I was awakened by loud, erratic noises. I was still partially asleep, so I tried to push through the fog and figure out what was going on. Though I could hear the hustle and bustle of the city outside our downtown apartment, that wasn’t the noise that awoke me. My husband was frantically moving around our bedroom, mumbling words I couldn’t make out. It could have been that the words were incomprehensible, or that I wasn’t fully awake. I kept asking him what he was doing, only to receive replies that didn’t make sense to me. He was looking for his rifle, and he got angrier when he couldn’t find it. We didn’t have any guns in the house – what was he even talking about? As I watched him scurry about the bedroom shoveling things around, I realized he wasn’t mentally in that room. Physically, he was present, but mentally, he was back in Afghanistan. He was searching for the weapon that he had used so many times in combat – the weapon one that saved his life. His nightmares and dissociations would only increase in the years to come, and I soon realized I needed to do everything I could to help my husband manage his PTSD.
If you have a loved one currently enlisted or who has served in the military, you’ll want to support them however you can. You’ll feel pride in the sacrifices they chose to make to protect the country they love and are honored to serve. Sometimes there’s a darkness that comes with the sacrifices that these men and women carry for a lifetime. Many veterans come home with deep pain that they can’t shake by themselves, and without access to the right tools and support, that pain can take over their lives.
The Link Between Military Service and PTSD
PTSD is commonly caused by a single traumatic event or the accumulation of numerous high-stress situations. Exposure to combat situations, live or simulated, can profoundly negatively impact a person’s mind and body. The correlation between military service and post-traumatic stress disorder is strong; it is estimated that as many as 500,000 U.S. troops who fought in wars over the past 13 years have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.S Department for Veterans Affairs lists that about 30% of Vietnam veterans and about 12% of Gulf War veterans have or had PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
Sometimes PTSD symptoms may not appear until your loved one comes home and attempts to return to civilian life. They may begin to develop night terrors or dissociate when triggered by different sounds, smells, or encounters. While they are undoubtedly doing their best to cope with what’s going on inside their head, the memories the body is trying to connect can be confusing, especially when a person is alone in trying to manage them. Symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Feeling upset or discomforted by things that trigger memories
- Difficulty sleeping due to nightmares and restlessness
- Vivid memories or flashbacks of traumatic events
- Feeling isolated
- Feeling numb
- Being constantly on guard or easily startled
- Angry outbursts or hostility
- Trouble concentrating
- Anxiety and depression
- Substance abuse
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts
How to Help Your Veteran
If you live with someone who’s battling PTSD, you will likely witness their symptoms and may even feel secondhand effects. Trying to help your loved one effectively manage their PTSD may require turning to professional help, and there’s nothing wrong with that. While you may not be able to cure them on your own, there are steps you can take to make a difference right away.
Educate Yourself. Take the time to learn about PTSD and recognize its symptoms. Like most mental illnesses, there’s a great deal of stigma surrounding PTSD. Try to relate to your loved one’s emotional experience by gaining an understanding of how PTSD makes them feel.
Be Supportive. They will likely experience some form of social isolation. This can arise from feeling unsafe, experiencing anxiety, or worrying about being judged. Support their choices to skip events, and don’t presume to know better than they do.
Be Patient and Listen. Don’t pressure them to tell you what happened or why they are feeling a certain way. If they decide to open up to you, just listen. Provide a space where they feel safe and comfortable.
Learn Their Triggers. Being able to identify your loved one’s triggers can allow you to help them avoid those situations whenever possible. Symptoms of PTSD can be triggered by sounds, smells, people, locations, events, and even types of weather or environment.
Encourage Them to Seek Treatment:
Fortunately, there is treatment for those who have PTSD. Two types of treatment have shown to be particularly effective in addressing PTSD: counseling and medication. These can both help your loved ones find stability, learn coping mechanisms, and manage their symptoms.
Watching your loved one struggle with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can be challenging and heart-wrenching. Though you want to help them, you may not know how, causing you to feel closed off from them and powerless. There are ways for you to show your soldier that you see them and that you are there to support them through trying times. It is important to learn to recognize their triggers, watch for symptoms, and educate yourself. For expert guidance on how to help your soldier fight this battle, reach out to Achieve Concierge. Our expert clinicians provide care for PTSD that aims to treat the entire body, which helps achieve positive long-term results. PTSD is not an easy battle, and you don’t need to face it alone. Get your loved ones the help they need to move forward. Reach out to us today for a free treatment consultation. Call Achieve Concierge at (858) 221-0344 to learn more.