Last week was lost to trauma.*
The days and hours of the second week of September passed and the dates on the calendar changed but, in our home, all activities outside of navigating my husband’s complex trauma symptoms halted.
Weeks lost to trauma aren’t new to us. It’s happened before and it will probably happen again. As the partner of a man with complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, my life is impacted and sometimes, derailed when he is struggling.
There are always pre-emptive signs of things going awry. On his side, conversations become confused and fragmented, tasks left undone, and perspective on daily situations skewed. On my side, growing anxiety, disturbed sleep, and difficulty focusing.
What is really hard (and I suspect this is so for many partners) is that when it reaches a certain point, he may have no idea that anything is wrong. He may even insist that he is okay mirrored by his calm and cool expression.
This is what it looks like when a week is lost to trauma.
If you have grown up in a chronically threatening environment you probably had to adapt to survive. Adaptations occur emotionally, behaviorally, and within the nervous system. These are characteristic for Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). Dr Arielle Schwartz, The Polyvagal Theory and Healing Complex PTSD
What are partners to do when a week is lost to trauma?
My lost week is typical of the dilemma faced by partners of adults with complex PTSD. Partners sense when things are not okay. Often, we do our best to intervene, to offer love and support in order to stop the impending crash. Sometimes our attempts work, but often they don’t.
Most partners know the reactions and symptoms of lost weeks are trauma-based. (It’s amazing how many partners are informed and eager to learn more.) And while information is helpful, partners also need to know how to care for themselves during and after these rough times.
Based on my lost week, here are a few suggestions for partners:
1. Let yourself off the hook.
If you are overwhelmed by your loved one’s complex trauma symptoms, know that it’s normal. It is overwhelming. You will get through this.
2. Put aside major stuff.
Try not to make big decisions or changes. It’s important you maintain your cool during these periods.
3. Monitor your over-reactivity.
It’s tempting to do something crazy as a way to deal with the stress, the confusion, and the hurt, but don’t. In the short term, it might feel good, but in the long term, there could be detrimental consequences.
4. Reach out.
Let your support network know as soon as things start sinking. Maintain contact with one or two people throughout this time.
5. Don’t neglect your health.
Keep up your exercise routine or, if your energy is low, do a modified one. Go for a walk. Take a bike ride. Keep moving.
6. Offer yourself comfort.
It’s okay to eat comfort food. It’s okay to read a light book or watch a movie. Think about people who have offered you comfort in the past. Bring to mind comforting words others have said to you. It’s okay to do what makes you feel good.
7. Can you contact the treating therapist or your own therapist?
If you have this option, let the therapist involved in your loved one’s treatment know what is happening. If you have your own therapist, consider contacting him or her too. If you are the treating therapist, please consider the experiences of the partner and family.
8. Address necessary changes after.
If there are necessary changes to maintain stability in the home, address these after the storm. Again, having the involvement of a therapist can be helpful.
9. Remember, I get it.
This website is dedicated to partners of survivors. I get it and so do tens of thousands of partners like you.
To Learn More:
If you are a partner, individual with complex PTSD, or supporter, I recommend Dr. Arielle Schwartz’s website and her book The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control & Becoming Whole.
For partners, if you’d like to learn more about supporting yourself, download my free ebook Seven Little Ways to Keep Going as the Partner to a Trauma Survivor.
*Trauma means trauma responses, not a specific traumatic event.