Coping with the Holidays, Part 2: Family trying to “cheer you up”

During the holidays, it can sometimes feel like we’re bombarded with advertising telling us that we must buy more stuff and we must be happy.

Well – when you’re not feeling happy to begin with, this extra pressure can make you feel even worse.

Often, navigating relationships with loved on can get even more tricky at this time of the year. It can be hard for them to understand what you’re going through; some people assume that the holidays make everyone feel better, and it can be hard for them to understand how it’s different for you.

For someone who hasn’t been there, it can be hard to understand that mental health issues are not the same as being in a bad mood. It’s an injury, and you can’t just shake it off, any more than you can shake off a physical injury.

Look at it this way: pretend your family really loved skating in the winter months. This year, you had a broken leg. Now imagine your loved ones decided to help you out by making the best-ever skating rink in the backyard, stringing up pretty lights, and putting on your favourite music, figuring that all this will put you in the mood to shake off your broken leg and join them on your skates.

Does this magically fix your leg? Does it make you feel better?

Yeah – not so much, eh? Your leg is still broken, and now you feel awful that they went to all this effort, and really, there’s nothing you can do to unbreak your leg and get up on those skates. Instead of making you feel better, it just made you feel guilty for being injured.

So – before it gets there this year, please share this post with your well-meaning loved ones. Let them know that you love them very much, and you don’t choose to feel this way. You’re not doing it to annoy them. You really wish you could just snap out of it. But you can’t, any better than you could snap out of a broken leg to go skating.

Then, make a plan together. Decide what you will participate in, and what you’ll skip. Make a deal: their end of the deal is, they’ll try to understand about the stuff you need to skip. Your end of the deal is, you’ll do your best to actually enjoy the stuff you participate in – no, not force a fake smile and pretend. Actually stop pretending, and allow yourself a little comfort.

And then, maybe the holidays will feel slightly less awful this year…

Murray Chappell_1349

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Getting Through the Holidays, Part 1: Make a Plan

When you’re dealing with PTSD and/or depression, the holidays can be especially difficult, for a number of reasons:

  • Family: you may have loved ones who don’t really understand what you’re going through. They might try really hard to make you happy because it’s the holidays. When that fails, you might feel guilty, and they might feel underappreciated and resentful;
  • Gatherings: being in a group of happy people might make you feel like an outsider. You don’t feel how they’re feeling, and seeing happy people can be all the more excruciating when you’re hurting.
  • Survivor’s guilt: if you’ve lost buddies, you may feel undeserving of celebrating the holidays with your family when others don’t have a chance to celebrate with theirs.
  • Trauma anniversaries: if the bad stuff happened around the holidays, you may find yourself even more on edge at this time of year.
  • Crowds are hard enough when they aren’t filled with frenzied holiday shoppers.

This is by no means a list of everything that comes up around the holidays, but it’s some of the more common concerns.

Here’s the thing: you’re here, you’re reading this post, and that’s already a good step forward. Let’s take some time to think about it and problem-solve, to try to get you through the holidays as smoothly as possible this year.

First – give some thought to what the holidays were like last year. What were the biggest trouble spots for you?

  • If a relative tried to “cheer you up” and then felt hurt or upset that it didn’t work, please send them this post. They need to know that it’s not their fault, or yours. You can’t make depression or PTSD take a break for the holidays.
  • If big gatherings are difficult: (1) go to smaller gatherings; (2) don’t attend every single thing you’re asked to do; (3) use coping strategies, like going outside for a few minutes of relaxation; offering to take the host’s dog around the block; or leaving when you need to, rather than just sitting there and punishing yourself.
  • Plan ahead what you feel up to this year, and what you don’t. Don’t participate out of a sense of duty and obligation; skip what you need to skip.
  • The holidays can be a really lonely, isolating experience. Please realize YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This blog has 15,000 readers – that’s fifteen thousand readers who can relate to how you’re feeling. So while you’re avoiding the big gatherings with your relatives, reach out to a battle buddy. If you don’t have one, reach out right here.

Hey – all I want from Santa this year, is for all my readers to still be around in January. And he’d better deliver.

Please reach out when you need to. 

Murray Chappell_1348

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD and the Experience of Anger

Today I’d like to tell you about anger, PTSD, and what happens when you mix the two together.

First off – please know that I’m not trying to make anyone feel ashamed about their symptoms. Anger can be hard to talk about – which makes itimptant to discuss. A lot of people who have PTSD struggle with anger, and I’d like to tell you a bit about why.

For people who don’t have PTSD, anger can happen in small doses. People who don’t have PTSD can feel… mildly annoyed. They might roll their eyes, let out a big sigh, make a face, and maybe even mutter something under their breath. And then, they do something that totally baffles those who have PTSD – they shake it off and move on.

You might wonder, why can’t I do that?

We’ve discussed before how PTSD is basically a threat-response reflex that doesn’t have an off switch. So, PTSD makes you feel like you’re always under threat, and anger is a big part of how you fight back. And because reflex works on the principle of “better safe than sorry“, PTSD doesn’t leave much room for getting “a little miffed”: when you have PTSD, you’re more likely to respond quickly, and more forcefully than you would if you didn’t have PTSD.

Here’s what you can do about it:

– One, understand it: realize that PTSD works like a magnifying lens for anger. Basically, this means that where other people would get a little miffed, if you have PTSD you’re more likely to get outraged, and to stay that way for a longer period of time compared to someone who doesn’t have PTSD.

