Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lessons Learned in Being the Wife of a Veteran with PTSD

Well, we have most of our garden planted.  We are trying quinoa and wheat this year!  Husband is at a meeting with the Veteran's Administration, and I am preparing to help him get ready to go on an overnight backpacking trip.  His nature walks and backpacking trips are therapeutic for him.  They help him to process all the emotional and mental things that swim around inside him from day to day.  Husband's "ailments" can be summed up by stating that he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and chronic pain from various combat injuries.  These are things that cannot be seen physically.  Husband's daily average physical pain level is a 5 on a 1-10 scale.  His emotional and mental pain cannot be measured.

If you are reading this and you have been diagnosed with PTSD, some content of this post has the possibility of triggering a reaction.  If you have not been diagnosed with PTSD and you feel as though you relate to anything mentioned in this post, I encourage you to seek help from a professional.  If you need help finding one in your area, please email me and I will do what I can to help you find someone.

My goal here is to provide those who need it a sense of support and information that I have learned.  One of the things that has helped me the most in knowing how to help my husband is to have a basic knowledge of what PTSD is.  I have read numerous articles and books on the topic (I will provide information to anything I have access to, just let me know what you want).  The two main books that I highly recommend to family members of those with military related PTSD are The Warrior's Guide to Insanity by Sergeant Brandi and A Mind Frozen in Time by Jeremy Crosby.  The first book gives a perspective of PTSD from the soldier's side of things.  Sgt. Brandi was a soldier in the Viet Nam War.  This book is about his experiences and his advice to fellow soldiers and their family members.  The latter book was recommended by my husband's counselor (also a veteran).

So, what is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?  The basic definition is after a traumatic event occurs, the mind gets stuck there causing a number of different symptoms.  The diagnosis of PTSD from a mental health professional looks something like the following (paraphrased from the DSM-V, 2013).

     A. Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence through        experiencing first hand, witnessing, learning of another's trauma,  or experiencing details of trauma as first responders.
     B. Presence of one or more of intrusive symptoms associated with the traumatic event: recurrent, involuntary distressing memories, dreams, flashbacks, distress when exposed to things that trigger memory of the trauma, significant physical reaction to triggers.
    C.  Avoidance memories, thoughts, or feelings and avoidance of triggers of memories thoughts or feelings.
    D.  Negative alterations in thoughts and mood associated with traumatic events; inability to remember significant aspects of trauma, persistent and exaggerated beliefs or expectations about oneself, others or the world.
    E.  Noticeable alterations in reactive behavior such as irritable behavior and angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behavior, hyper-vigilance, Exaggerated startle response, problems concentrating, and insomnia.

The reason why I am stressing aspects that have to do with military, (combat veteran, veterans with PTSD, books by veterans, etc.) is because to many veterans it matters.  The military is a sub-culture that offers experiences and knowledge unique to those a part of it.  These experiences and camaraderies cannot be fully understood by those of us "on the outside".  That is something that we have to accept.  Never tell your family member or loved one that you understand unless you have been in the military.  If you are law enforcement, you will not understand because law enforcement is its own entity, it is not military.  Also, NEVER ask about experiences or why they feel the way they do.  As spouses, friends, and family, it is not our job to counsel them.  Let me tell you, after almost seven years of educational training in mental health, this is a difficult one for me!  It has become my instinct to help by asking questions and offering solutions or advice to work through things.  I have to put all of that aside.

I think one of the most valuable things I have learned in studying counseling and social work is how to listen actively.  This isn't just sitting there and letting someone talk at you.  Active listening means you take part in what the person is talking about.  Let him or her speak without reservation and do not take offense at what is being said.  Active listening holds no judgment.  This does not mean that you allow yourself or your loved one to be in physical danger.  When I see signs that Husband needs to talk, I sit with him and let him rant away.  I do not confront anything that I dislike or disagree with until the next day, and only then if I felt that it was harmful to either of us in some way.  He just has to have the freedom to talk, it helps him to process things that he has a hard time dealing with.  The next day, I encourage him to go on an overnight backpacking trip.  If he feels the need to put it off, I speak plainly to him,  "If you go now, you'll feel better.  There's no point in putting it off."  I don't try to manipulate or sugar coat things.  I admit that he needs time away from me.  I try to give him a happy balance of alone time and family time.

