Your Love-Hate Relationship with your Anxiety

In past posts, I’ve talked about relaxation – how important it is; how and why to relax; when to do it. For some people, the basic information on when, how, and why is all they need to start a habit of healthy mental hygiene.

If you’re thinking, “good for those people”, then this post is for you.

When anxiety has been a big part of your life for a long time, you and your anxiety become so tangled up in each other that it gets hard to imagine yourself without it. You develop a love-hate relationship with your anxiety:

In many ways, you see your anxiety as a hindrance: it prevents you from being able to sleep; it turns your stomach inside out when you try to eat; it makes you clench your jaw and grind your teeth. You’re exhausted and in pain, and a part of you is so sick of your anxiety that you just want to get rid of it.

On the other hand, you might feel like there were times in your life when being on high alert saved your bacon (or times when you got hurt that you blame on not being alert enough). So, a part of you may feel like your anxiety is an asset that keeps you safe, and just the thought of letting it go might make you feel exposed and vulnerable to danger.

If this is you, then step #1 is to stop thinking of it as all-or-nothing. Start thinking of your anxiety on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being none and 10 being the worst possible anxiety. Where on this scale might you be on a typical day?

Try to imagine turning the dial back by just a smidge – maybe 1/4 of a point, or even less if that seems like too much. You’re still alert enough to react quickly when necessary, but you’re starting to very gently balance that, so you can work towards being able to sleep better and have less pain.

The idea is to very slowly dial back your anxiety, one tiny bit at a time, and help yourself learn to tolerate calm. Gradually, you will teach yourself that you don’t need to be wound so tight to stay alert and keep yourself safe.

Simple, right? Yeah, but simple and easy are two very different things… Be patient with yourself. And if you have trouble doing it all alone – please seek out a professional to help you.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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PTSD and the science behind why you can’t just “get over it”

This question comes up a lot. If it’s something you ask yourself, please read this. If other people ask you why you aren’t over it yet – please share this with them, and maybe it will help them to understand.

Trauma memories aren’t like other memories – they don’t fade over time. Every time you think of them, they feel like they just happened yesterday (or worse – like they’re happening now).

Here’s why, in a nutshell:

Think of your brain as having two main parts:

Part 1 is your “Thinking Brain”. The thinking Brain is smart, rational and fact-based. We’re conscious of the thoughts it comes up with. It plans, organizes, and problem-solves.

When it stores a memory, it’s like a librarian – it organizes by theme and date. So, its memories of your senior year of high school might include the music you liked that year; the person you had a crush on; the part-time job you worked; and, oh dear, that goofy haircut you had that was so stylish back then. Remembering these memories feels like you’re looking through an old photo album – there’s a distinct sense of “me-now” remembering what happened to “me-then”.

Part 2 is your “Threat-Response Brain”. We’ve talked about this one before, here, here, and here; it’s not smart, it’s not rational, and you’re not consciously aware of what it thinks.

Your Threat-Response Brain stores memory very differently – and it does so on purpose.

Pretend you touched a hot stove once, as a small child; you burned your hand and cried.

To be good at predicting future threats, your Threat-Response Brain needs to know that “hot things hurt“. Time and context don’t matter: you don’t want a Threat Brain that thinks “Yeah, I hurt myself on a hot stove – but it was Grandma’s old gas stove, back when I was a kid, and she was cooking breakfast; I’m an adult now, in my house, making dinner, and my stove is electric, so let’s try touching it, because maybe it’ll feel good.”

Yeah – that really wouldn’t help much, now would it?

The way the Threat-Response Brain works is: “Every time I see/hear/smell something that reminds me of the time I got hurt, there might be danger.” The threat brain also generalizes to similar threats – so, if you hurt yourself by touching a hot stove, you don’t need to also touch a hot iron, and stick your hand in a campfire – your threat brain learns that hot = pain.

