Continuing my “things it might be helpful to know if someone you know has PTSD” series, here are some thoughts on how PTSD makes you smaller. Let me explain
We* went into town today cos it was nice and sunny. And we had a nice day, I was able to order groceries which I find very stressful because I hate spending money, but I find it easier in the cafe cos I’m not alone. So that’s good, that’s a task I’ve been putting off for maybe a week now. And when I got home, I thought cool, I’ll get on with some housework and then do some work on the dollshouses.
* pupster and me 😁
But that hasn’t happened, and this is a consistent pattern. Each morning, you have a vague idea in your mind of the tasks you’ll do that day. But since this all happened, I never get much done every day. It’s very frustrating and makes you angry with yourself. You reproach yourself all the time “in the old days you ran your own branch, you travelled in Africa alone, you went and lived in foreign countries, you took on big meetings or gave presentations and you were able to do all that, while keeping on top of the housework and also sewing or crocheting in the evenings. Now a trip into town and an online grocery order, and you’re wiped out? Quite apart from the embarrassing fact that you find ordering groceries online difficult. How pathetic. You feel very small that you never do much now compared to what you used to be able to achieve.
It casts a ghostly shadow over your life. You constantly feel inadequate and you feel guilty that you let your old, capable self down. What has happened to you? You used to be able to get loads done. There’s so much to be done. And yet a trip into town and a grocery order, and you’re totally wiped out. You’re so tired you could knock out.
I don’t have any advice on how to get more done. I only wanted to tell people how it is. This is one way in which one problem (PTSD) spirals out until it affects the rest of your life, and starts causing other problems. Then you’re left battling the other problems too, which makes climbing out of the hole that bit harder cos the holes that bit deeper and the depth of the hole alone is depressing and intimidating.
So for a practical thing you can do for someone with PTSD: be aware that they might be able to get less done, than they used to. I try to see it like recovering from a physical illness: when you’ve had flu for a while, you don’t just get up and throw yourself right back into life at full pace. You feel a bit tired and run down for a while, you make sure and stay warm and get enough sleep. If you injure your leg playing sport, once you’ve recovered you don’t just go out and run a marathon. You might do physio for a while, stretching the muscle out and building up your strength. So I try to look at it like that. If I can’t manage as much as I used to, well ok. It’s a shame and it’s frustrating but don’t let that get you down. Do what you can do, little and often. And gradually your strength will come back. I’m hoping that’s the way it is.
So while the person is recovering, don’t be surprised if they’re not able to take on as much as they used to, or especially if small things (like ordering groceries online) are beyond them. They aren’t doing it on purpose. Maybe you don’t understand why it’s hard for them when they used to be able to do it. You could ask them why. In fact I think it’s quite good to ask them why. People not asking you things is a double edged sword. I expect people feel they don’t want to ask because they don’t want to upset you. But I interpret not being asked as a sign you don’t care. Also if you don’t ask, you won’t know, and you won’t know how to help.