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Survivor’s Guilt… Let me tell you a story

Over time you learn how to spot things or what will effect one. It becomes second nature really. Today I want to talk about something with total respect and a heavy heart. I hope this brings some understanding to those who have not learned yet or are new to this life.

Let me tell you a story…

Last night Craig and I watched a show series in the bedroom, and I fell asleep during it… on purpose! I knew Craig would keep watching, that he would stay there with me or in the room, I also knew that I would need some sleep before the night time came… the nightmares.

How did I know this beforehand? Because today, to many, is a holiday. Holidays can bring a lot of different things to many people who have PTSD…

Yesterday was a day of Craig talking about “that” deployment, where his trauma took place. He tried to recall details of that time and names of those he served with. He told me stories of how he met some of the crew he was stationed/deployed with. He came across, or found really, the cruise book online from that time. He scanned through every photo trying to recognize people, he talked to me about places he saw, as well as the good and bad experiences. He got frustrated and upset over pieces he could not remember. At times he would somewhat smile and tell a funny story. I could see every emotion as it came to him, I could see how he would stop at certain photos. I heard him say, “They must have left them out, I don’t see them”. I knew who he was looking for.

And when he reached the last page, he saw the “In Memory Of” page and photos of his friends that did not make it home. He spoke out to me, “There they are!”. I sat with him and listened as he flipped through every page, and when he reached that special page I watched as he touched the screen, how he said each of their names out loud. Then he told me about each of his buddies, the things they use to do, what their personalities were like, how he looked up to them and valued their friendships, how the one friend of the three was the reason he wanted to learn how to fly… become a pilot, and did. I saw the sadness on his face, the loss he was experiencing.

So I just sat and listened, watched, talked and asked appropriate questions when they fit in. I shared with him this experience of remembrance with respect.

See, many who have PTSD also experience survivor’s guilt. Craig is one of those. When holidays approach, you can see it. You can see the changes and increases in symptoms. You can watch them withdraw from those around them. You can see a sort of sadness come over them. You might hear them speak of the families or look for them quietly of those lost, just to see how they are now.

Some people will talk about those who died, others will not or just not yet… have respect to whichever they are comfortable with. Survivor’s guilt is no joke, it’s very real. It can cause some of the darkest days and there needs to be caution with this. If your loved one experiences this, please don’t push them or have too high of expectations of them during these times. They need your support and just someone to be there.

If they can’t manage to do the things planned or what you want of them, don’t hold it against them, don’t take it out on them, don’t talk bad about them… the “You ruined my day”, don’t argue about it, and pep talks are not always the right action. Sometimes they need to experience these feelings so they can move forward, and remember they are important and that it’s important they are here. Just be thankful you have them, that they are alive.

Being understanding of their loss instead of negative helps them more then anything. As well as it can help them before and on the holiday, which can lead to a better day at times. Allow them to grieve if they need to, allow them to talk if they want to, and be there for them through these times.

Yesterday was special. Craig has talked to me many times about his trauma and the loss of his friends, but yesterday, he shared his grieving, loss, and even the chuckles of good memories with me on a much deeper level. We took a part of the day to reflect and give him the one on one time for him to just talk, communicate, and express himself, his emotions, and his memories.

Survivor’s guilt is much like PTSD, one does not just snap out of it or get over it, they re-experience it. It hangs with them, and what you do, the words you use or don’t use, can make a huge difference. When these times come or you see one struggling, use kindness, understanding, compassion, so you can help them through it and move forward in positive ways. Sometimes just being there to listen is all you need to do.

