As someone living with PTSD, I can tell you it affects all your close relationships.

In September, I participated as a panel member for Part II of the Military Sexual Trauma Symposium: Services and Supports for People Affected by MST. I took part in a 20-min overview discussion of the impact of trauma on military families and friends. I’ve embedded the video recording down below.

When someone is suffering with an Operational Stress Injury (OSI) such as MST or PTSD, it affects the whole family and social network. You can’t really not be affected when someone you care about is living with the aftermath of trauma.

I live with PTSD. I have close relationships with other veterans with PTSD. I know what it’s like to try and support someone with an OSI.

Being in a relationship (romantic, family, friend, professional) with someone struggling with PTSD can be like being in a relationship with the owner of a vicious dog. The owner is a great person, loving and caring, a good human being. But the dog…

Being in a relationship with someone struggling with PTSD can be like being in a relationship with the owner of a vicious dog.

And maybe I shouldn’t say “owner”. It’s important not to over-identify with mental health diagnoses. This is something I live with, it’s not part of who I am. It’s not part of who they are. So let’s just say, this vicious dog follows around the person with the diagnosis, always in their shadow.

I think I got this idea about thinking of PTSD as a problematic puppy from a YouTube video I saw a long time ago about how having Depression is like living with a black dog. The narrator describes, “He could make me irritable and difficult to be around. He would take my love and bury my intimacy.”

Not everyone’s PTSD dog is the barking and biting type. These dogs can have all sorts of problematic behaviours. Maybe yours shits on the rug. Maybe it gets into the fridge and leaves a mess. Perhaps it’s up all night, pacing or barking. What all these dogs seem to have in common is they create chaos of one sort or another; they really mess things up.

And they’re unpredictable. Sometimes the dog can be on best behaviour for a while. Then, out of the blue, something inexplicably triggers the dog back into maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Sometimes the dog can be on best behaviour for a while…

I just went back and reviewed the video from the symposium. I didn’t talk about the mental health dog, but it’s neat how much overlap there is in this discussion – a lot of similar themes.

The video below is the entire session from September 16, 2021, but I’ve embedded the link such that it starts at 45:21, which is the discussion about military families/friends that I took part in with Dr. Heidi Cramm (PhD, OT Reg) and Laryssa Lamrock (Strategic Advisor for Families at the Centre of Excellence on PTSD).

French subtitles are also available, if you click on the CC button > Subtitles > Auto-Translate > French.

Also in this session:

  • LCdr (ret’d) Rosemary Park introducing Servicewomen’s Salute – Hommage aux Femmes Militaires Canada which assists women Veterans, servicewomen, and supporters
  • Michelle Douglas (Lt ret’d), a survivor of Canada’s LGBT Purge talking about the Purge and the movement to seek legal equality for the LGBT2Q+ community over the past 30 years (I had heard of the Purge before, but not the way Michelle tells it)
  • Dr. Linna Tam-Seto presents research findings: gender-specific, culturally-informed mentoring as a way to help shift the existing culture of the CAF towards greater diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Dr. Denise Preston, C. Psych and executive director of the SMRC on Restorative Engagement, an innovative program under development in DND. It’s a means for the organization to listen to, acknowledge, and learn from the experience and knowledge of those who have been harmed by military sexual trauma, and to take responsibility for that harm by developing and committing to actions that will contribute to changing the culture that facilitates it
  • Dr. Margaret McKinnon of MST Canadian Community of Practice, McMaster University, speaking about the unique impact of COVID-19 pandemic on individuals who experienced MST
  • LCol Dr. Andrea Tuka, Chief Psychiatrist of the CAF and Maj Carra Greenhorn CAF Social Worker. They outline the services and programs available for serving members who are victims of MST, reviewing concerns related to confidentiality
  • Dr. Linda Rose, Ph.D., R.Psych of the Edmonton OSI Clinic introduced us to a small pilot project that examines the tolerability of group Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for female veterans with Lived Experience of MST

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