PTSD and Painting the Bricks

Fireplace

Ten years ago my husband Dan and I moved from Iowa back to my home state of Michigan. Why? My mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I wanted to take care of her. After a three-month search, Dan and I found jobs and a house forty-five minutes from my parents.

When we moved, my husband Dan’s father, who was in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease, moved with us. He’d lived with us for four years, and I’d been his primary caregiver.

But after just a few months in our Michigan home, Norman fell. First in his bathroom. Then in hallway. He began choking more frequently on his meals. And he struggled more and more against the prison that held his mind captive. Some mornings I struggled for more than an hour just to get him to swallow his medications.

So in March, just seven months after our move, Dan and I placed Norman in the nearby Home for Veterans, where he was cared for eleven months until he passed away.

Trauma and tears

One week after Norman moved to the VA, my mom and dad moved into “Norman’s room.” Over the next four years, every room of our tiny house would become marked by my mother’s pain.

Night after night, I cradled her on the couch as she trembled and wept for her mother who would never come.

In the long afternoon hours, I paced beside her from the front door to the back as she begged to go “home.”

We spent hours together folding and re-folding baskets of laundry.

And more times than I can bear to remember, I administered medical procedures too intimate to entrust to professional caregivers, while I listened to Mom’s childlike pleas for help.

Eventually, our family placed my mom in an Alzheimer’s facility where she was cared for by loving professional caregivers until her death. But after Mom left my house six years ago, my home never felt the same again.

Thank you, Mel

A few months ago I was talking to a friend who remarried. She and her husband recently made the decision to move from Colorado to the south. When I asked why, my friend responded, “You know, when we got married, I moved into Mel’s house. He has very few positive memories of life in that home because of the trauma of his first marriage. It’s important for him to stop living with the memories of his painful past, so we decided to move.”

With that simple statement, light dawned for me. Every room in my house has been marked by the trauma of caregiving, grief, and death. I have never enjoyed my home. Every room bears bittersweet memories. And while I may not be able to move, I can bring new life into those rooms.

In fact, I NEED to bring new life into my home. One important aspect of recovery from PTSD is renewal.

I’m focusing on renewal this week one brush stroke at a time–fresh white paint on a brown brick fireplace that I’ve tolerated and never loved. By the end of the week, I will love that fireplace, and the mantle will be marked with something beautiful. Something for me. Something to commemorate the new space.

Caregiving has been a hard journey for me. So traumatic that it became important for me to seek trauma treatment. But sometimes trauma treatment includes painting the mantle. Or moving the furniture. Or switching bedrooms. Or planting a garden. Something tangible that refreshes the soul and reminds us that beauty still exists and is worth pursuing.

Think about it

If you’re experiencing fatigue, depression, or other symptoms related to PTSD, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is your environment or are elements of your environment triggering you? If so, in what ways?

2. What positive changes could you make? What small steps could you take to begin?

3. In what ways can you link those changes to hope, healing, and a vision for your future?

4. What things might you be fearful of confronting and why? Talk to your therapist or counselor about how you can address those fears.

“His mercies begin fresh every morning.” Lamentations 3:23

Love Letters from the Edge: God’s Message of Hope for the Hurting

LoveLettersCoverAccording to the Sidran Institute, approximately 10% of women will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their lifetime. These women feel isolated, guilty, trapped, and confused. And they suffer from a wide range of symptoms ranging from depression to addictions to self-abuse to suicidal thoughts.

I know because I’m one of them, even though I didn’t recognize the symptoms of PTSD for many years.

At the age of 19, I was attacked by a serial rapist. In my early forties, I suffered a walnut-sized brain lesion that nearly took my life. I also experienced accumulated grief as I cared for a mother with Alzheimer’s and a father-in-law with Parkinson’s in my home, as well as a number of close friends whom I lost to cancer.

But I didn’t begin to understand the devastation of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder until I walked the path of healing from CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) beside my best friend and co-author Wanda Sanchez. When I met Wanda in 2010 through a series of real-life miracles, she was clinging to life by a thread and had exhausted her ability to cope.

God answered Wanda’s single-word prayer for “Help!” when she went for successful trauma treatment after decades of ineffective counseling, rehab, and therapy. It was my privilege to be her companion for a journey of hope and healing. Today we invest our lives helping people better understand PTSD (PTSDPerspectives.org) and encouraging women about God’s relentless love and grace.

This week, Wanda and I will submit the final manuscript for our new book Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life. The book is available now on Amazon and will release in June.

You or someone you know is struggling in the aftermath of abuse, betrayal, and trauma. They feel as if they are the one person beyond the reach of God’s grace. Love Letters from the Edge is a message of compassion and healing to the broken-hearted–whispers of hope from God’s heart to our own. This book of meditations expresses God’s relentless love for us. It offers weekend prayers, journaling questions, and weekend features. It also contains valuable resources about post-traumatic stress disorder, its related symptoms, and where you can find help.

You know someone who needs this book: the one in four women who have been sexually abused or experienced domestic violence, abandonment, or neglect. Caregivers who have been devastated by loss. Those who have been decimated by suicide. Women who have experienced the trauma of abortion, miscarriage, or the death of a child. Those who have suffered medical trauma.

In the shattered places of your life, what do you long to hear God say to you?

PTSD and Caregiving

woman_sad

Last week my ninety-two year-old father fell twice and injured his back. He was placed in the hospital, where doctors ran a series of tests that revealed TIAs and a back fracture. The sad truth is that my father will continue to have TIAs and fall and the next call will be more ominous.

As I raced across state to help make decisions regarding my father’s care, I discovered my symptoms of PTSD from years of caregiving were being retriggered: numbness,  insomnia, anxiety, dread, irritability, and depression.

My husband and I cared for his father with Parkinson’s disease and multiple health issues in our home for five years until just months before his death with COPD in a VA facility. We also cared for my mother with Alzheimer’s in our home and my dad for an additional five years. Those years took an enormous toll.

Unfortunately, little formal research has been done on the effects of PTSD on caregivers. But Barry Jacobs, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers” (The Guilford Press, 2006), often sees caregivers who struggle with intrusive thoughts and memories months and even years after a loved one has died.

The fact that caregiving can take a psychological toll on an individual is no secret. A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health found that the chronic stress a caregiver can be under – whether from the duration and type of care he or she is providing to a loved one or from dealing with finances and family tensions – can cause significant psychological distress, impaired health habits, psychiatric illness and physical illness.

My husband and I struggled with the tension of making “right” end-of-life decisions for parents who could not talk. It was our responsibility to know when they were in pain, when they were thirsty, when they needed more medication or less, and to protect them. We lived in a constant state of vigilance and concern that our decisions could physically, emotionally, and mentally harm our parent if we were not appropriately informed caregivers and not able to discern their needs.

We lived for ten years in a state of overwhelming stress.

But we were wise enough to put ourselves in counseling, which helped save our marriage and our sanity. But counseling is often not enough. Caregivers may also need to consider trauma treatment, especially if their caregiving experiences are linked to prior trauma experiences in their lives.

If you are a caregiver, be alert to symptoms of PTSD and consider the possibility that you may need treatment.

To receive a free eBook I’ve co-written with colleague Wanda Sanchez on post-traumatic stress disorder, go to PTSDPerspectives.org and click on “The Truth about Trauma.” This eBook provides an overview of PTSD, it’s symptoms, causes, treatments, what people with PTSD feel like, and how friends and family can help.