How to Request a Welfare Check for a Battle Buddy (TL;DR below)
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Team, this weekend is going to be hard. It's Memorial Day weekend and our Facebook feeds will be full of pictures and tributes to those we've lost to combat and to suicide. And it is hard. I'm not here to force-feed you some rah-rah message about how life can change; I'm here to stand with you - because this weekend consistently sucks every single year and we need each other right now.
A lot of us will seriously consider suicide this weekend. And I get it. I wish I didn't, but I think we all do - and it's fucking awful to feel this way. Please do your buddy checks this weekend, and nag the shit out of the people you love. Please ask: "are you thinking of suicide right now?" - this doesn't glorify suicide or give anyone ideas, but it does get straight to the point, and this weekend especially that candor is important.
I've never met a combat-Vet who lost more buddies to war than they did to suicide, and that's not okay. Rather than doing 22 push-ups or whatever the fuck people are doing now for suicide awareness, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call someone to check in.
If you learn that your battle buddy is in trouble, here's how to get help: call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or send a text to 838255. You can text the crisis line while you are on the phone. Ask you buddy where they are located, who is with them, and whether or not they have a weapon. Pass this info on to the crisis line; they will send emergency services.
I know that no one wants to piss off their buddy, but no one wants another dead buddy either - so choose your battles. The single most loving thing anyone ever did for me personally was stage an all-out intervention; it saved my life.
Please consider sharing this info. Thanks, Team - stay safe out there. -Virginia
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
I'm excited to share my latest podcast appearance with you! I recently got a chance to talk PTSD, Evidence-Based Treatments, and Moral Injury with Ben Killoy at Military Veteran Dad.
Ben was awesome to talk with and he has a cool origin story. Ben is Marine Veteran who stumbled during his transition back into civilian life and, in the end, forgot who he was. Ben had a career, a family, a house - pretty much what everyone else would call success - but he wasn’t happy and had a deep desire to do more and make a bigger impact. From that stumble, Ben found his passion in podcasting with the Military Veteran Dad Podcast with a focus on helping Military Dads step into their best life. Ben is a coach and helps other dads who feel successful at work but struggle at home.
It was an honor to appear on his show. I am a big fan of Ben's work and I think you will be, too. Here is a great place to start to learn about Ben's work and what he means when he talks about Dads coming home.
And here is a link to my talk with Ben: https://www.militaryveterandad.com/123-ptsd-and-moral-injury-with-virginia-cruse/
In this episode, we talk about Moral Injury and PTSD and how Dads can get the help they need by seeking Evidence-Based Treatments and learning how to reconnect with their families and their communities.
I hope you'll check out our episode and subscribe to Ben's podcast.
Saturday, May 15, 2021
So, in my full-time life, I’m a mental health clinician for an unnamed government agency, and I am my site’s identified crisis counselor. When a Veteran needs same-day access services or is having a bad day, they generally meet with me. Trust me when I say there is no better job in the world. I get to connect with Veterans and help them in the moment. I’m one of those therapists who came to the profession later in life, and I’m still a drilling Soldier in the Army Reserve. Talking with Service Members is my thing.
This past year has been hard. COVID whooped everyone’s ass. This has been especially true for my fellow Soldiers with PTSD, so let’s take some time to understand it - because when we understand the “why” behind the “what,” we can get better faster.
We all have physical and psychological reactions to threats. This is our brain’s way of keeping us alive, and that is a good thing. This means that our bodies and our brains respond when triggered. Triggers are stimuli that cause our bodies and brains to react.
Triggers can be internal (like pain) or external (like fireworks) and they can bring us right back to remembering our past trauma. The smell of our attacker’s cologne, a box in the middle of the road, the sound of a gunshot - these are all examples of potential triggers.
Triggers can affect us in a variety of ways, making our hearts race to having a full-blown panic attack. Unfortunately, we don’t know our triggers until we experience them. It’s the worst kind of surprise.
And this is where COVID comes in; it brings with it many potential triggers. Fear, potential of death or serious illness, and all that not knowing is a trigger generator. In talking with Veterans, I think it’s helpful also to consider how many similarities there are with COVID and deployment. I can’t speak to the experience of our Vietnam Veterans, but here is the short list of triggers I see which remind me of deployment:
· Being stuck “on the FOB” = quarantine
· Not knowing who the enemy is = not knowing who is carrying the virus
· Face coverings
· Conflicting information about the threat
· Not being able to connect with family, loved ones. Isolation
· Not being able to help those affected
The list could go on.
Many of the folks I’ve seen for crisis counseling, previously went through an Evidence-Based Treatment for trauma and experienced real relief from their PTSD symptoms in the past. Their fear, they tell me, is that they have relapsed and gone back to a point where it feels like they never went through treatment at all because they are experiencing PTSD triggers again, such as anger and rage, nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, or feeling suicidal.
I want to be clear: you are not back at square one. Our brains are doing their jobs and keeping us alive. Let’s take a knee and respond.
How Do We Respond To Triggers?
First things first: it’s important to stop and choose to be compassionate with ourselves. COVID had been hard on folks who have no history of trauma and have lots of money and resources available, so let’s intentionally try to be easy on ourselves. Experiencing a trigger is not a character defect. It is our brain’s way of keeping us alive.
