Getting messages from Sam that read “I’m having a panic attack”makes me a little uneasy. In my head, I’m wondering what triggered the attack, if something unsettling happened at work, or if there is just too much stress around.
Let me give you a little background on Sam’s job at the VA. For those of you who don’t know, Sam is a Peer Support Specialist. What does that mean? Well, it means that Sam is actively engaged in his own recovery. He attends therapy with a brilliant and witty therapist, while also working with other Veterans on their own recovery.
Mental health is hard to discuss at times. Coming to terms with PTSD, TBI, and other injuries of war can be really difficult. A Peer Support who has had some similar experiences is a role model (although Sam may disagree with that), sometimes sharing very personal stories of his own recovery and own trauma.
Can you imagine doing that every day, or just about every day when you are trying to work through and understand your own trauma?
Peer Support Specialists also teach goal setting, problem-solving, symptom management, and they use a variety of tools to help the Veterans that they work with.
Sam shines in this role, but it is also sometimes damaging to his own mental health. I can see this when he is weary and worn, or “not present” because he’s thinking of something else, perhaps a time at war, or something that happened during the workday.
There are times when selfishly, I hate the job my husband has because it hinders his own recovery at times.
I said it.
While I am extremely grateful that Sam is able to work, help others, and work with Veterans, I sometimes curse that job for causing more stress, anxiety, and flashbacks (something he admits happens from time to time).
I guess you could say, in some way, it makes me panic. Maybe even worry about what type of day he is going to have and how that will impact him once he gets home.
The VA is a complex system. For some, it is hated. I believe that despite all the bureaucratic crap, the VA really means well, and does serve Veterans (I think for some, it depends what VA/state you are in). I’ve met some wonderful people (Veterans and spouses, civilians) that really do love their job, take pride in their work, and absolutely love helping and serving our Veterans. I’ve also met some who are there just to collect a paycheck.
With all of that being said, the VA is a place where panic can occur. It may be confusing to navigate the healthcare systems, acronyms, or doctor talk (let’s be real, sometimes doctors just need to lose the big words and relate to people…am I right?), medication and wait…waiting is the worst.
When Sam gets panicked, a few things occur: palpitations (heart rate goes up), sweating (he has said he’s been so sweaty he knows he has sweat through a shirt), trembling or shaking (his hands shake and he feels like his body is going 100 miles per hour).
That flat out sucks.
He has tools (which he also shares with others) that he can use, deep breathing, finding a happy place (like the family farm) to go to in his head, and trying to focus and remain calm.
Once the panic attack ends, he is completely drained. He might feel as if he is in slow motion, and he’s a little off–takes him a minute or two to respond, and he is tired. Drained. Worn out.
I hate when that happens.
Controlling breathing helps…relaxing and connecting with family or friends–almost every time there’s a panic attack, Sam will text or call me. We try to talk through it (text through it) as best as we can and that seems to help him. I try not to ask too many questions, but I think it helps to reach out to someone who cares about you.
I know that getting sleep is something that can also help—however, as I have mentioned before, sleep is sometimes hard to come by at our house. Naps and just relaxing on the couch is helpful for Sam. Hopefully soon we are going to reintegrate a regular exercise routine into our lives and we are trying to eat better too.
Here’s to staying calm and relaxed…and focusing on all the good things.
I love this picture of us. Sometimes we go through pictures and see the “evolution of Cat’s hair,” but in this one, we are on a walking tour of Fort Knox, where Sam lived for some time in a recovery process from his injuries sustained in Afghanistan. This was a relaxing moment, we were in the process of Sam’s official retirement from the Army, yet he was in his element showing me around the post. I love our road trips and adventures.