Sometimes there is something I speak to Craig, it seems to help him through the tough days, helps him refocus of sorts, and I speak it from the heart with kindness and understanding. So if you are one struggling today, I want to share this with you. It won’t make those feelings go away, and I respect that and your loss, but maybe it will help you through the day with a slight ease or different point of view to what you are experiencing that is so real… 

Every person who survived, survived for a reason. I don’t know why it was you instead of them, my view is there is a mission of sorts that you have not completed yet. Something that you can bring to others that holds great value and meaning, and I truly believe that. I do not have answers to why so many important, special people were lost. But as I have told Craig before, during some of our in depth talks, those that were lost would be proud of you, they would want you to live your life and keep moving forward, they would want you to do it for yourself, your family, as well as for them. The friendships were special, that brotherly bond was strong, it will always be a part of you and who you are… and they would only wish the best to and for you. Their memory you have brings you strength. I know the loss is great and it weighs on the heart and mind heavily, there’s no getting past that feeling, those emotions, and experiences of something so very real. But I also know that they believed in you and would not want to see you struggle, just as if they had been the ones to survive you would not want to see them struggling. So be kind to yourself, allow yourself to experience those thoughts, feelings, and emotions, grieve when you need to… but at the same time, don’t let it slip from your mind to live, they would want you to. 

From the heart with love, understanding, and compassion… I hope each of you find good in today.

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD

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How did everyone do yesterday?

How did everyone do yesterday?

We had a rough day, I mean really rough. I think Craig experienced every aspect of PTSD and survivor’s guilt there is… all in one day. He woke from nightmares and was also having kidney pain (very happy his surgery is next week so he can get past that part) We talked a lot, laid facts on the table of things in a compassionate way, I think I used every angle of everything I have learned over the years to help him make it through the day (and I’ll do it again next time).

Our day held no expectations and I was perfectly okay with us not going anywhere. He said to me, “But I am keeping you from your family.” I replied back, “Craig, no you are not, but you do need to realize they are your family too. They do not expect us to come, that is totally up to us. They understand.

I watched Alex (my dog I trained to work all of Craig’s symptoms) work his tail off keeping Craig grounded and working his anxiety. It was almost like Alex and I were taking turns getting Craig through everything.

He has been going through so much with his physical medical then combining the mental health to it and the holiday… which only my oldest was around part of the day, this year we are having a delayed holiday so all of the kids are here for it. It just did not feel like a holiday. I said something I never thought I would say to Craig, and really thought awhile before saying it. I had no idea if it would help or make matters worse… if worse were even possible, but he was to the point it was almost a last resort before me making a decision if he needed to go to the hospital or not.

His survivor’s guilt had a serious hold on him and I had to say something compassionately, calmly, and sincere to try to pull him through it. Just to note the details had already come out so this comment did not come out of the blue but came with the conversation we were having in a calm tone with complete compassion. Our communication is beyond excellent and I would not recommend this for others to say if you have conflicts, you might meet the raw side of PTSD if you do. “If your buddies were still here they would be kicking you in the ass telling you to live and not remember them in the way you are doing. If it had been you instead of them, would you want them remembering you by them suffering this way?

I know that sounds harsh, but it worked. I know Craig and his symptoms well, I know details of everything that happened, and we work very well through everything. And that comment worked in our situation. It helped him to stop and think. He went and took a shower, and he pushed himself out the door to go to my parents’ for dinner, a short visit. It did not take all of those thoughts, feelings, or symptoms away, but it helped give him a little push up from the rock bottom he was sitting in.

When we returned home he said it helped him and it was good seeing our nieces open their gifts. To be honest, I got lucky that comment didn’t backfire on me. The more I listened to him the more that comment seemed to be the only thing that fit, that could possibly help a little bit.

Craig had told me that his brain just won’t slow down, too much going on. I knew this low was coming, last week I could tell he was battling it, the joking and picking on me, trying to keep himself from rock bottom, pushing himself to do things, extra coping skills being used. I know the signs, I knew what was coming, and I was ready.

To be honest I don’t know anyone who would not have crashed with all that is going on. Yesterday was a long day, but he did good making it through it. I’m proud of him! My friends, it takes team work many times when the rock bottom comes. I am so very thankful Craig and I have formed that over the years. Even with serious symptoms yesterday, he did good!

