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Dealing and Coping (Part II)
The key to dealing and coping with PTSD is to confront. Too often, we tend to shut ourselves down and refuse to talk about what eats at us inside. Even with my counselor, it took a few weeks for him to really get me to open up. I have a few theories about why this is.
First of all, the things that are eating at us are difficult to deal with. The memories suck and we think that revisiting them will make things worse. We don’t want to go back to where we were, but we can’t escape it in our dreams or when certain conditions instantly thrust back there. When it does, we just want it to be over so we seclude ourselves, clam up, or drink our consciousness away. Some turn to drugs to feel good again. We feel like monsters, inhuman and unworthy of normal relationships. People just don’t get us and we get offended by that. There’s a song that helps me get through those times by a band called Skillet. The song is – aptly enough – called “Monster.”
I feel it deep within, it’s just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
I hate what I’ve become, the nightmare’s just begun
I must confess that I feel like a monster”
Sound familiar to anyone out there? The worst thing we can do is what Skillet says in the first verse:
“The secret side of me, I never let you see
I keep it caged but I can’t control it
So stay away from me, the beast is ugly
I feel the rage and I just can’t hold it”
The hardest thing for troops suffering from PTSD to do is hold it in and pretend that nothing is wrong. For nearly six years, I pretended I could control the “monster” within me. Writing definitely helped, but it still masked a great deal of what I was going through. I still didn’t talk about the exact things I was dealing with inside. But, that is precisely what we need to do.
I’m not talking about just standing out on the sidewalk and spilling your guts to the first bum that you come across. I strongly recommend seeking professional assistance, especially if you’re still active duty. Our psychologists are specially trained to deal with our particular issues. If there is a group nearby, you can’t beat going.
Dealing with PTSD can also give you a feeling of hopelessness. I’ve felt it. I still feel it. You feel useless and like nothing will ever go right. You want it all to end and it’s at this point that some feel as if suicide is a viable option. There’s a song for that mood that I also turn to when I’m in that deep, dark place. It’s called “Jump Rope” by Blue October.
“There’ll be a bump and there will be a bruise,
There’ll be alarms and there will be a snooze,
There’ll be a path that you will have to choose,
There’ll be a win and there will be a lose and,
You gotta hold your head up high and,
watch, all the negative ago by,
Don’t ever be ashamed to cry,
You go ahead! Cause life’s like a jump rope!”
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about my progress in counseling. I explained that talking with my doc made me cry like a baby. He said, “CJ, I thought you were trying to remove that stigma. You weren’t crying like a baby. You were crying like a man.” It made sense in a way. Reliving those moments in my life that have affected my very psyche has been the most difficult thing to do in my life. But, THAT is the ONLY way we’re going to get better.
We have to talk about what we experienced. My grandfather was a belly gunner and bombadier in a B-17 and B-24 during WWII over Germany. He never talked to the family about what he experienced over there. He never talked about his fears, his thoughts, what he did and what he saw. Whenever I’d ask my father about grandpa’s experiences, he would explain that just didn’t talk about it. When I got home from Iraq, he began opening up to me. I was a kindred spirit as a combat veteran. We understood each others’ fears and worries.
There is nothing in this life worthy of taking my own for. There are ups and downs, especially while dealing with PTSD. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions, visions, attitudes, experiences, and feelings. Counseling helps us to cope with that, not suicide. Suicide doesn’t end problems, it creates more. YOUR problems might go away, but you’ve just created problems for so many others.
Another stigma that I had to get over was the stigma of taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I delayed asking for medications because I didn’t want to be “that guy” that needs pills to enjoy life. But, I learned something. Diabetics have to take medications to stay alive. People with high blood pressure or heart problems take pills every day to stay alive. What’s so different about us having to take a pill to stay alive? It’s another stigma we need to get over. Some people take blood thinners, we take anti-depressants. If I can’t sleep because my mind is racing or I’m too anxious, what’s wrong with taking a sleeping pill?
Seeking help is easy. If you’re just looking for information, the Department of Veterans Affairs has set up a very informative site that is host to the National Center for PTSD. Family members, friends, and troops can ALL find good information about the disorder and learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms in themselves and loved ones.
If you’re active duty, almost every post has a mental health department at the post clinic. Getting help is a simple act of walking in and asking to speak with a doctor. Most clinics are very discreet so that you don’t have to advertise why you’re there. You will be asked to fill out some paperwork and most times will be seen immediately by a doc. Sometimes, you may have to make an appointment unless you are feeling hopeless or like you want to hurt yourself.
A few weeks ago, I had a mental breakdown from a combination of multiple levels of stress. I walked into the hospital to speak with my doc, but he wasn’t there. I explained that I really needed to see someone and they were going to set me up to see another doctor. I did a quick self-assessment and realized I was going to be able to make it until the next day. About ten minutes after I left, I got a phone call by one of the other docs to ensure that I was really okay. I was still sitting in my car in the parking lot of the hospital. That simple gesture of getting a follow-up phone call did wonders for my state of mind. You don’t hear about these good news stories, but they’re out there. Our military health professionals do care about us personally and individually. But, they can’t help us if we don’t seek them out. There is no magical potion that will take your pain away. The first step is the hardest, but the best one you’ll make!
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