5 Things I Wish You Knew About Life with PTSD

Going through a staggering amount of paperwork and learning curves and medical interventions has kept us pretty busy over the last two years. At one crucial point, I was just trying to keep my soldier alive. And since I was pretty new to this game, I didn’t know how to talk about it for awhile.

But now that we’re a little farther down the road, there are some truths I’d like to share with you about what our life actually looks like on a day to day basis. Since we are no longer in survival mode, I feel that now is a good time to pass on a few things I have learned in this journey. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and since I can only speak about this experience through the lens of a caregiver, know there’s much, much more to this story. 

 But for now, here are a few things I wish that everyone knew about us:

1. We are a family dealing with mental illness so we probably don’t always fit into your idea of what a family looks like. Or sounds like. Or behaves like. So please don’t judge us by our bad days or our good days. Neither is entirely accurate.

On our best days we appear relatively normal, albeit a little louder and more colorful than most. We have some introverts, extroverts, flamboyant ones, shy kids and some ADHD and panic attacks sprinkled throughout. 

On our worst days we have tears, meltdowns and struggles that you probably can’t understand. Please know that we are truly doing our best but if we react to a situation in a bizarre or inappropriate (to you) way, your judgment is going to be less than helpful. Stares or comments other than “Is there anything I can do to help?” aren’t encouraged.

Sometimes we are struggling so hard to keep it together as a family that we can’t be bothered with your idea of decorum. We are simply trying to survive. 

 2. One of the worst things you can do is negate our journey by saying something insensitive and demeaning. For instance, someone actually said the words, “He looks ok to me.” He might. In that moment. But what that person didn’t realize was that Mr. Wonderful hadn’t been out of our house for two weeks. And had fought through three panic attacks to get out the door. 

Sometimes he might forget that he already had this conversation because his short term memory is shot. Or he might fly into a rage at those insensitive words because. You. Just. Don’t. Know.

Don’t judge our struggle based on what you can observe in a moment. 

3. Our idea of a good day and a bad day is radically different than yours. A good day for us is no meltdowns, few panic attacks, and a decent wake up where Mr. Wonderful is able to get his bearings relatively early in the day. Maybe he feels good enough to get a workout, a shower and a hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment in. This is a good, good day.

A bad day is, well, it’s not something I can put into words yet. I’m still working on it and I may have to get back to you on this one.

4. You might perceive us as flaky if we’ve had to bail out on you. Last minute. Again. We have the best of intentions. We want to be at your birthday party or graduation or celebration. Sometimes we just can’t. 

Sometimes we’re actually on our way out the door but then Mr. Wonderful can’t leave the house. Or we start the day well but it progresses in the wrong direction. Or I know Mr. Wonderful will be ok without me but I’m just not up to getting the whole traveling circus out the door by myself. To friends and family, please understand our absence doesn’t mean we don’t love and honor you–we just may not be able to love and honor you in person.

5. We are doing the best we can. From the outside that may not look good enough. And sometimes it’s not. We try super hard. Every day. But even hard work can’t always get us where we need to be. That’s why one of the things we tell ourselves over and over is to give ourselves a break. And share some grace. And we try to be grateful for every good moment, every silver lining. 

Because we’ve walked the edge between life and death, we now want to celebrate every good thing we can. Life  isn’t a guarantee, and we aren’t promised tomorrow. These are now things we know for sure. 

We no longer take life for granted. Or good days. Or breathing or remembering or functioning. Crazy may be our new normal but we embrace our crazy. We embrace our new normal. And we embrace each other. 

The most important thing I can tell you about life with PTSD is that without our faith and each other we would have nothing. But with it, we still have everything we need. 

 (Photo credits Meredith Shafer) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

I would love to connect with you on Instagram and Twitter, swing by and say hi!

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National Suicide Awareness Month

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

You’ve probably guessed that today’s post isn’t going to be a light-hearted romp with my traveling circus. I’ve been avoiding this topic all of September because September is a rough month around this Casa.

