I’m in a unique position of having to take my own advice and I don’t really wanna. I’d like to tell some folks what to do, and what not to do, but I just finished a blog and posted it last week about that very thing. The risk of telling people definitively what works and what doesn’t.

Instead of do and don’t do, I’m going to tailor it. Here goes. I’m going to call them “perhaps you oughtas” and “ WTF were you thinking.”

 

Perhaps you oughta give them some time to get their groove back.  Let me tell you a little story. No trauma porn*, but a coping story or rather one that highlights a failure in coping. One normal day in 2014, I found myself with a wobbly tire on Highway 99. Highway 99 is of no significance really, other than having extremely small shoulders on the straightaway parts. So I go from driving driving driving driving alright, good driving STOPS, to wobble wobble wobble. (The soldiers out there will chuckle from that last sentence as it mimics a weapons class when the weapon turns to shit.)  I had my first flat at age 35. Never actually had one before, that was my own. Helped change tires but never had to change my own tire. Now I need to change a tire. I pull over, get out the jack , find a good place to lever, chock a wheel so it doesn’t roll, old tire off, donut tire on, bob’s your uncle. The tire isn’t the story. What mattered was that the cars, and more importantly trucks were whizzing by my head by a couple feet as I’m sorting out the tire and I felt nothing. I felt the threat of harm actually fun, made my focus easier and just WHAM BAM THANK YOU MAAM. Done. Got back in ole nessy (my 09 jeep patriot) and felt kinda proud having handled that with no panic feeling or anxiety at all. Fucking eh mate, you’ve turned a corner. Starting to get your old self back and sort shit out. Finally.

* Trauma Porn for those of you not familiar with the world of PTSD over the last decade this will be a new phrase. As will Trauma Whore. War Porn. It is the infuriating habit of those who oughta know better who love nothing better than to either create sensational trauma (suddenly we hear you ‘cut’ or the abuse you suffered in graphic detail; the psychologists who literally get off on the details of another’s trauma) or in the pursuit of that magical “cure” encourage another person to go over the minute details of their trauma. I have zero tolerance for it and as soon as I get a whiff of it, god help you.  Be aware that it is part of the PTSD culture; I’ve seen it in psychologists, advocates, etc if you smell it, get away from that person as quickly as possible they won’t help you, they are sponges.  The aim in PTSD is to move forward, move passed the diagnosis, move on with life not remain trapped.  Kate

 

The next morning I was shaking and almost in tears. It had nothing to do with the tire, kind of. That’s still a win. That morning, I couldn’t find the bread / nutella / apples / lunch bags / snacks / everything to sort the kids out for school. My brain was jello, which I can handle. The problem was this was brain dead , easy, mundane shit to do. I can make fucking lunches. I’ve made thousands. I’ve done things. I’ve led men in violent places, I’ve done dangerous things, I just changed a tire yesterday on Highway 99 god damn it. I can make a god damn sandwich. I can make some fucking lunches!

In the end, I took the boys off to Subway, and focused like heck on driving them safely there as I knew I was mentally fried. And I needed to do it without tears. It’s not like I’m embarrassed to cry, but how do I explain to two young boys that lunches took me down? So focus focus focus on every car, person, check mirrors, check speed check check check. And drive those 3 blocks like a fucking champion. And I did, and I dropped them off, and I got home less safely than I got there and cried in my jeep over sandwiches and lunch bags that took me down.

Bottom line. I wasn’t fine. Today I’m still not fine, but I’m better. I still needed time to get my feet under me, feel the mojo, find my groove, or whatever it is. And the adrenalin dump of the day before took almost almost 24 hours to kick in, and when it did it left me unable to function. I doubt I even tied my shoes.

Should I add that I didn’t sleep a wink that night either? Figures.

Brian has shared this story to illustrate how the mundane in life can take a PTSD brain down. In our home I make lunches, I watch him carefully and I listen.  I am his human caregiver, Sasha is his canine caregiver and between us we can judge his “okayness” accurately.  Right now thanks to horrendously nasty and asinine external forces I know his brain is running at 85% maxed out stress; think of a PTSD brain as a glass of water that is permanently half full, a normal brain empties at the end of every day allowing a full glass of new stresses to arrive the next day, a PTSD brain has half that capacity at best.  During the sort of emotional horror show he is living now I go into protection mode.  I limit his daily responsibilities, I head off any stresses I can, I intervene with family if it is going to add to his already full load, I get trusted friends of his to call and visit.  They and I know the man we love, we know his strength and brilliance.  Sometimes it’s important to remind him of who he is, that he isn’t this injury and this too will pass.  A close buddy of Brian’s visited recently, an incredible man who was Paratroop Rescue, lost one and half legs in South America, he said, “I wish my wife had known that simple fact: this too shall pass.”  It is easy for all of us, even those with allegedly healthy brains, to see life as finite thing, events in black and white, the truth is that it is a continuum of good and bad, with no logic or meaning other than our survival and taking joy wherever possible from it.  In closing: “Perhaps you oughta give them some time to get their groove back.”  Kate

