What PTSD Taught Me About Friendship

Having a genuine friend is vital to having a healthy life.  Many studies, as well as life experience, teaches us that friendship is healthy spiritually, physically and emotionally.  I am not talking about people who are acquaintances or people you are friendly to at the office.  I mean a friend who you can tell anything and if they disagree with your thoughts they will not abandon you or be pissed off for years because you told them something that may have offended them.

I have also learned that in order to have good friends you must be a good friend.  The traits of genuine friends are patience, kindness, understanding, deferential treatment, and faithfulness.  Friendship also includes making time for your friend.  In American culture, time is the most precious thing we have.  Making time for friends is a very tangible way to make your relationship stronger and more valuable to both of you.

The need for a friend or friends is universal.  The need to have a genuine friend is not only universal but for those who suffer from PTSD, it is absolutely necessary.  Our trauma came about in the community and our healing must come through the community.  By community, I mean with and around people.  For years I was “locked” away in my head.  Many times I have locked myself away from the community literally. My behavior made it very difficult for me to consistently be a good friend.  I was too busy trying to stay alive in the midst of never ceasing paranoia and hypervigilance. At some point, we must be willing to walk into the fear and a friend will walk through it with you.  I believe it is wise for the PTSD sufferer to be honest with their friends and let them know not only what is going on with you but what they can expect vis-a-vis your PTSD and how they can help you.  If you suffer flashbacks or temporary loss of rationality this is even more important.  This isn’t the time to be “independent.”  We cannot heal in isolation.  I also learned that if you want a friend you must be willing to walk through the fear and not give into the temptation to isolate.  Your friend should have permission to gently encourage you to not isolate.  You must choose not ditch them because they are trying to reintroduce you to normal activity.  It is also crucial that your friend understands that sometimes you won’t be able to do the activities that people find so stress-free and common.  Your friend should never judge you.  They must be willing to sit with you as you suffer.  IOften times words are not even necessary.  Just having someone there in silence is often times the best we can do.

I believe it is wise for the PTSD sufferer to be honest with their friends and let them know not only what is going on with you but what they can expect vis-a-vis your PTSD and how they can help you.  If you suffer flashbacks or temporary loss of rationality this is even more important.  This isn’t the time to be “independent.”  We cannot heal in isolation.  I also learned that if you want a friend you must be willing to walk through the fear and not give into the temptation to isolate.  Your friend should have permission to gently encourage you to not isolate.  You must choose not ditch them because they are trying to reintroduce you to normal activity.  It is also crucial that your friend understands that sometimes you won’t be able to do the activities that people find so stress-free and common.  Your friend should never judge you.  They must be willing to sit with you as you suffer.  Often times words are not even necessary.  Just having someone there in silence is often times the best we can do.

It is important for you to be able to be 100% open and honest with your friends.  It is also important to realize that you will most likely run into someone who can’t handle or simply doesn’t have the time or inclination to walk someone through painful and messy healing.  That is ok.  That doesn’t mean that person is bad.  It just means that they become an acquaintance and that is just fine.  Be aware that you may get hurt,  Just do your best to be at peace with all people and simply move on.

I have had the blessing of having an incredibly patient and understanding wife.  My PTSD hurt her.  My PTSD scared her.  My PTSD confused her.  My PTSD angered her.  My PTSD caused her to think differently of herself.  Through all of that PTSD never caused her to quit!!  I will forever owe her a debt that cannot be repaid.  I literally owe her my life.  I also am lucky enough to have another friend in addition to my wife.  My friend has been willing to take my call at all hours.  My friend has often sacrificed his own time and activities so he could be with me.  My friend speaks well of me when I am not there,  he has always had my back.  He knows my entire story.  He is loyal and faithful!

If you are a person of faith then pray that God would bring you such a friend.  If not reach out to someone you trust or to someone you think you can trust.  Those people exist….I promise.

We must also be a good and loyal friend.  You may not be able to function at 100% during your sickness but you can choose to honest, vulnerable, faithful and present to their needs to a degree.

Continue to fight the lie always!

