June is national PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) Awareness month and June 27th is National PTSD Awareness Day. While PTSD does not in any way effect only veterans, it does affect a tremendous number of veterans form all eras of service.
While the commercial real estate industry’s veterans tend to be older by nature, 99% of the movies and news stories get veterans with PTSD completely wrong. There is no shame in struggling with PTSD. If you’re currently experiencing symptoms or feel the weight of the PTSD stigma, here are five tips that will hopefully make life a little easier:
1. Remind yourself that PTSD is not your fault: You did not ask for PTSD, but I’m a firm believer that you have to own it, or it will own you. It’s OK to ask for the seat at the table with your back to the wall and simply say you would be more comfortable there — I do. If someone asks why, I tell them I have PTSD and will be more comfortable there.
2. Breath: Panic attacks can be a symptom of PTSD and learning how to breathe through a panic attack can make it more manageable or perhaps less chaotic. Yoga and meditation are both great ways to learn different breathing techniques. I wished I had learned years before how to breathe and focus my breath when I’m in the midst of a panic attack.
3. Medications: If you are on them, carry two full days of medication with you. Life can be hard and hectic, and sometimes it’s a chaotic morning and you forget to take a pill or two; or you end up working late, the trains shut down, or you simply do not get home that evening because you stay at a friend’s.
4. Live your life: I spent years not living mine. Ask for help when you need it. Help others who need you. PTSD can sometimes feel like a life sentence, but it does not have to be a death sentence. PTSD might be a part of who you are, but it is not who you are. I have a closet in my bedroom that has a yoga mat on the floor, a sheet and blanket, two bottles of water and a flashlight in it. When my nightmares are a little more overwhelming, getting into this small space helps me. Find what works for you and own your PTSD.
5. Talk about it: The first 180 seconds of my first therapy session in 2013, I said things I had never told anyone, and I felt a huge weight lifted off my chest. I felt 10 years younger and 50 pounds lighter. Talk to your family or friends, join a trauma support group, call a crisis hotline to talk to someone. Sometimes it will get worse before it gets better, but I think you need to acknowledge your trauma, not blame yourself for it. It gets easier in the long run once you start to talk about the elephant in the room.
I am very fortunate to work in an environment lead by a Vietnam combat veteran and have a wonderful support base within my workplace and friends and family. Surround yourself with those that support you.