Life with PTSD is full of ups and downs. A roller coaster ride that embarks or halts at a moment’s notice. Some days are so pleasant we forget there is such a thing as PTSD. Memories of war seem deceptively in the past.
And for those who have suffered non-military trauma, they too are vulnerable to triggers at ANY moment…night or day.
Then one morning as we are going merrily through our daily routine, something seems terribly wrong. Our loved one flies into a rage! (We run for cover.) Or they slump over on the couch. Lifeless. Vacant. We wonder what we did wrong. And then what we can do to fix them.
PTSD never goes away. Nor do triggers. As long as there are reminders of the trauma, there will be PTSD. There will always be a 9-11, Memorial Day, and all the specific days that inflicted trauma on our veterans and loved ones battling PTSD. And for those honored veterans who served as medics, every day is an anniversary.
Lori’s husband was unusually depressed and agitated yesterday. She, like the rest of us who love our vets, is learning to love him while at the same time take care of herself. In my book Love Our Vets: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD , I remind us that although we cannot fix them, loving them goes a long way.
Staying mindful of her own feelings (she was really ticked off, afraid, and just wanted to run away!) Lori decided to try to talk to him. Knowing that she could never burst through the secure emotional fortress he had put up (aka walls), she approached him gently. Holding his hand, she asked him, “You seem to be having a very hard time today. Is this an anniversary for you?”
The scary silence was soon broken by his answer. “I didn’t even think about it. Yes, today was the day that my buddy Zach was blown to #@!**!”
She just held him and soon he melted in her arms. He trembled as they sat together. No words. Just togetherness. Compassion. Grief. Comfort.
I got to thinking that all of us would benefit from sitting down with our PTSD survivors in a calm moment over a cup of coffee. Pen and paper or laptop/tablet in hand, ask him or her to share with us their anniversary dates. Go through all twelve months and talk about every incident that was hard or painful or horrendous. Be ready for a catharsis, or minimally an outpouring of many emotions. It is possible that they may not be ready for this, but you can reassure them that you are here when they feel they can share with you. (And stay grounded yourself as their feelings and trauma can too easily become our own.)
Those of us in our Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support Network
are finding that recalling these dates,
as painful and disturbing as it can be,
is essential for survival,
as well as a wonderful step toward healing.
Knowing these dates not only helps our veterans/loved ones, but ourselves as well. We can see the anniversaries coming rather than wait to be blindsided. And what relief they must feel in knowing there is an explanation, it is not their fault, and they truly are not crazy.
There will be ups and downs…but together we can thrive in spite of them!