Colorado Adds PTSD to List of Conditions For Medical Marijuana

Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado made it official when he signed the bill into law.  Now, PTSD sufferers can legally use marijuana to treat the symptoms of PTSD.  Even in a state as forward thinking as Colorado, it is hard to believe this just became law.  Even though recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado now people can use the beautiful plant to treat PTSD and acquire the medicine under Colorado’s MMJ laws.

People who suffer from PTSD generally say that MMJ helps them to “think in the now” and not constantly stress about things that have happened to them in the past or events they fear are just around the corner.  I applaud the state of Colorado for allowing the victims of PTSD to use pot medicinally!  I will continue to advocate until marijuana is legal in all 50 states (which is certain to happen) and people can use it recreationally or medicinally-as they choose.  Isn’t that the cornerstone of freedom?

PTSD is Contagious

It took me years to realize how much having PTSD for 25 years affected the people around me.  Often times the people that I care about the most.  If you are suffering from PTSD I assure you in addition to the harm that this sickness causes you that it is hurting your friends and family.  Anyone who is in close proximity to you will be affected by your PTSD.  Sorry, I don’t want to be a downer but I do want to encourage you to seek treatment so you can get better, live in peace and begin the inventory of personal relationships that may need healing.  This is very difficult and often you may not see the damage your sickness has caused.  The difficulty in seeing the damage caused by your sickness is another reason to seek the guidance of a therapist who is trained AND experienced in treating trauma victims.

Did you know PTSD is contagious?  It is true.  You cannot catch PTSD from someone sneezing or blowing their nose and not washing their hands.  However, those nearest to you can “catch” PTSD from you due to your behavior.  Will, they catch a serious case of PTSD?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is almost assured that they will be damaged emotionally.  As you begin to get better and receive healing from PTSD it becomes a little easier to see the damage you have caused to others.

I don’t want to hit you over the head with this fact but simply to cause all those with PTSD to understand that many other people are affected by how PTSD causes you to live your life.  This can be a friend or group of friends that after inviting you to many functions without you showing up simply stop inviting you or having any hope that you will ever show up.  I understand that this is because you are sick with PTSD and the thought of going out into an uncontrolled environment scares the shit out of you.  The problem is, however, those people probably do not understand that this is the reason why.  Almost every relationship you have will bear some of the damage that PTSD causes.  Your coworkers, friends, family members, etc.

My PTSD has damaged my relationship with my children.  During my EMDR treatment, I went to both of my kids and explained why I had been such an asshole so many times. They deserved an explanation for my distant and seemingly uncaring attitude.  Repairing these relationships takes time and intense effort on your part.  My PTSD affected my beautiful wife in a huge way.  Imagine being married to a hyper-vigilant, angry, terrified and distracted person for years and years.  It takes its toll on all of your relationshups.

Here is the good news.  Those relationships can be restored most of the time.  Sadly, not all of the time.  Our responsibility to those we have harmed is, to be honest, and contrite.  We must work consciously and diligently to bring peace and healing to these relationships.  While it is true that some relationships are permanently damaged by this disorder (more accurately an injury to the brain) not all are irreparably harmed.  In fact, I believe that most of those relationships can be repaired and even become stronger. Keep your head up.  Remember you are a survivor.  Face the relationships that need to be repaired with humility, honesty and the firm resolve to own your stuff and work as hard as you can to allow them to heal.  After years of PTSD induced behavior, it may take a while for these relationships and these people to forgive you.  Just as you probably weren’t aware of the damage you were causing the people who were affected may not be fully aware of the scope of the damage that has been done to them.

Let’s move forward and be at peace with everyone if it is at all possible.  Once again remember you are a survivor and after the darkness, the sun does shine…every day.

What PTSD Taught Me About Giving Back

“Even in times of trauma, we try to maintain a sense of normality until we no longer can. That, my friends, is called surviving. Not healing. We never become whole again … we are survivors. If you are here today… you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it thru hell and are still standing? We bear a different name: warriors.”
― Lori Goodwin

It has been 1 year and 143 days since my last PTSD “episode.”  I feel great.  Sure, I still have to consciously “fight the lie” as I call it.  It is my way of saying that when a lie enters my head such as “I will always be fucked up in the head.  I am a loser and will never get better!”  that I use self-talk and refute the lie.  It sounds something like this “You will not always be fucked up.  Look at the progress you have made!”   I scoffed at this method for years.  However, between EMDR and self-talk amongst tons of support from friends and my awesome family, I would say I am 99% better.  I still have a lower tolerance for stress but I have learned to hang in there, breathe deeply and not to lash out at others in a crazy self-destructive way.  So, it is all good and my life is as normal as it has ever been…LOL.

