Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Author: Welby O'Brien
Part One: Reaffirm
This first section is laid out as a list of common questions you definitely hear spouses and loved ones asking on a regular basis when they are trying to educate themselves about PTSD and learning how to cope with the PTSD. It also goes into a lot of detail about how to best love a veteran with PTSD. Welby does a great job of answering these questions in a clear and caring way. She doesn't offer expert advice. She offers advice based on her experiences and those of the people she knows who are in the same situation. She uses a very conversational tone that keeps the reading from getting dry and engages the reader. This section of the book is a great tool for folks new to PTSD, vastly experienced with dealing with PTSD, and everything in between. Not all of the questions will apply to everyone. Some of the questions are directed at spouses, some at siblings and parents. Some are even directed at people considering whether they should get into a serious relationship with a veteran with PTSD. The nice thing is that the table of contents lists all of the questions and what pages they are on. It makes this section a very useful reference tool as your situation changes.
The Good: The stories and advice offered are from someone who is speaking to her peers - not as a therapist or expert to her 'pupils'. The tone of her writing engages you respectfully and doesn't assume you are stupid while still explaining the basics better than a 'For Dummies' book.
The Bad: I showed segments of this section to some of the spouses I know and a few were turned off by the way she recommended treating veterans. One even equated it to 'treating my veteran like a puppy'. Her contention is that Welby's choice of wording in some cases made it sound like loved ones should treat their veterans like they are constantly in an emotionally fragile state and in need of a constant 'pat on the head'. While some of this can be accounted for by cynicism from frustrated loved ones, there is an element of truth to what they say. If you treat someone like you expect them to be fragile, it could lead to an unhealthy level of dependency upon this affirmation from loved ones to function day-to-day.
The Unexpected: I was very surprised how much of what she talked about seemed like common sense to me but my wife and I had never actually sat down and talked about. I found myself, as a veteran with PTSD, highlighting passages that I wanted to sit down and discuss openly with my wife. It created a basis for incredibly productive and healthy discussions and cleared up some misapprehensions we both had about each other's behavior and beliefs.
Part Two: Replenish
This section of the book is aimed directly at spouses and people in serious romantic relationships with veterans with PTSD. The whole focus is to underline how important it is to take care of yourself. If you are not taking care of yourself and depleting all of your considerable energies on caring for your veteran, you are doing yourself and your veteran a disservice of epic proportions. If you are exhausted and stressed and burnt out, you can't effectively care for a veteran with PTSD. The basic format is set up as specific situations followed by checklists. The idea is for loved ones to be able to self-evaluate how well they are taking care of themselves and whether they are ignoring their own needs without realizing it or our of habit. Just like Part One, the scenarios and page numbers are listed in the table of contents.
The Good: This section highlights, what I would say, is the most common problem that couples have. Spouses run themselves into the ground taking care their veteran, feeling guilty if the veteran's problems don't come before their own. The veteran watches this behavior and can see the deterioration in well-being, making the veteran feel incredibly guilty that they are such a burden. That this section unabashedly espouses taking care of yourself first...Something that every person in a committed relationship with a veterans with PTSD should constantly be aware of and ACT on.
The Bad: The checklists contain healthy and unhealthy behaviors. If people is burnt out and confused, they may find themselves wondering, "It this a healthy behavior or not?" Granted, most of the unhealthy behaviors are pretty obvious, but it would have been helpful to identify clearly which was which on the checklist.
The Unexpected: It became very obvious from the tone of the writing that this was written to spur deeply honest and unflinching evaluation of behavior and patterns of behavior. The whole tone reminded me a lot of what we, as veterans with PTSD, are taught to do in Cognitive Processing Therapy - identify troublesome behavior and discover the underlying cause. Many of the patterns of behavior exhibited by the spouses of veterans are habitual and not a conscious response to the actual situation. This section works diligently to teach spouses how to self-evaluate their current state of mind, physical health, and the behavior they direct at their veterans.
Part Three: Reflect
This section of the book is a collection of other useful information to help loved ones keep their ultimate goal clearly in front of them: Loving their Veteran. It covers everything from stories, to personal mantras, to advice on forming and facilitating group discussions, prayer, and more. For lack of a better way of putting it - now that you have the tools to love your vet, here's how to effectively put them to use.
The Good: There were a lot of 'Keep It Simple Stupid' (KISS) examples that are easily put into practice and a lot of information that is critical to know if you want to be successful, long term.
The Bad: It seemed kind of disjointed, unorganized. I am not sure why some things were included and why some things weren't. It would make sense to include a useful list of online resources on the major subjects covered in this book, but that was mysteriously missing.
The Unexpected: The Tsunami analogy was apt. It is amazing, once triggered, how quickly our emotions and behavior can overwhelm our loved ones. This segment gives an actionable plan to recognize the pending tsunami and learn to ride the waves, rather than get crushed by them.
All in all, this has been the best and most readable resource for helping loved ones and veterans better understand each other and themselves. Welby O'Brien has done an excellent job ensuring that her advice is clear, concise, actionable, and inclusive. Many other books and online resources that I have seen and read have a tendency to exclude certain parties, whether it be parents, siblings, or unwed partners. There is one overtone that becomes very clear in the course of reading this book: Welby sees having a relationship with God as necessary. While this will be welcomed by the vast majority, this could be a potential turn-off to some readers. The wonderful thing about the way Welby writes is that she fully accepts that not everyone shares her views and invites the reader to take only what they need from her book. The critical thinker will notice that she doesn't specify God as being Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu. Don't be dissuaded by this overtone and lose out on an exceptional resource that will help you have a more fulfilling relationship with your veteran.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.