The holidays are known as "the most wonderful time of the year," but for many, the holidays bring waves of sadness, stress, loneliness, and depression. Author Welby O'Brien is here to help. Her books, websites, and blogs serve to assist us to understand the needs of so many who dread the holiday season. Her message is a combination of sensible advice and solid spiritual hope, sharing from her personal experience as well as through her training as a counselor.
O'Brien holds a Master's Degree in counseling from Portland State University and a teaching degree from Biola University, and based on her own life journey she has authored LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD (www.LoveOurVets.org), Goodbye for Now (grief support/preparation), and Formerly A Wife (divorce recovery).
She is also a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America, as well as Shepherding Women in Pain. Welby initiated and continues to facilitate the spouse and family support network known as Love Our Vets - PTSD Family Support, LLC.
Q: Welby, thank you for doing this interview with us. Let's start with yourself: you have written extensively on grief and recovery. What attracted you first to write about this subject?
A: I sure didn't start out in life expecting to have so many bumps along the way! And never would have chosen pain, trauma, and loss as my theme. But thankfully I came to know the Lord at an early age, and because of His love and grace I've been able to share what I've learned IN those deep valleys. All three books were a result of needing them myself at the time (divorce, grief, and PTSD) when there was very little available. I share my own struggles and what I learned, as well as input from many others who have walked the same road, in hopes of offering practical help and solid hope for others in pain.
Q: You have written quite a few books on this subject about grief and recovery. Tell us a little about your books.
A: The first book, Formerly a Wife, came several years after my own divorce. We had been married for 12 years. My husband was in the ministry and we had a three year old little boy. One day he came to me and said, "Welby I don't want to be married anymore." And 2 weeks later he was off with someone else.
My world came crashing in! At the time there was no one in my life who had been through divorce, and there were very few books available, and none for women in particular. Thankfully I knew the Lord, had a good counselor, and many prayer warriors. I kept a journal of my feelings, failures, victories, and growth. The book was a result of wanting to share with others what I had learned in hopes of encouraging them on their road to healing.
The second book, Goodbye for Now, came after my father died. With no idea of what to do or how, my mom and I just stumbled around. We were totally overwhelmed with the looming plethora of tasks, in addition to all the waves of grief and other emotions! So after we muddled through, I realized the desperate need for a guide to help people right off the bat to successfully get through those first few days and weeks, when all you can do is just barely survive. The uniqueness of Goodbye for Now is that it is ideal for right before the loved one dies, and right after. This is the book you want to share with people who are losing or have just lost a loved one, and helps us all prepare for our own "goodbye" as well. The last section is rich with scriptural promises such as comfort, salvation, and hope of heaven.
The third book, LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD, all started when I fell in love with a Veteran. He told me from the get-go that he had PTSD, but I didn't have a clue! I knew this was an exceptional man and a relationship worth fighting for, but I needed to know if it was possible to have a loving fulfilling relationship in spite of the PTSD. After much prayer, counseling, and reading all I could get my hands on (which wasn't much!), now many years later, I can say without a doubt, "It IS possible!" However, it is not easy, and those who live with PTSD, and their loved ones, need all the help and support they can get. (See www.LoveOurVets.org for support resources.)
So the book is a result of all I learned over the years, combined with input from many others who were way ahead of my on the journey. It addresses over 60 questions unique to those living in the world of PTSD, and also devotes an entire section to self-care.
Q: As Christmas is approaching, what are some of the warning signs that show that a person we love is hurting?
A: The holiday season can be difficult for many people as it is, but when compounded by trauma, grief, or other loss, it can be totally overwhelming. Some typical symptoms of post-traumatic stress include anxiety, avoidance, depression, being easily startled, fear, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts of the trauma, irritability, difficulty holding a job, memory blocks, nightmares, numbing, outbursts of anger or other emotions, substance abuse and other addictive behaviors, relationship problems, sleep problems, putting up walls, withdrawing and unfortunately suicidal thoughts. They need to know there is help and hope!
Q: How can people who are suffering from loss, divorce, PTSD, and depression manage the holidays?
