Secondary PTSD; The Toll of War Injuries on a Veteran’s Caregiver

PTSD, also known as post-traumatic stress disorder, is a common word used in the veteran community. My work with veteran nonprofits has taught me many things about PTSD, one of which being that today is PTSD Awareness Day, a day dedicated to creating awareness around the condition.

I’d like to share with you PTSD from a different perspective- from that of a veteran caregiver.

My wounded veteran husband claims he doesn’t have PTSD. Because he’s not currently depressed, he’s got that “tough Dad” image to keep up, and just simply because he fights through his obstacles every day without the admission.. So, why would he say, “I have PTSD.”

I have Secondary PTSD.

There. I said it. It took me many years to self-diagnose that statement.

Many days feeling like my life would never go back to “normal.” An obscene amount of ignored phone calls and messages from family and friends offering support. More denied outing requests than I’d care to admit from friends that didn’t know how to be there but continuously wanted to show me they cared by inviting me out to dinner, a playdate with their family, birthday parties- anything to take my mind off the chaotic changes taking over my life.

What they didn’t know, couldn’t have known, because I didn’t even know, was that I was suffering and at any point of my life, it can happen again. I won’t know I’m suffering because I’m too busy dealing with the personal stress, anxiety, and sometimes even depression of caring for my husband who also suffers, even when he won’t admit it.

We know how PTSD affects veterans and military persons. Many people don’t realize how indirect exposure with someone’s else firsthand trauma can have lasting effects. In a Veteran Caregiver’s situation, effects that gradually slide him/her into a role where she/he is constantly watching out for other’s well-being, whether that be people OR situations that will trigger the veteran’s traumatic experiences and/or injuries. The caregiver may start avoiding people, situations and places that might bring flashbacks or cause aggravation to the veteran. Soon, it becomes second nature to just isolate ourselves and we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Basically, my behaviors mimic those of my husband’s post-traumatic stress because ultimately I’m trying to keep every situation calm and under control.

Ways I’ve Found to Cope: Post-traumatic Growth

Everyone’s situation is different and unfortunately even finding ways to overcome secondary PTSD, I know that at any unexpected moment, something could happen to spiral us back into our isolation zone. It’s a fact that I’ve learned to accept as our new “normal.’ On the flip side, there are things that have helped me get through these trying times.
Maybe counselling is the best option- A Doctor once told me that a person who had gone through the trauma that my family had dealt with will always need counselling at some point in their lives.  He was right.  I found it very beneficial to have an unbiased person to talk to. I’d encourage you to try and find a therapist that has experience in dealing with your condition. Finding someone to talk to can be crucial, and sometimes that may just be another caregiver that understands the challenges. I’ve had success with various support chats offered through nonprofits or organizations that support the veteran community.  Lastly, I try to always make time to process the grief or anxiety I am feeling. “Me” time. Whether it is a 5 minute walk alone because that’s all I can fit into my hectic schedule, or a full day getting pampered at the spa, I always make time for my own mental health because I’ve learned that in order for my family to be in a good place, I MUST take care of myself too.

Post-traumatic growth. It’s possible. Everyone has struggles, there will always be setbacks, and sometimes it may feel overbearing. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength that you want to do better, be better, and feel better. If not for you, then for those that care for you.

Caregiver to a U.S. Army Veteran & Heroes Thanking Heroes Representative

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