Monday, May 11, 2009

PTSD Symptoms: Educating Family

Last week I dove into writing about how to tell family about your PTSD diagnosis. I was right there riffing about 7 Tips for Telling Your Family when Svasti brought up a really important point in a comment. She wrote:

Actually, something else I think is important (for your own sake) is not assuming your family will understand or be as supportive as you'd like. Some families are and will be. But if you go out on a limb by telling someone in your family, you are making yourself a little vulnerable. And unfortunately, not everyone likes to deal with the horrors of something like PTSD. Especially if you're trying to explain what caused it in the first place.

So, I'd say be gentle on yourself and on whoever you're telling. Try not to have expectations on how you'd like things to turn out - it might be really different from that.Getting help and support is important, but it needs to be the right person/people. Everyone has their own weaknesses and they may not be able to support yours.However, there will definitely be someone out there who will be supportive and loving. Just... choose carefully, is all!

And, about when family are not supportive when you’ve revealed your news:

My advice for others, if that is what happens is... don't let that get to you if you can, as hurtful as it can feel. Instead, reach out to other people you can trust. If you think you can't trust anyone in your life, find a professional therapist you can trust.

And don't judge those who can't deal with what you're going through. Everyone has their own weaknesses and if they seem uncaring, that's not necessarily how they feel. It could very well be a self-protective mechanism.

When I began writing these posts it was with the assumption no one would approach family unless it was safe. But Svasti’s comments made me realize maybe we should pause for a moment and really highlight the fact that not every family is a safe place. If this is the case for you, don’t worry. As Svasti says, there will be someone who will be supportive; your job will become to find who that is. In the coming days we’ll explore how to approach friends, lovers and colleagues.

For today, sit back and think about your family. Are they supportive of you in general? Do you feel unconditionally loved by them, or any one person in your clan? Do you trust your family, or feel threatened by them? Are they part of the problem, or do they usually help you find solutions? If you have a therapist he or she might be very helpful in figuring out how to assess your family and who to approach.

Healing is a slow process. As much as we want recovery to move quickly and as often as we feel compelled to act on any new idea, we must remember to slow down, think things through and above all: Make wise decisions.
Wise decisions, however, can be a tough trick when we feel scattered and fragmented. But then, these situations give us a chance to practice reconnecting with our intuitive voice. You know, that little voice you usually ignore but that speaks from somewhere in the recesses of your mind (or in the pit of your stomach). Sit still for a moment today and ask yourself: Can I talk to my family about PTSD? Be very quiet. You will hear an answer.

Now, just to throw a monkey wrench into the decision making process: The flip side of all this decision making, this caution and intuition, is that in the grip of PTSD we are not, exactly, always thinking straight. We have put in place fears, assumptions and behaviors that often skew the decision making process.

For example, the summer I was 18 I was struggling extremely with undiagnosed PTSD symptoms that I had not yet learned how to cope with or manage. I was in a deep blackhole and I was sure – no, absolutely positive – I could not speak to my family about this. I was afraid I would frighten them with my black, suicidal thoughts. I felt disconnected and separate from their entire way of living. I felt I existed in a realm of experience no one could never understand. I felt helpless and hopeless and utterly alone and in a type of despair that made my mind all but shut down.

So, I stayed quiet and suffered alone and engaged in some very destructive behavior and my PTSD continued to worsen dramatically over the next few years until I had a real collapse and then there was no choice – I reached out and found my mother immediately by my side, supporting me and helping me through. I had been wrong. My warped thinking had kept me from support I needed when it was waiting for me all along. Which is not to say that every mother, father, sister or brother will respond this way, but is to point out that sometimes, since we cannot see the world properly because PTSD has warped our lens, we don’t see our family properly either.

Deciding who to reach out to and whether or not we can reach out at all is an extremely tough wrinkle in the healing process. After all this thinking, I’m wondering what is the best way to assess whether or not your family will help or hurt if you reveal the truth.

Don’t leave me hanging out here all by myself. How have you decided whether or not family is a safe place to tell the truth?

(Photo: Giuletta)


Anonymous said...

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.

My experience isn't all negative. I have key people who understand, or at least try to understand. I have a lot of support, and I'm lucky. I know too many people who have no support, and their recovery is slow.

Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

I am still trying to understand how I had so little support and understanding, post trauma, from people I thought loved me. I couldn't work, so for a short time my partner supported me financially, but when I explained I needed counselling, he said 'I can't pay for you to see a shrink!' as if it was just an embarassment or something. My father's attitude was 'Pull yourself together, no-one owes you a living', my Mother's (ever the selfish one) was 'Why are you doing this to me!' And, most hurtfully and unhelpfully, my sister, from her haughty high throne of yoga, said dismissively 'You're bringing it all on yourself'. It's true that my mind was tormenting me, but how did she think that comment would help?
I have forgiven my parents because they are my parents. And because they just do not understand what on earth I was going through. After all, I looked the same. I bought a book about anxiety which my father at least took the trouble to read, before returning to 'Pull your socks up, fresh air and exercise is all you need'. But I am grateful that he tried. My mother is essntially selfish dealing with her own pain. Now that I have got over the PTSD and can talk about it with my partner calmly, he is starting to understand - I just wasn't myself for a while, and now I am again.
I no longer speak to my sister. I am still angry that she would watch me fall and simply look down on me for it.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@ Anonymous #2 - Your comment highlights the sad fact that we don't always get support from where we should. Kudos to you for carrying on and making progress! You are a strong soul and I'm excited to hear you're doing so much better.

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