27 April 2012

The Military PTSD Family...

Although military related PTSD is a huge part of my family's life, I rarely blog about it here.  I'm not absolutely silent about it but this is my place for making lemonade and on the average, most lemons are commonplace lemons.  PTSD is NOT an average or easily handled lemon.  PTSD is a very hard subject for me to face on a daily basis so it is hard for me to write of it.  I write posts in a journal fashion to find a positive point, frame of reference or personal compass direction to my personal life.  I have accepted that my life will never be 'normal', but I have learned be thankful for the little things in life.  Is my life the laugh riot it sometimes seems to be here on my blog? Of course not.

Writing about this part of our lives is extremely painful.  It is a lot to deal with and I have to remind myself often to NOT look at the big picture but to live life moment by moment. However, after reading a post over on SpouseBUZZ, a blog for military spouses and families, I decided that there IS a lot of positive things that have come out of my family's experiences and that it might give hope for some veteran or veteran's family member who are on a part of this road my family has already traveled.  For that reason, I've decided to share my current lemonade recipe.  Current recipe?  Well, yes.  Life is all about change and so the recipe is always adjusting to it.  And no.  I did NOT learn that overnight.  I did not live it for even longer.

I do NOT have any easy answers. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy, at least I've found that's been very true for me.  This recipe is not some carefully laid out plan to having a happier life for someone who has PTSD (or for their families). Unfortunately (or fortunately depending upon how you look at it) there are some paths you must travel alone to learn from how and where they lead you.
Each and every member of a military member's family serves with the military member and that is an extremely hard concept for 99+ percent of the American population to wrap their minds around. Why? Because LESS than ONE percent are serving in the military today.  Military members can't do what they do without their families. To know the entire family is taking care of the home front whether or not the service member is deployed or not is critical as they work and relate as a unit. A family unit. Those same family members pay a price that is rarely acknowledged. It's hard enough to get help for a veteran with PTSD, getting help for the families, spouses and children is even harder.  In my opinion, an entire military family should be given the opportunity of both individual and family counseling WITHOUT having to get to the point of critical mass before something can be done!
Any wound, visible or not has an enormous effect on the entire family.  A diagnosis of PTSD brings with it the stigmatized 'Flipped Out' behavior attached to it. I am a veteran with PTSD and our entire family has experienced of the inequality of treatment by the general population at large (and within the VA). Once the diagnosis is revealed, for any reason, to a person or entity we often receive the "Oh my God, is this person or a member of their family going to go postal? We don't want to have to deal with the possibility or liability" and you are immediately discouraged, turned away, or flat out denied any kind of relationship to the individual or entity. Is that fair? No. Does it happen? With all too much frequency.

So this recipe begins with a lot of lemons... For about six years I rarely left my house, I did not even have a driver's license because I felt I couldn't LEAVE my house.  Has it gotten better?  Yes.  Why? I finally got a LOT of the help I needed from the right people within, and outside of, the Veteran's Administration.  How much better has it gotten? I can not define what PTSD is like for others, but for me, it had been tearing me and my family apart and we all still have bad days... and nights.  But I HAVE gotten out of my house.  I DO have a valid driver's license now.  Our family has learned and continues to learn how to survive and find a little peace and happiness.

After the first step of getting me some intensive help (for many years) I still felt like a hamster that went on vacation.  The wheel was still spinning, but I wasn't really there.  I was overwhelmed, which I've discovered is a trigger for me.  What is a trigger?  It's something specific that sets off a chain reaction of feelings and actions.  Being overwhelmed for me tends to give me panic attacks that only acerbate the rest of the alphabet soup of medical names for side effects from PTSD.  We have five daughters and I could see the damage from my conditions that left them feeling depressed.  Their feelings of worthlessness, helplessness to control anything in their lives.  I was supposed to be giving them a solid foundation to build belief in themselves and their abilities.  I knew I was failing them, my husband and myself on all fronts.

I couldn't help any of them.  I didn't even know where to start.  My personal therapist recommended going to family therapy.  The reaction of the kids pegged the 'not until Hell freezes over' meter.  I think our youngest was about ten at the time and our eldest was about 17.  After talking it over at length with my husband, I started dragging (and I DO mean mentally DRAGGING!) the kids and we would meet their father at the therapist's office after he got out of work.  Six times.  Once a week.  For six VERY long weeks.  I grew to LOATHE that day of the week.  

It was absolutely horrendous. They did NOT want to go. They did NOT see how it was helping, after all, just getting in the car was just one argument and fight after another. So on that sixth session, I announced that I was through dragging anyone, anywhere.  I was done.  They were right.  The stress of getting everyone even into the car was so negative that a one hour appointment could not overcome it.  

