October 6, 2010

Some Horse Sense, A PTSD Caregiver on Caregiver Care


What This Blogger Learned From An Ass, Some Horses, Hula Hoops And Buckets Of Manure

So the burning questions that you all have and I have been eluding up until this point is...What did I learn and does it really work? Surprisingly, it does work. So what is it that I learned at this retreat that I can pass on to you?

Here are some of my top things:
  • Maintain a good sense of humor. Laughter is truly the key to maintaining a healthy attitude, plus crying gives me headaches!
  • Learn to acknowledge our Veterans will never be the same and adjust to the way they are and who they are now. We like our Veterans, often buck against sudden changes...we are still focusing on what are husbands used to be, and fighting what they have become now.
  • Don't put expectations on your Veteran based on who they were before combat, and what you as a spouse/caregiver expect. You are only setting them up for failure and setting yourself up for disappointment.
  • Learn to let loose some of the control that we have and let the Veteran try to do things for themselves; even if they fail. "Try try and try again" is now one of my new mantras!
  • Set small tasks for our Veterans to accomplish and praise them wholeheartedly for a job well done, even if its not to your standards.
  • Sometimes we as caregivers don't give our Veterans room to breathe let alone do things for themselves. This can prevent them from helping themselves in coping, recovery and healing. This also leaves them feeling less masculine. Allow them opportunities to try, accomplish their own set goals, and beat on their chests for a while.
  • Help your Veteran if help is needed and asked for....otherwise, let them help themselves first. Don't rush to their sides for every little thing. If they ask, be willing to help; but they must learn that some things they can and need to do on their own.
  • Communicate your feelings and thoughts. Often times, arguments can be stemmed from either side not knowing what is going on with the other.
  • Don't engage in arguments with your Veteran. Often times they are in one of those "moods" and just want to start fights/nitpick. Walk away, ignore and let them know that you won't engage in battle with them.
  • Realize that it's ok to grieve for what we lost, its OK to be angry and feel resentment but, at the same time, learn that you have to let things go and let the past be the past.
  • Know that if you are feeling frustrated, angry and resentful towards your PTSD/TBI Veteran, then they might just be feeling the same way themselves.
  • Educate, educate, educate. For four years, I have been researching, reading and looking for information on PTSD/TBI. There were still things new that I learned about TBI and PTSD. Education is a key tool in learning coping skills, to function in a household with such issues, and allows for the rest of the family to understand what the Veteran is going through.
  • Allow for some failures; we all fail sometimes as caregivers and spouses...the same should be applied to our Veterans. There will be good days and bad days, but that's for anyone of us! We won't always get it the first time out of the gate, and neither will they. How else will we learn if not by our mistakes?
  • Understand that our Veterans can't help who they are, or often, control their behaviors and emotions.
  • As caregivers/Spouses, we are the most important aspect of the Veteran's well-being and care. If we are emotional train wrecks, we can impede any improvements for our Veterans and our abilities to provide effective care.
  • Our Veterans need to know there are consequences for their behavior. Being their personal verbal and physical punching bag IS NOT OK!
  • Don't allow your Veteran to hold power and control over you!
  • Realize that your Veteran and another Veteran's symptoms and issues may not be the same. Every one is different so don't compare! (I am really bad about this)
  • Understand that a few steps forward is awesome, but that sometimes there will be steps taken backwards too. That's ok! We as the human race aren't perfect!
  • Like the resident donkey, Eugene, our PTSD/TBI "asses" will be around. Use a visualization like Eugene to relieve stress. There is nothing wrong with having a fun mental image to fall back on when you need it!
  • Learned from the horses, that like our Veterans, they do not like to be told what to do. Sometimes they are stubborn, sometimes scared, and want to buck the help and support you give them. You just have to find ways to help them go around these obstacles and help, by finding ways that are most comfortable to them.
  • Lead by example, not by force. If you are stressed right when they walk in the door, then this will most likely set your Veterans off.
  • Learn there triggers and recognize what sets them off. If you find something new, write it down. Often times, avoiding things that trigger episodes can be very helpful.
  • Try to focus on more positives about your Veteran rather than recognize every little negative thing about them. This can ease up some of the frustrations and resentment both parties feel.

