“The best kind of rain, of course, is a cozy rain. This is the kind the...
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” ~ Elbert Hubbard
So the other day I talked about some of the things that are unhelpful to say to someone with post traumatic stress disorder. Since I put that post up a few people have asked me what would be some of the right things to say – and even more have arrived here having typed the same question into Google – so I thought I’d better come up with a few suggestions.
1. Do you want to talk about it? Okay, I know I told you that it’s probably best not to ask a person who tells you they’ve been suffering with PTSD what it was that caused it - rather that you should let them open up to you about it in their own time. Here I’m assuming that they’ve already taken that step and that the two of you have the kind of relationship where you’d naturally talk about these things.
If a person starts to open up to you about either their illness or experiences it can be good to ask them if they want to talk some more. This can help on a number of levels.
It reassures the person that you haven’t been put off by their revelation and that you’re willing to listen. It can also let them know that if they’re unready or unable to talk it through with you right now the door is still open, and they can come to you to talk if and when they need to.
Then again some people just flat-out don’t want to talk about it and don’t want to be asked anymore questions. They’ve decided that that’s just not a good way of dealing with it for them or maybe even found that talking makes things worse. That’s okay too, and it’s best that you establish that from the off so that you know not to push them for more information than they’re comfortable disclosing.
2. It’s okay. – I mean, it’s not okay. Of course it’s not okay. It’s post traumatic stress disorder. And then there’s the little matter of the bad thing that caused the post traumatic stress disorder. But it is okay, and it will be okay, mainly because the alternative doesn’t bear contemplating.
It is okay.
It’s okay that they told you about this. It’s okay that this is something that they’re going to need you to support them with and factor into your relationship, from now until some immeasurable distance from now. It’s okay, not that the big bad thing happened, but they are someone who the big bad thing has happened to. It’s okay in the sense that you’re not repelled by it, that it doesn’t lessen them in your eyes. It’s okay because you’re there to help them now and by sharing the burden you’ll both make it easier.
It’s okay, they’re still the person they’ve always been, your opinion of them and your feelings for them haven’t changed, it’s just right now they’re having some bad breaks. It’s okay.
3. I don’t know what to say. – It’s okay not to know what to say. I can’t imagine someone tells you that they have post traumatic stress disorder every other day. It’s not like you’ve had any reason to prepare for this. If this situation is new the person you’re talking to likely doesn’t have a full an idea of what to say either. So just tell them that.
Tell them that you hear them, that you care about them and the things they’ve just said. Tell them that you want to do the right thing by them but that you’re having a little difficulty putting your thoughts into words right now.
Honesty is good here.
It’s good to let the person know where your head is at because one of the, many, unfortunate side effects of PTSD is that it tends to make you paranoid. So if you don’t tell them what you’re thinking their illness might try to convince them that you aren’t saying anything because you have nothing say – that you don’t care, or even worse that you’re judging them for what they just told you and that you don’t feel the same way about them anymore. Best to get in there first before the beast has time to work it’s poison.
4. Is there anything I can do to help? Is there any way we can help you avoid things that trigger your anxiety? It can be hard for people to ask for help, even after they’ve gone as far as to tell you that there’s a problem. You can make that easier by offering. If there is anything you can do to minimise the contact the person has with things, situations, or people they find triggering that will be a massive help. Getting them to decide what that is and how you’re going to proceed with this will be good for them also. Try to make the person feel like they’re in control of the situation. Both the PTSD itself and most of the things that cause it can feel very disempowering. Helping them to feel less helpless is good.
5. Have you watched the new season of House of Cards yet? I don’t personally know why you would have. With all the hype around Netflix releasing season two I thought I’d give it a go to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t think I managed to get half way through the first season I found it so tedious. But my point is that your friend/loved one/whoever is still your friend/loved one/whoever – it’s just that right now it so happens that they’re not very well.
Being caring and supportive is good but aside from that you can still talk to them about the same things and in the same ways that you always have. And by initiating that you will reassure them that your opinion of them hasn’t change and that their revelation isn’t going to scare you off.
“You can’t patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid.” ~ Michael Connelly
So, actually quite some time ago now I wrote about things that I’d found it unhelpful of people to say about my PTSD. That post has been far and away the most viewed thing I’ve ever written and so I’ve decided to write some more posts about supporting people with mental health problems.
