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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How Not to be a Jerk to a PTSD Survivor

Never read the comments section. It's my mantra. I know better. I truly do... but sometimes I click, and sometimes I read, and sometimes some idiot will write "triggered" when what s/he meant to type is "butthurt," and my bloodpressure starts to rise.

Sometimes my family or someone I love will say something that hits me like a clothesline to the knees. Sometimes I can catch my balance and stop myself from pitching head-first, but not always. Sometimes I have a bad week, and all the ignorance and well intentioned but misguided words add up, and the result is a rant. So, guys, I apologize in advance, but this is most definitely a rant.

I hope it's a rant that will educate and edify you, if you happen to love someone with PTSD. Or, if you know someone who lives with it, like me. If you're reading this because you want to understand, thank you.

Things to never say to a PTSD survivor:

1) You've got to let it go.
2) It's in the past.
3) Why can't you just get over it?
4) Why does it still bother you? That was years ago.
5) I don't know... it just seems like you want attention.

Let's break these down just a little, shall we?

1) If I could "let it go" it wouldn't be called a DISORDER.

Stop and think for just one minute. Break it down. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

2) It's in the past. Yes, I know. That's what Post means- it happened in the past, yes. My condition is a result of something I experienced in the past.

3) Getting over Traumatic Stress?- What happened was an extreme trauma. It left me deeply wounded. Do you tell a car accident survivor who's left a paraplegic that they should "just get over it," or "you know, you could walk if you tried hard enough?"

Of course not. That would be unsympathetic, to say the least. A denial of the physical reality of their injuries. Asinine.

So, why do people say things like that to PTSD survivors? It's ignorance, plain and simple- they don't understand what PTSD is, or that the damage, although there's not always a visible physical component- has left scars.

4) It was years ago. Yes, it was. And yet, I re-live some moments as if they're happening right now. Confused? Look back at #2.

5) Attention seeking, seriously? Do you think that's what this is about?

Think about the word, Disorder. That, my friends, is the kicker. PTSD is a disorder.
Granted, it's a disorder of the mind and emotions, rather than the fragile nerves that make up the spinal column, but the damage is equally deep, permanent, and disabling.

The point of this brief rant? It's not to shame or lash out. It's to educate. If you love someone with PTSD, it will be difficult to understand them at times. You may not understand their emotional out bursts, their moodiness, their withdrawal, nightmares, or other symptoms. You might not understand why they can't "just let go" of something from their past. Why they keep mentally revisiting such a dark place. Trust me, we don't do it purposefully.

Have you ever seen someone put themselves into a wheelchair "to get attention?"
Of course not, because although a wheelchair is an incredibly useful tool for someone who needs one, and can be fun to play with for those who don't, it's an inconvenient way to live. No one who has the ability to walk normally will put themselves through the inconvenience of using a chair all the time.

The anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of PTSD are inconvenient, too. We don't use our coping skills because they're fun. They are our lifelines, necessary to our ongoing mental health.

What can you do to help your loved one with PTSD? Just listen. Be there. Learn to recognize the bad moments, and what helps your person, whether it means giving them some space or just being there with them. Educate yourself. Learn about the disorder. Trust the survivor to know what works for him or her. Respect their need to make their own decisions. Respect their self-knowledge. Most of all, just think. Develop empathy. Educate yourself, and remember that the disorder is not the person. It's a part of their lives, but it's not who they are.

A PTSD survivor

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