Picture a veteran, coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suffering in silence and desperate to get better.
When you engage in this visualization, is that picture in your mind - a military hero coping with this challenge - solitary? Isolated and alone?
He (or she) shouldn't be.
Realistically, Post Traumatic Stress and its effects don't ever just touch the life of one person - it affects everyone in that person's life. When a veteran is suffering from PTSD, it also means that their family is experiencing that struggle, as are their children, friends - everyone this veteran's life touches is touched, in turn, by the hardship he or she is grappling with.
The fact is, 11-20% of returning veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. And their families must cope alongside them.
If YOU are the loved one of a veteran with PTSD, or you yourself struggle with Post Traumatic Stress, it's important to understand the way that it may be influencing your life, as well as what you can do to overcome.
Here are 3 important ways that PTSD can effect veterans and their families' relationships:
1. PTSD makes communication difficult.
Many of those who experience PTSD have a difficult time articulating what they're experiencing. At times, even when they are able to vocalize their feelings and thoughts, they may not want to express what they're feeling. The reasons behind this are many, but stigma and lack of understanding - along with a military culture that values stoicism - definitely contribute to this challenge. Communication in any relationship is important - but among family members it is crucial.
2. Symptoms of PTSD may make someone difficult to live with.
The symptoms of PTSD are varied, but they can include night terrors, agitation, bouts of depression, startling easily, flashbacks and "triggers" like loud noises or unexpected activities that cause violence and fear. Living with a person who is going through these issues is not always easy. It's important for family members to understand that these symptoms are not your loved one - they are the effects of PTSD. In the same way that other illnesses have symptoms, these behaviors and experiences are themselves symptoms. With treatment, the symptoms can be managed and living with one another will become easier.
3. The temptation to feel that you are responsible for your loved one's PTSD.
Cognitively, we can know and understand that we are not the cause of, nor are we responsible for, the symptoms that a PTSD survivor experiences. In practice, though, this becomes a little bit blurrier. One key strategy to act on is to understand that you are not responsible for anyone's happiness but your own. If you feel responsible for your family member's happiness, you might feel guilty when you can't make a difference. It's important for you and your loved one to know that this experience of post traumatic stress is no one's fault - it is an illness that you can manage.
PTSD is just one of a number of health issues that anyone can experience - veterans, non-veterans, and the public at large. And, like most health issues, its effects touch the life of the person with the illness and their loved ones. By keeping this in perspective, and understanding effective ways to manage and cope with PTSD symptoms, you and your loved one can continue to enjoy a healthy and mutually supportive relationship. As one veteran says, "Your presence matters. It makes a difference to know that there are people who will stand by us... It matters that you are still there, no matter what."
If you or a loved are a veteran who is experiencing these symptoms, or these PTSD-related challenges in your relationship, please know that help is near. Reach out to our veteran partners here for resources and information.