The Isolation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

One of the most frustrating aspects of living with trauma and PTSD is isolation.

It can be virtually impossible to explain how you feel or why you feel the way you do to other people. This is often a source of shame and embarrassment. People with PTSD often find themselves isolating. They may also give partial explanations to friends and loved ones because they know that the reality that they live will sound senseless to those who haven’t experienced it. Friends and family cannot understand how trauma alters the physical function of the brain because they have not experienced it.

People make judgments based on their experience.

We see a behavior that seems “odd,” and instead of wondering why or seeking out the story behind the behavior, we make assessments and draw conclusions. Trauma and PTSD are the why beneath many behaviors that are easy to judge: obsessive-compulsive disorders, self-abuse, anxiety and depression, addictions, self-harm and self-hatred, eating disorders, and many other negative coping mechanisms.

PTSD and social anxiety disorder (SAD) often occur together. 

A diagnosis of SAD requires frequent and unending fear of social situations or situations where you are expected to perform in some way. (My symptoms peaked after a brain surgery and neurological episode that also affected my brain function.) You may also feel fearful about appearing anxious or acting in a way that will cause embarrassment or humiliation. You avoid situations that cause fear.

This was my experience, and friends interpreted my behavior as rejection. I was chastised, spiritually scolded, judged, and ultimately I decided that my friends were unable to offer the support I needed.

In retrospect, I can see that my behavior looked like rejection. But fear, not rejection drove my behavior, and at that time I could not find effective therapy to help with my symptoms.

People with PTSD feel isolated because others can’t understand what they have never experienced.

I incurred my greatest traumas caring for others. I would never change that. However, I was unprepared for the trauma symptoms that eventually followed. Eventually, I found compassionate friends who understood. They came alongside me without judgment and listened. They asked what support looked like. They learned about PTSD and trauma. They let me cry and grieve. They did not give easy answers but still spoke the truth.

Eventually I found effective treatment through the Instinctual Trauma Response Method, a treatment approach that effectively rewires the disconnection that occurs between the right and left hemispheres of the brain during a traumatic event. The ITR Method gives the trauma story a beginning, middle, and an ending and recodes the event in a way that allows it to be filed in the brain as a completed memory–in the past. More information about this treatment is available at HelpforTrauma.com.

The cognitive distortions that accompany trauma and PTSD also contribute to isolation.

People who live with the symptoms of PTSD withdraw because their brain is controlled by fear caused by adrenaline and cortisol released during traumatic events. Their brains become “stuck” in a fear response. Unfortunately, friends and loved ones often believe that logic and rationality will provide a solution to fear, when in actuality, the brain needs to be recoded.

Cognitive distortions include filtering out the positive and magnifying the negative, black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizing catastrophizing (disaster will strike at any time), blaming (other people are responsible for our problems), “shoulds” (rules about how others and we should act), emotional reasoning, and other reasoning fallacies. This makes it difficult for people with PTSD to make well-reasoned decisions and to trust people.

People with PTSD need medical assistance to first address the physical damage in the brain. PTSD is a physiological problem that causes mental health symptoms. Addressing the spiritual aspects of symptoms and behaviors should come after an individual receives effective trauma treatment that restores the ability to make reasoned choices, control emotions, and see one’s self from a healthy perspective. Just as a diabetic needs appropriate medical treatment for the pancreas, the individual with PTSD needs appropriate medical treatment for the brain. Both should come accompanied by prayer and reliance upon God, our Ultimate Healer.

If you know someone who lives with PTSD and trauma, they also struggle with feelings of isolation. They need compassionate friends who are willing to listen and learn about trauma and PTSD. More than anything, they need the relentless love of Jesus, who never leaves us or forsakes us.

 

PTSD and Caregiving

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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.

PTSD, Fire Loss, and Natural Disasters

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This morning I hit the road with my friend Wanda to drive to Colorado Springs, where I’m scheduled to tape two radio programs with Focus on the Family on Monday–one show with Jim Daly and the other with Susie Larson and Greg Smalley.

For the past two days, Wanda and I have been monitoring reports of the fire and calling friends and loved ones in Colorado Springs to check on their welfare. Many people have lost their homes. Others are still waiting to see if theirs will withstand the ravages of the fire.

Unfortunately, many people today think that time heals all wounds, This is not the case with PTSD. People who lose their homes in a fire can experience PTSD symptoms for years, including

  • insomnia
  • disconnection from people, work, and emotions
  • compelling need to check for safety (make sure appliances are unplugged, walk around the house at night, etc.)
  • fatalistic thinking (the worst is going to happen to me)
  • nightmares or flashbacks
  • feeling of being “stuck”
  • depression

It’s important for those who experience PTSD and those who love them to understand that time does not make PTSD better. Without effective trauma-specific treatment, most symptoms will not go away. The traumatic event that has become “stuck” in the brain must be reprogrammed.

If you or someone you love has experienced a natural disaster and are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, consider seeking trauma treatment.

Allow the healing to begin.

For more information on PTSD, visit my other blog at PTSDPerspectives.org and sign up for the free eBook, The Truth about Trauma. 

10 Steps to Raise PTSD Awareness from the National Center for PTSD

militaryPTSDJune  is PTSD Awareness Month. Although PTSD is typically associated with those in the military, the truth is that nearly 10% of the U.S. population struggles with PTSD, including the elderly and caregivers. Know the signs and symptoms, and seek help.

The following post was taken from the National Center for PTSD.

  1. 1.  Know more about PTSD.
    Understand common reactions to trauma and when those reactions might be PTSD.
  2. 2.  Challenge your beliefs about treatment.
    PTSD treatment can help. We now have effective PTSD treatments that can make a difference in the lives of people with PTSD.
  3. Explore the options for those with PTSD.
    3.  Find out where to get help for PTSD and learn how to choose a therapist. Also see our Self-Help and Copingsection section to learn about peer support and other coping strategies.
  4. Reach out. Make a difference.
    You can help a family member with PTSD, including assisting your Veteran who needs care. Know there is support for friends and family too.
  5. Know the facts.
    More than half of US adults will experience at least one trauma in their lifetime. How common is PTSD?. For Veterans and people who have been through violence and abuse, the number is higher.
  6. Expand your understanding.
    Learn about assessment and how to find out if someone has PTSD. Complete a brief checklist or take an online screen to see if a professional evaluation is needed. June 20th is National PTSD Screening Day.
  7. Share PTSD information.
    Share handouts, brochures, or wallet cards about trauma and PTSD.
  8. Meet people who have lived with PTSD.
    Visit AboutFace, an online gallery dedicated to Veterans talking about how PTSD treatment turned their lives around.
  9. Take advantage of technology.
    Download PTSD Coach mobile app and treatment companion apps in the National Center for PTSD’s growing collection of mobile offerings.
  10. Keep informed.
    Get the latest information about PTSD. Sign up for our PTSD Monthly Update, or connect with us on Facebook,Twitter and YouTube.