Lori Goodwin’s quote rings true to me.  For years all I did was survive.  Survival is all you can do at many times on the road to healing.  Sometimes just surviving is a Herculean challenge.  However, I know consider myself not just a survivor but a warrior.  Warriors fight for people or causes.  My desire is to fight for those of us who are still just surviving. That is a hard desire to explain.  But, I want to let people know that they can conquer the damage, fear, and destruction that trauma and the resulting PTSD have caused.

I want people to know that they can get better.  Sometimes, people only get a little better.  Often times they experience an amazing degree of healing.  Before healing starts people first need to trust.  Trust is very difficult for folks with PTSD for obvious reasons. However, it is possible to trust again.  Maybe all you can do is trust someone or something or yourself 1% of the time.  That is OK, it is a start.  If you are suffering or know someone is trapped in the trauma prison know that you can get better.  The reason PTSD is referred to as a battle or a war is because it is hard as hell to break out of it and win your healing.  Also, we cannot heal ourselves.  We were hurt by people and healing will only come with proximity to and interaction with people.

Hang in there!  You are a survivor of the pain and horror that has claimed many of our fellow warriors.  FIGHT THE LIE! DON’T GIVE UP! CHOOSE TO TRUST SOMEONE.  There is hope and healing for you.

What PTSD Taught Me About Being Soft

“Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel.” T.C.

So, softness is not weakness.  Staying delicate takes courage.  I am not sure who said that originally but I am crediting it to Tommy Chong.  During this series on “What PTSD Has Taught Me” I have done lots of reflecting on the past.  Taking a look back at trauma is difficult.  All of the events that contributed to my PTSD are still in my memory banks.  They will never go away. I am, however able to look at them in the proper perspective.  It is my hope that people who are suffering from PTSD will be able to see that they are survivors!  I heard that for years.  In the midst of having active PTSD,  it is very difficult to believe that you are a survivor, but it is true.  Hang in there and you will see. Never give up.

One of the effects of and common behaviors of people suffering from trauma is to be hard, tough, ruthless, always vigilant, always hyper alert for danger and ready to kick some ass if necessary.  All of these behaviors are normal responses to trauma.  Who, in their right mind would not want to protect themselves after experiencing life-altering trauma?

When I was young I was a happy go lucky kid from southern California.  I was funny, friendly and looked at life as being full of great opportunities and adventure.  However, after my traumatic events, I changed.  I turned into a hyper-vigilant and paranoid man. My love of life had been replaced by anger, fear, and distrust.  I self-medicated with alcohol, pot, cocaine, speed, LSD, and opiates.  Man, I loved the poppy!  I was so angry at myself that I couldn’t stop stuffing substances in a trauma shaped hole that I just became sicker.  I did the best drugs man could make and yet I only got tempory relief from the demons in my head.  As Bono said, I was “stuck in a moment.”  Allow me to say I am not for one second down on people who are using substances to try to ease their pain.  Again, who could blame them?  I also believe (as science is showing us) that some substances, such as cannabis,  help people who suffer from PTSD very much.

I have always been to some extent “soft.”  What I mean by that is that is for my entire life I have been at heart a lover and not a fighter.  I have always desired to resolve issues by talking and not fighting.  I never looked at skills I learned in the army as necessarily good things just necessary.  I cry a lot.  It is easy to move my emotions.  I have never started a fight.  Getting revenge never sat well with me.  I have always been sympathetic to people and empathetic when possible.

I said all of that to say this: those so-called “soft” parts of me are the REAL me. I could have very easily ended the continual abuse I suffered by turning into a violent beast.  It is true.  My humanity stopped me from doing that.  I refused to act like an animal.  I was “soft” and now I glad I am!!!!

