Caregivers have a tough job, we all know that. They spend their days taking care of their loved ones. It’s never-ending, it’s tiring, and it’s physically and emotionally draining. Did you know that caregivers can also have PTSD? Theirs comes secondhand though and is aptly named secondary PTSD.
Secondary PTSD is not recognized as an actual mental disorder. The mental health world says it’s a reaction. Based on their definition, I can understand using the word reaction. “Secondary trauma is defined as indirect exposure to trauma through a firsthand account or narrative of a traumatic event.”
I prefer this explanation of the term. “Partners of PTSD-diagnosed Veterans often describe difficulty coping with their partner’s PTSD symptoms, describe stress because their needs are unmet, and describe experiences of physical and emotional violence. These difficulties may be explained as secondary traumatization, which is the indirect impact of trauma on those in close contact with victims.” This to me better describes what caregivers go through.
I’m not saying I have secondary PTSD, but I have changed in the past couple years as my husband has. I’m stressed, I feel like I have no help and everything is on my shoulders, I do have difficulty dealing with my husband’s PTSD at times, and the stress has really gotten to me. I have my ups and downs, I have trouble sleeping, and I’ve apparently started grinding my teeth in my sleep. I also withdraw more into myself than I ever have before. All things that were never a problem even five years ago.
Now, many say that secondary PTSD is when you start having similar triggers and the symptoms that go with them. Anxiety, panic attacks, avoidance, etc. Those I do not have. The husband will occasionally tell me things about what happened during his deployments, but I know he censors them. The things he tells me don’t affect me like that though. It’s possible to remove myself from it in a sense and hear it only as a story. I understand how those events have affected the husband, but they don’t affect me.
I have however, adopted a few of his quirks. The paranoia being one. Mine is not even remotely to the extent of his, but it’s there. I like to look at it more of his habits just wearing off on me, which is most likely what it is. You know those pretty little rock piles and towers that people make near lakes and rivers? I always see pictures of those with captions about how peaceful and tranquil it is. I see that picture and I want to kick that shit out of those rocks. Simply because that is the husband’s reaction. That is what the enemy used to mark their IED’s in Iraq, so it’s a trigger for him. Ever since I found that out a few years ago when we saw one on a hike and he reacted, I feel the need to knock every one over to keep him from reacting.
So, no. I don’t think I have secondary PTSD. I do think I have caregiver stress, mixed with working mom stress. Each are bad enough on their own. I do believe it’s a legit thing though.