Let’s Be Friends

You’re potentially in 1 of 3 columns as you’re reading today’s post;

  1. You either struggle to find good, true friends since being open about your battle with the demons of PTSD or mental health challenge,
  2. You carry on with your days free of any mental health challenges yet wonder why your friend is always cancelling plans at the last minute, or sits in the corner when you’re at another of the numerous gatherings you and your friends host,
  3. For fear of losing the friendship, support, and understanding of those most important to you, you’ve chosen to fight the urge of letting anyone know that you’re struggling with PTSD, anxiety, etc.

If you’ve fallen into column #1, then I’m sorry. That struggle is very, very real, and I can attest to it. For so many reasons (mostly misunderstanding of what you’re going through), people tend to pull away from those who’ve chosen to be forthcoming about how trauma has affected them. It most certainly happened to me, and I unfortunately cannot guarantee it will not happen to you. With luck (and sometimes just ‘time’), those who care the most – and who are wanting more to be around you than not, will emerge, and will stand with you as you work through to better days.

"The reality is 
one of the main reasons they DO pull away, 
is the 'unknown'."

That uncomfortable next social event or meeting where they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. That you’ll ‘snap’, or that they’ll embarrass themselves, or you. It comes from a misunderstanding, and from the mere fact we’re truly only now starting to delve deeper into what this traumatic aftermath is all about.

The column #2 people I’ve honestly not ever quite understood, but we’re all wired differently, right? Hey, I’ve known salespeople who will research every aspect (personal and professional) of a prospective client for weeks before moving in for the kill, yet won’t take an hour some evening to research more about PTSD, anxiety, or mental health challenges in general for the sake of better understanding their friends’ dilemma. For those of you IN column #2, I’m simply saying that maybe your friend is worth taking some time.

"Try exercising some understanding." 

You could sit in front of CBC, CNN, or Global News trying to figure out the rationale of some newly elected official for hours and hours on end after the kids are in bed, OR I have to imagine you could pop your iPad open and pull up a few reputable studies on how best to support a friend with PTSD.

Column #3 are the ones I worry about the most, though…as I was once one of you. Having been raised – and to have come through FIRE/EMS in a time when speaking on your ’emotions’ was even less welcome than it is today, I fought myself hard in neither recognizing what was happening, NOR saying a word about it once it became all to clear. It’s those in column #3 who we’re almost most shocked to learn have unexpectedly taken their own lives. The lesser being that their once seemingly perfect marriage has ended abruptly, or they’ve been arrested while intoxicated, medicated, and causing a disturbance at a casino. All cliché statements – and certainly not painting everyone with the same brush, but where would you assume cliché statements come from, exactly?

Furthermore, the shock after the fact may come from the fact you were not a police officer. Had not responded to medical emergencies for 21yrs in the back of an ambulance. Had not been overseas in conflict, nor have crawled through an unfamiliar burning home at 3AM looking for a family of 6. No, you worked as an accountant within a mid-sized company in your city of 60,000 people. Home most evenings with your family, and took 2wks to head south in your RV every summer, stopping along roadside diners and purchasing mementoes as you toured. One night, though, 3yrs ago on your way home from work, you were 4th to come across a horrific car accident, and helped others on scene try and figure out what you could possibly do to help until emergency crews arrived. Unfortunately you’ve since spent your time trying to figure out what kind of a God in the world allows such carnage to be thrown upon an otherwise innocent and unsuspecting family who were simply traveling along the highway to a birthday celebration.

It’s not always about emergency crews and military personnel…and that’s another big part of the misunderstanding.

Listen, I’ve not yet decided whether this article is to drive guilt, feed loneliness, or further perpetuate the clichés and stereotypes of a still largely-misunderstood response to a variety of traumatic events and experiences. What I DO know, though, is that if you’re in any of these 3 columns, you NEED to make a move.

Take action.

Be open.

Explain how you’re feeling to friends.

Do some research on what it is your friend is battling through.

Don’t take your life away from us without having reached out.

And if you ever DO feel the need to reach out and chat with someone who gets it, you know where I am. You don’t have to be alone, but you are valid, and the struggle is most certainly real. If you’re in column #2, though, remember NOT to tell your PTSD friend or colleague “It’s going to be fine. Let’s go out and have some drinks, and you’ll forget all about it!”. If it were only that easy.

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8 thoughts on “Let’s Be Friends

  1. All too many people are unable to cope with a mental health problem in someone they know There are others who avoid someone with a terminal illness such as cancer. I don’t believe they do this because they don’t care. I believe they do it because they care very much. They are afraid they will say or do the wrong thing and make the other person feel worse than they already do. Someone with PTSD can seem withdrawn and angry and people are not sure if they are the reason for this. What is the best way to help someone with PTSD?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Margaret, and your unique perspective on the ‘why’.

      I believe your right, in part, on your thoughts of friends who are unable to support friends with mental health challenges as they ‘care too much’, and it’s our hope (and our goal) to show those friends how to show that care and concern in remaining involved in their friends lives.

