By Kerry Keating
Relationships can be challenging by themselves, but dating someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be even more taxing and sometimes quite confusing. I have been a nurse for 25 years and have had experiences dealing with people with just about all physical and mental conditions. In my personal life, I had relationships — both romantic and platonic — with those struggling with PTSD. The demands I have seen range anywhere between requiring a little more patience and attention to having to change my entire behavior as to not upset the applecart. While the former is easy, I’ve found the latter can be almost impossible.
Those living with PTSD may have unpredictable occurrences. If people with PTSD don’t expect their symptoms, how can a friend or family member be prepared for these events? I believe the key is patience. With patience, you can develop an understanding of those who live with PTSD.
In my experience, those living with PTSD can have difficulty sleeping, nightmares, anxiety, depression and a myriad of symptoms resulting from the lack of rest. I’ve seen friends and loved ones become short and even angry at simple questions that would normally be easy conversations. Something so small can expand into a huge argument. Anxiety and panic may set in from situations others would consider “no big deal.” Anxiety can almost be contagious. When your loved one is anxious, it almost spreads, causing you to act differently. They can experience panic and fear when you least expect it. Even though you do not live with PTSD, you become stressed. Often it is a domino effect, causing cascading events to blow up into dramatic incidents.
One friend in particular with PTSD acted hot and cold, changed or canceled plans and was often moody. You might wonder what you did or said to upset him or make him angry and hours later he was back to a more cheerful self. A lot of times, I’d still be wondering what I did wrong and he would already have forgotten the original event that started the squabble. It was a roller coaster.
There are givers and takers in the world. My nature is one of a giving person, which most nurses are. You don’t become a nurse without realizing there are going to be a lot of times when you are doing something for other people. I have been known to drop everything for a friend in need. For me, it is satisfying knowing I am there for friends and family to help, but if it goes unrecognized it can be upsetting. When you are involved with someone with PTSD, the lack of appreciation can unknowingly be a common thing. So if you are in a relationship with someone struggling with PTSD, get used to it or the relationship probably isn’t for you. People don’t ask to develop PTSD; they don’t want it and I honestly wouldn’t wish it on anybody. PTSD can be isolating and cause feelings of loneliness. It isn’t fair some people get it while others do not, or that some people cope with it seamlessly and others are almost socially debilitated by it.
So what is the solution? There may be no quick fix but talking about it, having patience and understanding, learning to recognize triggers and symptoms, and learning tools to cope. These can all help. Understand the sudden shifts in mood probably have nothing to do with you. Above all, know when to walk away, temporarily or permanently. Those with PTSD are not alone but neither are the people who love them.