Category Archives: PTSD

Halloween and PTSD


That’s a broad topic (Halloween and PTSD).  When I mentioned blogging on this topic to a friend she said “There’s a connection between the two?”.

The answer is yes.  Halloween can be a really scary (no pun intended) season for SOME people with PTSD.   Some people that have PTSD might be triggered with the gore/props, jump scares and the masks or cloaking that take place for Halloween.

Gore/props- fake blood, body parts, bones can be a trigger, especially for combat Veterans with PTSD. Body parts and blood come right out of a battlefield scene and can bring back morbid memories.

Jump scares- sneaking out from behind a corner and shouting “boo” might seem like a funny idea, but to someone that has PTSD and is already hyper vigilant (over stimulated, constantly scanning) it can be detrimental.  That initial shock of adrenaline that happens to anyone when they are scared can actually trigger physiological stimuli in the body, and “prepare” the body for combat, or any other traumatic scenario the person has experienced.

Masks/Costumes- masks are a metaphor for hiding your true feelings or the “true” person underneath.  On Halloween, they are not viewed that way, they are for fun and celebration. To a person with PTSD, not being able to read the facial expressions and subtle cues because of a mask can make them extremely uncomfortable and stand offish.

I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying- not ALL people with PTSD have issues with Halloween.  Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Ft. Bragg. Their Commander asked each Company to do a Halloween themed Trunk or Treat and Haunted House. I was leery, and spent the week leading up to Halloween (their prep and construction time) waiting for these Vets to be triggered. If anyone was, they didn’t show it. They had some of the goriest, scariest scenes constructed and they took great delight in scaring each other and older visitors. It was one of the biggest morale building events I had ever seen.

On the contrary, last year, several of my Active Duty Soldiers and Airmen called to tell me they were having issues because they had been triggered by another Soldier who had dressed up and hid in the bushes along their PT route, jumping out to scare people. When someone reported it, the Chain of Command made this Soldier stop, but some damage had already been done.

In summary, just use caution and discretion when engaging people in your Halloween festivities.  Don’t criticize for lack of costume, not wanting to go to Halloween parties or “haunted” houses/corn mazes/hayrides.  You never know how they are being interpreted to others.


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MIA (missing in action)

I apologize for MIA status with this blog.  I assure you- I’ve been writing A LOT.  I’ve been working on finishing the first draft of my untitled non fiction project about my Dad’s experiences in Vietnam and how his PTSD affected us (my sister and I) growing up.  There is a section in the project where I examine PTSD and its affects on family from a therapist’s perspective.

I’m very excited about the project but I will continue to keep THIS blog about PTSD, Mental Health and the like.  I won’t cross post unless the topic applies to both,

If you would like to follow my progress on the book, feel free to visit my Author Website HERE and/or follow my progress on Facebook.

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An Open Letter to Children of Combat Vets this 4th of July Weekend

First my disclaimer- Yes, I know that men and women can have PTSD.  I’m writing this as the Dad being the combat Vet because many studies show that while both male and female Vets get PTSD, men tend to display more symptoms, while women tend to shut down and become depressed.  Neither is a good thing. If you think you have PTSD, get help.

All of that being said, I wish this is what someone would have said to me when I was a kiddo, begging Dad to take me to the fireworks on Ft. Bragg and not understanding why he would either say no, or take me (and my little sis) and then sit in his truck for the whole show. “Daddy, you’re missing it!” we would shout, while he sat in the truck, eyes closed.

So I write this for a new generation of children of Combat Vets.


“Your Dad loves you.  He wants you to be happy this 4th of July weekend.  He also wants you to be safe, because you are so precious to him.  There are going to be a lot of fun things to do this weekend- parties, cook outs, swimming, water fights, ball games and of course, fireworks.  Have fun enjoying all of those things with your family and friends, but please understand that your dad might not want to participate in every event.