With that in mind here are some more things you probably shouldn’t say to people with PTSD.
1. Calm down. Saying this has never, ever, in the history of human interaction resulted in the person it’s being addressed to spontaneously calming down, snapping out of their flash back, coming out of their panic attack or whatever it is that the person addressing them wanted them to do. So just don’t waste your breath. The person you want to say this to is aware of the state they’re in and if they could just ‘calm down’ and get out of it they would. But they can’t. So try saying something useful and empathetic instead. Let them know that you’re there for them, reassure them that it’ll be okay, or offer to get them a glass of water or paper bag.
2. Just don’t think about it, watch TV or something instead. This is unhelpful for two reasons.
First of all it’s impractical. People with PTSD experience vivid dreams related to their trauma. You can’t turn off your dreams, nor does your unconscious body have enough control over your subconscious imagination to change what they’re about. So there’s that.
There’s also the little problem of what are known as ‘triggers’ – which is where a person’s subconscious has created a link between a certain object, situation, smell, or sound and the traumatic event(s) that caused the PTSD. When a person comes into contact with that trigger their mind then snaps them right back to the trauma so that they feel like they’re still experiencing it. The person zones out from their immediate surroundings and may experience visual or auditory hallucinations of previous events. Unprogramming those triggers can be a long and difficult process and usually involves therapy. A box set marathon isn’t going to fix it.
The second issue is that avoiding thinking about it is potentially counter productive. PTSD is about the mind’s inability to process traumatic events neatly into the narrative of your life. It’s like a psychological injury and it needs to be dealt with in order for it to heal properly; otherwise it will keep flaring up and causing problems. So, like the proverbial elephant you’re going to have to take a look at your demons eventually and work out how you’re going to exorcise them. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. Neither will Netflix. Even if this is how your loved one wants to deal with the problem it’s not wise to encourage it as though it’s an actual solution.
3. But your medication’s just a placebo really isn’t it, this is all just in your head. Okay, so I’m not any kind of doctor or pharmacist. I’ve had no clinical or pharmacological training, so my knowledge of how my medication works is based on the information leaflet that came in the box and what I’ve read on Wikipedia. But I know my medication works.
I know that my medication works because a bunch of people who are much smarter than you told me so.
I know my medication works because it alleviates my symptoms. I know my medication works because it causes physical side effects. I know my medication works because when I don’t take it I’m suicidal and when I do take it I’m not.
And that’s good enough for me.
So arguing with me about it will just make me think that you’re ill-informed; and that you’re deliberately being insensitive by trying to minimise my very real, and very life threatening, mental illness to an affectation that can be mended by a box of Tic Tacs.
4. You have to want to get better. I do want to get better. But you implying that the reason that I haven’t yet is because I’m not trying hard enough really isn’t helping. I’m trying, you’re just going to have to be more patient.
You’re also perpetuating a misguided attitude that makes people who love me question whether there’s something they either have, or haven’t, done that has resulted in my choosing to spend my days grappling with thoughts of suicide. You know, as opposed to choosing to get better. That’s actually kinda heartless of you. So just stop it.
5. So what caused this PTSD then? Just don’t go there. Don’t make the traumatised person talk about, or think about, their trauma. Let them know that you’ll be there to listen and let them open up to you in their own time. Unless you don’t know them well enough to do that, in which case what are you even asking for? Mind your own damn business.
I realise that there’s more to supporting someone with their mental illness than just avoiding saying the wrong thing. I’m going to write some practical advice posts in the near future. So the next installment will (possibly) be X Amount of Things That You Probably Should Say to Someone With PTSD.
“A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them – they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.” ~ Ranier Maria Rilke
Having spent most of the last year watching some of my closest friends mercilessly flogging the dead horses of relationships they should never have been in in the first place I’m here to let you in on a little secret about successful, healthy relationships.
They’re really not that hard.
They really don’t take that much work.
Sure you have to put work into them. A partnership is an active relationship; it takes work and communication to keep things moving, to build a life together, to make sure that you aren’t taking one another for granted. But it isn’t, as so many of the people I see around me seem to believe, meant to be a perpetual uphill battle.
It seems to me that there’s a pernicious cultural idea that relationships are meant to be all about the hard work; and also that love is somehow more valuable if you have to fight for it.
That’s total rubbish.
