My last two blog posts defined PTSD and what it’s like to live with the symptoms. Because of how prevalent this mental disorder is, the chances are high that someone close to you may be suffering in silence.
What can we do?
If I have learned anything from the women at Amirah, it is this mantra: Have empathy, not pity.
Our women are strong, intelligent, beautiful warriors. But they are wounded. Being a gentle, positive presence in someone’s life is sometimes the best thing you can do. Don’t try to fix the problem, just be present with the person in their pain.
I know that concept is hard because in our current solution-focused culture, we are taught that anytime there is a problem, we should fix it. We want so badly to avoid discomfort and pain that we often fail to listen to what the pain is trying to tell us.
I remember the week after my mother died. I was thirteen and devastated. The people in my life who were trying to help me said things like, “Please don’t cry.” Or they would avoid me altogether because they had no idea what to say.
What do you say? Even though there is nothing you can say to make the pain go away, there are some things you can say to let them know you care, not making it worse. A few examples are:
“It’s okay to cry."
"I’m so sorry you are hurting, I’m here for you."
"I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.”
Try to avoid common platitudes like, “God only gives us what we can handle,” or “This will only make you stronger.” Though they are well intentioned, they can often cause guilt and confusion in the sufferer.
The truth is there is nothing YOU can do or say to make the pain go away. But you can be with someone so they don’t have to be alone in their pain. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to say - no one does. Just sit silently with them. Allow them to cry. Allow them to have a panic attack. That is an appropriate emotional expression given the pain they are experiencing. And don’t worry, pain is not a sign of weakness, and it is not contagious.
Another problem we face in comforting those in need is the current medical model of treatment for PTSD and other mental illness. Clinicians want a quick fix; throw a pill at the problem; treat the symptom.
I am all for psychopharmacology, but it must be accompanied by some therapeutic modality if you want to treat the underlying cause of the symptom. The majority of insurance companies only pay for 12 weeks of outpatient therapy, that calculates to only 9 hours of therapy per year.
PTSD is complex. It is not something you can make disappear like a headache after an Advil. It’s much more complicated and takes years to treat. This leads me to my final piece of advice for what you can do for someone suffering with PTSD.
Allow them as much time as they need to heal. Don’t expect them to be back to normal in a year or even two. Every individual responds differently to trauma. Give them the space, time and empathy they need for deep healing. Respect their personal space. Before I sit next to any of our women, I ask if it is okay. This gives them the opportunity to have control over who enters their personal space, something they did not have when they were being trafficked.
This post is the final post in a series on PTSD.