      You’re correct that a percentage of those battling PTSD ‘can’ seem withdrawn and angry, yet another percentage can be the other extreme, and then a larger number somewhere in the middle. If unaware of how PTSD works (and it varies as largely as any other medical challenge), it’s conceivable a friend and/or family member could wonder if it’s their fault. No question. They do need to know, however, that in most cases it is not.

      As for how to help, we feel the best way is to simply ‘be there’ as a support of sorts. Continue being their friend – just potentially with the understanding of what it is they need as a friend while battling PTSD. Be there to listen, not to advise. Be there when they’re feeling able to go out or socialize, not to push them to be social. Be there to brace them when they’re working with mental health professionals (and maybe even medical professionals, nutritionists, personal trainers, career advisors, etc.), but not to try and be that professional.

      Hope this helps and, again, thanks for your perspective!

  2. I’m so glad that PTSD has become more widely “legitimized” in our culture over the last decade. out of necessity, I’m sure, since so many vets return home totally traumatized. You bring up some good perspective on how it affects social relationships in every day life. Thanks for the insights.

    1. So right, Penelope…unfortunately we’re seeing a staggering percentage of our women and men of military returning from conflict, and have not been helping them work through the trauma of their experiences the way we should (as a society, or as a medical/mental support network). Likewise, we’re finally starting to recognize that member of the general public who is first on scene to a traumatic (with potential fatalities, or serious injuries, injuries to children, etc.) but are not trained to respond to such events (let alone deal with them after the fact).

      We need to be better transitioning our military personnel as they return from deployment, and for longer periods of time (with closer yet unobtrusive monitoring in years after). I also believe we should be watching those members of our general public (if we know who they are in each community) who’ve come across a traumatic incident, to ensure they’re coping ok.

      We’re also working through the thinking of older generations that saw emergency personnel (police, fire, medics, corrections, hospital staff, etc.) working their careers without ever experiencing emotions of grief, trauma, anxiety, etc…but to instead ‘bottle it up’ and/or ‘push it down’. Heroes to those of us in need, and that showing emotion would have somehow lessened our opinions of them.

      Not so, obviously, and we’re working hard to show them that support they need in continuing to be our heroes at home, and to help those who choose to continue in their chosen field to either stay on the job, or to return once ready.

      Thanks for your time and comment, Penelope, and please feel free to share our site with others who may benefit from following us as we work to help in awareness, learning, and support of PTSD and mental health challenges.

  3. Hello Joe,
    I think that’s great what you are doing and I hope you continue to keep raising awareness to this dreadful epidemic that has taking the lives of many including my husband who was only 42 years old just 9 months ago. He was a sheriff’s officer with the Morris County Jail and a former marine. I myself became involved with a Non Profit organization to raise awareness about PTSD and to hopefully stop the stigma that comes attached with it so that people can get help. ProjectBlueLives.Org or we can be found on Facebook as well https://www.facebook.com/ProjectBlueLives. But please continue to keep raising awareness so one less person doesn’t have to lose someone to suicide. Thank you!

    1. Dawn, firstly allow us to send our sincerest condolences in the loss of your husband to this horrific demon known as PTSD. At the same time, however, please also allow us to respectfully thank you for your husbands service to your country.

      What had initially started as a personal challenge in seeking out the understanding, resources, and support in battling demons of my own years ago, has now seemingly turned into a life’s passion – given I’ve battled my demons and have largely won my life back…so I appreciate the encouragement now that we’ve decided that it’s an absolute necessity for us to take this search to the world. We’re not even looking to save others, but to instead show them how to save themselves. Enhanced awareness through consistent messaging, education and continued learning around how to do things even better, and collecting (or building) a network of supports for those battling their demons.

      Thanks for all you do through Project Blue Lives, and let’s please be sure to keep in touch, and to share information on support for all.

      Be well, Dawn.


  4. Thank you very much Joe, I appreciate that. It’s not been an easy road since his death. I’m trying to make something positive out of a bad situation and hopefully enlighten others. Education is key. If we could get the word out and get people to listen. Maybe we could help and prevent another tragedy. That is wonderful that you have battled your demons (for the most part) and you are helping others to battle theirs by trying to educate. That’s all we can do. God bless!

    1. We keep moving forward, Dawn. It’s truly all we can do.

      Help educate. Expand and strengthen awareness. Lead one more from the darkness under which they battle their demons.

      One day. One battle. One life at a time.

      Here in Canada we’re very fortunate to have some truly amazing support organizations (Camp My Way, Tema Conter, Trauma Healing Centers, Canadian Mental Health Association, and more), so it’s also about supporting them in their work, and for pushing to find new paths and new understandings around #PTSD, #Anxiety, and #MentalHealth in general.

      The message will find its way. If we push hard enough, it will. While I cannot guarantee we will be there when it does, we’ll have played our part in sending it.

      Be well, Dawn.

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