I’m angry. No one understands. How can anyone possibly help me? I’m so tired of these feelings. I can’t take another day of this! Sound familiar? Don’t want to go anywhere? Avoiding friends? Avoiding phone calls? Not doing things you used to enjoy? Feel like you have no time to just relax? Constantly caring for your mentally or physically wounded soldier? Always trying to make sure no one or nothing sets off his temper? Feeling like there is just no way out? Guess what! You could have secondary PTSD or caregiver stress.
Secondary PTSD seems to be pretty controversial with many mental health professionals. I’m telling you though, it’s real. It’s very real. And it needs to be taken seriously. Symptoms are the same as primary PTSD. The difference is that secondary PTSD occurs in spouses, children, parents, and care takers of wounded soldiers. Often, secondary PTSD is dismissed as caregiver stress. But the two are different. Some signs of secondary PTSD include:
- Depression feeling that no one understands. Unable to find enjoyment in things you once enjoyed.
- Isolation avoiding friends and family because you feel they will never understand what you are going through.
- Rage easily angered to a point of violent behavior. Frequently, it doesn’t take much to trigger an angry episode.
- Avoidance of Feelings not wanting to talk about your experiences. Often referred to as cold and uncaring.
- Survival Guilt wondering why you are here to live but other good people are not
- Anxiety Reactions finding yourself always on the lookout for something to happen or having negative responses to loud noises.
- Intrusive Thoughts thoughts that take over your mind when you least expect and you can’t dismiss them. You try to figure out how you could have changed the outcome.
- Insomnia/Nightmares inability to fall asleep or having dreams of the trauma repeatedly. Sometimes in the dreams things are the same as now, sometimes they are worse.
For spouses and caretakers, survival guilt may not necessarily be true, but guilt over having our spouses is very real when we have friends who have lost their spouses. We may not have reactions to loud noises, but we do find ourselves looking for triggers. We avoid crowded places and events with family and friends because the crowd and noise level is too high. Recently, we were having dinner with a group of friends. There were about 20 people in our party. It was a Saturday night, so the restaurant was crowded. My husband came in, said his hellos, ordered food, then stepped outside. Every few minutes he would come in and see if the food had come yet, but would go back outside alone. Finally, one of our friends asked if he was ok. It’s difficult to sit in a group of trusted friends and explain that he can’t handle the crowd. Even more difficult to get them to all understand it’s not personal. It was the rest of the crowd in the restaurant combined with everyone’s kids running around and the noise level. He just couldn’t handle it. And we were sat near the kitchen. Kitchen noises are always hard on him. No one seemed offended and we did have a wonderful time. But it was the first time some of these people had spent time with us on a long term basis. We had all gone on a weekend get a way together. So they began noticing he left after ordering at every meal. What none of them know though is how it feels to go through this every meal, every day. I’ve gotten used to the fact that he will get up and walk out and I’ll be left to sit. I still miss the time we used to spend talking. Now I just make lists of things that I think of to tell him when he comes back in to eat.
I’ve also added a list of signs of Caregivers Stress. Some are physical, others are mental/emotional. This list includes:
- Stomach complaints
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased susceptibility to infection
Some of the symptoms are the same for caregivers stress and secondary PTSD. These are all things that should be taken seriously. If you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of either of these things, don’t ignore it. Counseling with a military counselor is a great idea. You can find them for free on post. All things are confidential. You can also contact Give An Hour. (www.giveanhour.org) If you aren’t sure about counseling, take steps to help yourself. Some suggested things are:
- Make time for “me” time get a mani/pedi, read a book, take a walk
- Spend time with friends lunch with a friend is always a good thing!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help sometimes you just can’t do it all.
- Plan a vacation sometimes just a couple days away from daily life helps everyone relax.
- Remember you aren’t perfect none of us are. So if the house is a little messy, it’ll be ok.
Of course, this is just a short list of things to help. I’m sure others will have more suggestions. Some days just a simple phone call to a friend to talk about anything other than what is going on in your life is all you need.