Hello, my name is Johanna, and I welcome you to the Johanna Draconis - The Deconstruction Of C-PTSD podcast.
Today we are going to talk about how to communicate PTSD with family and other people close around us. This time we focus on how to explain them the symptoms, the illness, etc.
Our closest ones get to witness most of the symptoms we suffer, often they ask questions, I found it really helpful to answer those, as it helps them and reduces confusion.
Last time we did the initial communication with breaking the news…. And how some family can respond…
But let us assume they reacted like they usually do… what now? How to explain the weird things that are happening. How explain how this illness works? How explain the symptoms?
Family members often feel helpless, like witnesses of a building on fire, while standing on the sideline. Often wondering if they really CAN’T do anything.
It is incredible hard to watch someone you hold dear suffer, the feeling of helplessness is harmful, that is why it is so important to explain and tell them what they can do.
How to explain PTSD?
But how do we best explain PTSD? Well there is not one answer for all, but we will take a few routes most people can associate with. Modify it here and there if needed.
First off, I found - very surprisingly for myself - the best summary for my healing process figuratively from the movie Room 1408. Though I never watched it, but watched the explanation from ending explained.
I just don’t watch horror movies or the like anymore. That movie is definitely not for the vulnerable, so it is a very limited suggestion, but I wanted to mention it.
If you are really curious you can also just listen to the ending explained, where the plot and arch are explained.
That being said - it is best to use an example in a field, that the person is most familiar with.
Our brains are pattern seekers, if they recognize a pattern in one situation, and see similar circumstances, they can apply it to those.
That is why examples are so important. Most of the time you won’t find the right words in that moment, that is why it is a good idea to keep thinking about how to explain it and write it down in doubt.
Your brain basically works like any muscles, keep repeating an exercise and you will get better and more refined at it.
Explaining PTSD + Co.
We have told them we have PTSD, but what is PTSD? Yes the definition does nicely, but most people not IN it will have issues wrapping their head around it.
Even though many horror movies are a good visualization what it is like, that is not something you want to suggest to your older parents… or anyone. Most likely they are out of their mind of worry already.
No need for gruesome images. Nonetheless they will need something to picture it, as it is otherwise an unknown… and they will have friends, etc. Ask for an explanation… and most likely justification.
So they need to understand it - also for all those snake oil peddlers, that smell desperation a mile away and will come to prey upon them.
It may sound a bit stereotypical, but I would use a garden example… or the castle. Or a modern fort. Variations should be easily be able to be done.
I used different examples to explain PTSD itself, my current status, how healing works and in case of a trigger/fallout/etc.
Explaining - PTSD
So PTSD, what is it? Let’s start with the garden.
Well imagine our brain being a careful tended garden and the PTSD is weed - goutweed to be precise. First, not really a big problem, but since it got ignored, it now infested everything.
Now we can barely access anything and the remaining normal plants are being pushed aside by this weed. Now we would like to clean it all out immediately, but oh damn - the weather.
It is rather unsteady and in some weather conditions it is really hard to work… even dangerous. It will take a lot of work and a lot of time, but the goutweed CAN be removed completely - if you are throughout.
You see where this is going? You should be able to tweak it here and there for better fitting your story. Maybe a drunken who drove into the garden and destroyed a lot, etc.
Though I don’t like that the weather is here the complicating factor, as we can’t influence the weather, but we can stabilize ourselves.
But we can also emphasize how important it is to have someone with us in the garden to keep us company - even if the other person is not able to really help, they do help with making the work more endurable.
I really prefer the castle or fort example, as it can be better modified to fit to the individual situation. But it is not as peaceful as the garden example.
As used before, you are a castle - with a main buildings and walls around it. But now you got attacked by an unknown force. Or you can use a modern fort, whatever you feel fits better.
Now the outer wall is breached (aka PTSD outbreak) and there is an hostile army in your castle doing considerable damage. The damage of course varies on the extent of your PTSD.
How many things you still have access to? Your favorite movies? Can you still listen to music? Does food still taste? Can you still feel joy? Think about how you want to describe it.
Additionally what is the status of your own army? Are they still plenty and good shape? Or are they few and barely holding on? And so on. If you want to disclose that.
You can draw a map about the situation or at least about the fort/castle, with or without the enemy army, to help the other better understand the situation.
Now we can also explain the others what kind of role they play in this scenario. Are they like a hidden supply line from a neighboring kingdom, keeping everyone strong under siege and limited supplies?
Are they an army from a neighboring kingdom which army might not be able to fight it, but at least poke the enemy force, distracting them and or diverting them? To give your army a bit of a break?
Or do they help keep the morale up? It is important for most people to have at least a guideline which they can follow. Something to aim for.