– Two, now that you understand it, use that knowledge to help yourself control it. When you get upset over something, get in the habit of asking yourself, how big of a deal is this? Rate it on a scale of 1-10. Remind yourself that ten is extreme stuff, like life-threatening danger. When you’re feeling relatively calm and you don’t have too many distractions, sit down to give some thought to the kinds of annoyances that you encounter most frequently. Then, once you’ve had some time to rate these, give some thought to how you might want to react to express your frustration with a three or a six. If you aren’t sure, think of how others react, or ask someone you trust to help you.

– Three, keep practicing your relaxation, every day. Over time, it will help to decrease how severe your PTSD is, which will make it easier to control your anger even more.

It will definitely take work. You’ll have to re-learn how to be a little annoyed. And, you’ll have to practice relaxation to help with diffusing your anger more quickly.  But – if you work on it, there’s a good chance that things will get better.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

 

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PTSD, Emotions, and the Role of Military Culture

Last post, we covered how your childhood might teach you to keep your feelings to yourself. Today, we will expand on that a bit.

Even if you had a great childhood, we live in a culture where it’s considered “unmanly” to get emotional and cry, and unladylike to get angry.

Military culture kicks that up a notch.

Here’s my understanding of how feelings work in the military: your “standard-issue military feelings kit” comes equipped with two flavours: “I’m okay” and “I’m messed up”. It also comes with the message that if you train hard, focus, and dedicate yourself to being a good soldier, then no matter what happens – you will never feel messed up.

Not that the military is the only culture to have this idea – police officers, firefighters, paramedics are a few other examples.

That’s not realistic. You can’t train to stop yourself from having feelings. No matter how hard you train, you’re still human.

Think of it this way: feelings are kind of like pimples, bad breath, or body odour: you don’t have to like having them, but they’re going to happen, whether you like it or not.

It’s normal and healthy to have emotional reactions to events. In response to extreme events, it’s normal and healthy to have intense emotional reactions. Just like it’s normal to sweat in very hot weather and shiver in very cold weather. Feelings can be unpleasant, but not dangerous. Your feelings can’t hurt you.

But – when you don’t expect to have feelings, it kind of goes like this:

– You see or experience something really awful. You have a healthy, appropriate, human emotional reaction: you might feel fear, anger, horror, disgust, helplessness.

– Your “standard-issue military feeling kit” tells you that you’re not supposed to be having those feelings. You might have feelings of frustration, anger, and shame about how you;re feeling.

So – now you’re having two different levels of feelings:

– One, feelings about the thing that happened. We call these primary feelings. These are universal (meaning they would happen to anybody, and they are not a choice). These are healthy, human reactions to real events.

– Two, feelings about having feelings. We call these secondary feelings. Secondary feelings are based on expectations – you’re having these because you expected yourself to never be rattled by anything.

Secondary feelings are to blame for all our misery.  They make us believe in unicorns and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, and then when reality doesn’t live up to their ridiculous expectations, they turn around and tell us it’s somehow all our fault.

So, how do we start to fix this? By realizing that our expectations weren’t reasonable to begin with, and by giving ourselves permission to be human and have feelings.

That’s simple, but not easy. So don’t form an expectation that you can do it overnight – because we just went over what happens when we come up with unrealistic expectations…

MC Charb 4

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD: What does my childhood have to do with it?

This is a question I run into pretty regularly.

When your PTSD was caused by adulthood trauma, you may wonder why your psychologist asks about your childhood: if your trauma happened decades later, then why do they care what your childhood was like?

Fair question. Here’s the answer.

Imagine an awesome childhood. This imaginary child falls and scrapes her knee. What does she do?

Well – she runs to her caregiver for comfort. She does this any time that she’s hurt, scared, or unsure of herself.

Over the years, she learns that it’s safe to tell others that she’s hurt or scared, and that others will react by soothing and comforting her. Over years of being comforted and soothed by a caregiver, she also learns healthy ways to comfort and soothe herself.

Good for her, right?

Many of us didn’t have such a childhood; many were abused as kids.

When a kid grows up abused, they learn that showing their feelings is a bad idea: if people know what you’re feeling, they can use your feelings against you.

Say you’re an abused child, and you’re scared of spiders. You’re actually scared twice: one, you’re scared of spiders themselves. And two, you’re scared that someone will see that you’re scared of spiders; if they do, they’ll use this knowledge to hurt you.

Say you like butterflies. You learn not to show it, because your abusers would hurt one just to make you suffer.

(Hey, how are you doing? If this is reminding you of some bad memories – stop, take a deep breath, look around the room, and remind yourself that that was then and this is now. It’s not happening anymore, and you’re here now.)

Even if a child isn’t abused, growing up with a caregiver who is not able to soothe and comfort them can have the same result: the child learns that “If I show mommy that I’m sad or scared, she’ll get sad/scared/mad”. So – she learns that her own feelings are dangerous – they can either be used to hurt her, or hurt other people.

What this child doesn’t learn is how to comfort and soothe herself if she’s feeling overwhelmed.

Fast forward a few decades; both of these imaginary children are now grown women. Both go through the same trauma.

At first, both of them will be pretty rattled; but the one who had the picture-perfect childhood will know how to comfort and soothe herself, and reach out to get help.

The other woman will react by feeling rattled that she’s feeling rattled. She may also feel ashamed, weak, and like she’s a failure. She’ll do everything she can to cover up and hide how she’s feeling. If she can’t hide her feelings, this will make her feel like she’s in danger. Reaching out to get help from other people will be really hard for her, because she learned at a young age that other people can’t be trusted, and they’re only likely to hurt her.

For her, the path to recovery will be much longer. She’ll need to work hard to unlearn some of the “truths” she learned when she was little, just to be able to accept help.

This doesn’t mean she can’t get better – and I’ve personally seen some of these guys and gals do some amazing things. It’s just a longer, tougher fight for them to get there.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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