Have you ever put your foot in your mouth because of your words?
I have. And it sucks.
Living with a mental illness is a struggle that most people cannot see. To most folks, Sam looks like a regular guy. A guy who has a dog with him in public for a disability they may not even understand.
PTSD makes certain things harder than they were/are. Sleep. That is hard. Sometimes it takes everything in Sam’s body to have a good night’s sleep. It takes a little pep talk, wearing himself down, and Memphis, to help with the nightmares.
PTSD is a battle that should not be fought alone. So when you see someone who might be struggling (although it is not always easy to see the struggle), don’t ask, “what’s wrong with you?” or “Are you going to get over it?”
When I hear the phrase “it takes a village to ______________” I sometimes think about fighting PTSD. It takes a village to fight PTSD, it is like an army—you cannot fight alone, and so friends, family, those who know the struggle become part of your army to help you fight when you feel like you cannot, to help lift you up when all you want to do is be down, you need cheerleaders, the type of people who have your back no matter what to surround yourself with.
Sam can be distant at times. There have been days where he’s here, but he’s not really here (if that makes any sense at all).
So instead of saying “what’s wrong with you?” on those days I just say, “what can I do to help?” or “let me know if you need me, I am here.”
He gets exhausted easily sometimes, but I know with support and love he can be strong and get back up when he feels down. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about how his day may go, if there’s a trigger that will bring up memories or emotions, or if he’s having a good day.
I would suggest saying something like, “let’s do something to clear your mind.” When a person has PTSD, their mind is always going. Offering to do something with them to help clear their mind, even if it is for a short time, can be very helpful. Seeing a movie, eating out at a restaurant, just relaxing, playing a board game, that can help ease the mind of someone with PTSD. For Sam and I, it is ice cream dates. We love them, and it is also time spent together.
It is hard to understand how someone with PTSD may feel, so if you do not have PTSD, do not say, “I know how you feel.” Sometimes people with PTSD are told this a lot and it may make them angry hearing it. You might be able to imagine a war experience, or you might be able to think of how you would handle a situation, but it isn’t the same until it happens to you. Even then, you wouldn’t feel the same because everyone handles experiences differently.
I know Sam is strong, but I also know there are times when he doesn’t feel that way. I try not to say things like “you are strong, you’ll be fine” because every single day is a battle for him, and I know he gets worn out each and every day. I don’t expect him to get over things easily, and know that time and working through things will help on his journey to healing.
Everyone has different personalities. There are also different reasons for experiencing PTSD—it is not just for folks who have been in the military, and it is hard to say “if you do this and this your PTSD will go away” because it doesn’t. Trauma is hard to talk about, it is hard to write about, and unfortunately it does not go away or get better overnight.
Education is key. Knowing more about PTSD, understanding experiences, and simply being there for someone who may be suffering is important. Don’t lose hope. There is always hope.