You could also make any example up you want to. For example with a car! But since my knowledge of cars is limited, I didn’t pick it. Pick what suits you the most.
Explaining - Current Status
Next up is your current status - or daily form if you so will. In our two previous examples this would be the weather in the garden and the status of the army and building in the fortress example.
Or you can use the ship example. Are you out there in the storm with your ship in the wild? Or is there are storm but you are in a save harbor? Or is it a wonderful day for a cruise?
Or you can simply go for the simple good, bad, chaotic, off day, etc. Pick whatever helps you communicate it clearly to the other person.
Explaining - The healing process
Next up we explain how the healing process works, as I said, people need a guideline. I usually use one main example that worked best so far: stock market. Or any graph with development over time. Let me explain.
People separate in stock market between daily form and trend, which refers to how the stock is doing over a long period of time. From weeks to the start of the stock.
The daily form is your daily form and the trend is your healing curve. You might have good days, you might have bad days, but over time it should go up. If not, you really need to change something.
And everything visualized so easily with a beautiful graph. There is a graph for everyone! Simply find a stock trading page until you find the one you need.
You can clearly see on the stock trend graph, if you zoom in, the many small up and downs. This is the same for your everyday PTSD status, it goes up and down, but have a lookout for the trend.
If you simply want to explain that your daily status does not mean your overall status, then I recommend the weather example. Because there is a difference between weather and climate.
There might be a really hot day in autumn, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly summer, but that it’s a hot day in autumn. Same goes for a cold day.
Or in a tropical climate there is a colder day, doesn’t mean that suddenly the season exist, but that there was a day not typical for the climate. And so on. The day isn’t the important bit, the long run is.
If you just trying to explain it overall: Healing yourself from PTSD is like climbing a mountain. You basically know where you want to go, but there are so many paths, so easy to get lost.
It takes a lot of energy and its hard to see how much path you have left. The path are tricky and its dangerous. Supplies can come from outside, but they don’t always really reach you or think you are somewhere else.
Or their help can lead you being in peril. It’s just important to reach the top, not how fast or how. Steady, as the way down is fast and dangerous.
Explaining - When something goes sideways
Finally we come to when something goes sideways. PTSD has some really weird symptoms, which its hard to wrap your head around, but it is even harder when someone sees you and you have to explain it.
And sadly the option to say “Hey, that is not my idea” does not work here. Despite it being technically true.
For the symptoms overall I recommend giving the full information, so they get it from somewhere else, that this are normal symptoms to have. My episode 2 or any proper PTSD site will do.
But I want to focus more on to explain the more extreme versions, as they can be pretty scary for those not familiar with it. Also they can better help and support you if they know what is happening.
First I start with trigger, there are two ways it usually goes.
The immediately strong reaction, I would describe like a fire alarm, even though everyone knows there is no fire, you still have to do the exact procedure you were taught. Even if you saw who pushed the alarm.
That means getting to safety, as quiet as possible usually, keep your head low and wait until the whole drama played out.
But what about the trigger that makes you feel bad over many days and often triggers strong depressive symptoms? I always explained my healing path with mountain climbing.
The trigger is a misstep that leads you to falling down, not in free fall usually, but that depends on the sort of trigger. Usually it means you skidding down, trying to stop the descent.
You can actually do that mid descent and stop it from going farther down. But I already talked about that in episode 4.
Insomnia is usually explained as having drunken accidentally a whole can of strong coffee or mixed with energy drinks, but knowing you need to sleep to be fit tomorrow.
You are dead tired, but on the other side restless because of the caffeine. Though most know what it’s like, as most have suffered at one point in their life from sleepless nights.
What about hallucinations or seeing something that isn’t there? Just remind them of a scenario they once had in their mind and relived. Or when they were daydreaming.
It is basically the same, just you are half awake therefor dream and reality kind of mix. Though this remains a very serious and alarming sign.
Just another few personal words, seems like I am finally recovering from the visit of my visit. Family can be … difficult. Also we clearly overdid it there. Same as with PTSD, I am still a bit rocky.
This chapter is also for me a complete new one and I face many new challenges for myself. Also I wasn’t intended to move so soon, but plans were changed and my worries ignored.
But at least the big heat and humidity seems to be gone, that should make sleeping easier again - if my neighbor stops his random drilling. Otherwise I am enjoying living only with my pets.
That was it for today’s episode - I hope you liked it. If you have any points still unanswered or unclear, please let me know.
If you have any questions or feedback and the like, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information and transcript you can find as usually under johannadraconis.com/Podcast and links are in the description.
I hope to see you next time. Watch yourselves and have a wonderful time.