See,  4th of July is a little different for your Dad.  It’s a big reminder of why he joined the Military.  When he sees all of the ‘patriotic Americans’ and hears the Lee Greenwood songs, he might be thinking about some not so great memories.  He might be thinking of war, the sacrifices his fellow Service Members made, and those that didn’t make it home to spend Fourth of July with their families.  Or he might be doing his best NOT to think of those things, but its hard, with the aforementioned patriotic Americans and Lee Greenwood blasting from every station.

I know you want to see the fireworks, and hopefully, someone will take you to the show.  Your dad might not want to go, because fireworks shows encompass a lot of things he is trying to avoid- large crowds, traffic, smoke, heat, constant noise, and the fireworks themselves, which equal loud booms and flashes of light. If your dad does take you, don’t be upset if he doesn’t want to watch the show.  He might just be happier to sit in the car and listen to music.

Please remember that your dad has some issues and he is hopefully working on them. Overall, remember that he loves you and you can help by understanding his needs on this holiday weekend.

Happy 4th of July!”


Happy 4th of July, Dad.  I am taking a page out of your books this year, and we will enjoy the fireworks from the comfort of our air conditioned living room. Front row seats and no traffic!  Love you.


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Happy Armed Forces Day. What not to say to SMs/Vets


First of all, Happy Armed Forces Day to all Service Members past and present. 

When thinking of blog topics, I admit that I had thought of doing a “things not to say” post, but figured that would be unnecessary.  We’ve been doing OIF/OEF for what seems like forever and I’ve seen this topic in numerous military related magazines, websites, and seminars.  I’ve seen it in national papers and magazines too.  However, two clients recently told me of Service Members being approached and being asked the “how many guys did you kiil?” question.  Overall, as a nation we say we support our men in women and uniform.  While every SM is different, here are some generalized things you should know.


Not every SM has it. 

Not every person that has experienced combat has it/will get it.

You don’t have to have experienced combat or even be in the military to have PTSD.

There is a huge difference in how you treat Combat PTSD and MST (Military Sexual Trauma) PTSD.

Each case of PTSD is different- different symptoms, different reactions.  Don’t assume.


Things NOT to say to SMs or Vets

What was it like over there?

Did you kill anybody? How many people did you kill? Did you see any dead bodies? (or any variation of these)

It’s not like you were in any real danger.

But you got extra pay.

That’s nothing, my dad/uncle/grandpa. was in Vietnam/Korea/WW2.

I don’t believe in the war/ what are your beliefs on the US’s involvement/any anti-war sentiments.  (Many SMs and Vets don’t agree 100% with the politics behind the war , but they have no choice but to serve. Your opinions don’t add anything positive to the conversation.)

Are you glad to be home?

Let me buy you a drink!


I want to say that many people don’t understand that what seems like an innocent question can actually cause triggers, guilt or bad memories for someone that has served.  If you have small children, it’s best to explain to them before the arrival of a SM that it’s not polite to ask about dead bodies/killing people, etc.  Even the youngest of children have been de-sensitized to violence and won’t understand that their questions can cause problems.  What they think is “cool”- dead bodies, blood/guts, etc. could trigger an SM.

I don’t want the tone of this post to seem that we have to walk on eggshells around Veterans. Treat them normally, just be aware of what you’re saying.  If you’re not sure what to say, it might be best not to say anything.







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Do we, as a nation, have PTSD?

broken flag

I was asked this question at a conference two weeks ago. It took me a minute to respond.  No, I don’t think we, as a nation, have PTSD.  I think many more people have PTSD than are reported.  Many people have PTSD that don’t even realize they have it.

If I had to “diagnose” our nation, I’d say we suffer from Secondary Trauma.  What is Secondary Trauma?

