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Letting Down PTSD Veterans

soldiers

Today I read a story in Time magazine about a Marine Sergeant David Linley. As the author of the piece Mark Thompson said, “When his nation called, he answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down.” Mr. Linley during an attack of PTSD engaged in a shootout with police, not wounding any of them, but obviously self medicated with alcohol and re-living a wartime episode. He is presently in prison in Illinois.

Reading about Mr. Linley brought to mind the many stories I have read and heard first hand of returning soldiers not finding the help they need to deal with PTSD or other mental ills. In Mr. Linley’s case, he sees a psychiatrist about every six months for 30 minutes and that is supposedly because he’s not behaving poorly.

John Maki who heads the Chicago based John Howard Association of Illinois dedicated to improving the state’s prisons, says in the article, “There’s a real lack of capacity to deliver any meaningful mental health care, especially specialized care like PTSD treatment for veterans.”

And this is not just in the Illinois prison system but throughout our country. Veterans are returning wounded mentally and they are not receiving the treatment they need. For those incarcerated, mental health treatment is spotty at best. Psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general says, “These cases are much too common. We are throwing these guys away.”

Our veterans are returning to families they do not know. The families are dealing with a person who is not the same. Episodes happen that cannot be explained. Care is difficult to come by and the stigma of owning up to PTSD is strong.

What has been your experience with PTSD and a loved one? Has the government been there for you? Have you endured frustration beyond belief? What have you learned? What do we need to teach others about PTSD? What can people do to help? I’m at a loss for what to do, what to say.

– Bernadette

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Depression….Too Much with Me

I have been struggling, trying to get myself to sit and write about depression. And I have come up with every excuse in the book (and then some) as to why I cannot write at this time. I have dishes to do, I have letters to write, I have a garden to plant. I cannot write about depression. It’s too beautiful a day, it’s too full of activities to write about depression. The truth is depression is too much with me.

Several of my family and friends are struggling with it now. Amy and I both are dealing with depression flare ups with our spouses. Everything I read seems to scream depression. In short, this is the time when I want to say that depression is something I don’t want a part of.

And yet I can’t escape it. In the morning I find it sleeping next to me in the man I love. At lunch it is in the conversation with a good friend as she relates what is taking place with her son. In the evening, it is a phone call which carries the franticness of someone who is facing a loved one who is considering suicide.

I don’t know how therapists and psychiatrists do it. How do they maintain their own equilibrium? How do they love their families and friends despite facing depression each day? How do they look and deal with yet another client who has depression without falling into a form of tried and true treatment while neglecting the unique story of the person in front of them?

I know this feeling toward depression will pass. I know that fighting the stigma is an important part of who I am. I know that despite the present feelings, life is good and loving those around me is so very important that, yes, I will listen with new ears and an open heart to yet another depression story because hope is always around the corner. Let’s hope that all people working with those who are struggling with depression feel the same.

– Bernadette

The Monster in Our Bed

Image credit to WotansKriegerin

Image credit to WotansKriegerin

Okay, so there’s not really a monster in our bed.  My husband’s two-week-old CPAP actually sits next to the bed.  All that’s actually in the bed is a substantial hose and a large plastic mask that constantly emits a gale-force wind.  We feel pretty confident this contraption is doing him a lot of good.  And, to be honest, it’s not bugging me too much, even though I’m a light sleeper. But imagine trying to sleep with an air compressor hose strapped to your bed partner and trained on your face. It’s weird.

We had read and heard quite a bit about the connection between depression and sleep apnea.  So when my husband’s depression and anxiety ramped up AND we realized he couldn’t stay awake in the afternoons/evenings to save his life (literally – one day he fell asleep and completely missed our smoke alarms going off when I burned our supper), the psychiatrist’s suggestion that we try a sleep study made sense.

Three months later we know he does have sleep apnea, we know he probably has “atypical narcolepsy,” and we know the CPAP does him a lot of good in terms of staying awake and alert.  Unfortunately, we also know that for him, anyway, treating sleep apnea does not currently have any effect on his level of depression and anxiety.  Instead of being sleepy, depressed, and panicky he is now wide awake and even more depressed and panicky.  Progress, yes, but certainly not enough.

So far this post has been pretty breezy and light-hearted, right?  Well, now for the reality.  Someone I love is currently leading a life of misery.  His life is so dark right now he can’t even recognize that he’s sinking under the crushing weight of depression and anxiety.  I have to be his mirror; I explain to him what I see, how he seems to feel.  I remind him that he has an illness and it’s not being adequately treated.  I encourage him to keep busy, to exercise, to call his psychiatrist and get an appointment to re-start the quest for more effective medication.

I live in close quarters with all this misery. I experience gut-wrenching pain as I watch someone I love, someone who has so much potential, someone who is such a good and lovely person, collapse into tears regularly.  I feel guilty when I’m secretly relieved and at peace when either he or I is out of the house.  I feel uncomfortable when I have to speak the truth at work, explaining that I’m falling behind and dropping balls because I’m dealing with so much at home (though I have extremely supportive coworkers who genuinely care and rush in to pick up the slack – thanking God for that).  And I feel resentful, because my own emotional state isn’t a picnic.  I’m still coming off SAD, I’m grieving about impending empty-nest syndrome, I’m stressed constantly about our financial issues, which are a fairly direct result of long-term depression in a family member.  But my emotional state has to take a back seat.

And that, in a nutshell, is what it’s like to live with and care for someone with a mental illness.  All this is why Bernadette and I do what we do; we know how hard it is, and we know how little support there is for people living through this stuff.  So we write about it, we talk about it, we lead workshops and support groups to help people learn how to cope and to help decrease the stigma.  We hope we’re making a difference to the people we work with.  I know it makes a difference for me.

-Amy