On Sunday night when they announced the death of Usama bin Laden, I was one happy camper. That son of a "gun" was responsible for the deaths of thousands of American civilians and soldiers. He's been at the top of my personal most wanted list since the U.S. Embassy bombings in 1998. He was one bad guy that needed to die (and I'm kind of a softie, there are not many people who earn that rank in my book).
But, on Sunday night, I was also a leery camper. Why? Because my husband, a combat Veteran, has post-traumatic stress disorder and as the news commentators began talking about heightened security and the possibility of retribution from Al-Qaeda, his jaw started to clench. Soon after, he was talking about possible "soft targets" nearby and the most likely attack points nationwide. He was in combat prep mode... a PTSD specialty.
In the last two days, I've heard from many Veterans and spouses who are struggling with this. The defeat of bin Laden, celebrated by many, has also caused problems in many PTSD households. Veterans are on edge... they're paranoid, easily angered, unable to sleep, patrolling their homes, etc. They are in combat mode and their families are along for the ride.
So, if this is what is happening in your home, what should you do? Here are some ideas:
- NUMBER ONE -
Say "bye-bye" to the TV. Your spouse may not want to turn off the television, but whenever possible, switch it off. This is a good time to encourage other activities for the whole household that don't involve the TV. Work on hobbies, get projects done, go for a drive, play computer games, or visit family members or friends (places where your veteran is extremely comfortable). Sitting for hours at a time, watching even random updates about details of the bin Laden operation, reactions, possible threats, etc., is only going to continually add fuel to the fire.
- NUMBER TWO -
Increase your household security. There is always a fine line between feeding into paranoia and simply calming it. But, during times where PTSD-induced paranoia is at its highest, it can be extremely helpful to a Veteran to feel that they have taken extra measures to secure their home and that their concerns are being heard. And, referring back to point #1, the act of increasing household security may actually also be a good distraction! There are a few ideas for increasing security in the links below:
- NUMBER THREE -
Exercise. I promise this is not another lecture about the size of American waistlines :). We all know by now that exercise has a long list of health benefits, but for the purposes of PTSD one of the most important is that it releases a host of "feel good" chemicals (endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine). This benefit comes from only moderate exercise (like a half-hour walk) and the raised hormone levels last for hours afterwards. For more information, check out the articles below:
- NUMBER FOUR -
Double and triple check medications. If your Veteran is distracted by the events surrounding bin Laden's death, taking his prescriptions may be the last thing he's thinking about. This is definitely not the time you want to go down that road. If you aren't normally in charge of medication management in your household, in may be a good idea to take over for a week or so until things improve. There are some tips in the link below about managing medications from the VA (Veteran's Administration):
- NUMBER FIVE -
Know when and how to say "UNCLE!". If this time of heightened PTSD symptoms causes your Veteran to start spiraling out of control, it is important to know when and how to ask for help. Of course, if your hero is in danger of hurting someone else or himself, you should call for emergency help right away. If your Veteran's increased symptoms last more than a few weeks or seems much more out-of-control than normal, its also a good idea to touch base with his/her mental health care provider. The doctor or counselor may simply be able to put your concerns to rest, but it's always better to be safe than sorry. For more information and tips about handling emergency situations in "veteran world", visit the link below:
- FINALLY -
Watch out for you! Times like this can add a great deal of stress to caregivers. The added strain of coping with paranoia that's in overdrive can be quite a challenge, not to mention the emotional toll that increased anger and hostility can take. Make sure you take some time for yourself. Set aside time each day to do something you enjoy. Rest as much as possible. Write down how you feel (it really does help, promise!). You will not be good at your "job" of caregiving if you don't first and foremost take care of you! Here are some links with ideas about doing just that:
Hope this helps!
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!