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Still shell-shocked.

Recently I wrote about how hard it is for me to answer an unexpected phone call. Throughout my adult life there have been way too many calls that a) brought horrifying news and/or b) had a hysterical, mental/emotional illness-induced rant from a loved one on the other end. Lately, there’s been the addition of c) the drunken, abusive phone calls from a family member who I can’t honestly classify as a loved one. Oh, and don’t forget the recent addition of d) drunken, abusive emails from that same (c) family member, which make the simple act of opening Gmail a cringe-worthy event.

And so I tiptoe through the minefield of life, holding my breath for the next blow-up. Sometimes the bombs really do drop; sometimes I create them in my own, shell-shocked mind.

Case in point:

Last night The Husband was more than half an hour late returning home from work. Usually he lets me know if he’s running late. This time, nothing. It’s a long commute, on rural highways. In the dark, with ice patches in the winter weather. Compounding those everyday-type concerns is, of course, the fact that The Husband is my nearest cause of shell-shock. Twenty-five years of depression and other difficult diagnoses lead to a lot of nail biting for me. And in the last few days he’s had a cold coming on. For most of us, a cold is an inconvenience. For my husband, with his anxiety, panic, depression, and other issues, a cold is a full-on assault on his ability to cope – even though, for the most part, he’s in a fairly good place in terms of living with his diagnoses.

When it finally occurred to me, at about 6:20 yesterday evening, that he was late and hadn’t called, internal panic set in. I called his phone, and it went to voice mail. Immediately I relived the many times (years ago, but these wounds open up in such moments) when his illnesses caused him to regularly check out of life and disappear. Usually he returned within a few hours, puzzled by the depth of my worry. Once, he ended up hospitalized.

Yeah, that’s where my brain goes in those moments. Even more so when I’m also dealing with additional stress from other ill family members, as with the recent phone calls  and emails.

Last night there was a (relatively) happy ending. The Husband came in the door around 6:30. He’d forgotten to call, and had bad cell service on the way home when he did think of calling. It was a difficult evening, though. I was still off-balance from the momentary worry. And that cold I mentioned made him morose, unable to think clearly, and argumentative. Not much fun.

Sooooo….the big question in times like these, as a person trying to survive the mental illnesses of loved ones, is this: What am I doing to take care of myself?

Not enough, apparently. It’s time to take a closer look at that.

-Amy

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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

Help for soldiers dealing with depression and other issues

The Center for Veterans Issues is an organization that is to be commended.  Not only do they help returning veterans with finding housing, dealing with post traumatic stress, financial situations, or drug abuse, they are all about treating the entire person and for returning veterans, that often means their families as they struggle to re-connect.  The center has a host of programs operating. Continue reading