Friday, October 18, 2013

When The Past Comes Back To Haunt You...

Ya know how life has a tendency to get in the way?  Well yea..  Life has kinda kept me on my toes the last few weeks so I apologize for my absence!  I was going to write about the damn government shut down...but I decided that would just be an angry rant and decided against it. :)

But this...I feel is important and might help those of you who actually read what I have to say.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night...we were reminiscing about our antics while in Kuwait.  I asked him if he could believe it had been 4 years since that time...  He said, "No it hasn't been... it feels like it was yesterday..."  And that got me thinking...  He also asked why certain things smell a specific way causing him to remember the past...Did you know your olfactory senses have the strongest link to your memories?  That's why when you smell the perfume your grandma used to wear, you immediately think of her even though she may have been deceased for 10 years.

Me and one of our docs.

Especially for veterans who have seen war, flashbacks are a very real occurrence.  Not everyone will act out those flashbacks; many will look like they've "zoned out".  In reality, they are reliving that memory as if it were on a big movie screen.  As my friend and I were talking, I remembered a patient I treated.  He was clinically dead, but we were able to revive him despite his severe injuries.  I was holding c-spine (maintaining head control), looking him in the eye and making him talk to me to keep him conscious.  His eyebrows and eyelashes were burned off.  He had burns all over his body; the stench of burning skin and hair is a smell that I will never forget.  He had multiple broken bones and partial amputations.  His carotid artery started bleeding through the bandages and I had to use my thumb as a plug to stop the bleeding in his neck.  While all this was going on and he was being treated by 4 other medics; we talked about getting his 5 year old and my 7 year old together when we both got home and they could play football together.  I will never forget his face, his eyes staring up at me, pleading with me to reassure him that all will be will.  When he was MEDEVAC'ed from our facility, he was alive.  He made it all the way to Germany before succumbing to his injuries.  I was sent home not too long after due to my seizures and made it to his memorial.  It's something I will never forget.  And there are times where it seems like it was just yesterday...The day after my husband knew I was in a funk and I explained to him what was going through my head, and he did the perfect thing.  He just let me be.  Sometimes all a person suffering from PTSD who is dealing with the aftermath of a flashback or night terror needs, is to be left alone for the have that time to sort it out in their own mind.  He was there for me when I needed a hug, when I needed to talk.. but he also gave me my space.  I spoke to my friend on Tuesday... and parts of our conversation brought up memories I had pushed aside..I am wondering if perhaps my inability to close them off again resulted in my seizure last night.  Stress and lack of sleep are triggers.  It was as I was falling asleep I guess.  My hubby told me about it.. which makes sense and explains the sore tired muscles I have today.

My service dog, Kane, also knew something was up.  He didn't leave my side all day long.  It's been 4 years since my deployment to Iraq, but there are times where it seems like it was yesterday.  I see all the people I treated in flashbacks before my eyes.  Sometimes in night terrors.. sometimes when I'm zoning out during the day/day dreaming.  Sometimes it's the same scene, other times it's like a movie on fast forward and I see everything.  Sometimes the tears start flowing and I don't know why...I can't stop them, they're just there.  Sometimes I'm cranky and I snap at my son and husband.  Sometimes I'm able to smile and be thankful that I made it home despite my health issues. And sometimes I feel guilty because I survived and some of my friends did not.. (it's called survivor's guilt).. 

I bring this up not because I want your pity...but I believe that people need to be aware that when it comes to PTSD, there's no timeline in when we get better.  Some days are better than others... And sometimes it's all you can do just to get out of bed.  A certain smell, word, or the way a specific landscape looks can remind us of the dust bowl we were in and the horrific things we saw.  When we withdraw or pull back, it's not because we don't love you, it's because we're trying to deal with the images and memories in our head.  If you've never been there, if you've never seen's hard to talk to someone who doesn't understand.  Rather than just listening, most people try to understand and interrupt to ask questions.  While I admire their desire to learn in order to understand...when you're hurting, the last thing you want to do is educate.  If you want to learn more, ask during a GOOD day, or do some research online.  Want to help your friend but don't know how?  My husband wrote an AMAZING post about how to support a loved one with PTSD.  Please check it out.  Some items may work for your situation, some may not.  But it's some good information from an outsiders point of view.

Dealing with PTSD, Depression, and/or Suicide as a family member or friend

Iraqi sunset
I know this isn't my typical post... But this is about the day in my life.  And not all days are hunky dory peachy keen.  Some days suck.  This week has been full of those sucky days.  But that's why I have my pottery.  When my hands are in clay... a lot of this stuff seems to dissolve...and I feel better.  At times, it's better therapy than any shrink could ever do.  Not to diminish the importance of a psychologist in the healing process for veterans and/or those with PTSD... but for therapy has done more for me than anything else.

Don't be afraid to reach out for help.  Don't know how to explain what is going through your mind/heart?  Grab a pen...a pencil..a paint brush.. some clay.  And just create.  It doesn't have to be the next Picasso.. it just has to help you through the hard days... And for me.. I can assure you that it does.

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