The family and friends of a person suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder walk a tricky path between supporting and rescuing. PTSD complicates daily life down to the smallest details – in fact, those of us diagnosed with it are prone to getting lost in the details. Leaving our homes and being around other people, some of the most basic routines of the everyday, become huge mountains to climb. We all have different triggers and reminders of the trauma, and we are operating with an unseen set of sensitivities. So how do you help when your loved one cannot sleep, startles easily, or is constantly hypervigilant?
Understand that you will not understand.
Just like any other difficulty we face, no one else can completely understand our process or what it is like to go through that challenge from our perspective. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is like the ongoing grief cycles people experience after losing someone because the symptoms of the trauma outlive the danger itself. Bystanders forget that, to the griever and the sufferer, the loss is still fresh months and years later, and the traumatic event lives on in the PTSD brain and nervous system.
Do not try to make sense of the behaviors you see – accept that they represent the reality that person lives in and that he or she will work through the traume in time.
Do not try to fix the person.
Humans can help but God is the one who heals, and when we try to make an ill person better or think that we are solely responsible for his wellbeing, we are setting ourselves up for failure and frustration. No one person can support another, and one friend or family member’s love cannot save someone with PTSD. Those with intrusive mental illnesses need more than one or two people as a network of support.
Accept that it is not your job to fix someone with PTSD and that you cannot.
Remember that each person has his own journey, and that our hardest journeys can develop us in valuable ways.
Trying to spare someone pain is basic human empathy, but when there will inevitably be pain in the healing process, we have to accept that the road is hard and there is no way around. Do not try to rob someone with PTSD of his chance to turn a struggle into a triumph, just as you would not help the butterfly get out of the cocoon. Encouragement can keep us going, but carrying us instead of cheering for us means we cannot stand on our own, in the end.
Accept that each person faces hardships and that pain can lead to amazing growth.
In short, loving and living with someone with PTSD is complicated. Knowing what you can and cannot do for that person and acknowledging that we all walk our own roads helps you stay on your road while letting your loved one walk his. If you believe in a Higher Power, then you can take refuge in the assurance that there is a greater plan and loving Creator.
In short, you give so much by accepting us in spite of our idiosyncracies and limitations. Having someone who has continually reminded me that there is light at the end of the trauma tunnel has encouraged me to get back up time and again.