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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Keye

Dear families...: Explaining behaviors linked to PTSD

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Today I’m doing something a little bit different. While I generally write this blog for veterans with PTSD, this one post goes out to their families. I want to address what they’re dealing with in regard to caretaking and hope to give them some context for what they’re experiencing. It’s hard loving someone who struggles the way many of us do, and I think families deserve to know why.

For starters, we can be self-isolating and avoidant. This isn’t personal, okay? We aren’t ignoring you; we’re ignoring everybody. Sometimes we don’t know how to face people, despite their good intentions. Phones, though incredibly useful, can be daunting. We know avoidance isn’t good, and we feel bad about it, but it can be bewildering when the phone rings. If you send a text to see how your loved one is doing, that might be too complicated for them to answer, resulting in them refusing to acknowledge it. The text could be something logistical, and they may crumble under the pressure. The sound of a buzzing phone could be enough to trigger crushing anxiety and don’t even get me started on calling someone. Leaving voicemails is hands-down one of my least favorite things. We can fall behind on appointments because of this, and it’s self-sabotaging but incredibly tough to work past. Pushing through the avoidance is possible with great effort, but it isn’t easy despite how much we want to change it.

Another thing is memory problems. We have them. You and your loved one could have a long conversation where you come to an understanding and a commitment to something, an action or a change, and they won’t remember it. It’s not that they don’t care; they genuinely didn’t retain the information. Then they may feel like a failure. Your loved one wants to follow through, they do, but sometimes they don’t even know what they’re doing wrong. And I know it’s hurtful, truly. I know it feels like they don’t care about your needs or what you have to say, but that isn’t it. PTSD literally shrinks the part of your brain responsible for memory. It’s not personal; it’s biological.

Sometimes your loved one may not act the way they should. Sometimes they get randomly angry and dysregulated. Sometimes they break down sobbing seemingly for no reason. These can be emotional flashbacks or due to their chemical imbalances. They may yell at you at times but not know why. They don’t want to, and it hurts them deeply to treat you that way, but control can be hard to find. Please remember that they love you despite these outbursts. Often they realize what’s happening but can’t stop it, which is hard for everyone. It’s a struggle that they’re trying to get under control, and the pain it causes only worsens it further. I’m not excusing this one. I’m just letting you know what very often happens.

If this post applies to you, I want to thank you. I want to praise you. What you’re doing is selfless and exhausting. I know it hurts and that it can feel pointless, but you are a genuine hero. You’re saving someone you love, and they know that. And they love you too -- they just struggle in showing it.

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