Secondary Trauma used to be only associated with those in the helping professions- Therapists, Doctors, Clergymen.  Secondary traumatic stress can cause symptoms similar to the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which may include: feelings of fear, hopelessness, horror, anger, and rage; sleep disturbances; changes in memory; difficulty concentrating; and estrangement and detachment from others and from daily life. Thoughts about a client’s experiences may begin to intrude on a professional’s daily life.[had to hear about traumatic events over and over.  (Santa Clara University)


  Now, there is focus and research placed on family members of those with PTSD. Several schools of thought think that spouses of those suffering from PTSD have Secondary Trauma themselves.


How many people cringed after seeing planes take off the first few weeks after 9/11? Especially when those planes appeared to be approaching buildings.

How many people change the channel when they see the traumatic pictures of the dogs, cats and other animals paired with a sad Sarah McLachlan song, askinng for donations for the ASPCA?


The media and the internet give us instant and repeated access to trauma.  We need to examine what these images and sounds are doing to us, even if we aren’t “at the scene” of the trauma.


***This blog is for information/entertainment purposes only and is
not meant to be a substitute for mental health therapy. If you believe
you are suffering from a mental or physical illness see the
appropriate mental health/medical professional as soon as possible. If
the situation is life threatening dial 911 or proceed to the nearest
emergency room.***

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Walking on Eggshells


Whether you have a spouse with PTSD, a parent with a personality disorder or a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) anyone and everyone that has a loved one with a mental illness has walked on eggshells.

This came up in a recent therapy session- a spouse whose husband has PTSD vented her frustration about her needs not being met. She explained that she was tip-toeing around any sort of conflict or disagreement for fear that it would cause him to explode.

Let me assure you that walking on eggshells actually exacerbates the problem.

I would advise anyone that is trying to avoid confrontation to take some time and write down or examine what they need out of the relationship. If you need your teenage child to do his chores, if you need your spouse to stay within a monthly budget, if you need your spouse to be there for your emotional needs THAT’S OK! You should not sacrifice any of your needs to make your house/relationship “more harmonious”.

So how do you express your needs with your mentally ill loved one without causing WWIII? I would use the “choose your battles” principle. Pick a time when your loved one is in a relatively good mood and express yourself. Explain that you love and support them but you need the same from them.

Then start to work on this principle- “Learn to trust your inner sense of when to act and when to withdraw”*. If your teenager cleaned their room and did the dishes but left one dirty cup on the counter, do you need to address it, and if so, how? It depends on your situation. If your teenager has NEVER had a day where they cleaned their room and did the dishes without argument, pointing out a small negative instead of focusing on the two large positives might not be a good idea. However, if you just had a discussion the night before about keeping the kitchen clean to prevent ants, this would be a good time to bring up the cup.

* This principle is one of the Guides to Transforming Power, which is part of an awesome program called AVP- Alternatives to Violence Project. For more info on AVP visit

***This blog is for information/entertainment purposes only and is
not meant to be a substitute for mental health therapy. If you believe
you are suffering from a mental or physical illness see the
appropriate mental health/medical professional as soon as possible. If
the situation is life threatening dial 911 or proceed to the nearest
emergency room.***

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“You’re so sexist, can’t women have PTSD too?”

While no one has said that to me in my blog comments- yet 😉 –  I figure you might be wondering.  I’ve heard that question posed at many PTSD conferences, forums, etc.

YES, Women can have PTSD.  Female combat veterans, female rape victims, female accident victims, etc. (See my post on “What is PTSD?”) 

Studies have shown that women usually turn PTSD inward- depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, well men often display their PTSD outwardly- anger, violence and suicidal thoughts.

(Those are GENERAL terms.  I know there are women with PTSD out there that are fighting and raising hell and men that are crying themselves to sleep at night.)

Once again, the violence, domestic abuse, drinking, high risk taking behavior, etc in MALES is what is currently plaguing the Military and the VA system, hence the reason I’m focusing on it for now.

Don’t worry, this is a Mental Health blog, not just a PTSD blog.  Many more topics to come– especially if you leave feedback or send requests.



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