20 December 2010

Dealing with PTSD and the holidays, again.

Christmas is approaching yet again.. the holidays.  *sigh*

This is a hard time of year to deal with.  Every other commercial on TV is about the gifts you should be getting and the gifts you should be giving.  (If I see another ad for a shaver, diamonds, or a Lexus, I'm just gonna scream.)  There are also so many "home for the holidays" commercials, where someone arrives home and walks in the door, and the whole family is there, and everything's all warm and cozy and wonderful.  Then there's Christmas shopping, which involves Christmas traffic, Christmas crowds, and just a general mass of people "trying to get everything done" in time.  Chaotic is a good word for what Christmas feels like.  War is another.

Please don't misunderstand-- Christmas isn't combat.  But when you're in the midst of the crowds that like to push and shove, and the noise, and the lights, and the traffic, and overheating while you're waiting in line, it's hard to not feel triggered.  Add to that the house crowded with family, kids running around, the TV, the Christmas music, it's hard not to feel completely overwhelmed.  You're supposed be in a festive mood, people say.  Don't be a grinch.  Why aren't you having fun?  Here, come talk to so and so.

If you're really lucky, you run into someone you recognize as a veteran, and you grab your coats and head out to the garage to swap stories while Christmas goes on without you.

In the Desert, the arrival of Christmas meant that war was coming soon.  The UN had already set the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, and we knew the war was going to happen.  In my shop, we didn't go too crazy with Christmas.  It was just another day in the Desert, because thinking about Christmas involved thinking about all we missed from home, and that didn't help a whole lot.  (Although we did enjoy the cookies and peanut brittle that arrived almost daily.)

So, how do you cope with all of this Christmas cheer?  First, go read "PTSD and Holidays" at There are other articles there that you will find helpful as well.  Patience's suggestions are the best I've come across.

Second, here's my plan for the holidays.  I will be traveling this year, and spending Christmas with a buddy from Desert Storm and his family.  So I'll get to experience the joy of flying three days before Christmas.  I'm looking forward to the trip.  I actually like flying, although it's not quite as comfortable as it used to be.  I'm also driving to the next city over, because I wasn't able to get a flight out from my local airport, and the weather today is supposed to be icky.  Hopefully by the time I'm ready to head out, things will have cleared up.

I don't know exactly how I'm going to handle the family atmosphere.  My plan is to talk to my friend and his wife, let them know how I'm feeling, and let them know that I might not be feeling festive-- and that it's not their fault.  I've discovered that letting people around you know what's going on helps.  If you're feeling bad about the holidays and people don't know about the PTSD or the anniversary or just feeling uncomfortable, they're liable to think you're just being an asshole scrooge.  I don't think you or I have to explain everything to everyone, but at least let someone know that you're not feeling well and what will make things better for you.  Or that you just need space.

I'm also doing a couple of small, unseen things-- making sure I have meds with me.  Keeping my psychiatrist's business card in my wallet, with my meds written down, next to my VA card.  (The hope is that if I ever find myself in a situation where I can't help myself, the cop or EMT who finds me will check my wallet and see that they're dealing with a veteran and act accordingly.)  I also have my psychiatrist's number, and 1-800-273-TALK in the contacts list on my phone.  Just in case.

I'm not planning to drink much, if at all, over the holidays.  Alcohol doesn't play well with my meds, and since I'm going to be in an unfamiliar environment, I don't want to take chances.  I've learned that it's perfectly acceptable to participate in a toast with a cup of coffee or can of soda.  (Near beer is also a good option.  Most people see a bottle of O'Doul's in my hand and never give it a second glance.)

Finally, I'm going to try to relax a little, and just let the past few months process and sort themselves out.  I've had so much going on, I just feel a bit tired.
That's the plan, anyway.  Happy Holidays, all.  Stay safe and warm.

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