Caregiver Tips:
  • Learn that you aren't alone! Blogs like mine and others listed on here, are valuable resources and validation. Websites like: Operation Homefront's Wounded Warrior Wives http://www.operationhomefront.net/www/default.aspx which has links to chat forums for just us. Another site is http://www.veterancaregiver.com/
  • Don't isolate yourself; I know easier said than done especially for those of us who live away from posts and family.
  • Find yourself! We were all our own individuals before our Veteran's came home. Get back into things that you used to do before the world revolved around our combat Vets! Whether it be work, arts and crafts, yoga, or whatever....you need this time to focus on the things you once enjoyed!
  • Find time to yourself! Relieving stress and having some "me" time is not selfish! It can be simply a nice soak in the tub, a walk in the park, just anything that gives you some time alone and let you breathe for a bit. Find time to clear your head!
  • Make a list of what is bothering you about your situation. Similar to that of the shit bucket we hauled around....make a list of things you are feeling, things that upset you, and then rip it up, set it on fire, flush it down the toilet whatever you need to do to rid yourself of it! Emptying the proverbial crap pot does make a difference. I don't know whether it was the horses, or the buckets of their poop...but hauling it around indeed made me very aware of how much unnecessary crap in my life I was carrying around on my shoulders.
  • Journal, start a blog, write it down in a notebook....the best thing that has helped me is blogging and just getting it off my chest. Having it down on paper or screen, gives you an opportunity to really put out your feelings. Often, I can go back and look at something I may not have noticed before and correct it...or find something that worked for my husband but I missed at the time.
  • Communicate with your friends and family members. Often times, they back off because we put up our defensive walls. Let them know what's going on and let them in to help.
  • Showing signs of weakness and sadness is indeed ok! If help is needed, ASK FOR IT!
  • Take advantage of support or resource options in your area. This can be anything from on post mental health, church, Vet Centers, etc. It may take you a little bit of digging, but some areas have tons of stuff that you just got to look for.
  • Learn that everything does not have to be done all in one day! We are only one person...and sometimes just the stress of being overwhelmed can get us down before we even start the tasks. Make a list, and split it up through the week. I bought a calendar to help organize my time and things I needed to do. Not just for my husband but my children and myself. On Friday, I have time slotted that I am going to my favorite book store. One day a week I try to find a sitter now, and do something for myself. Scheduling it makes me want to do it more, and seeing it down on a schedule allows me not to mentally forget or change my mind.
  • Meal plan in advance, shop on a set day of the week, set aside some time through the week to clean. Block a day where laundry will be done. The world will not fall apart if we don't get something done and all in one day. Adhere to Scarlet O'Hara's famous line of "I will think about it tomorrow". Prioritize the "must get dones" and do what you can on the others. Try to include your children in some of the housework/cooking/meal planning. My children now have one night a week on the fridge where it's "Kids night". They let me know what they would like to have, and that's what we have. I just this week started to include my husband and wow, what a turn around!
  • Find stress relievers that you will enjoy. I know some of the ladies mentioned scrapbooking, having their hair shampooed and styled, pedicure/manicure....just something where you can focus on you and something that is just for you.
  • Get plenty of rest and exercise.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about what is going on in your home.....talking about it can often reduce some of the stress and reduce the feelings of isolation.
  • Help others! There are many things that you can do for others. I work with our unit's FRG and really enjoy it. It is my time, my space to get away from the family and my husband, and actually have adult interaction for a spell. There are many opportunities to do something outside your home to help others and in return, help yourself to reduce the stress and tension.
  • Going to the doctor to see about anti-anxiety/depression medications doesn't mean you are crazy yourself or mentally screwed up. Sometimes it's more than we can deal with and some medications will help alleviate some of the symptoms.
  • Seek out a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist if you need to talk to someone. If we are pushing our Veterans to do so, we can often lead by example. Seeing someone is what we push for right? So we can't very well not go ourselves, if the time comes and we need it.
  • Alleviate some of the stress of reminding your Veterans! I started a notebook a while back for my husband and programmed his cell phone for reminders. I bought a daily pill box reminder that has morning, noon and night time. Once a week I fill it, and then program his phone to go off when it's time. If he has appointments, then I program those over the weekend.
  • We are all very guilty of carrying anger, resentment and bitterness for the branch of service, outsiders passing judgment on us, the VA and all it's red tape, lack of resources and those that don't work, politics and yes, sometimes are Veterans. We keep it in, it sits...it festers and before we know it...we are absolutely rotting from the inside out mentally because of so much we are worrying about. I will share my hula hoop with you! Visualize the hula hoop, and look inside. That is your space, yourself in it and everything else is outside. There are things we can't change....there are things that no matter what we say, cry or get angry and resentful about...will never change things. So why are we wasting our time, our health and our mental health on such things we can't undo or change. If anything, this hula hoop method has been the most helpful. If it's not inside your loop/space, let it go.
  • Stand firm when it comes to yourself! Once you start, don't let it go back to the way things were before. You count too and often we are not acknowledged by anyone through the VA, the military, family members and outsiders; more so we discount our selves. I have been keeping to this hula hoop method and letting things go...I have amazed myself this past week at how much better I am sleeping, how much less stressed I am, and the lack of tension headaches I suffered from almost daily.