 

WTF where you thinking telling them how easy it is? So I brought this up in a conversation with a so called care provider and her approach was to try and explain the concept to me. Of lunches! Her approach was like PTSD , which she is treating me for , has made me a retard who can’t make lunches. And so she’s now here to re-teach me what goes in a lunch, and what dads need to know about nutrition, and on and on. I wanted to scream at her, but I was mad as hell and at a loss for words. So instead, I’ll tell you here today. PTSD did not make me an idiot. It didn’t make me stupid. It didn’t make me incapable of understanding concepts, simple or complicated. What it does do is at times breaks the connectivity. So no amount of explaining , or talking slowly (like old people do to immigrants: hhhhiiiiiiiii, hhhooowwwww rrrrrrr uuuuuu), or telling us how easy it is will help. We aren’t having a sandwich problem, so a sandwich solutions answer won’t help. We are having a brain function problem which would happen if we were trying to find the fucking nutella or fly a plane. We get that its easy. No shit. But the reason we can’t do it right now has more to do with the adrenalin dump from yesterdays tire change than it has to do with whats in front of us right now.

Enough about tires and Nutella

Think of it like this: I am finally able to get back to running after two years having ripped both my Achilles.  I run with my eldest two through the forest, teaching them what I know of breathing and relaxing shoulders, stretching.  Our focus is building to 5km and then 10km.  In your mind take a run with me through the forest, we start intelligently fast pace march to warm up muscles, suddenly a bear jumps out and starts to chase, you sprint like you are Jesse Owens reborn.  You leave that bear in the dust.  You broke landspeed records and carried me on your back whilst doing it.  We get home and you are pumped.  Buzzzing.  The next day I say come on let’s do our 5km run.  How do you feel about that?  Are you even able to move?  Nope.  You’ve ripped ligaments, you’ve pulled muscles, you are exhausted and I’m not going to ask you to mow the lawn, vacuum the house or paint the shed.  I’m going to give you massage, put you in a bath and let you recover.  Kate

Perhaps you oughta think about your role, with that person. Why do you have a relationship in the first place? What do they want from you and what do they like about them before the injury. I say that, because chances are that’s what they want from you now. If you were the buddy that they used to hike with and play poker with on fridays, your injured friend doesn’t need you to research the latest in sleep therapy or forward him links about the cerebral cortex, or some thing to make him think he had mefloquine toxicity (he might). He probably wants to play some fucking cards and have people that he can talk too about his grief, and just as importantly not talk too about it. If you used to golf, then golf. If you are his wife, then be his wife. WTF were you thinking when you forgot what your relationship is based on and now tried to be his doctor? Be his buddy, be his girlfriend , be her dad, be whatever you actually are. You are not their doctor, and it is between the doctor and the patient to do doctorly things. And if they don’t have a doctor because they are too stubborn or still hiding the fact they have a problem in the first place; you are still not their doctor. Perhaps they need one. Not you. Doctors go to school for years, and you can’t pick up what they know from an article from Jenny McCarthy or Oprah (both of equal disrepute to me.) Backyard psychology is as harmful as no psychology. But if your injured person is still there in your life, they want to be , and chances are they want you for your authentic self. So be that.

You can’t fix anybody but yourself.  That’s it.  I see too often a spouse or a parent take on the role of miracle healer.  Stop it.  Brian has an incredibly intelligent, insightful, educated and focused doctor.  That’s where Brian goes for help and advice, coping skills and a kick up the ass when needed.  Here’s another thing: LISTEN to your PTSD brained loved one.  Quit assuming you know best.  You don’t.   He or She is still that same person.  If you want to help limit the stresses when they are stressed.  Be there.  Be genuine.  BUT do NOT ignore requests, don’t meddle and don’t try to find the “cure”.  Everything needs to be honest, open and truthful.  Everything.  No games, no agendas.  Kate

WTF where you thinking when you arranged a surprise party for them? Or lied about what you were actually doing just to get them out of the house so you could teach them just how fine the situation really is. Or that you now feel, that due to their PTSD, you are more qualified to make decisions about what is right and wrong for them than they are. WTF were you thinking! If you take away their autonomy, and their feelings of making their own sovereign decisions over their body, their relationship with you may go from a spouse-spouse relationship to a warden-inmate relationship. Your relationship may become the jail as they are now tied to you, but you call the shots, because hey you know better. DO NOT DO THIS. WTF were you thinking? Trust is important in all relationships but crucial in the injured PTSD brain. They need to trust and feel like they aren’t going to be exposed and ridiculed were they to react in front of you. You must hold their trust to be part of their team moving forward and for the PTSD brain, predictability is a gift from god. Spontaneity is a steaming bag of dogshit from the devil. In fact , one of the reasons the PTSD brain tends to hermit is not a hate of people but rather a need to be in a place (their home) where they control the agenda. No surprises at home, hopefully. Generally , everything here is easy to figure out; its predictable.