This is why memories of trauma stay fresh and vivid in your mind, even years or decades later: they are kept in a different part of your brain than other memories. The point of the Threat-Response Brain is to protect you – so it makes sure you remember danger as if it had just happened.

So – how do you cope with this stuff, when it gets triggered? You use grounding skills. Remind yourself that feeling triggered means that your Threat-Response Brain is reacting to a memory – it doesn’t mean that you’re in danger now. Tell yourself, “my threat-response brain is reacting right now because this looks/smells/sounds similar to my trauma – but that was years ago, and I’m here now, and that’s not happening anymore.” This helps you refocus on the here-and-now.

To fine-tune your Threat-Response Brain’s reactions, there are no quick and easy tricks I can teach you in a blog post – but, there are specific therapies out there (EMDR or cognitive processing for example) that can help with that.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Military Training vs. Mindfulness

I’d like to start on a new topic today: mindfulness. It’s going to take a few posts to talk about it, because there’s a fair bit to say.

If you haven’t heard of it before, I think you’ll like it. Mindfulness is a way to let go of the self-criticism, shame and guilt that often contributes to keeping us stuck in misery.

Mindfuless is so awesome, I could almost say it’s nutritious and delicious, and I’d only be exaggerating a little.

Not only that, but mindfulness is… the exact opposite of everything you have learned in your entire military career, EVER.

So, wrapping your head around it is going to feel a bit like learning to live on an alien planet.

In the military, you learn to push yourself to your limits, and then to push yourself some more. If that doesn’t work, then the answer is to push yourself even harder – never yield, never, ever give up.

Now – I’m not pointing this out to in any way disrespect military culture – your perseverance is something that I respect and admire. I understand that, in your line of work, expecting yourself to succeed against impossible odds is necessary.

Here’s the thing, though: when dealing with your mental health, that dogged determination can contribute to grinding you deeper into your misery.

It’s like this: maybe you went through some stuff, and it rattled you, and you just can’t shake it. But, you might believe that failure is unacceptable, and you feel like a failure that you can’t shake it. You also might believe that the way to success is to push yourself harder (because that’s what life in the military taught you).

The thing is – when you’re depressed, overwhelmed, stressed out, not sleeping well, having nightmares and panic attacks – then pushing yourself harder, and expecting yourself to suck it up and soldier on doesn’t magically make your issues go away. In fact, it often does just the opposite – it might make you feel worse.

In your training and your work in the military, pushing yourself harder is often your best tool. In your mental health, it’s your worst enemy.

So – this is why we’re going to learn about mindfulness. Mindfulness is about noticing our own experience without judging it; no shame, no guilt, no self-criticism, just a “here’s where I’m at now”.

NO, it doesn’t magically solve all of your problems in an instant – but, it gives you a chance to stop being your own worst enemy. And once you stop putting all of your energy into beating up on yourself, well, then it actually becomes a lot easier to cope.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry M. Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Getting Through the Holidays, Part 1: Make a Plan

When you’re dealing with PTSD and/or depression, the holidays can be especially difficult, for a number of reasons:

  • Family: you may have loved ones who don’t really understand what you’re going through. They might try really hard to make you happy because it’s the holidays. When that fails, you might feel guilty, and they might feel underappreciated and resentful;
  • Gatherings: being in a group of happy people might make you feel like an outsider. You don’t feel how they’re feeling, and seeing happy people can be all the more excruciating when you’re hurting.
  • Survivor’s guilt: if you’ve lost buddies, you may feel undeserving of celebrating the holidays with your family when others don’t have a chance to celebrate with theirs.
  • Trauma anniversaries: if the bad stuff happened around the holidays, you may find yourself even more on edge at this time of year.
  • Crowds are hard enough when they aren’t filled with frenzied holiday shoppers.

This is by no means a list of everything that comes up around the holidays, but it’s some of the more common concerns.

Here’s the thing: you’re here, you’re reading this post, and that’s already a good step forward. Let’s take some time to think about it and problem-solve, to try to get you through the holidays as smoothly as possible this year.