Something minor to me, but monumental to him is that I take over tasks that stress him out too much.  Finances, paperwork, and dealing with people are the main things.  I don't like doing them either, but I would rather do them and know it is helping him.  Since Husband is a veteran we do a lot of interaction with the Veteran's Administration.  Before we got married he had to deal with everything himself and he was in a perpetual state of frustration and depression because of all the different processes he had to do.  Now he has the freedom to dismiss one more thing from his mind and it makes him proud to know he has a wife he can trust with it all
Husband does some building as a hobby.

Another thing that I've learned and have to remind myself constantly is that everything that he is going through doesn't have to do with me.  Nothing is my fault.  When he is angry, even at something seemingly small that may have to do with me, his issue isn't me or what I have or haven't done.  Anger is part of PTSD.  If he is feeling depressed, it isn't my fault.  The best thing I can do for him is to love him through it.  Support him, and maintain positivity.

A positive attitude is something I have a hard time with.  I tend to naturally be negative, but I didn't realize it until Husband told me that my negativity was making it difficult for him to deal with the stuff he deals with.  It was bringing him down more.  It is difficult to try to be positive because there are real stressors and negative emotions, and I cannot just dismiss them and consider them invalid because I have not gone through what he has.  When either of us is having a difficult emotional/mental time (I deal with depression and anxiety from time to time too), we try to be open and honest with one another.  That means, I tell him, "I'm feeling emotional/depressed/stressed so I'm sorry if I become negative, just let me know if I bother you."  And he does the same.  "Hun, I'm sorry, I have a lot going through my mind right now.  I'm going for a walk, I'm not mad or anything."  I often ask him if there is anything I can do to help, most of the time there isn't.  So I will do small things like fix him a glass of peach tea or put on the music/movie that makes him happy.  I'll make him cookies (there is medicine in cookies.  Many things can be solved over tea and cookies).  Usually when I'm feeling bad he will buy me chocolate and pick flowers for me.   Little things to let each other know we are there for each other.  Point: we have to take care of ourselves too.  We cannot dismiss our own needs because on some scale somewhere what we deal with isn't as hard/bad enough as what they do.  It's just that sometimes we need to find ways to deal with our stuff without bringing them into it.  It isn't easy, but it helps everyone in the long run.  I have some people close to me that I talk to.  I have a mug that says, "Keep calm and call mom" because that is what I do.  I make Mint Medley tea and call my mom.  I ask her to pray for me.  She is patient and kind and my voice of reason.  She lets me vent the way I let Husband.  I journal about things when I'm emotionally heightened.  For me it helps to write things in story format because then I can see how I'm feeling from a different perspective.

I think that this last one is probably one of the most important for maintaining our own health when we are working hard to help our loved ones maintain theirs.  Remember that you are valid.  How you feel is valid too.  Sometimes you need a vacation from everything just as much as your loved one does.  When Husband goes on overnighters I do something just for me.  I try to incorporate something on a daily basis that is just for me, usually it is my walk, other times it is time spent doing crafty things in my office.  I hope that you can learn the best ways to help the one(s) you love who continue to experience the horror of their traumas over and over again.  I hope that you realize that you are valuable too.   Maybe something I've written here or in previous posts will help.  If you need someone to talk to, message me on here or in one of my other forums.

Light and Love,


** If you need more resources on PTSD, feel free to contact me.  There is great material out there.  Including a book for children to explain what their parent(s) may be going through.  Why is Dad so Mad is a book written for children by a veteran with PTSD.  

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