Combat PTSD is an odd thing. Even though everyone's situations are different, there are a lot of similarities I hear about as I'm talking to other wives of PTSD vets. As autumn-time starts to approach, a lot of vets with combat PTSD can be really "triggered". The summer is coming to an end, the holidays are approaching, the days are warm but the nights are cold... this can all lead to them feeling unsettled, which can aggravate their PTSD symptoms.
Another thing I've noticed, is that decorating for the holidays can bring about a negative change for those with combat PTSD. I, myself, was feeling a little melancholy as I packed away my every day living room decor because I know that once the Halloween decorations are up the Christmas season will be here in the blink of an eye and my house won't be back to normal until after the first of the year.
The holiday season always flies by! If my brain, that doesn't have anxiety, can link together Halloween decorations with all the other things that will happen throughout the rest of the year, just think of what it can do to someone who dreads the hustle and bustle of the holidays!
When you have PTSD not only are changes (like the whole house being decked out for Halloween,) hard, but the holidays in general are hard as well. The holidays bring with them a lot of extra stresses for the average person, but when you have PTSD, depression and anxiety (the three go hand-in-hand) the holidays can be a nightmare. Crowded stores, busy traffic, the anxiety of buying gifts, neighbors dropping by, big holiday parties, the extra expenses, lots of noisy family coming over, etc, etc are sometimes more than a vet can handle. Decorating for the holidays can start to bring about extra anxieties as they start to worry about everything that the holiday season entails. I am someone who REALLY gets into the holidays, so I thought I'd share a few things I've learned along the way.
Here are a few tips for making things go a little easier with your PTSD spouse as you decorate for the holidays:
1- Try to inform your husband ahead of time before you do things like pull out a dozen holiday totes and turn your house upside down, especially if you'll want his help, because you don't want him to shut down. My husband has memory issues, but I still try to give him a heads up that I'll be decorating soon. I remind him the week before, the week of, the day before and the morning of that I will be decorating. Even if he doesn't remember the exact day it will be happening, the idea has had a little time to become familiar to him.
2- Don't expect him to keep up with you. My husband is home with me full time. Because of this sometimes I think that he can tackle a six hour project like I can. This is just not true. I use my husband for things like reaching boxes I can't reach and helping me pull stuff out of a storage room and that's about it. Seeing hoards of holiday totes and decorations everywhere is extremely overwhelming for someone with PTSD. They like small and simple tasks and the way I decorate is not small or simple.
3- Try to get it all done in a day. In some years past I've let myself take my time while decorating. Now I try to pick a day when I can get it all done in a few hours. The rest of us can adapt to a few days of chaos, stepping over boxes tripping over decorations, etc, but if I want my husband to sleep at night I've got to get things semi in order by bedtime.
4- Play it by ear. If my husband is having a really bad week, it's just not going to work to decorate right now. He will either need my undivided attention or the stress of decorating will be too much for him, or both. That's ok! As much as I love my house decked out in holiday fun, I love my husband more and sometimes things need to be scaled back or even done away with completely for a little while so my focus can be on him. Caregiving is often about sacrifice and in the grand scheme of things, whether or not my Halloween or Christmas stuff was put up during a certain week or even that year at all doesn't really make THAT much of a difference.
5- That being said, don't let go of what makes you happy. I really, really (like really) find joy in the holidays! There are certain holiday traditions that are super hard on my husband and I've had to let them go, but I HAVE TO hold on to who I am. When you are a caregiver it's easy to lose who you are because you're always worried about whether or not something will trigger them or how they're emotionally doing. Don't let go of what you love. If you think decorating for the holidays are a pain and it makes your husband unhappy, don't do it. But if you really love it then it's probably worth the extra stress on you both to not let go of who you are and what makes you happy!
As we head into the holiday season this year I'm hoping to be able to share more about what it's like to be a caregiver to someone with combat PTSD. Even if it's not totally applicable in your life, I feel it's important to promote awareness. If it is applicable hopefully you will realize that you aren't alone.