Today is a new day, and with it we will make it through whatever may come. I can not preach enough… communication, coping skills, compassion, patience, and working together… those things do make a huge difference in a positive way when it comes to life with PTSD. 

~Bec
A Spouse’s Story PTSD

Category: Guilt/Survivor's Guilt, Uncategorized  Tags: , ,  Comments off

PTSD vs Selfishness… But is it?

PTSD vs Selfishness… But is it?

So it’s a holiday, birthday, anniversary, special event and PTSD seems to hit it’s all time high! Your loved one with PTSD seems so selfish, only thinking about themselves, forgetting about everyone else or who ever is having that special day… so you say. 😉 This is another one of the things I hear a lot and have seen myself. But do you understand why?

Survivors guilt normally. When the one who suffers from PTSD feels that they let someone down, or a life was lost when they felt they could have been the one to change the outcome, they should have “been there” or even if they were in a position that they themselves took another life… they survived but someone else didn’t. This also can happen to a Veteran who has been out of the service but yet hears of one of his brothers that has lost his life during duty… it makes their mind go into “if only I had been there for him”. It really flares up PTSD on all holidays, birthdays, etc.

Survivor’s guilt is something a loved one might not even know is there. A sure sign of it is on those special occasions when everyone else is happy and smiles and the one with PTSD feels guilty of being alive. They feel that they don’t deserve to be happy, that they haven’t earned it, that it’s not fair or right for them to have happiness when someone else no longer has that option. They feel a life lost took someone away from their family and caused so much hurt. It’s almost as if it’s a way of punishing themselves for the hurt they feel they have caused. The fact is, many of these experiences were out of their control, they were in a position to where they had no choice, but they take the responsibility as their own. Leads to survivors guilt.

Another reason for this change at certain times of year is also the fact that the holiday, anniversary, or special event may put them in a situation of being around crowds, people laughing and having a happy time when they can’t seem to find the happy within themselves. Many see it as the person with PTSD is being selfish, but in reality they don’t view it or think of it that way at all! Their mind is on the loss and coping with it. Also, it’s focused around what they are expected to do or how they are expected to act which is difficult for them… it’s really not them being selfish at all. It rolls back to what happened to them and how they respond to their trauma.

Anniversaries of the trauma is one of the largest. You might not know the exact date, but if you watch closely you will know approximately when the trauma occurred. You will notice PTSD becoming extremely bad at a certain time of year, majority of the time not linked to any other holiday or event. Many think it just comes out of nowhere, but in fact there might be a link… that anniversary date.

So before you jump to calling a person selfish or that they lack caring about someone else, ask yourself why they are acting in this manner. No one with PTSD purposely wants to hurt someone’s feelings or ruin a holiday or event. They are in fact dealing with that trauma. Always take this into consideration.

There are ways of helping them through these times. Not everything has to be bad. Try pointing out the positive things they have done in their lives, people they have helped, ones that did live because of them. Remind them of the progress they have made. Whatever you come up with that helps will not take their trauma or feelings away, but it can help them have a better day and that might just make events or holidays better. Look to the good, as I always say. It will help!

~Bec
“A Spouse’s Story…PTSD”

PTSD and PTSD Anniversaries (also Holidays and Special Occasions)

From time to time I try to get back to the basics of PTSD, keeping in mind that there are always new people just starting to learn about it. So today I want to touch on something.

PTSD and PTSD Anniversaries
(also Holidays and Special Occasions)

When you hear the word anniversary, you automatically think of someone’s wedding anniversary. Well, to one with PTSD it has a whole different meaning. When speaking about PTSD, and unless otherwise specified on here, we are referring to the date the “episode” or “event” happened which caused PTSD. Sometimes we will say “anniversary month”, the reason for this is because PTSD does not only flair up on the exact day, but can get worse anywhere around that time. Sometimes it can be for days, other times it can be for a month or so before or after that date.

