Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PTSD Symptoms: Educating Family Can Be Prickly















A blog reader left the following comment on Monday's post:

The hardest thing for me after carefully selecting friends and family to tell, is the negative reactions.

The one that hurts the most is, "It was a long time ago, JUST GET OVER IT". Don't they think if I could just get over it I would?

Another response is, "Why do you have to take those meds, you are a pill popping, drug addict?"

One of my family members is a scientist, so I bought her the book THE BODY REMEMBERS. It helped her to understand my PTSD.

I love this comment for a few reasons. First, because this survivor took the steps to carefully plan revealing the truth. Second, because he or she is honest about the impact of the results. Third, because he or she didn't lay down when it didn't go well, but continued to try to communicate with someone else. Fourth, because this person is resourceful; giving a family member a book to read is a fabulous way to take the personal out of it and allow family to see PTSD is not about us. It is a documented, prevalent problem in our society.

In the end when we begin to reach out we do have to brace ourselves for negativity. We have to build our emotional boundaries - and be prepared not care what someone thinks. Our goal here is not to make everyone our cheerleader or to convince them about the veracity of our situation. We know the truth. It is ours. We live it. We know how real PTSD is.

Our goal in communicating with family is, best case scenario, to help them better understand our behavior. But the act of communicating is about more than that. It is about becoming more present in our own lives. A major task for us is taking responsibility for our healing. Our ultimate mission is taking back the power trauma stripped from us. We have to own our PTSD, which means being strong enough to explain, discuss, and educate people about it, all the while understanding there will be those who cannot handle, fathom or relate to our experience.

In healing we try to find a support system and network to help us bridge the gap between us and the outer world so that we can facilitate our positive reentry into that normal, non-PTSD place. Family can be an important part of this. But the fact remains, sometimes they, too, will be overwhelmed by the concept and cannot provide the support we need. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have attempted to reach out. Being honest about who we are and what we are dealing with is an important aspect of healing.

Ultimately, the reaction of those who are not willing to accept our pain is discouraging, but: That's not our problem. Our problem is silence. When someone doesn't understand or appreciate that we're reaching out, or just doesn't get in general the strength it takes us to move through the day - we move on. Find someone else. Accept the discussion didn't go as we wanted and seek the next person with whom we might connect. Negative reactions shouldn't interfere with who we know we are. We are not pill-popping addicts, we are not wilfully refusing to 'get over it'. We are survivors. Since when did someone who has not suffered the way we have gain the power to decide what our PTSD experience is? Since when does someone who does not have PTSD know more about our condition or have more authority to speak about it than we do?

No one looks at a paraplegic and says, 'You could walk if you wanted to.' Just because our wounds aren't visible (even though our PTSD is so often physical) we can't fall into the trap of reacting to the imbecilic reactions of others. We know our truth. We must be strong. We must speak with educated authority of our own experience supported by the facts. We must know within ourselves that some people's basic character lacks compassion, empathy, intelligence, imagination, and the nuance of experience and so they cannot put even their smallest toe into our world. And we have to be OK with that. Negative reactions of our families is unfortunate but irrelevant. The victory still lies in the fact that we reached out, that we tried, that we were big enough to set aside our fears and stand up as who we are.

Whatever the negative reaction of family or friends or anyone we open up to, the achievement lies in taking the risk. Sometimes people will surprise us with their support. Those are the people we seek. We can't find them if we focus on fear so much that we don't reach out. We can't find them if we don't take the risk of fully being who we are. We can't find them if we let negative reactions gain more power than the positive healing steps we finally learn to take.

(Another photo by my favorite Gulf War vet.)

3 comments:

Jaliya said...

What a beautiful, mindful blog! I've just discovered your work ...

Re: educating others re: PTSD ... I've found two things that are helpful ... 1. Starting the conversation with physical symptoms (i.e., exhaustion, changes in blood pressure / blood chemistry, etc. ...) --> people seem to latch onto what is more tangible, and the understanding can begin from there ...

2. Passing on an excellent book / article to someone who likes to read ...

Another option ... If you have a receptive doctor, bring along a family member to an appointment, and have the doc do some explaining ... I've found this helpful ...

"Normalizing" your experience for someone who hasn't gone through PTSD is another option ... Finding commonalities between your experience and another's. My husband served in the armed forces when he was younger -- I've told him that I can relate to combat vets in a way ...

David A. Levine's book "Taming the Tiger" is an excellent resource as well.

Thanks for all you've done here, Michele :-)

Mike Hinsley said...

"When someone doesn't understand or appreciate that we're reaching out, or just doesn't get in general the strength it takes us to move through the day - we move on. Find someone else. Accept the discussion didn't go as we wanted and seek the next person with whom we might connect. Negative reactions shouldn't interfere with who we know we are"

Wholeheartedly agree. At some point we need to truly accept where we are and not let the difficulty of others get in the way or harm us. It's not easy though...

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