First – give some thought to what the holidays were like last year. What were the biggest trouble spots for you?

  • If a relative tried to “cheer you up” and then felt hurt or upset that it didn’t work, please send them this post. They need to know that it’s not their fault, or yours. You can’t make depression or PTSD take a break for the holidays.
  • If big gatherings are difficult: (1) go to smaller gatherings; (2) don’t attend every single thing you’re asked to do; (3) use coping strategies, like going outside for a few minutes of relaxation; offering to take the host’s dog around the block; or leaving when you need to, rather than just sitting there and punishing yourself.
  • Plan ahead what you feel up to this year, and what you don’t. Don’t participate out of a sense of duty and obligation; skip what you need to skip.
  • The holidays can be a really lonely, isolating experience. Please realize YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This blog has 15,000 readers – that’s fifteen thousand readers who can relate to how you’re feeling. So while you’re avoiding the big gatherings with your relatives, reach out to a battle buddy. If you don’t have one, reach out right here.

Hey – all I want from Santa this year, is for all my readers to still be around in January. And he’d better deliver.

Please reach out when you need to. 

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD Triggers: Crowds

So – while we’re on the topic of triggers, let’s talk about crowds. From what I gather, most of you are not big fans of crowds.

Like I keep saying, PTSD is basically your brain’s threat-alert system, kicked into high gear without an “off” button. So – you’re constantly trying to size up all possible threats.

Say you’re in a room with one door, one window, and one other person. That’s not bad; you can scan window-door-person, to look for possible threats.

Now say you’re in a bigger room, with ten people. Keeping track is much harder, and it’s easier to get overwhelmed.

It goes up to a whole new level if you’re in a grocery store, a mall, or a football stadium. Now, there’s just no way to keep track of it all. Just thinking about it, you might start to feel your heart rate speeding up a bit – that’s your reflex, getting ready to fight or flee.

Take a moment. Breathe. You’re not there right now.

See what just happened there? That feeling started, even though you were just thinking. Thinking is not dangerous – but your survival reflex is so strong, that just thinking about it makes the danger feel SO real.

When we start to feel like that, we interpret that feeling itself as a sign that there’s danger. If we can’t quickly scan our entire environment, we start thinking the danger must be real, only we can’t see it.

Feeling tense/nervous/uneasy does NOT mean that you’re in danger – it just means that your threat-detection system is reminded of danger.

…That little fact right there folks – that is the key to the universe.

When you’re dealing with PTSD, having that feeling that tells you, “Oh no, major danger is coming” does NOT actually mean that anything is coming.

It just means that your threat-response system was reminded of danger.

Remember Dave the Zebra, and his red flowers? Well – crowds are sort of like your red flowers.

So – how do you cope?

Remind yourself that, as soon as you start to think about crowds, your PTSD will start to act up. This is not because thinking is dangerous, or because crowds are dangerous; it’s because PTSD reacts to reminders of danger.

Heading into a crowd, you’re going to feel anxious/tense/wound up. You may even start imagining all kinds of horrible things that could go wrong, and all those things might feel very, very real. Feeling and thinking this way does not mean that you’re in danger, or that awful things will happen. This is a normal part of PTSD; it is to be expected. This is unpleasant, but not dangerous.

Repeat this information to yourself frequently; with consistent practice, it will get easier. (You’ll probably still not like being in crowds, but it will get easier to cope with it.)

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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PTSD: Dissociative Symptoms

Holy feedback!

As soon as I put up the last blog post, there was a stampede of comments and emails saying, “Yes! Talk about this more!!!”

Okay.

So we left off talking about how the “freeze” response is part of the fight/flight/freeze reflex. It’s how we defend ourselves when we can’t fight or run away; it dulls the pain of whatever is happening.

Let’s put this together with some information we have from before, about how reflex learns: it learns that any reminder of the trauma is a sign of danger.