Keep fighting whatever the lie is that is torturing you!  Keep looking for people that will help you.  Nurture your “softness” it is what makes you human.

 

What PTSD Taught Me About Therapists Part 1

My last installment of this PTSD series looked at what I have learned about health care professionals in general and their knowledge or lack of knowledge about PTSD.  Today I want to look at what I have learned about really talented therapists.  Many of you have been to therapists with no results or, not the results and healing that you are seeking.  My hope is that this post will help in some way.  Don’t give up!  You can find a competent therapist to be your partner during your healing journey.  Remember, your therapist works for you.  He or she is an indispensable part of your healing, but you are the boss.  Many medicines are used to treat PTSD.  Antidepressants (Prozac), benzodiazepines (Valium), and mood stabilizers (Lamotrigine) are all used by doctors in their treatment of PTSD.  Medicine is only one tool that can be used to help treat PTSD.  However,  psychotherapy especially EMDR  is the most effective treatment for many if not most PTSD sufferers.  If you are not familiar with what EMDR is you can read this.

When choosing a therapist for PTSD I would like to make the following suggestions:

  1.  Select a therapist that specializes in PTSD.  Many therapists will list in their profile that they treat PTSD and trauma.  This may be true but finding one who does PTSD and EMDR as the majority of their practice is what you are looking for.  At one point in my journey I went to a therapist and during my intake, she stopped me and said she didn’t have enough experience to treat me.  She had PTSD and trauma listed as her specialties.  PTSD and EMDR treatment require more than a simple cursory understanding of the disorder.  Dr. Frank Ochberg is a pioneer in the treatment and causes of PTSD.  He is a rare mix of academic excellence, incredible warmth and compassion as well as the ability to help lay people understand the complexities of PTSD.  You can find many of his videos here.
  2. Select a therapist that you feel you can trust.  Sometimes, it is hard to know how you feel about a therapist because intake appointments are usually not enough time to form an opinion.  Use your gut feeling.  If the therapist seems rushed or perturbed with your desire to find out about their practice and experience than you can fire them.  Think of your initial appointment as an interview.  Ask questions of the therapist, read reviews online, talk to former or current patients. Schedule another appointment if you need to get a better feel of them.  Due diligence pays off.
  3.  Select a therapist that you can’t bull sh*t or intimidate. The fact of the matter is PTSD treatment involves visiting past traumatic events and trusting your therapist to push you and guide you when needed is essential.  A good therapist will work with you as memeber of your team.  Remember the treatment of PTSD is a difficult endeavor.  A good therapist will encourage you to be honest and brave in a compassionate and winsome manner.  I went to many therapists until I found one that was a good fit for me and my needs.  A good therapist also has to have your permission to push back a little when it is called for.  Again, experience and compassion are what you are looking for.

 

 

What PTSD Taught Me About Doc’s

PTSD taught me that many doctors and other health care professionals do not know much about such a common disorder/injury as PTSD.  I have spoken to and have been treated by M.D.’s, D.O.’s, psychologists,  and neurologists who have what I would call a beginner’s understanding of PTSD. I have even run into clinicians who have told me that it is a matter of simply pushing through the pain!  Not only is that view completely lacking compassion but it is incorrect.  On a personal note, I saw many psychiatrists and other professionals for 20 years.  I presented in an honest and forthright manner.  I was NEVER diagnosed with PTSD through all of those years.  My diagnosis was generally a severe case of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).  Many doctors know even less about effective treatment models.  I was speaking with a neurologist recently and this gentlemen didn’t know what EMDR was.  EMDR is the most effective treatment for PTSD.  My point is not to denigrate doctors it is to let you know that finding an experienced practitioner may take some investigating and trial and error.  Please don’t be discouraged.  Help is available and many people are willing to help.  Sometimes with PTSD, it is hard to reach out for help for many reasons.  Some of these reasons are fear of reliving the trauma, struggling with depression so you have no motivation to seek help, money, and often times shame.  If you are at a place where you think you may be ready to get treatment or simply talk to someone please do your best to reach out.  Let a trusted friend know what is going on and ask them for help.  If you can’t seem to find someone right now that can listen then please message me.  You are a survivor and you can find freedom from PTSD and it’s devastating effects.