Why is Christmas hard to live through if you have PTSD?
Holidays can easily exacerbate the symptoms that go with the PTSD Identity. Often our feelings have been numbed and we just can’t experience or enjoy the holidays the way we used to. Our sense of self has been damaged, and thus our relationships with others are also damaged. Those around us usually cannot understand why we are different. And, sometimes, they will make you suffer for it.
PTSD and Christmas: What a combination to have to live through! Holidays are hard times to endure if you have PTSD. Given the commercialization of Christmas, it is already a difficult time of the year to get through on an even keel. Christmas is the time of the year where I am most likely to be knocked down in a mall and stepped on. It is also the time of the year where I am most likely to be criticized for being too slow as I move through the mall on my walker or using a cane.
This is the third time (now the fourth time on a different day) I am attempting to write a PTSD Spirituality post about Christmas. Why am I having such a hard time? In the big picture, this is a day which celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus, Second Person of the Trinity. Without the Incarnation, then there is no ministry of Jesus, no Passion, and no Resurrection. As a traditional Catholic, I believe the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ ministry, his death by enhanced interrogation techniques, and his Resurrection. The meaning and reality of Christmas are not totally lost on me.
Yet, since my time overseas and my time caught up in the American Medical Industry, Christmas in America has been a difficult time for me. I know I am bothered by the hypocrisy, drive-by caring, and commercialization of an otherwise meaningful religious celebration.
So what is it about Christmas in America that aggravates my PTSD?
-Isolation: Major holidays and personal days of importance are days I want to avoid. They heighten the PTSD Identity’s penchant for isolation. People who matter to you are either dead or distant. Often those who you do love and who love you are kept at a “PTSD-Distance” almost against your will. You want to be more open, you want to be more feeling and receptive, but your PTSD smothers you. It is a time when you really need some understanding because you may not even understand what is happening to you yourself. Sometimes the best you can do is just be present in the same room or residence with your loved ones, not because you are so unsociable, but because PTSD has crushed your ability to interact the way you used to. If your loved ones tend towards selfishness or they just plain don’t get it, they can make this very hard on you.
-Anger: Having survived trauma and having their outlook on life forever changed, survivors deal with anger on multiple levels. We might feel anger at the spoiled people who have been fortunate enough – or greedy enough – to have avoided trauma. These are the people who usually tell us to get over it, or it’s our own fault that we suffer. And, paradoxically, we may feel anger at ourselves for having PTSD. It is not unusual to become angry at the fact that I am angry.
-Guilt & Shame: Trauma survivors often feel guilt or shame at having lived through their afflictions. They may no longer feel worthy to enjoy the mundane giving of gifts and reunions with friends. They may feel unworthy of embracing a God who so loved the world that he became a human being through the incarnation.
– Crowds: For some of us, we have been trained to avoid crowds. That way a grenade won’t get all of us. If I avoid crowds I am less likely to be knocked to the ground by shoppers. If I avoid a crowd I am less likely to be either mocked for being slow or have to endure drive-by caring.
– Noise: PTSD sufferers are often susceptible to noise. Noises (and smells) often take their memories back to places they just as soon forget.
Holidays are usually hard days for people who have PTSD soul damage. They can be difficult to get through even for people who have not endured and survived trauma.
Yet, we can get through the holidays and not get destroyed by them. The next PTSD Spirituality blog post will address some ways to deal with PTSD during the holidays. If you read it or not, know that you matter. You have value. God made you in his image and likeness, just as he did his only begotten son.
If you like, leave comments on how the holidays impact your PTSD or how they affect people you know who have PTSD.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z