So – a reminder of your trauma might set off a “freeze” reaction.

Here’s what it feels like: you might feel like you’re not really in your body so it’s not really happening to you (this is called depersonalization); or you might feel like the whole thing is a dream, a movie, or happening in slow motion like it’s not real (this is called derealization). You might feel like you’re just losing chunks of time – ‘waking up’ and not knowing how you got to be wherever you are.

Here’s what it feels like to have PTSD do this to your life: it’s terrifying. You feel like you have no control over your mind or body. You want to do everything you can to grip onto reality, but you get sucked into this rabbit hole. You might feel angry at your mind for betraying you this way.  You might feel guilty, weak, and ashamed for not being “strong enough” to somehow hang on tighter and not let this happen to you. It can leave you feeling traumatized again and again, every time it happens, because being helpless to stop yourself from dissociating can remind you of being helpless to stop your trauma when it happened. You might feel depressed, useless, worthless.

…Boy, sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Look – I won’t try and tell you that getting out of this is going to be quick or easy. If your PTSD includes dissociation, research suggests that, as far as PTSD goes, yours is bigger and harder to heal.

What makes it worse is, every time it happens, you might feel disappointed in yourself, like you should be stronger. This just erodes whatever self-respect you have left. You’d never say stuff like that to a buddy to encourage them when they’re struggling…

You need to start by realizing that this happens to you because you don’t feel safe; so, how you start to fix it, is to work on increasing your sense of safety.

The ability to feel safe is like a muscle – and yours is, well… It’s not so strong. You strengthen it with exercises – stuff like relaxation. Grounding skills. These are your drills: practice this stuff. Be patient with yourself: this might mean that, for now, don’t purposely put yourself in circumstances that you know will be overwhelming for you. What you’re trying to accomplish here is very hard work, so give it time.

Finally – you know that fine print I put at the end of every post? You know, the stuff that you never read, because you don’t think there’s anything important under the pretty picture?

Yeah; it says that this blog is not a substitute for therapy. If you’re dealing with PTSD with dissociative symptoms, it’s extremely difficult to try and heal that on your own. Please consider getting help to give yourself the best chance of recovery.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Sexual Dysfunction and Relationships, Part II

*Disclaimer: This is a really broad topic, and I’m not a sex therapy expert, so I won’t be able to cover everything that’s relevant. Most of my patients are male and heterosexual, so I’m addressing the topic from that perspective. I don’t mean to leave anyone else out, I just try to stick to writing about what I know.

Last post, we discussed how sexual dysfunction can impact how you feel about yourself, and how it might impact your thoughts about getting into a new relationship if you’re single.

If you’re already in a relationship, then that’s a whole different kind of situation: for one thing, you and your significant other probably have some sense of what you can expect of your sex life: how often, where, for how long, and so on.

When your body suddenly decides it’s not going to go along with your established norm, it can be frustrating and confusing to both of you. It’s easy to get sucked into feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment… And those feelings just make it more likely that you pull away from your partner even more. The more you pull away, the more disconnected from each other you feel, and the more difficult it can be to work on this.

So – it’s important for both of you to realize that it’s not your fault, or your partner’s fault either. It’s just another part of PTSD. You’re a team. You will deal with this as a team.

Ddon’t allow this issue to stop you from showing affection to each other. Take time to hold hands, look each other in the eye, and smile at each other; cuddle, or drive out to a nice peaceful spot and have a lovely, romantic picnic. These are all examples of ways to feel more connected with each other, and that’s likely to help.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Spouses want to know: PTSD and Sexual Dysfunction

So – guess what we’re talking about today? (Go ahead, check the title again). That’s right.

*Disclaimer: This is a really broad topic, so I won’t be able to cover everything that’s relevant. The question was originally asked by a female spouse of a male veteran. Most of my patients are male and heterosexual, so I’m addressing the topic from that perspective. I don’t mean to leave anyone else out, I just try to stick to writing about what I know.

