Diffusing the IED ~ When the caregiver lives with PTSD

Diffusing the IED ~ When the caregiver lives with PTSD

May 16, 2011 ~ I’ve heard it described.  The moment the soldier looks down and sees the trip wire that is going to set off the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) he freezes.  His blood runs cold.  His gut has an instant reaction. He breaks out in a cold sweat. Thoughts run through his mind faster than the speed of light.  He wonders, “Is this it?”

He tries to act as if nothing’s wrong because the insurgents may be watching.  His reaction may signal them that it’s time to detonate.  He wants another second to think this out. He sees the wire and he thinks he knows from where it’s originating. How can he get out of this situation without stepping on the wire?  Will the insurgents to see his fear and hit the switch?  As he turns towards safety, will he have enough time to get there?

Most of us will never have to live through a real-life situation like the one described above.  The closest we will come to understanding this fear will be through a movie we watch.  Unfortunately, there are many of us who feel as if we are walking in the shadow of an IED and that Improvised Explosive Device is buried inside our combat veteran.

Simply defined, PTSD is an anxiety “disorder” that develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.  Post Traumatic Stress should not be defined with the word “disorder” because Post Traumatic Stress certainly has to be a normal reaction to a very shocking, disturbing, and abnormal experience.

Someone who suffers with Post Traumatic Stress, may often re-experience their ordeal through nightmares. Sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, irritability, outbursts of anger, chest pain, headaches, and more are a part of daily life. When exposed to triggers in the form of events or objects reminiscent of the trauma, flashbacks may occur.

For those who live with someone who has post traumatic stress, life is not unlike living in the shadow of the IED.  The caregiver can be profoundly affected and can find themselves developing Secondary Traumatic Stress (STSD).  Recently I spoke with a mother who was willing to share her story.

It’s like living in a war zone. No matter what I say, he can react with anger.  I never know what is going to set him off.  He becomes enraged in an instant, and most of the time I don’t even know why he is upset.  My son is anxious and tense all the time.  He has isolated himself from the family and seems resentful because we don’t understand where he’s been.  We know we can’t ever understand, but is that our fault?

We would do anything to help him, but he won’t let us in.  He never smiles or laughs anymore.  Instead he worries and frets.  His personality is so changed that we simply don’t know him anymore. He knows he needs help, but he refuses to trust anyone enough to accept any assistance.

He often feels so discouraged and overwhelmed with survivor’s guilt that he will tell us we would all be better off if he had come home in a body bag.  He remembers the loss of friends in combat and feels the stigma that society has cast upon him and he wishes he was dead.  He tells us that we could have been proud of him if only he had died in the war, but now he sees himself as nothing more than a disgrace.  We try to tell him that he is wrong.  We love him and we are so proud of him and his accomplishments.  We want to hold him, but our efforts to reach out to him are met with outbursts of anger and threats of suicide.

When things aren’t good and the medications aren’t working, the suicide threats can come often.  A peaceful afternoon can escalate into a life threatening situation in an instant. We live in fear that someday he will act upon his thoughts.  The attempts have happened before, more than once. He doesn’t really want to die, but he wants the pain to end.  Some days, suicide just seems like the only road to make that happen.

One day, we lived the nightmare with him. We watched, firsthand, as he lived through a flashback.  He honestly thought he was in a firefight, having no idea he was safe in his own hometown.  On that day, we were on the front lines of battle and we were certain that our precious child was going to die right before our eyes. Experiencing that sort of fear has left me with my own trauma, which I’m told is Secondary Traumatic Stress.

It can be anything that sets him off.  It can be a bird flying past the window or it can be a comment that is misunderstood.  The instant he reacts, I have my own automatic reaction.  As panic sets in, my heart races, I become nauseous, I begin to shake, I break out in a sweat, and I’m frightened to my core. At this point, I know that just about anything I do is going to be wrong and I’m afraid to move, or speak, or breathe.  I can’t move forward.  I can’t move left or right.  I can’t step back, because any move I make may be the one that sets the course of events into motion that will end in his death.  I am afraid that I will detonate the IED that is buried deep inside my son.

I now find myself living in fear 24/7.  If the phone rings, I’m sure it’s someone telling me that he’s gone.  I don’t want to answer the door because the police might be on the other side with bad news.  If I hear a siren in the neighborhood, I’m sure the ambulance is carrying my son.  Even a story lead on the evening news can take my breath away until I hear that the story is unrelated.  I wake from my own nightmares in a cold sweat and I have even found myself experiencing panic attacks if something random triggers my own fears.

Besides the fact that I’m frightened, I’m living with anger as well.  I feel like I will never be safe from the next crisis and I feel like I’ve lost my child.  I’m trying to figure out why we fought this war and I need to know that the price our family paid was worth our pain and suffering.

Right now, the only thing I’ve got is my faith, and for that I am grateful. I couldn’t live through another day of this never ending pain if I didn’t know that there was some sort of purpose and this was all a part of God’s plan.  There has to be something good that will come from all of this.  I can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I know it’s there.  I know God is already ahead of me, protecting me, my other family members, and my child. I know that I must continue to keep my eyes focused on Him.  I know the Lord has a full proof plan to defuse the IED buried deep within my son.  I’ve just got to be patient while He is showing me how to help to disarm the bomb.

Originally published by the author at pactptsd.org

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