An Interview with Michael Cain on his book
The Pain of PTSD and the Healing Power of Journaling
Stronger Families’ CEO, Noel Meador, talks with Michael Cain, author of The Pain of PTSD and the Healing Power of Journaling.
1. How can you identify the signs and symptoms of PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition brought about by exposure to a traumatic event of some kind, the symptoms of which fall into three categories:
a. Emotional—Symptoms include hypervigilance, survivor’s guilt, and flashbacks to the traumatic event.
b. Behavioral—Symptoms include physical violence, anger issues, and paranoia.
c. Physical—Symptoms include fatigue, elevated heart rate, chills, and shaking.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 11-20% of all military members who have served in the past 15 years have suffered or are suffering from PTSD. Over 100 symptoms exist for PTSD, and they manifest in different ways depending on the individual. Consult your mental health care provider for a professional diagnosis.
2. How can journaling help a member of the military cope with PTSD?
After witnessing his friends suffer from PTSD after the Vietnam War, Michael gave his own son a journal and this advice before his first deployment: “The only way to protect yourself from PTSD is to not allow yourself to keep all of your experiences locked away in your brain. There are only two ways to do that: talk about it, and write about it.”
Journaling can be an amazingly powerful tool for those affected by PTSD. Start by writing down a list of symptoms rather than experiences; writing about experiences can be too much for a soldier to handle at first. Go through the list and identify the “why” behind the symptom. For example, if you are suffering from hypervigilance, ask yourself, “Why do I feel the need to be hyper vigilant?” After returning from war, it can be difficult to flip the switch on being hyper vigilant, but, over time, you will realize this behavior is no longer necessary in your day-to-day life. Or perhaps you lash out in anger at small provocations. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel angry? What triggered the anger?” These questions will help you identify and pinpoint the triggers that compel you to certain behaviors.
You do not have control over what happened to you, but you can control how the traumatic experiences will affect your life. According to Michael, “The trauma will never go away. You can’t un-shoot a gun But that trauma, while the trigger, is not today’s problem. Today’s problem is the symptoms.” Keep that truth in mind as you begin the healing process.
2. What should the journaling process look like?
First, decide on a period of 30 or 40 minutes each day when you can go into a room by yourself and write. Next, get into a comfortable position in which you feel safe and secure—for some this may be sitting on the floor next to the bed, or in a study room at the library. Journaling will bring up some painful memories at first, but as you work through them and make decisions about your behavior, you will feel a sense of freedom. Take some time to celebrate these freedoms as they come, then move on from there.
Also, keep in mind this process should be done in complete privacy. Be sure to maintain communication with a certified mental health provider, but do not share your journal entries unless it is your choice to do so. In fact, you may decide it would be best to destroy your journal entries instead of share them; this can be a healthy part of the process. As Michael says, “PTSD is not a sign of weakness. It takes a lot of strength to step into this place, and those who do come out even more resilient.”
3. How can a spouse come alongside his or her husband or wife who is struggling with PTSD?
When walking through this journey with your spouse, have patience. Your spouse needs time to process the traumatic events and may or may not choose to share the memories with you. If your spouse has difficulty sharing, it is not due to lack of trust but rather an inability to deal with the high level of pain. Think of it this way: Your spouse has not been given the proper tools to deal with his/her pain. Your spouse is scared and broken. The best thing you can do for him/her is to give your spouse some space in order to figure out how to cope.
The process of working through the effects of PTSD can take months and even years. Most begin to feel better after a few months of consistent journaling as they build confidence and begin to identify their triggers. Be there for your spouse, encourage the small wins, and you will begin to see a significant transformation take place.
If you would like a copy of Michael Cain’s book, The Pain of PTSD and the Healing Power of Journaling, you can buy a copy at ptsdjournaling.wordpress.com.
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