Our wonderful therapist explained to our family that this takes time to see any results.  She was just getting a feel for the family dynamics and we were all learning HOW to hold a conversation in which we ALL had a chance to be heard.  She named off some specific things the kids were peeved with each other and my husband and I.  She then asked each of them individually if they wanted to have a place where they had the right to air ANY grievance without the fear of reprisal.  That they would actually have a vote in finding a solution the entire family could live with.  My husband and I had to agree that we would agree to anything that had a fair majority vote. 

Well, I guess that got their interest enough that everyone was willing to try to improve our home life by giving family therapy at least thirteen sessions.  On the thirteenth, we would vote to see who still wanted to come and who didn't.  Nobody would have to come if they didn't want to.  The kids all decided that they were each willing to give it a little more time. My husband and I agreed to allow their decision to stand without any negative impact.  For the next seven weeks, we all worked on a specific problem for each week and then reported back how we each felt the solution chosen was working.  As an example, one of the earliest problems tackled was the complaint of being responsible for their own breakfast and evening dishes.   After a week of this, none of us were satisfied with the results.  Dishes were still magically appearing used and not taken care of.  So one of the kids suggested we all get a set of different colored dishes and you could only use the ones that were yours.  After this vote, we went and picked out different dishes at Pier One.  This seemed to work a lot better for quite a while... (we have all had to agree that we ALL have gotten the lazy gene so sometimes we really have to still work on this)

Week thirteen came and all agreed to keep coming because each of us were able to express what was bothering us the most without (mostly) any interruption.   The therapist basically plays referee and ensures we abide by certain rules of engagement.  She will sometimes start with a question, ask how our week went, did anyone have anything they really wanted to get off their chest.  We started going to dinner after the appointment because we got out so late. That was four years ago and we are still going even though three of our elder daughters have started college and jobs now. If for some reason one or more can't make it, the rest still go.  In a family of 7, we've had the occasional two or three member meetings.  We've all found there are benefits to this.  So we now all look forward to this time. It's our family time and after the 'family meeting' we go out for what has come to be a very wonderful and happy time.  Dinner or an ice cream cone and then home with a much lighter feeling.

This has by no means solved all our family problems, but it HAS taught us a lot about each person and how to communicate in a way that does not instantly push a particular family member's buttons.  My personal therapy has improved.  I think because there is a little less stress in all of our lives.  We all feel that there ARE a few things that we actually got RIGHT.  There is nothing like a little success every now and then to keep you hopeful.  I totally believe that life is NOT about the destination.  NO ONE is guaranteed another day, hour or minute.  It's what you do with the time that you have been given that will make all the difference to your life, and eventually, the biggest difference for all those important people in your life that you will someday have to leave behind. 

7 Intelligent Comments:

Teresa said...

Can I just posit after reading this that your family is now better adjusted than about 99% of the families out there.

Congratulations to you all! You deserve a huge standing-o for realizing you needed help with your problems. I'm so impressed that everyone (even if they needed a bit of prodding at first) in the family decided to be part of the solution.

You have a very wonderful, unique, family and should be proud.

vwbug said...

Wow. I am amazed and hope that my family can do the same when and if needed. That is a hard road and I hope you feel or can see how much you have accomplished.

Lemon Stand said...

I have to tell you that I told my family about your comment about being better adjusted... we all had to laugh. There is a reason we are STILL in therapy after all these years. Our suggestion was that you look at the family conversations posted here. Normal? We'll never be. Working hard to become happier in our situation? Definitely, but I honestly think it started with my husband's wit. We all agreed last week in our 'meeting', that he is the glue that holds us together. If you don't TRY to see the humor in life, life becomes overwhelming and the focus remains on everything big thing that is NOT right in your life and not on the tiny things that are. It's incredibly hard to allow a LOT of tiny positive thoughts to eventually outsize the negative the negative ones merely to maintain the status quo and unfortunately, some days it feels like you are starting at day 1 again... but like my husband once said... keep looking through the snow fall... you'll eventually see the palm tree.

Lemon Stand said...

Please excuse the grammer in the above comment... it's a Monday so just work with me. 'kay?. Thank you. :)

Christie Critters said...

Wow. That's all. Congratulations on getting the help that you needed for yourself and for your family. Wish more people didn't put it off until it was far to late.

Bob said...

Thanks for sharing what was surely hard work.

Lemon Stand said...

I got help because I loved my family and knew from the greatest lesson my father unknowingly gave me, 'NEVER quit. Trying again and again and again and failing is FAR better than to give up and quit." and as my VERY wise husband says, "You don't need to know it all. You just need to know others that know that small bit of information that you need. It's true.