be perfect all of the time, allow yourself down days to re-group, allow yourself to be you! Don’t lose yourself in taking care of someone else. Sure things have changed, what you can do or not do has changed, your roles have changed, but that does not mean you have to lose who you are in all of it. YOU are important too! Don’t lose sight and respect for yourself… it helps keep a healthy balance. 

Being a caregiver or a family member that helps out another, is a big job, it can and will weigh you down if you do not do the things you need to, YOU can find and maintain a balance that not only is healthy for you, but also healthy for all of those around you. Don’t forget to make the time, take the times, and most of all… Don’t ever forget to use your toolbox.

If you know someone that this information could help, as with all of my postings, you are more then welcome to “share” it. 

A Spouse’s Story PTSD

Fight, Flight… or FREEZE?

Fight, Flight… or FREEZE?

We have discussed fight or flight before, but what about freeze? Many people do not know the term freeze when it comes with PTSD, but guess what! Freeze can be a part of your response as well.

So what is freeze when talking about PTSD? Freeze takes place when you are in a situation where you can’t fight and you can’t take flight… you simply freeze. Motionless and can’t respond when danger, or the fear of, is there.

Freeze is a natural response to panic and fear of the ultimate level. It is when nothing else can happen and you have no choice but to face the fear you are confronted with by dissociating… oh wait! Dissociate, a word we are more familiar with. Freezing is another term/form of Dissociation.

When a person experiences a freeze response, they may hold their breathe, have a long or spontaneous sigh, you go motionless when danger is presented.

We all know the association of freeze to animals, humans are no different. Like with animals, the deer in the headlights… does the deer run when car headlights are approaching? Does it stand and battle the car? Nope, sure doesn’t, it freezes in place, doesn’t move, and stands there still so the danger will go away, but most likely in that case will be hit by the danger. It’s simple the way the nervous system is hardwired for when fight or fight is not an option. It’s also a survival mechanism… what does an animal do when a predator approaches? They freeze! That natural instinct of don’t move, won’t be harmed, predator will go away.

Freezing is linked to the nervous system of the brain. It’s a non-conscious response to an overwhelming threat. Many people who experience this response feel guilt or shame for not responding or the outcome of not being able to respond, once or after it has occurred.

It’s also a way the nervous system handles arousal during moments of high stress. This is also what causes many to develop trauma symptoms long after the threat or danger has passed. You may have gone into the freeze mode and not be aware that you did.

Let me add some info on this part from Dr. Suzanne LaCombe to explain it…

“During an traumatic event an enormous amount of energy is released by our neuroendocrine system. This enables us to fight or flee. However, fight or flight is not always an optimal strategy in modern life.

For example, if my boss infuriates me I don’t really want to punch his lights out (i.e. fight). If my car is about to collide with another there is usually little advantage to jumping out of the car (ie. flight)–even if I had time to do so.

However, if there is sufficient resiliency in your nervous system you will be able to discharge this energy without being traumatized. For many people however this life-threatening experience sets the stage for dysregulation. The energy mobilized by the perceived threat gets “locked” into the nervous system when we go into freeze.

In these situations you may not even realize that you went into freeze, yet several months later you can still be reeling from the effects of an accident. One theory is that the nervous system has not yet discharged the energy that was mobilized for fight or flight.
This freeze response sometimes reveals itself when you breathe. Holding your breath and shallow breathing are both forms of freeze. The occasional deep sigh is the nervous system catching up on it’s oxygen intake.” (from myshrink.com)

Traumas locked away from freezing, that’s something Craig has heard recently. He was told that when his trauma occurred (and out of respect for him I will not write details) and there was absolutely nothing else he could do to prevent the event from happening, it was something totally out of his control, he froze briefly then went back to work. He basically put his traumatic event in a box and sat that box on a shelf, for years, and managed through what he had experienced the best he could on his own. When you have a duty at hand, there’s no handling your emotions and feelings right then, you have a job to do and are expected to do it, and that’s what Craig did… and I’m sure many others are/were in the same shoes. Then he was triggered. That box opened up full force and here we are now… #PTSD chronic,#anxiety#depressive disorder…

Now you see why I said so many suffer from guilt or shame. Even that “what if” after the fact. That freezing can cause all sorts of thoughts and emotions to form. But you know what, that freezing can not be stopped, it’s a natural defense to trauma that your nervous system/brain does that you have no control over.

Freezing can happen anytime danger or threat are involved. It’s just another response that comes when fight or flight are not options. However, research is being done to see if the freeze response can actually be beneficial to regulating the nervous system, and with that PTSD symptoms.

And just to add it in here, anxiety symptoms and/or depression by definition are a dysregulation of the nervous system. For more information on self regulation click here.

Bottom line, get help. There are so many different things now that can help with PTSD. I won’t say it’s going away, but it can be better then it may be right now. And the sooner you reach for help, the better things can be for you.

With the conversation yesterday regarding motionless body function, I thought this was a good topic to touch on considering it does come with PTSD. I myself am still learning about the freeze response, so as I learn I will pass it on to you. 

A Spouse’s Story PTSD