My military friend was injured. He/she cannot return to the front. How can I help? What to ask? Wonʼt I do worse? ― a sensitive explanation by Babel

Oksana Rasulova
Yuliana Skibitska
My military friend was injured. He/she cannot return to the front. How can I help? What to ask? Wonʼt I do worse? ― a sensitive explanation by Babel

Kateryna Bandus / «Бабель»

Being wounded during hostilities is one of the likely scenarios for the military. Injuries can ban a person from being at the front or military service in general. Therefore, a person needs not only medical help, but also psychological support — both from specialists and relatives. “Babel” journalist Oksana Rasulova spoke with psychotherapist and expert of the “This is OK” Ukrainian platform Anna Kaminska. Together, they talk about how not to harm a wounded person with excessive care and questioning, what symptoms of PTSD to look out for, and what to do when a wounded person rushes back to war. Although this text refers to military men, these tips are just as important for military women.

Injury and trauma are serious. Especially if after them people are not allowed to go to the front. How can the military respond to this?

Injury changes a person in general. For example, he or she will no longer be able to walk — needles to say about returning to the war. It causes strong emotions and experiences. They are different for everyone, but the most common ones are: depression, anger, irritation, despair, guilt and shame. Someone becomes reserved, and someone unrestrained, someone wants to be alone, and another requires more attention. If you are worried about a personʼs behavior, tell him or her about it. You donʼt need to demand anything, but share your feelings, ask how to help. The main thing is to speak softly and nonjudgmentally.

It seems itʼs two different people — in the hospital and at home. One was silent in the hospital, but now is constantly angry. Is this normal?

Yes, it happens. Especially with men, if they have a disability or are limited in their movements. Men are used to being strong figures in the family, itʼs difficult for them to accept that this has changed. Behind their anger, they hide real feelings — shame, guilt, confusion. But the opposite also happens — the wounded person starts feeling better at home, among close and understanding people. However, he will still have to adapt to the changes — it may take months or even years. Itʼs important that the injured person feels respected and supported. But no matter how serious the injury, donʼt try to surround a person with “extra care” and donʼt do for him what he can do on his own.

I want to ask about the moment of injury. Is it possible?

People with military experience often consciously choose not to discuss it with civilians, including loved ones. This also applies to the moment of injury. If you donʼt know whether itʼs okay to talk about it, ask directly. The same applies to other topics — specify what you can ask about. Silently waiting for a person to open up can drag on for a long time and build a wall between you.

He seems to relive those memories every time. Is this normal?

Not at all. This may be one of the symptoms of PTSD, but should be discussed with a professional. You can gently suggest that the injured person consult a psychotherapist for help. Choose specialists who work specifically with psychological trauma.

I hear a lot about PTSD. And what are the other symptoms that you can notice on your own?

The main symptom you need to be aware of is re-experiencing a traumatic event. For example, flashbacks are a strong and sudden experience of past experiences and emotions, or intrusive memories, when a person is sure that he really feels those smells, hears sounds, or sees pictures from the past. Terrible dreams about the trauma should also warn. A person may avoid conversations, places, or people that remind them of the traumatic event. Becomes irritable, anxious, depressed, avoids social contacts. With such symptoms, you should consult a psychotherapist or a psychologist who works with PTSD. But the diagnosis of PTSD can be established no earlier than a month after the traumatic event. Until then, a person may be in a state of acute reaction to stress. It passes — only 20% of military personnel have PTSD.

What about my condition? His injury and how he has changed scares me. Is it normal that I am experiencing this?

Of course, thatʼs fine. Injuries and their consequences, diseases and mutilations are very scary indeed. This is the loss of the previous image of a loved one, the image of a family, shared dreams and opportunities. It is normal to ask yourself how to continue living. Therefore, you can also seek psychological help.

The wounded man talks all the time about returning to the front. I know he canʼt, but he doesnʼt seem to hear me. What shall I do?

Indeed, many soldiers are not stopped even by disability. It is important to talk about it with him, describe your attitude, thoughts with regard to his health. But respect the personʼs decision. The choice to defend oneʼs country is a very personal one, decisive for many. And itʼs impossible to counteract it — only to accept it.

Maybe I should tell him that he doesnʼt love and doesnʼt appreciate his loved ones, since he decided to go to the front again?

No, this is blackmailing, ultimatum, and manipulation. This is an indicator of a not quite healthy relationship. In a healthy one, people are flexible, able to adapt to changes, keep their own boundaries and remain autonomous, but can act cohesively as a whole system. Then people feel accepted, comfortable and protected.

He feels inferior because of the injury and says that there is no future. What shall I do?

Such a reaction is completely predictable and natural. A person has to search for the meaning of life anew, and to do it by himself. Itʼs a big and complex internal job that takes time. Itʼs impossible to return from a combat zone where there is a lot of death and instantly switch to everyday life in the rear. It is necessary to pay attention to this condition and seek psychological help as soon as possible in order to prevent it from developing. It should be done when a person is already able to physically communicate with psychologists.

He does not want to go to a psychologist. What shall I do? How to force him?

In no way. The only way out is to accept it. Perhaps a person will never turn to a psychologist at all. Itʼs definitely not necessary to force this, and there will be no benefit from working with a psychologist in this case. Excessive attempts at persuasion will only cause resistance. If itʼs difficult for you to accept the condition, decisions and behavior of a person, you can turn to a specialist yourself. Not in order to show the result on your own example, but to help yourself.

He says that he is of no use outside the front. How to convince that it isnʼt so?

It is important to find something in which a person can be really useful. This can be volunteering, teaching others from their own combat experience, survival skills, providing first aid and local orientation, veteran business or projects. You can apply for a scholarship in a specialty that will help you find yourself in civilian life. Yes, it is difficult and long process. Building a new identity takes time. How much — depends on the scale of lost opportunities.

Why isnʼt he happy that he just stayed alive? This is so important.

It is impossible to fully understand what a person experienced in the war, if you havenʼt been there yourself. It may seem to you that the very fact of survival is enough, but you shouldnʼt try the experience of the military on yourself. A person will never be the same again. And the military really rarely feel the joy of just being alive, their feelings are very complex.

Is there any universal advice, how can I help? Maybe there is some algorithm and list?

Unfortunately no. Itʼs natural that you want simple steps, but there are no instructions. This is all a long process, where there should be support, acceptance, respect, empathy, care and gratitude. The latter is very important for the military.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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