Knowing this helps others! If PTSD “acts up” at a certain time of year and normally every year, you can almost make a bet that it’s that anniversary time. This is a time frame that I am always ready to cope with whatever might come. The person with PTSD on the norm has many more issues with PTSD during this time… nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, etc. Being aware of when the PTSD anniversary is allows the family members a reason which comes understanding of why a certain time of the year might be worse then others.

This past year, without anyone knowing what I was up to, I attempted something different. It was all in the attempt to help Craig through his anniversary day and that time frame. I actually got off the subject of PTSD itself, even though everything I was trying was still based off of his PTSD. 😉 I posted positive things, off the wall photos, cute stories that had heart to them, and even went as far as on the anniversary date itself asking everyone to post something that was meaningful, positive, and dear to their hearts… actually on his anniversary day. IT WORKED! Craig reading everything posted on here, and by me asking everyone to post things like I mentioned, he spent the whole day scrolling through all of the good things in people’s lives… your lives, the ones just like him that suffer from PTSD or live beside it! WOW! The next morning I explained what I was up to the day before. It worked! Craig made it through his anniversary day without huge issues. All of the positive feedback kept his mind occupied with positive thoughts and his anniversary day went pretty smoothly.

Me doing this little “experiment” proved if you can bring to light all of the positive things in life, the reasons to live, the reasons to keep making those steps forward, keep a smile on your face, it does bring about a different way of coping through the really roughest times PTSD brings to one. It helps to keep the brain and memory from being able to dwell on what happened. Now, this isn’t something that is going to happen everyday of your life by any means, we are still dealing with PTSD, but it can sure help when something is desperately needed. 😉

As John said in response to yesterdays posting, holidays and special occasions are some of the other toughest times for PTSD. This is a very good point, because it is! The survivors guilt which we talked about yesterday comes into effect, which is very similar to how PTSD reacts to anniversaries, again they go hand in hand. So i want to add that in here too. Holidays and special events bring on expectations, and we all know that expectations are one of the first things that can really stir PTSD up. Also it brings about remembering those that were lost or not here anymore to celebrate them and the survivors guilt really sets in. It’s not that your spouse/ loved one with PTSD doesn’t want to share in the joy of this time, this seems to be especially hard for birthdays and wedding anniversaries, it’s that they feel guilty as the one who survived to do so. When you can have an understanding of how they feel and keep it in mind, it can make these things a little easier. And you might want to throw in like I did, some of those positive things to make those days go a little easier as well.

I know as a spouse, for years I have dreaded my birthday coming around. In all honesty I do. I know what will come and it’s usually “just another day”. That’s hard, in a way I want to be selfish and say “it’s my day”. I am one that loves surprises, I don’t like planning my own birthday, and to be honest would rather not do anything for it then to have to plan it myself. Then it makes me feel unimportant. Which I know for a fact is far from the truth, but that’s what comes with feelings. It’s all normal, and I know not to expect things. And I’m mentioning this for a reason, I couldn’t tell you how many spouses have come to me and asked me how to handle their own birthdays. They all go through the same feelings and a sense of feeling rejected. But, the fact is, it’s PTSD causing this, not the person themselves. Over time I’ve adjusted and learned to not expect things, that feeling doesn’t just go away, but whatever happens, happens, life is still there and I have a wonderful man each day of my life no matter what one specific day brings. That’s when the spouse/loved one has to focus on the positive. 😉

PTSD Anniversaries, holidays, and special occasions all will bring out the worse side of PTSD, and the guilt side that comes with it. It’s something to be aware of, don’t judge too harshly during these times, focus on the good, and make the best of them as you can.

~Bec

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!

~Bec

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

News Article by Fox News: Survivor’s Guilt

This would describe Craig for the most part. A situation along with what is mentioned in this article is what he experienced…without going into details. Sad, but true article…thus we are here 😉 to make that % decrease 😉

Survivor’s Guilt in the news.

 

~Bec

A Spouse’s Story PTSD