Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Belly of the Beast Part 4

I've been doing a blog series on my PTSD. You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here. I've talked about my personal experiences, but in this last piece, I'd like to talk more about what you can do to help someone with PTSD because PTSD sucks, plain and simple. Have you seen those commercials that says "depression hurts everyone?" Same goes for PTSD. It sucks for people who have it and it sucks for people who love someone who does. Loving someone who has PTSD is HARD {just ask my husband--God bless the man}. Your loved one can be distant, depressed, or downright terrifying at times. But they NEED you to love them anyway. With that in mind, here's a list of things you can do to help someone with their PTSD.

  1. Learn EVERYTHING you can about PTSD. Read about symptoms from medical websites like the Mayo Clinic or the ADAA. Also read PTSD message boards and read personal testimonies of people who suffer with PTSD. By better understanding the symptoms, you will stop taking certain behaviors personally by recognizing the disease when you see it. For example, some people isolate when they're triggered, so by knowing that, you wouldn't take it so personally if they flake out on you from time to time. 
  2. Don't stop there. Learn EVERYTHING you can about their unique PTSD situation. Become a student of your loved one. Learn what triggers them up so you can avoid it. For example, POW's who have been water boarded often have a tough time in rainstorms. Even though everyone rationally knows that rainfall isn't dangerous, that person's brain has been hijacked by this disorder and they are simply not capable of thinking rationally when triggered. Learn what triggers them up and what calms them down. 
  3. Ask. Don't tell. Ask them what they need from you or how you can help them. Different people are going to need different things, and you won't know if you don't ask. For me, I need human connection and friendship. Other people need space to deal with their PTSD more privately. But don't assume that they need what you would need. Don't tell someone how to get better. Don't send cliche quotes like "God never gives us more than we can handle". Without knowing where they're at, you can do a lot more harm than good… as well-meaning as you may be. Let them hurt. Let them cry. Let them have a safe place to expose their mess. Validate their pain. Cry and grieve with them, if needed.
  4. People with PTSD have a hard time trusting people because the trauma has rendered the world an unsafe place. They won't ask for help. They won't want to talk about their feelings. This is weird spot to be in when you're wanting to learn how to be helpful. You should learn as much as you can, but don't push them to talk. Sometimes revisiting the trauma can be just as traumatic, if not more so, than when it actually occurred. Just let them know that when they're ready to talk, you're ready to listen. 
  5. Along the lines of trust, I cannot overstate how important it is for someone who is suffering from PTSD to have people in their corner that they know have their back. So if you find your path crosses someone who suffered from PTSD, earn their trust and keep it. Listen. Don't judge. Don't make it seem like the trauma is no big deal. Don't blame them for the trauma. Keep what they say confidential if that is what they need. Make the world safer for them. Also, don't assume that they know how you feel about them. Remind them that they are lovable, and tell them all the things your love about them--because I promise they go through many points that they do not love themselves.
  6. PTSD literally changes the brain--it is an actual injury. Do not tell them to just get over it or move on. If they could just get over it or move on, they would've by now. Don't say everything is OK now just because the trauma is in the past. People with PTSD struggle with the trauma replaying over and over, so it is NOT in the past for the sufferer. PLUS--they know intellectually that they shouldn't be reacting the way that they are because they are no longer in the traumatic situation. Therefore, telling them things like this causes a magnifying effect on the shame they're already experiencing. 
  7. The most intense emotion I experience with PTSD is shame. I HATE that I'm this way, I would choose something different if I could. Others often feel the same way, so emphasize what they get right. Tell them you're proud of their strength for surviving not only the trauma, but the PTSD as well. Tell them how amazed you are with them when they talk about it. 
  8. Be patient. It's a process. A LONG process. Often, it's a lifelong process. It has so many setbacks and relapses. Stay positive and know that the sufferer is probably more frustrated than you are with how long it's taking to recover. Acknowledge that recovery sucks or is taking longer than they would like. 
  9. PTSD is a war. It's just an internal war that leaks out of the sufferer. That means it will be tough for anyone who loves that person to be in such close proximity to war without catching some flack. So be prepared for a lot of emotions to enter in, and make sure you take care of you. You won't be any good to them if you're burned out. And it's ok to be mad or sad at the situation. It doesn't mean you don't love them. It just means that PTSD sucks. 
  10. Don't ever feel guilty that you don't have the answers. No one does! Telling that person that you don't have answers is absolutely better than silence. The most healing thing someone said to me was "I don't know what to say but I hate that you're dealing with this. How can I help you?"
  11. Also, don't feel guilty that you can't completely fix it. You can't fix what you didn't break. Only Jesus can do that. So pray, pray, pray for them without ceasing. 

So if you're at a loss for what to do or say, that's OK. Just remind them that you are committed to walking with them on their journey to healing. Just show up when you can where you can to help them carry their load… because it's unspeakably heavy to be carrying alone.

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