In person, some of the patients that I work with find this really awkward to discuss.

Well – look on the bright side: this is a blog! You don’t have to ask this stuff in person! All the answers, none of the awkwardness!

The research is pretty clear that there’s a link between PTSD and sexual dysfunction. Most studies show that in veterans with PTSD, about 8 to 9 out of every 10 have some sort of sexual dysfunction. That’s much higher than combat veterans without PTSD, and higher than veterans with other mental health diagnoses. “Sexual dysfunction” can be a whole list of different problems – including having less sexual desire; erectile dysfunction; premature ejaculation, or inability to reach orgasm.

8 to 9 out of every ten. That means that, if you have PTSD and you don’t have some sort of sexual dysfunction – you’re the exception.

If you didn’t know that before, then it’s important that you know this about your body, and what PTSD can do to it. It’s not you, it’s not your fault, it’s not because you’re doing something wrong. It’s not your partner’s fault either. Add it to the long list of things you dislike about PTSD.

But – let’s talk about how and why this happens, and then, most importantly, let’s talk about what to do about it.

First, the “why”: remember that PTSD is survival reflex on overdrive; remember how we talked about reflex making all your big muscle groups tense up? Yeah – apparently, your survival reflex doesn’t consider that part of your body as a big muscle… Go figure.

Basically, reflex thinks that anything that doesn’t help you fight or flee is a waste of energy.

PTSD also makes you feel anxious and hyper-alert pretty much all the time, and that makes it hard to get in the mood and stay in the mood for long enough. Many people who have PTSD also feel disconnected and detached from loved ones, and that can make it hard for both partners to get in the right headspace. Increased anger and irritability can also put a damper on your relationship, and that can make the physical part of your relationship suffer too.

…Sounds pretty bad, huh?

Yeah… I know…

It can get better. Not magically, overnight better, but slowly and with some work – it can get better.

(Yes, pills can help. Talk to your doctor about getting some. But don’t expect pills to be a quick, easy, magic cure-all.)

First – go to therapy, and work on learning to manage your PTSD. When you learn more about how to manage your symptoms, this will make a difference.

Next – consider couples therapy. Especially if you’ve been struggling with this stuff for a long time, chances are there’s a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings from both of you that are driving a wedge between you. Couples therapy may help you to reconnect and feel closer, and that might help.

Third – don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. As long as you’re willing to try, things can get better.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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“I know I’m safe, so why am I still freaking out???”

This question is important, and it comes up a lot.

Okay – for me to explain this, you’ll have to imagine that your brain is a grapefruit.

(Hey – it’s either that, or this becomes a hard-core neurobiology lesson where I start throwing around Latin words that are harder to pronounce than my last name…)

…So – we’ll go with the grapefruit then?

The peel of the grapefruit is the “gray matter”, or cortex. It’s got all your smarts – this is where you analyze, make decisions, set priorities, and so on. You’re conscious only of the stuff that the gray matter does: the other parts of your brain do their thing behind the scenes, like an autopilot.

The fruit part of the grapefruit is the “white matter”. It’s a messenger – it sends ideas back and forth and makes your brain work quickly to translate a thought into an action.

The grapefruit’s got a few seeds in it. One of these seeds is a little thing called the amygdala. (This will be the only Latin word I’m throwing out there today, promise.) The amygdala sets off your fight/flight/freeze reaction, in response to anything that reminds it of a threat. It’s a reflex, so it doesn’t ask your permission before it goes off.

So – how is it that you can realize that everything’s okay, but still find your body reacting like you’re in danger?

Simple – the realizing that there’s no threat is coming from the peel of your grapefruit. But, at the same time, one of the seeds (your amygdala) is reminded of a threat, so it’s reacting as if you were in danger. Two different parts of your brain are doing two different things, at the same time.

