Vicarious PTSD, also know as Secondary PTSD, happens to the caregiver of the person suffering symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In my personal experience, I went on auto pilot when my husband was diagnosed. We had known there was a problem manifesting but we didn’t have a clue as to what was in store for us. When he was under the care of a psychiatric provider she made no mention of PTSD. Just anxiety disorders. He was still functional at work yet heavily medicated. Then one day he went into complete psychosis and it lasted for two entire weeks. He doesn’t remember anything that happened during that week period of time. But I remember every scary minute of it.
I made the decision for our family to move to the other side of the State where his family was. I knew in my heart that I had no idea what I was up against but I knew that I would need a support system. No one understands PTSD like those who are actually exposed to its symptoms. This could be a husband a wife or a mother and their child. In my case this is about my husband who suffers from PTSD symptoms and myself – the caregiver.
PTSD Experts Don’t Warn You About Vicarious PTSD
Health care professionals do not warn you about the possible development of vicarious PTSD. After moving across the State it was just my husband and I cooped up in a temporary apartment. We were surrounded by the walls that confined us and the severe PTSD episodes that seemed to be non-stop at that point. When a caregiver takes care of someone with PTSD around the clock, they too can develop a form of PTSD. Vicarious PTSD is also known a secondary PTSD. Vicarious PTSD is a bit different but share some of the same symptoms of your loved ones’. I would have higher levels of anxiety at first and then flip out like a person with a lot of rage from a PTSD episode.
These episodes expose you to rage, verbal, emotional, and times, physical abuse. These abusive behaviors derive from their spouse’s symptoms and are hard to endure for long periods. My husband never got physically violent with me nor the children but the verbal and emotional abuse was pretty severe. What happens is your loved one goes into a PTSD state of mind, it’s like a monster buries the real person deep down and takes over their mind and body. The worst part is they do not remember anything said or done during an episode but you sure do. It still happens to you. But in his or her mind, it didn’t happen because they can’t remember.
Vicarious PTSD -Months of PTSD Behavior
When anyone is experiencing their loved one’s PTSD driven behavior for long periods of time it causes them their very own psychological damage. In my home, PTSD episodes would last from 24 hours to several days before they would stop. When I say 24 hours, I really mean 24 hours around the clock. I was also working to bring in an income for our family and my husband’s PTSD symptoms kept me up all night. That does not make for a productive employee. Especially if this is going on every weekend.
I developed Vicarious PTSD because of all the traumatic PTSD episodes that I encountered (lived in). The difference between my PTSD and my husbands’ is that his has multiple triggers that will bring on an episode quickly. I only have one trigger. My trigger is his PTSD. When I see his symptoms surfacing and his mental state going into a whirl wind it scares me. My anxiety rises, and there I go, into a full blown PTSD episode of my own. Our situation became very toxic for each other and for our environment.
There is help for caregivers
When I got to my breaking point which was a little over a year into our journey with PTSD, I knew I could no longer do this on my own. I went and sought out my own therapist. She educated me so much on PTSD and Vicarious PTSD. I really have to give well deserved thanks to her because she literally saved my life and most likely my marriage. Caring for someone else can bring you to burnout, feeling spread too thin, and even resentment. Finding your own support group is just as important as your loved one’s need for care is.
If your living with someone who suffers from the symptoms of PTSD, be sure to care for yourself first and find a therapist who specializes in Trauma and PTSD.
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