A: In all three books I include a "Checklist for Survival," which is a list of self-care items we all need, especially in times of loss or extra stress. Remember that you are in survival mode, and there is no way to do this perfectly. It is crucial that we tune in to what we need, and give ourselves permission to tend to those needs. Burnout is a real danger, especially when we erroneously think we should always try to keep others happy, and take care of ourselves only as a last resort.
Feeling the feelings in a healthy way is one of the biggies. Do all you can to avoid the temptation to numb yourself. We are not responsible for the painful and ugly feelings that come uninvited, but we are responsible for what we do with them. Learning to be aware of them, own them, and then deal with them in a constructive (not destructive) way, is so important.
Surrounding ourselves with good support, staying current with our medications and healthcare providers, taking care of our physical needs (sleep, exercise, nutrition, etc.), and spending time with God in prayer and soaking up His Word, will truly be lifelines that pay off.
For more help and hope, you can also read my blog PTSD and Seasonal Stress.
Q: What can we as individuals and the church do to help in such situations?
A: First off, do what we can to see that their immediate needs are met. That might be offering a helping hand somehow, or connecting them with needed resources (financial, counseling, peer support, etc.). Praying with them and for them can also be a comfort.
I think most people, whether in pain or not, basically need three things:
1. To know they are not alone
2. To know someone cares
3. To know they have hope beyond what this broken world can offer
For more insight and ideas, you might read 10 Things People with PTSD and Their Loved Ones Need (From Church People and Ministry Leaders)
Q: What are some survival tips you can give us as we get really busy over Christmas?
A: All the items on the Checklist for Survival in the books would be a good place to start. This time of year, it is especially important to stay tuned to our needs, whether they are spiritual, physical, or emotional. And don't wait until you have a meltdown before you take care of them! (Been there.) ;)
Carving out time to get alone may sound like a fantasy, but it will allow you time to not only recharge, but also to evaluate what is most important right now.
Healthy boundaries are also essential. Learning to say "No," without feeling obliged to explain, might be a challenge, but vital to busy-season survival. And along with that, remember we can't (and don't have to) keep everyone happy!
Q: How can your resources help us during this season?
A: The books Formerly a Wife (divorce recovery), Goodbye for Now (grief preparation and support), and LOVE OUR VETS (PTSD support) are all designed to help, uplift, and encourage those in need. You can find more about them at www.welbyo.com, and there are also links to Amazon for paperback and electronic copies.
For those who struggle with PTSD, my other website www.LoveOurVets.org is rich with information and helpful resources (videos, graphics, lists of support organizations, peer support groups, etc.) for people battling PTSD as well as for those who love them.
I also have an ongoing blog on both websites: www.welbyo.com for a faith-based reflection blog offering spiritual encouragement all year round, and www.LoveOurVets.org for a more universal blog devoted to loved ones of those with PTSD.
Q: How would you define joy? And how can one be joyful despite our circumstances?
A: For most people, joy and gratitude are the result of having a higher score of positive things in our lives than negative. Imagine that we chalk up one point for every thing that goes well, and dock a point for those that don't go the way we want. Then (and only then) IF the good outweighs the bad, we can be thankful and feel happy. Or is that just counterfeit joy?
When I lost my father to cancer, I didn't feel very joyful. But gradually as the reality of God's promises and the solid hope of salvation started sinking in, my perspective changed. The pain was still there, but I was able to give thanks.
Deep and lasting joy is not based on temporary situations, or anything we can touch or see in this world: bank account, body-image, health, physical comfort, politics, stress level, etc. Our scoring system should reflect only what will last forever! Genuine joy comes from relying fully on God's Word.
And when we pause in the middle of all the stress and heaviness to claim God's promises freely offered through His Son Jesus Christ, true joy and gratitude can warm our hearts, comfort us, and uphold us!
It is possible to weep and give thanks at the same time. 100 years from now our relationship with the Lord is the only thing that will matter - our true treasure. And because of God's grace, regardless of what our fleeting earthly situation may be, we are heaven-bound and can truly "Rejoice in the Lord always!" (Phil. 4:4)
I hope you know the Lord, and can take comfort in His peace and joy this season.
Join Welby and thousands of others on Facebook: Love Our Vets - PTSD Family Support, LLC on Facebook. www.welbyo.com