There are a lot of triggers: 9/11, anniversary of Mr. Wonderful’s start date in the military, the anniversary of the day I almost lost him. 

The older I get, the more I realize that if people share their realness and their pain, it can often shine light into someone else’s pain. Help them know they aren’t alone. Guide them to a sliver of hope that this circumstance or season is temporary and it too shall pass.

2013 is a year that I wish had never happened. The short version is that my sweet Mr. Wonderful was on about year twelve of undiagnosed PTSD–way past the time where things begin to unravel. First the undoing was unnoticeable. Then it became unmanageable. Then it became untenable. To the point I knew in my heart that if I didn’t do something, the unthinkable was coming.

The details are still too hard to write about so I’m not going to yet. I’m actually trying to work up the courage to put this full story in my next book but it’s slow going, reliving certain minutes.

What I’m going to tell you today is that you, yes, you who somehow stumbled onto the blog of a woman with a bunch of kids who’s married to a retired military dude that you have nothing in common with, you were meant to be here today reading these words.

You were meant to know that someone else has been exactly where you are: in a dark so black and thick that you can’t breathe, much less see. You were meant to read these words and realize that this darkness that you can’t seem to find your way out of has enveloped others before you. You need to know that there is a way out of that darkness that doesn’t involve removing yourself from this world.

You are necessary here. 

Without you to finish your work, there will be a you-sized hole in the universe that can never be filled by anyone else. I know you can’t see this right now. I know you can’t imagine anything but pain and heartache so deep that you just need it to stop. But if you’ll give the world a chance I promise you things can get better. They may not be better all at once-this may take some patience on your part and I know you probably don’t have any.

But please, stay

As an Army wife, I’ve been through scenarios other families may not be able to fathom. I haven’t even been through all of the typical Army wife life because I came on the scene later. But one thing about all military spouses is that we do what needs to be done. We’ll take care of it so our spouse can do his or her job of protecting this country. 

You hear all kinds of phrases and jargon in this military life. One of my faves is “I’ve got your six.” That means basically, I’ve got your back; I’ll help you and watch out for you and do my best to protect you.

My spouse had this country’s six. He helped keep us safe after 9/11 and our family’s still footing the bill for that freedom. And now I have his six. It’s the least I can do for a man who has made some sacrifices for us all.

Let someone have your six. If you are not okay today, it’s okay. But you can’t do this alone. Reach out your hand and grab onto the lifeline: make a call to the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK) or a friend. Or a pastor or trusted confidant. Or your mom. Whoever you think will listen.

There are approximately 22 veterans who take their lives every day because there is an absence of hope. But for the grace of God, that was nearly us. For those of you who worry about or notice something is off or different about your veteran or family member or friend, don’t wait to speak up! 

Ask: are you ok?

Maybe you won’t know what to do. That’s ok too. Some things need to be handled by professional people who are trained for this sort of thing. But you can ask the most important question–are you ok?–giving them a lifeline of hope. And then together you can seek help.

Just do something.

Having someone’s six sometimes means doing something for someone who just can’t do it right now. Having someone’s six may mean getting out of your comfort zone even if you don’t know what to do. Having someone’s six can save someone’s life.

Babe, I got your six.

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

(Photo credit Meredith Shafer 2015) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

Oh Happy Day!

When working with the Veterans Administation, persistence is the key. We have been fighting for my veteran to be medically retired and have all the benefits that includes for oh, about two years now. Maybe longer. I lose track because I have four kids and I can’t even remember where I parked my car or left my keys or what I ate (or forgot to eat) for breakfast. I do pretty well just to remember which kid goes where each day.