It’s really important to know that this is how your brain works. If you don’t know, you might end up doing one of two things:

1. Telling yourself, “I should just suck it up and stop being so (bleep)ing scared, and what the (bleep) is wrong with me?”.

Yeah… Cause that’ll help, right? Fear is part of a reflex; beating up on yourself for it is sort of like blaming yourself for letting your toenails grow; you didn’t have a choice, so quit blaming yourself, it’s not your fault. Plus – talking to yourself this way just makes you feel shame and guilt, which feeds your depression. Do yourself a favour, and remind yourself that you are not to blame for your reflex.

2. The other option is that you start thinking, “I’m feeling so nervous that there must be something to be scared of and I’m just not seeing it”.

…If you want a quick, easy recipe for freaking yourself right out, then telling yourself that there are invisible dangers that you cannot sense is a good way to do it…

However, if you want to help yourself relax instead – then remind yourself that you’re feeling nervous because a very primitive part of your brain is being triggered to think of a threat; it’s not very smart, so it can’t tell the difference between real and imagined threats.

So, how do you try to stop it? You tell yourself that it’s just your threat reflex sounding a false alarm; then use your relaxation skills to help yourself to relax. (Yes, this is exactly why I keep droning on about how important it is to practice relaxation regularly…)

It’s simple – but simple and easy are two very different things. You’ll need a lot of practice to make it a habit to think this way, but once you’re successful, it will be a helpful tool.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Spouses want to know: PTSD, Withdrawing, and How to Respond

Today’s question is: “What’s the best way to deal with withdrawal by a spouse with PTSD – call them on it, or what????”

As luck would have it, just as I was sitting down to write this post, I also received the flipside of the question:

“My wife more or less just gets mad at me when I leave the room to cool down; she says I’m running away to hide… How can I help her understand?”

If you’re the spouse of someone who has PTSD, it can be lonely and frustrating to be married to someone who keeps pulling a disappearing act. Even at the best of times, you might feel rejected and pushed away. At the worst of times, when your partner takes off while the kids are screaming and dinner’s burning, you might feel downright abandoned that your partner isn’t pulling their weight.

An important part of how you cope is to get some support for YOU – whether that means therapy, peer support, family or a babysitter to help if you have young kids, whatever you might need. You’ve got a lot on your plate, and you need to be able to vent to someone who won’t judge you or your partner.

As a spouse, you have every right to feel angry and frustrated – BUT, remind yourself that you’re angry and frustrated with your partner’s illness, not with your partner. If your partner is withdrawing because they are overwhelmed or triggered, this is very different from running away because they’re a lazy, selfish jerk who won’t lift a finger to help out, or because they don’t care about your feelings. Don’t confuse illness with selfishness; don’t treat one as if it was the other.

On the other hand, the stuff that’s going on inside the head of a person with PTSD is more than most of us can imagine. If it sometimes seems like your spouse with PTSD is only going through the motions of day-to-day life, it’s because at that moment, that might be the best they can do. Chances are, they realize that they aren’t there enough for you, and they carry a lot of guilt and shame about not being able to do more. They may be feeling helpless, worthless, and angry that they can’t do more to beat this thing. Feeling this way doesn’t help them get a leg up on coping – it just pushes them down more.

The best way to try to cope is together, as a team. Realize that you’re not angry at each other – you’re both angry at the PTSD, and at what it’s doing to your family. Thinking this way puts you on the same side, and that makes it easier to support each other.

Here’s some statements to try out:

Spouse of person with PTSD: “I know you’re doing your best; I’m not blaming you. I just hate that this happened to you. I hate that it gets in the way of things you would like to do.”

Person with PTSD: “I hate that it gets so bad that sometimes crawling into my shell is all I can do. I wish I could just shake this thing off. I know it’s not fair to you.”

Hug each other. Support each other. It won’t magically fix things, but it will get easier if you and your spouse feel like you’re on the same team, and you have each other’s back.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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