Thursday, September 1, 2011
PTSD, Anger, Acceptance, Love, & Moving Forward
I've been talking lately to a lot of families who are in what I call the "angry" phase of learning to cope with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)... and let me say, I don't take that phase lightly. It's, in all honesty, the point in this journey where many, many families fall apart. It's painful and horrible and can suck the very core of "you" out. It can transform you into a person you don't recognize (and worse still, don't like!).
So, I want to talk about that today. First, I want to say it's COMPLETELY NORMAL no matter how well educated, prepared, or loving you are to go through this process. You're basically grieving the loss of everything your spouse used to be... of what your life was supposed to be... of what you dreamed originally for your family. And for some reason in PTSD families, most of us move through the "denial" phase pretty quickly, but get stuck for W-A-Y too long in the "anger" phase. (And, while we're laying all the cards on the table, you may even find yourself sometimes revisiting that phase months or years later.)
When our family was near the beginning of our journey with PTSD and TBI, I spent almost twelve months completely pissed off. Not just at my husband and the ways PTSD had changed him, but at everything. No joke, a random person in a store who took too long getting their credit card out to pay a cashier could make my blood boil. My normally calm, pretty laid back personality was replaced by that of a caged, hungry bear that had been poked one too many times. And, I knew my attitude was adding fuel to the already volatile situation in our household, but I just didn't care. It wasn't fair. Nothing was how it was supposed to be. My life sucked and I wasn't going to keep any of my boiling emotions to myself... I wasn't going to let anyone else off the hook because I certainly wasn't being let off the hook.
Not a pretty picture, right? Sounds like the kind of person I definitely wouldn't want to know... much less be! And, unfortunately, for many, many PTSD spouses "being" that person hits at the exact same time that the Veteran who has PTSD is still either not yet ready for treatment or has barely started treatment. And that combination is a HUGE component behind the sky-high divorce rate among Combat PTSD families (especially in the first few years after diagnosis).
So, what do you do?
First, you make the decision that your relationship and family is worth more than your need to be pissed off. I know that sounds harsh... but I say it from a place not only of experience, but out of a deep desire to help you stop this cycle. The only person who can make that choice is you... but you have to make a conscious choice. No excuses. I know the excuses... I've lived many of the excuses... no excuses.
Second, you start "getting to know" Beastie Boy PTSD. You can read books (list HERE), read articles online (here's a link with the PTSD articles on FOV), talk to other spouses or Veterans who are dealing with PTSD, attend local support groups, watch movies or documentaries, etc., etc. But, whatever you do, you've got to start understanding why your Veteran is acting like they are. The only way to ever move on to acceptance is to start with education.
Third, find someone to talk to about your anger, hurt, disappointment, fears, anxiety, and overall state of mind. If you don't have private insurance, there is even free counseling available through Give An Hour. Or, if you're part of the VA's new program for Caregivers (more info about the program here), you have free mental health care services through that program. Force yourself to get it all out. I know from a first hand point of view how difficult that can be... but also how liberating. Just DO IT. Trust me.
Fourth, find something physical to do on a regular basis. I know, I know... I hear the deafening chorus of "I don't have time." It doesn't matter if it's a 10 minute walk once a day (or better yet punching something!). There's a whole long list of physical and mental benefits that we get from exercise... and we've all heard them before... but this is really more about giving yourself a chance to get out some of the pent up physical energy that comes along from being SO pissed off.
Fifth, keep a journal... either on paper or electronically. In it, write down one thing every single day that you value about your spouse... something they did that day... or something you value in general. If it's something they did that day, write a paragraph or two explaining what they did and why it made you happy. If it's something you value in general, write a little bit about why that quality is important to you and to your family. It may seem like a silly exercise, but taking time to concentrate on the good stuff when in PTSD world we're constantly confronted with SO much negative stuff can be a really big help.
Finally, don't expect an overnight change but be confident that you are moving forward. Ride out the bad days. Appreciate the good days. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. As time moves forward it will get easier and easier until you wake up one morning and realize that the angry, dark, raging storm that had taken over your mind has passed.
I'm a few years on the backside of my "angry" phase. And, while I won't say that I never have days where I'm mad or frustrated with my life, I can honestly say that I'm nothing at all like I was in those horrible twelve months. My husband still has "severe and chronic PTSD"... he still has TBI... his physical injuries are still there... our life is still anything but "normal"... and some days are really bad. BUT I've accepted my "new" husband, my love for him is no longer shadowed by that angry person I didn't want to be, and our family is still going strong (and hopefully with prayers and work will be for many years to come).
Hope it helps to know what you're facing is "normal" and that you're *definitely* not alone in it AND that you can get past it!!
Huge, GIGANTIC ((HUGS)),
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!