And finally, hallelujah and praise Jesus, we got his paperwork approved! I probably shouldn’t be celebrating that the VA agrees with me that my vet is disabled but I do because that means he gets rewarded for his sacrifice. That bill for America’s freedom that each wounded veteran’s family pays every day will now be recognized and rewarded by the VA, despite the fact that my vet’s wounds are invisible. Of course there are stipulations and regulations (it wouldn’t be a government entity if there weren’t) yada yada yada but thank God almighty we are free at last.

We are freed from having to prove his conditions over and over. Do you know how bad things have to get to prove an invisible condition like PTSD? Let’s just say go past unbearable, turn right at untenable and you’re there. We’re freed from having to worry about choosing his health or a job that won’t help his health at all. There is freedom from explaining our situation to the thirty-seventh person at the VA and sending and resending information and filling out the small file cabinet and three boxes of paperwork that it took to make this happen.

We are beyond grateful that I have a job and we have healthy kids and that we have great friends and family surrounding us. Now Mr. Wonderful is going to have the opportunity to focus on getting better, trying new and different therapies. We’ve already begun working out and eating right and we will continue doing our part to make his health one of our top priorities.

And thanks to some bulldoggedness on our parts, we are finally finished, at least for now, with this part of our battle. It’s a good thing, because we are weary and bone-tired.

But we’re still standing.

(photo credit Meredith Shafer) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

I would love to connect with you on Instagram and Twitter, swing by and say hi! 

Bless This Mess

Maybe it’s because I’ve hit my busy time at work or we’ve started school or I’m just not in my groove yet but things are kind of a wreck around here. If you’ve been checking out my Instagram feed lately you can see a theme: big fat mess! 

 (Yesterday’s post, my actual laundry room!)

It’s ok, I own it.

I recognize at this point in my life it is just not possible for me. Well, it is, but then I would have to give up things that are important to me: Oasis time with Mr. Wonderful, family dinners, playing outside time with my kids, precious time alone.  (Snapped this adorable pic of a great big sis taking her brother for a ride)

I’m just not willing to give any of those things up for a clean house or even an organized one at this point. We are slowly but surely getting ourselves together and adapting to our new normal and that’s good enough.

We are learning to give ourselves and each other a break. And then we plow through the mess to continue making memories. For the longest time my hands were so full: of deadlines and papers, hurts and worries, To Dos and expectations. And now, even though I still have those things that must happen today to keep my family on track, I try to focus on the priorities and let everything else go. 

(Three gifts from my kids while we were playing outside-my treasures)

 
I am choosing to be a different kind of Supermom: I’m the one whose kids may arrive somewhat messy and loud but I bet they’ll be laughing. And Mr. Wonderful and I may not have a typical household-the Mad Cow (PTSD) makes that impossible. But we embrace the impossible around here. We do what we can do and leave the rest for tomorrow–it’ll still be there when tomorrow comes. And if we can handle tackling it then, we will.
After the last few years we’ve been through–Mr. Wonderful going kinda nuts, us finally getting a PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) diagnoses, him getting treatment, our family learning how to cope with our new normal–the little things just don’t matter anymore. It’s amazing how your perspective can shift when you’ve seen up close and personal how bad things could be.

So we’re a mess. And I’m grateful for it. God bless this mess!

(Photo credit Meredith Shafer 2015) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

I would love to connect with you on Instagram and Twitter, swing by and say hello! 

#PTSD #mentalillness #nostigma #messyhouse #blessthismess #blessings #mypinkchampagnelife

Keep Going

Sometimes survival is the word of the day. Are you just surviving? Are you drowning or overwhelmed today?

Some days, weeks, months, seasons are just too much. But when you’re in the middle of too much, remind yourself to…

Breathe. Rest. Then keep going.

It doesn’t matter if you go fast or slow, it just matters that you don’t quit. Keep pushing, keep trying, keep moving forward.

You are strong and brave and today you are closer to your God-given destiny than you were yesterday.

#NeverGiveUp #PTSD #inspire

(photo credit playbuzz.com) ©Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015