Trust comes from respect.  If you no longer respect the PTSD brained person in your life, leave.  Just leave.  Without mutual respect there can be no trust.  It’s that simple.  Kate

Perhaps you oughta relax your expectations about punctuality and follow through. You may have seen this before. Do you remember when you had your first child, and that friend you really wanted to see had to keep getting pushed off for puke, poops, naps, sore nipples (grabbing at straws here), or you were so bag-assed tired you just couldn’t? That’s a very close reality to how the PTSD brain may have to handle you for a bit, or a while, or forever. They love you. They want to want to do the things, but their new reality means they can’t even though they want too. So just like having a kid makes trips to Seattle overnight almost impossible, PTSD will make trips to Seattle almost impossible. For me, I have nasty gut reactions to anxiety. My guts cramp, I get terrible IBS, and frequent bleeding. Thats right folks. PTSD makes my guts bleed, lots. Like a CSI crime scene just got filmed in the toilet bowl.

So there are now things that I just don’t do. And if I used to do it with you , I apologize for the loss but I really have no ill or guilt feelings because I’m not doing anything wrong by being honest and saying “no, I can’t.” If I say I’ll be there at six, please know I tried. I assure you I was ready to be there at six. But sometimes just as I”m leaving my house (anxiety creeps up a bit) my guts tell me I’m not leaving till a half hour later. Or I just might have to flat out bail. I may also show up and have to bolt in half an hour. I’m not thoughtless and you still mean a tonne to me, but my bleeding guts have other plans.

I was invited to a party in Ontario with my two girls.  It was a fancy family party with my then retired cop boyfriend and well known PTSD advocate.  At this party my youngest child was attacked by another, and that child’s father instead of making us feel safe did the opposite.  I asked to leave and was told to suck it up.  It escalated with me near punching the Dad’s lights out, and yes I took a swing when he aggressively stepped into my space with his fists clenched, I aimed for his throat.  As flight was not an option, fainting not an option because my two children were with me, I had fight left as fight.  Never put a PTSD brained human into a corner where all they have left is fight.  The punch was caught by my now (obviously) EX retired cop boyfriend who realized too late what he’d done to me.  Never do that to a PTSD brain.  If we need to leave, we leave.  I haven’t been to a big unknown party since then.  Nor will I.  It left such a mark on my psyche.  Safety.  Known outcomes.  Exits.  These are things I need, never mind Brian.  LISTEN to the PTSD Brain and yes their needs come first and never ever tell a PTSD brain to “suck it up”.  Kate

 

In the end the core of us is the same. I’m still Brian. I still like the same things and hate the same things. But my list of “can’t do’s” is a little longer than it used to be. And in terms of things I need to work on, I need to make sure I’m not doing things to artificially make that list longer than it needs to be. But I’m still me. I just react different. I’m working on it, trust me.

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3 Comments

  1. Is there a way to gently remind someone with PTSD that others being late or having to cancel is not cause to flip their twigs? I work a job where I can’t leave till the last patient is gone, if I’m late my partner gets super anxious. He can get really cranky and thinks I’m inconsiderate if I don’t call. So then I start calling and can’t reach him. The phone is on the charger or he is sleeping or he just decided not to answer it. Grrr….. this is an ongoing battle. Or if his kids are going to call or Skype and they can’t he is hyper critical and takes great offence. The fact is a family building a house with two toddlers around sometimes can’t honour their commitments. We are understanding of when he needs to cancel or if he needs extra time and yet there doesn’t seem to be a way to get him to understand we need the occasional concession ourselves. Any advice?

    • Kate Gillie
      Kate Gillie Reply

      Brian is going to reply to you separately. But here’s my take on this.

      PTSD brains are wired to see either we are good or we are all going to die in a bloody ball of flames & anguish.

      Not kidding. I have one, it’s old now and I’ve literally been at the epicentre of the PTSD show having had it since childhood, and fighting for answers from every neurologist (I find them more educated than psychiatrists) and have watched psychology move from the asinine BS of Freud to actual science and therapies that work. Still some idiots out there mind, with whoo hoo sticks and let me cleanse your chakras.

