In her own words, Lora Horn explains her three secrets for dealing with PTSD.
By Lora Horn
I was abused as a child.
My parents weren’t purposely cruel. I suspect they both had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in an age when PTSD wasn’t even the name we used yet, and certainly, it didn’t apply to ordinary middle-class families with temper problems.
As an adult, I have continued to grow and heal, but I still live with the scars. I always have a certain level of hypervigilance. If my husband sighs, it registers with me, stronger than it ought. I struggle with loud noises like leaf blowers. I find it hard to connect with others besides my husband and kids in an authentic way. I have issues with time and organization – what the professionals call “executive function.”
I’ve managed to be pretty happy despite all of this. I’ve set up a life that works well with my strengths and my weaknesses. I home-school my kids, and my husband and I have a good marriage despite the challenges and pain my PTSD has brought to the relationship. Knowing the impact of PTSD from first-hand experience, I try to help sufferers and supporters understand the subject matter. I run my own business: Lora Horn–Web Strategy for Mental Health Professionals. My goal is to help mental health professionals find clients. But really, I’m helping those with PTSD get help.
The main way counseling has helped me is in assessing what is normal and what isn’t normal. Living with PTSD means carefully thinking through things that others naturally understand. There is one area that I have struggled with more than others: I’m a pastor’s wife — the life of a pastor’s family is like living in a fishbowl. Everyone is watching. And they have expectations that are often unspoken so they can’t be addressed or fixed, but they can be gossip fodder. And in a small community like a church, this causes a lot of problems.
A few memories come to mind: I’ve had a trustee repair a sink who took issue with my housekeeping skills–not to my face, but instead to the church. What was a simple matter of children making a mess while playing became an issue that took weeks to calm. It’s a common experience for clergy families. I’ve witnessed my husband get verbally attacked, and I have seen him hurt deeply. I’ve gone to the doctor only to find our health insurance was suspended for months because the treasurer was struggling with his own problems. I’ve seen my kids alienated in church, in Scouts, and sports because they were pastor’s kids or didn’t go to the local school.
The issue isn’t that pain exists in being a pastor’s family. Pain exists for everyone. But not everyone has an audience of 100 paying attention to everything they do. Not everyone has necessary repairs on their houses decided by a committee vote or a budget that isn’t theirs. Having a home tied to the congregation means that the very walls are a reminder that I rely on others to provide things that others typically provide for themselves.
But the real issue is how PTSD affects coping. When dealing with disrespect, ordinary people get angry, but my PTSD wants to respond with rage because I already have anger within me from a whole life of unpredictable attacks. But anger doesn’t help bring healing, so I stuff it back down where it sits in my gut. Unspoken expectations leave me feeling anxious, as something could happen at any time. My PTSD responds by becoming even more hypervigilant to control and predict the most uncontrollable element–other people.
I have found there are ways to cope and to thrive. I have been a pastor’s wife now for over 20 years, and I’ve been blessed to be with so many wonderful people and to live in some pretty special places. For me, four principles guide me, but I have to remind myself of them often. My faith always sustains me: I know God is good and will always provide.
Focus on the good: We are blessed with relationships with many good people, sometimes the same ones that cause pain. That’s life. We’ve helped people and loved people, and they’ve supported and loved us.
Be honest: This last call, I was very honest with what I could do and couldn’t do. I insisted no parsonage. Separating our home from church was incredibly necessary for me. Now home is a haven.
Take back as much control as possible: For me, that’s doing something that isn’t church. Whether it is work, school, or volunteer work, I need to have a place to use my gifts to help others.
I was abused as a child. But I’m helping others now. That’s how I deal with my PTSD.