This week I had the privilege of talking a good friend of mine whose husband is an Afghanistan veteran who battles with complex post-traumatic stress. I met *Alisha (not her real name) a few months ago through a group for caregiving spouses. We quickly discovered shared experience with caring for loved ones with PTSD.
And while my journey as a PTSD caregiver has certainly been challenging, I understand that walking beside a spouse of loved one who lives with the aftermath of military PTSD is different. I asked Alisha and her husband *Jeff (not his real name) if they would share their wisdom about how to help a spouse or loved one with military PTSD.
Alisha shared the following tips as a wife of a husband with military PTSD:
- “First of all, knowing my husband’s triggers is huge. For him, these triggers include unexpected loud noises (fireworks, gunshots, explosions, etc.), being in crowds and traffic, having his back to others, and other situations that place him in a position of vulnerability
- Knowing my husband’s triggers helps me prepare him manage his environment as best as I possibly can.
- The flip side of knowing his triggers is knowing things I can do to help calm him and ground him. I often use mindfulness techniques when I interact with Jeff when he is triggered. Sometime I ask him to name things he can smell or hear. This helps bring him back to the here-and-now, but not every strategy I use works every time.
- I work very hard to be understanding, loving, and accepting. Every day is different for us, but no matter what, my husband knows I’m with him and for him and that I’m his battle buddy for life.
- I’ve had to work to learn what works. Sometimes I’m not successful in my attempt to help bring my husband out of a flashback and ground him in the present, but his service dog is able to do this when I can’t. When a PTS moment arises, whether it’s a flashback, nightmare, rage, or something else, Jeff’s service dog steps in as his battle buddy. With a lick of Jeff’s face or a nudge of his arm or leg, Kazu brings my husband back to the present or out of the “funk” of his post-traumatic experience.
- If has also helped to find other veteran families to talk to or spend time with. Jeff and I have found support for our individual needs among veteran families. We often understand each other without having to speak a word.
- Sometimes a call from a buddy to talk about fishing, cars, or tools can totally change Jeff’s day. Often if I send a quick text asking for prayers, someone reaches out to Jeff to say hi or check in. When a text comes in, we know we need to reach out and help one another. Within the veteran family, we’re here for each other and have each others’ backs.
- Jeff also disappears sometimes if he’s having a difficult time. When I first experienced this, it was quite frightening. I voiced my concerns about his safety and asked how we could come up with a better plan. During a stretch of “good” time, we discussed a healthy, safe alternative to Jeff simply going away without giving me notice. Learning how to communicate with a loved one with PTSD is very important. Together, we came up with the idea of using a bear statue.
- When my husband needs space because of PTS triggers, he often finds it difficult to verbalize his needs. So he places a small statue of a bear on my dresser. This is his message to me that he’s having a hard time and needs time to himself, but that he will be safe and return soon.
- Finally, I encourage my husband to seek help and talk to others. He participates in equine therapy and sees a neuropath, as well as other medical professionals for counseling and group therapy.
These simple steps help us focus on working a plan and moving forward. They give us practical tools, as well as a network of support. In the second blog, Jeff will talk about his perspective on how our partnership works.”
Prayers for your partnership in mental health,