To respond to triggers rather than let them fuck with us, we can create a simple two-step plan: (1) explore triggers, and (2) create a self-care plan.
Here’s How This Looks
For clients, who have worked with me in the past on PTSD and are feeling triggered now, we conduct one-hour check-in sessions to talk about triggers and create a self-care response plan. This, typically, is all it takes to get back on track. No need for big do-overs. Just a simple check in. If you can’t connect with your provider, here is how you can apply these steps to un-fuck your triggers:
(1) Explore triggers with a counselor or trusted ally or through journaling. Really take time to understand why your brain feels triggered. PTSD is a very logical disorder, and it is likely that your brain is stressed and anxious. Talking about it and journaling about it will help release anxiety and pressure.
(2) Create a plan of self-care. It is important to engage in self-care and ensure we are taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Triggers can kick us out of gear and affect our sleep, our schedule, and our thoughts and feelings. There are great self-help guides available online, and we can use these to talk with those who support us.
Triggers are normal and do not mean that we are damaged. We absolutely can come back from our PTSD and reclaim our lives.
“If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”
The best way to start is to identify the problem. Download my free workbook and take a No-Sh*t assessment of where you are at today.
Saturday, May 1, 2021
"Maybe it's time for you to get some help." Real talk: there is no phrase that packs more oof per square inch than that one. Even when it's well meaning, it can feel like a gut punch - because we already know we need help.
PTSD is one of those secrets that does not keep well. Even when we don't have a name for it, we know that something is off. Maybe we're getting angry unexpectedly, drinking more, having nightmares, or feeling jumpy. We start to push our loved ones away or self-isolate because we don't want to worry anyone, but the truth is that everybody knows something is up and they are worried. But they don't talk about it. And we don't talk about it. And we all just pretend that it is not a thing. But, it is.
So when our loved ones finally get up the gumption to suggest that it is time to get some help, it can sting. Especially when "getting some help" means seeing a therapist.
A therapist. (Insert more oof * here *)
Yes, I know the stereotypes: lying on a couch talking endlessly about your mother, a bespectacled guru encouraging you to heal your inner child, or looking at ink blot after ink blot but all of them just look like your parents fighting. Friend, I hear you, and I know that you would rather go it alone than relive your trauma with a stranger who spent decades in college. So how can we get the help we need to no-shit reclaim our lives from PTSD without having to sift through this horseshit? I'm so glad you asked!
First things first: there are a lot of therapists out there who haven't jumped head-first into the woo-woo vortex, and I'm here to help you find them. Not all therapists are touchy-feely or use crystals or give two shits about your mommy-issues, and these are usually certified trauma therapists.
Trauma therapists specialize in PTSD and use specific Evidence-Based Treatments (EBTs) to treat PTSD. As of this writing, there are three EBTs for PTSD that are approved by the VA:
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy
- Cognitive Processing Therapy
- Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
Because these EBTs are endorsed by the VA, they tend to be widely available in Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs), VA clinics, and with therapists in private practice – so I encourage you to ask for these EBTs by name and be insistent. There is no sense in working with a therapist who is not specifically trained in how to treat PTSD; it’s a waste of time and leads to even more frustration.
Moreover, the data are clear: EBTs work most of the time for most people, and they do so in 6-12 sessions. No lying on the couch for years on end; you can knock this out in a couple months and get on with your life. Or we can continue to go it alone.
To quote Albert Einstein, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." The fastest way to reclaim our lives is to reach out and get an objective, third-person perspective. Did I mention that it's only 6-12 sessions? This is not forever, friend; time to suck it up.
To find a trauma specialist, we can get help from Military One Source, look up providers on our health insurer’s website, or use our company’s employee assistance program, or EAP. We can also find therapists on the internet by searching by the name of the evidence-based treatment and with our zip code (for example, “EMDR therapist Tampa 33607”). Psychology Today has a helpful database.
Once we find a therapist, we can call and request a phone consultation with them. Keep in mind that we may call and leave messages with several providers but only hear back from a few. (Therapists can be crappy this way.)
During the phone consult:
- Briefly explain why we are seeking therapy
- Ask what experience they have treating clients like us
- Ask if they are trained in Evidence-Based Treatments for PTSD
This may sound like, “I was in the military and experienced some bad stuff during a deployment to Afghanistan. What experience do you have helping Soldiers like me? What kind of treatment do you use for PTSD?” If the therapist does not have training in an Evidence-Based Treatment for PTSD, ask them if they can recommend someone who does.
Therapists tend to specialize in specific treatment methods or specific client populations. For example, I focus on combat-related PTSD and Moral Injury; I’m pretty much a one-trick pony. I can do other things, but it’s not what I’m best at. I have amazing colleagues who specialize in eating disorders, adolescent-issues, depression, anxiety, and all manner of mental health issues, and if you come into my office with an experience that is better addressed with one of my colleagues, I will send you to them.
Don't be afraid to ask about style, either. This may sound like, "I want to work with someone who is straight-forward and direct," or "I'd prefer to work with a Veteran." You may not get what you ask for, but therapists tend to hang out with other therapists and are connected into the community. Let us help you find the right person for you.
Another Einstein quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Going it alone just doesn't work. Now I hope you have more tools than when you started.