I had to let go of a friend today. I had known that woman since we were both doe-eyed freshmen in college. We were even roommates at one point and did not hate each other when it ended. When we found the love of our lives, I promised that she would become the godmother of my first child and vice versa.
What went wrong, you might ask?
My husband, a Master’s Sergeant in the army, got diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was undoubtedly the result of many years of being in the warzone in the Middle East. I confided to my friend for moral support, but when she found out about it, she said, “I hope you will understand, but my kids would not be able to come over to your house. I am worried that your husband would run one day amok and put them in danger.”
I would give you a minute to digest those words. I found them so hurtful and insensitive when I heard them; I did not even manage to react immediately. I mean, how callous could you be if you thought that all PTSD patients were violent? Saying that would be no different from generalizing that all blondes were dumb or that all people of specific color were dangerous.
In hindsight, I could see where my now-ex friend’s worries came from. There had been news reports from time to time regarding men with PTSD who committed heinous crimes in public merely because they could not bear the external noise or the noise in their heads. Sometimes, they would get caught; other times, they would kill themselves. Such situations were genuinely problematic, but she could have at least given me the chance to inform her that my husband was in another league compared to those people. In truth, he was cooperating well with his psychiatrist and counselor to get better in no time.
I felt the need to talk about it with my husband’s counselor on our next visit because it was an issue that my husband needed to prepare for. She told us that not everyone would understand or would be willing to understand what he or our family was going through. There could be occasions when some people might run away as soon as they heard that four-letter acronym. “Although it will undoubtedly be painful,” the counselor told my husband, “That should not make you think that you are a lost cause because you are not.”
I was beyond grateful to the counselor for saying those words. She was right – the fact that my husband was going to counseling diligently was clear proof that healing and recovery were not impossible. It was sad that people like my former friend were too easy to treat them like garbage.
If you ever come across a PTSD patient, please remember that they also need:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is not always the result of going to the battlefield for an extended period. It can also result from experiencing abuse, witnessing violence, or even dealing with a crazy natural phenomenon (e.g., earthquake, volcanic eruption, forest fire, etc.).
Whatever may have caused a person’s PTSD, though, you must always see them before their condition. For instance, my husband deserves to be praised for his service to the country instead of getting shunned due to the invisible injuries he got out of it. If you can do that, it will be effortless to treat them with respect and kindness.
While I stand by what I said regarding the reality that not all PTSD patients were violent, you should know that they could not always be calm and collected. Just like you and me, they may wake up on the wrong side of the bed and not feel like talking or going out all day. Other times, they may seem jumpier than usual, especially when they see or hear things that may be too triggering for them.
In such scenarios, though, all you could do is be as understanding as possible. You could coax them to eat on time, try to give them distracting objects, or talk nonstop around them. However, if all else failed, you would only have to soothe the PTSD patients with anchoring words and make them feel safe.
My husband and I develop a new agreement right after his diagnosis. Since loud noises could trigger his PTSD, we always had to do a little research about our destination and go there when there were fewer people. If we had no other choice, he would drop me off at the door, park as far as possible from the location, and wait for my text to pick me up again.
I must admit that this arrangement could sometimes be a hassle, especially when I wished we were both presents. But instead of dwelling on that, I chose to stick with the routine so that his recovery would speed up.
My husband’s discipline allowed him to get better faster than other people. Though he had to retire from the army during his healing process, he found another dream to focus on after that: building a family restaurant. He still felt down at times – it’s something that might never go away – but my husband learned a few coping mechanisms that I was sure he could apply if needed in the future.