      Let’s deal with the “everybody is going to die”: that’s a real thing. In his brain. Brian suffers from this too, I have been an independent single mum who has zero family for ten years, it’s hard for me to remember that there is a human in my life who cares if I die. Literally. When I don’t check in, he seriously worries and frets. I’ve learnt to let him know where I am and if I’m running late. If he’s going to get home and find me not there, I tell him. It’s been a year and I still forget. It’s a work in progress.

      PTSD makes us selfish wankers: the world when we are injured rotates around us and only us. That’s why I constantly tell people you can’t fix another human, only yourself. Also a fav one liner of mine is “hurt people, hurt”. What that means for you is when he’s triggered he will lash out and he will be punitive in his remarks and behaviours. He does not recognize nor can he the fact that he’s out of order and there is zero point in arguing it if he’s in a PTSD episode. You’d be better off having a conversation with a tree and asking it to move over three inches to the left. The time to talk is well and truly after the PTSD episode AT LEAST 72 HOURS. That’s my rule with Brian. I’ve worked with my brain for a lot longer than most, I know what my limits are and I know how to self-limit. I know who to ask for help from and who to trust. I shutter down and I do not engage. A new PTSD brain doesn’t know to do this, so you have to help them with it.

      Resentment and Pain, seeking confrontation over dumb ass things: he can’t fix his brain. He is frustrated and angry. You might leave him. You are at work, doing your thing. His children are making their own lives. He knows that sometimes he can be an ass. He knows that he could lose you all. Better he just get it over with. Pain manifests itself in controlling, nasty, leaky ways. It is far better to be brutally honest and upfront. Something I learnt a long time ago, my friends are those that get that I don’t bullshit ever. I say what I think when and wherever. I do not hide things. I do not lie. I fuck up, I say it. It’s going to take him an awfully long time to get to that place and you can’t drag him there, but a psychologist can.

      Fear: this is really where it’s at Theresa. FEAR: Fake Evidence Appearing Real – the PTSD brain is so vulnerable to this. And at the bottom of this behaviour is FEAR. Address his fears and this will go away.

      I hope this helps, thinking of you Theresa. Kate

    • Brian McKenna Reply

      A couple things. First of all, we’ve been there. Kate and I are a combo family or whatever you want to call it. Blended family is the term i guess. So we go from four to six to four to six. Its a challenge. Theres schools with different times, and theres weeks with horse riding , basketball, soccer, tae kwon do etc. Timings become a shitty mess.

      So, I’m not sure where your partners struggles come from but I’ll speak of my own. Obviously, in a place like Afghanistan or any other hell hole , there is down time. Often folks back here think we are at war all the time. We aren’t. Theres time to eat, shit, phone, play cards. The difference to here isn’t even the threat. Its that there is no flash to bang as we call it, or time gap. I was teaching a course one day in Bagram, and other than the lessons there was no thought of the taliban that day. Just minding my business, and then the rockets come in. So we take immediate cover, get to a bunker and wait. Within two hours we were back out doing our job. I’ve left parts out but my point is this. His brain is wired to go from loving life, then instantly bolt all the way over to threat reaction. Theres very little ability for him to be slightly agitated, a bit upset, a tad irritated. Theres good, and pissed off.

      I’ll just be blunt and say that theres little that can be done to make this better at the time its happening. But, and its a big butt, for both of you knowing that this is a likely response does help. It helps him recognize it in himself, it helps you not take it personally, and recovery from an episode gets smoother.

      One thing you can try is to take kate’s advice on not trying to fix it or talk about it right away. Theres all kinds of feelings there, including him realizing that he just had an episode. Theres often fatigue from the episode, combined with guilt for bothering you, questions about “oh fuck, what did I say this time” etc. Working with the PTSD and male mind though, we do like to know times. So instead of saying we will talk about it later, try saying ” lets talk about it saturday morning after we’ve both had a coffee”, or something that makes more sense to your life. That means it will get addressed and you know when, but you and I get time to de-stress now. I’ll even point you to the piece we wrote about sex. As soon as your both out of the episode and ready to reconnect, try just laying down together. Get the bodies reconnected first, then talk to his brain. And with setting a timing, the conversation is expected, hence it will bring about less alarm reactions from him. Touch while talking.

      I feel for your reactions, because sometimes I’m the one aggravated that times are mixed up. And I feel for his as I’m often the one that needed to mix them up. When your late, or a kid is late, is no longer triggers the part of his brain that could roll with the punches. It now triggers a part of his brain more in tune with thinking that his patrol just got lost, or they’ve got back to camp and a man is missing. That is not handled calmly overseas, but rather thats when we overreact and bring every tool we have to bear on the problem. So is he, right now, because your late. But theres no way to change the earth and make it so that no one is ever late or cancelling on him. Your path to success lies in understanding the reaction, not trying to fix it during the reaction, and reconnecting as soon as your both able.

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