The value of love, and of loving relationships, is in the happiness and comfort that they bring to the lives of the people who share them. Of course no relationship will be all plain sailing; people fight sometimes, and they go through difficult periods that they need to work through in order to keep things going and to negotiate a way back to something more satisfying and rewarding. But meaningful intimacy isn’t generally forged in ceaseless conflict. If your love and your relationship doesn’t ultimately bring you the feeling that you’re both on the same team; if you’ve never thought of the other person as your partner in crime; if you don’t feel safe in the knowledge that you’re with someone who has your back – then it might be worth questioning what your relationship is actually for. What purpose does it serve? What real benefits is it bringing you?
A relationship isn’t inherently valuable for its own sake. If it doesn’t fulfill the needs of both parties; emotionally, physically, financially, socially – whatever way you’ve chosen to invest in it – then you aren’t getting enough in return for your efforts.
If your relationship isn’t everything that you hoped it would, or believe could, be then you don’t need to blindly keeping ‘working at it’ in the hope that it will all come together. No, what you need to do is to stop working, sit down by yourself, and start thinking.
You need to decide what it is that you want. Beyond ‘this person’, or ‘a person’, or ‘a relationship’ what are the basic things that you need from a partner, and in your partnership, in order to be happy. And when I say you I mean just that. Don’t come to me with ‘I need him/her to see/want/believe X, Y, or Z’. I can’t help you with that, I’m not a mind control expert. What do YOU want?
Once you’ve thought out your list the next thing you need to ask yourself is whether the things on it can realistically be achieved in your current relationship. Are your needs compatible with the basic fundamentals of who your partner is? And do they care enough about you, and about making your relationship work, to work with you to find a way of satisfying those needs?
And do you care enough about them to try to find a way of satisfying their needs? Will it be possible to do this without compromising the basic fundamentals of your own personality?
If the answer to all these questions is ‘Yes’ then fine, by all means work away – although be sure to make sure you communicate all of this to your partner; work is so much easier when you’re both taking direction from the same page.
But otherwise it’s time for you to stop mythologising your ill-fated romance; stop fighting for relationships you don’t truly want to be in; and take yourself out of this situation from which nobody gains. It may be hard to accept but sometimes no amount of work is will ever make something fit – however much you might wish for it – and the kindest thing you can do for yourselves is to quit.
“I’m going to scream this from the mountain top, there’s no such thing as ‘a curry.’ There’s six kazillion different kinds of curry. When someone asks how to make chicken curry, I have to ask ‘Which one?’” ~ Aarti Sequeira
You might remember a while ago I told you about how sticking to a strict healthy eating plan had helped me to control a previous bout of severe depression. Well with that in mind I thought I would share this recipe with you, it’s reasonably healthy. It’s something I had at a local restaurant a few months ago and was really excited when I managed to make it for myself at home and have it taste just as good.
It’s actually a really simple recipe; and really quick to prepare, you can have it ready to eat in about half an hour.
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- one freshly chopped jalapeño pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 kilogram peeled raw prawns (I think it works best with king prawns)
- 1 tablespoon corn flour
- 1 tablespoon cold water
Optional ~ 500kg diced chicken
1. Take a bowl and mix together the tomato purée, salt, sugar, garam masala, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, jalapeño pepper, lemon juice, and coconut milk until you have a smooth sauce.
2. Crush or finely chop the garlic and place to one side.
3. Prepare the rice you plan to serve with this dish and put it on to cook.
4. Heat the oil in a wok or pan, once it is hot add in the mustard seeds and fry them until they begin to pop.
5. As soon as the mustard seeds start popping add in the garlic and stir until it begins to brown.
6. Add in the prawns and cook until they become opaque – this should only take a couple of minutes.
7. Pour the coconut sauce over the prawns and cook on a medium heat until the sauce begins to simmer, again this should only take a few minutes.
8. In a small bowl mix together the corn flour and water to make a paste. Stir this into the sauce.
9. Continue cooking until the sauce has the consistency of a sauce rather than a liquid.
10. Serve along with your rice.
Optional ~ I think this dish tastes even better if you make it with diced chicken as well as prawns. If you decide you want try cooking it with chicken you should add it to the pan after Step 5. Pan fry the chicken until it begins to brown then proceed to Step 6 – adding in the prawns.