So this dear readers, is what I learned. In some examples this week, this is how I utilized what I learned:
  • I acted very busy last week and asked my husband could he run to the store for me. Although I don't let him go, and worried about him the whole time....he was quite surprised that I asked. I didn't send him to the gateways of Hell called Walmart, or a large chain...just baby steps to a small local place up the road. I asked him to get two things for me, some milk and some bread. He left and I mentally had to stop myself several times from calling him and reminding him. I didn't write it down on a list, I didn't send him a text message. He went with a purpose and I let him go freely without me breathing down his neck. He was a little slow, a little confused when he went into the store he said...but when he came home, he had the items I requested. Now I know it may seem sorta stupid, but my husband can't grocery shop and hasn't been able to since he came home. Most of the time, he gets lost in the stores and most definitely forgets what he was going for. He came home with this huge grin like a mule eating briers and strutted around here like some rooster looking for a hen! I wholeheartedly praised him for these two small items and he was so tickled that he accomplished something and that I was happy! He said he had to walk out repeating milk and bread the entire time he was gone, got a little panicky in the store but kept repeating the items. I told him I was soooooo proud of him and he did really good! He of course, walked around with his chest puffed out the rest of the day, but most importantly...it made him feel good and that he did it on his own. So I think by letting some of the control was good for me, it was most definitely good for him and he was for that small amount of time, able to be a man.
  • There were a few moments this past week when my husband reared his PTSD beast, but I simply just ignored him, told him that I wasn't going to argue with him and I turned my attention somewhere else. Now I know this isn't always going to be the case, but it was similar to dealing with my four year old in a the midst of a temper tantrum. Normally, I get very agitated and defensive....by walking away and not giving in to him, took away the control he had over me....eased the tension in me and prevented a nasty argument. He was somewhat shocked I think that I just simply stood my ground in my decision to let him fight it out alone, that he was much better after that. Using my visual of Eugene, helped tremedously too because I had that inner laugh to myself!
  • I stood firm with letting him do things by himself. I hated to lose that control, I really did...and a part of me felt like I was somehow letting him down. However, keeping my firm position and him knowing I wasn't going to budge...did get him to do a few things by himself. When he did remember something I made a big deal out of it praise wise, when he couldn't do something and got frustrated, I helped him walk away and then got him to the point where he could then do it on his own. Looking at them as a child and some of the things we must do, is totally different than treating them like a child and being demeaning towards them. Although I did help him some, he managed to get all the way through a task without me holding his hand.
  • Keeping a prioritized list has kept me more focused, keeping a meal planner and separate days for certain things, has kept this past week running a little more smoother than normal. Having one day for just me, even if a few hours...has made me less stressed and a lot more happier than I have been. By incorporating my husband in the decision making and small things like "what would you like for dinner on Tuesday night?" has made him feel a little more included and important. This has made a HUGE difference in our household this week. So much, even my kids have noticed.
  • Learning to adjust and cope with who our Veterans are is going to be difficult, but I think if we stick with it, it can work in some situations. My boys are very loud, sometimes roudy and can often fight amongst themselves which sets my husband off and triggers his outbursts. So I figured if I can find a way to keep the kids quiet, but also something small that "daddy" can do without much thinking processes like video games or board games that frustrate him....then this will provide some time with each other. All I can say is THANK THE GOOD LORD FOR GIVING A PERSON THE IDEA OF PLAYDOH! Yeah, who would have thunk it, huh? I purchased some playdoh sets and extra playdoh. It wasn't long before all three boys and my husband were playing with playdoh on the kitchen table and they must have played a good three hours. My kids were so tickled and although my husband didn't seem like it was such a big deal, this was the first time in FOUR years he has played with our kids. It didn't involve a lot of noises, wasn't too hard that he couldn't keep up or got easily frustrated and surprisingly enough, my husband said it was very relaxing.
So this was a long blog, and I probably left out a ton of things...but I think memory loss is somewhat contagious at times! Not every day is going to be good days....not every day is going to always be bad. Will these tips and learned coping tools always bail us out? Absolutely not...but they have helped. Does this mean we can't stomp our feet occasionally and our Wounded Warriors miraculously become 100% tolerable? Nope! I think the whole point of this retreat was to recognize yourself, understand that your feelings are indeed acceptable and to focus some of your energy on yourself. If nothing more, I learned that its time for us......it's not selfish, it's not mean or wrong to feel that way. It's an absolute must.....maintaining a newer attitude and fresher perspective, being forced to look at our situations for what they really are and having some laughs in between...can be very beneficial and work in our favors. Many thanks to Dr. Cantrell, the staff/owner of Qauntum Leap Farm and to seven wonderful women who still make me smile today when I look at our picture. Many thanks to "Stinky Pete" (Smoky) who reminded me that my husband isn't always going to be easy to handle and that a good laugh out loud is healing. To Wishbone the Turkey who reminded me that love and affection was still important and, to Eugene who was always in the middle of everything, and who gave me a reason to smile inward when my real "ass" shows up daily.

Twirling my Mental Hula Hoop,












Yes, We were feeling sentimental at Clearwater Beach, FL






Eugene Right in the Middle of Our Meeting












The Shit Bucket Of What We Call Life






The WOW girls and Dr. Edie Dopking, Dr. Bridget Cantrell, Carla Staats, Jenny Miller and Lisa Reedy with At E.A.S.E. Horse Therapeutic Farm Quantum Leap

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