Most people have had experience with water balloon fights at some point in their childhood. They can be a blast during summer months when temps are climbing.
With every toss of the balloon, is the possibility of it bursting and cool water spilling out everywhere. Will this be the time it breaks?
In the end, fun times and laughter were the result and years of fond memories made.
Living with a loved one who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is like living with an ongoing water balloon game, except it is not always summer and the end isn’t always laughter.
Your words and actions are the slowly filling balloons and you are never ready for the “pop”.
The popping of the balloons can result in joy or sorrow. The splash, the bounce, or the toss become painful – not only for the person struggling with PTSD & TBI but for their family members as well. Loved ones begin to hide the balloons, bubble wrapping the balloons, crying when the balloons pop, or losing their ability to rationalize the water balloon game. While the person struggling with PTSD & TBI is looking at the water balloon game with just their own mass confusion, struggles, and personal turmoil.
Recently sitting in church, my husband reached behind us bringing a bible up. When asked what he was looking for he stated a hymnal. He put the bible back in the pew behind us as I handed him the hymnal that was in my lap, open and ready for the opening hymn.
Unexpectedly, this was the pop.
He closed the hymnal and thrusted it back at me, while what seemed to feel very loudly and angrily, saying Addy and I were going to share that one. As calmly as possible, I tried to hand the hymnal back to him explaining there is another hymnal Addy could use, and he can use this one.
He closed the hymnal and aggressively places it into holder in our pew. He was getting angrier and louder.
I asked him to stop making a scene, which hindsight clearly showed me were the wrong words to use, he yelled back that I was the one making the scene. Somehow we made it through the opening hymn, but then it was greeting time.
I can’t face our church family. I go and hide. I go and cry. I go and try to regain myself.
Greeting time is nearing the end. It is time to return to my family. As I turn around to head back into the sanctuary there is DeWayne, he is in my face letting me know how wrong I was. Most of the conversation at this point I can’t recall now… it took everything I had to hold the tears in and to think about how I was going to walk out of this room to face our church family now?
I tried asking him to stop, to explain calmly that I can’t handle this conversation at this moment. To please go sit down. This only makes more balloons break. He throws his hands up ready to walk out of church. I beg him not to leave to just give me space. He does finally go sit back down with our daughter. I take a deep breath and return to our family as well.
Sadly, there was no longer my ability to keep it together. I slipped out of church and fell apart at home. Instead of being able to see this situation as a symptom of PTSD, I started to analyze the entire exchange.
When did I do something wrong, say something wrong, did I handle my water balloon wrong??
I relived my behaviors, my actions, my statements, my handling of the water balloons. What could I have done better? How could I have supported DeWayne better? I did laundry and paced and solved nothing, except for getting the laundry done.
Looking back on that morning I can see how the confusion could have begun for DeWayne.
For starters, all the teenagers decided to sit with their parents, a nice but rare occurrence. Then DeWayne’s service dog, Ava, was laying on the floor in a way that did not allow for he and I to sit next to each other. These two small details caused DeWayne to assess and assume that Addy and I were going to share a hymnal and he would find another. He wasn’t able to verbalize this to me when searching for a hymnal in the pew behind us.
Why he blew up like an exploding water balloon for handing him a hymnal, I don’t know. Why he couldn’t accept my assistance and kept digging in about the hymnal process for the rest of the day (including when we got home), I don’t think we will never know. But what I do know is this, that our church family should be our safest place to have sanctuary.
The following Sunday I found every excuse not attend church. I was embarrassed to face everyone because of our behaviors the previous Sunday. Now who is the one not being irrational? Oh, that would be me. Thankfully, the following Sunday we had our Annual End of School Year, Honoring Dads & Grads BBQ which required my presence.
It was still hard to walk into the sanctuary and face our church family, since DeWayne has never displayed his PTSD & TBI in church at this level. Normally I have been able to hide or redirect the response, or DeWayne hasn’t left home when his symptoms are on high alert.
How can a church family support families similar to ours? Great question. I don’t know all the answers to this but here are some ways I think would be beneficial:
I do know that if you offer to help — be genuine. Take time to understand what PTSD and TBI are. Remember to separate the person from the PTSD and TBI because the medical challenges aren’t what define the person. When you are able to separate the person from the disorder, it helps bring the family’s needs into focus creating a clearer path to help with redirecting when tensions start to grow.
If you commit to help, mean it. Define what help you can give. An example of support for the caregiver, “can I come on this day and I can do come repair your rain gutters, will this work for you?” By defining the assistance this relieves the pressure of the need for continually asking for helping. As a caregiver, we understand we need help, we don’t always feel comfortable continually asking for help. For many caregivers extra assistance is going to be a lifelong need.
If the family has children, ask to take them swimming, to the park, or to come hang out at your home for a movie night. When you ask include dates and times, this helps the caregiver in knowing you truly are there for them and are willing to accept their child into your care.
Don’t forget about respite care, another vital option for assistance. Find out if the person they are caring for enjoys outings or if you can come into their home to watch TV, play card games or sit and visit with them so the caregiver can enjoy some needed personal care time.
Most of all, reassurance that no matter what the Church Family is there unconditionally. No judgment, no lecture, just supportive Church Family being. Validation of what is happening, acknowledgement, and reassurance we are not alone. For We are a Military Family who is American Made! We Reach Higher, Dream Brighter, and Hold on Tighter.
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