First off, I wanted to thank Kenna for asking the question that motivated me to write this: Kenna asked me to clarify what I meant by 'get away' in my last blog post and I visited her blog to learn more about what she was actually struggling with so that I could address her question appropriately. From what her blog says, loving someone with PTSD is very new to her and she is struggling to learn how to deal with it. Kenna, you are not alone in this and thank you for having the courage to learn how to support someone with PTSD. Here's what I can tell you about my experience with this feeling and what I know causes me to need to 'get away'.
When I am feeling the effects of my PTSD the emotions I feel are anger, guilt, depressed, afraid, confused. I am angry that people died. I am guilty that I survived and they didn't . I am depressed because I can't deal with the intensity of either emotion. I am afraid that I won't come out of the funk I am in. I am confused because I have NO IDEA what caused the episode this time.
A caregiver's innate response to a loved one being in distress is to want to comfort by hugging, touching, talking and, in general, 'being there' (being in close proximity) for the one in distress. In most cases, this is actually the worst reaction a loved one can have.
When I am episodal, the I am feeling all of these intense negative emotions. If my wife was to try to 'comfort' me, I wouldn't be able to handle it. Here's why: The emotions I am feeling are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to the ones she feels for me. I can't handle both sets of intense emotional input at the same time. Because I don't have any choice but to feel the emotions I am feeling, my response is to get rid of the source of the other emotions that I am not ready to deal with - i.e. I feel an overwhelming need to 'get away' from my wife and all other external input that might make it harder for me to deal with my PTSD.
What My Wife and I Have Learned:
Lesson One: Communication is Everything.
We keep the lines of communication open at all times. I let her know what kind of mood I am in and how my PTSD is currently affecting me. Depending on the answer that she gets will dictate how much she interacts with me at that given time. If I am episodal, she doesn't even need to talk to me. She has learned to recognize the signs and leaves me alone to work through it. She knows that when I am ready, I will come to her and talk to her about what I have been dealing with.
Lesson Two: Create a space in your house/apartment that is their 'PTSD Fallout Shelter'.
It is important that the person who has PTSD has a safe place IN THE HOME that they can retreat to when the need arises. I cannot stress how important this is. If the person suffering from PTSD feels the need to 'get away' and only has to go downstairs and play video games in his man-cave to get away, he never has to leave the house. This is critical. So many horrible things happen when the person with PTSD is forced to leave the safety of their home to find this space.
Lesson Three: Be Patient.
As a caregiver, it can be incredibly hard to resist the need to 'smother' their significant other with love and support. You have to have the patience to wait until they are ready to receive what you have to offer them. Do not take it personally if it takes a while and DO NOT EVER THINK IT'S YOUR FAULT!!!
OK, I think that's all of the important topics. Thank you, Kenna, for asking this question. If you need any further clarification or if this has brought up new questions that you would like answered, please let me know!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.