So, I disappeared off the radar, again - this time for good reason. All of my spare time has been dedicated to contending with family issues at home. The end result: My wife and I are entering into a trial separation, as of today. Before anyone overreacts to this, I need to make this clear - it was a mutual decision. We have taken this step BECAUSE we love each other and want to save our marriage.
Seems counter-intuitive, right?
It really isn't and I'm going to explain why so that maybe the lessons we've learned from all of this will help other couples in distress for the same reasons. I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to write about this, but I felt I needed to articulate in writing our thought process - that and blogging always helps me process through my emotions, so...Here we go.
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I've been struggling with PTSD and depression for years now. Back on November 8th, 2010, my amazing and wonderful daughter, Caley, was born. When I held her for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the profundity of my love for her. It was at that moment that I had the insidious and destructive thought: "If anything ever happened to her..."
My PTSD headed very quickly into a downward spiral and the depression followed, gleefully riding the coattails of my PTSD on the way down. I withdrew completely from my wife and from my daughter over the course of the next year, leaving my wife to contend with caring for two kids on her own: Our beautiful newborn, and me.
I hit rock bottom in early 2012 when my wife confronted me with my withdrawal and gave me the ultimatum: Get help or we are leaving. This sounds really blunt but my wife had tried every other way of getting my attention and nothing had worked. I was so deeply in the throes of my own despair that I needed the emotional slap in the face to be able to see through the fog of my depression. When I did, I was horrified. I had emotionally abandoned my family. The guilt I felt was crushing - so crushing that I seriously considered committing suicide so that I wouldn't be able to hurt them anymore. That's how insidious depression can be. I couldn't see the forest for the trees and almost deprived my daughter of a father and my wife of a husband - Not because I wanted to selfishly end it all, but because I couldn't see any way of preventing my family from getting hurt again.
To this day, I still don't know what, exactly, pulled me back from the ledge but I'm grateful that I found a way. Just thinking about how close I came still horrifies me and always will. Over the course of the next few days, I started to gain a bit of clarity and was able to make a compact with myself - that I would never, EVER, let things get this bad ever again. I knew that the road ahead of me was going to be long and painful, but I needed desperately to be the Father and Husband I know I can be when the PTSD and the depression haven't taken me hostage.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, I have put in the work. I've gone to therapy, learned how to effectively cope with my PTSD and depression, learned how to watch for warning signs that I may be headed in the wrong direction and also learned that I needed to remove as much unnecessary stress from my life as I possible could.
The end result:
Up until a few months ago, I thought that the whole concept of Post Traumatic Growth was a load of crap. I found myself, all of a sudden, full of drive and energy and motivation to live life and live up to the ideals I had always striven for. I finally felt I was WORTH fighting for.
What happened next completely blindsided both my wife and I. It sucks and it hurts, but I think you will see clearly how we got to this point.
I Need Some Time Apart to Clear My Head
Over the course of the past few months, I noticed that my wife was getting angrier and angrier with me over the smallest of transgressions. I started talking to her about it and expressed a desire to get help and get therapy, for both of us, if necessary. Nothing ever came of it and I thought, after some very serious heart to hearts, that we were moving past the anger and emotional distance (things have deteriorated so far for my wife that she's completely emotionally closed off and unable to show affection or appreciation - we've been living like roommates for the better part of the past year).
Over the course of the past few weeks, things had gotten progressively worse between us and it seemed like the hurt feelings and emotional distance were gaining momentum, regardless of how I tried to reconcile with my wife. The end result: I told my wife that I couldn't live like this anymore - that I felt like I was walking on eggshells because the was angry all of the time and was either unable or unwilling to be intimate or reciprocate my affection.
That's when she said those fateful words: "I think I need some time apart to clear my head". I felt the bottom fall out from under me and I clung desperately to the edge of my sanity.
Over the course of the past week and a half, I've climbed out and things have settled down. Yes, my wife and I are separating but it's a mutual decision and I'm going to take the time to explain why this doesn't mean the end of our marriage.
The Five Stages of Grief
It was only after I had finally accepted what needed to happen that I just gone through the five stages of grief for the state of our relationship. It's analogous to the stages of grief that a person would go through when the doctor had told them that their loved one being kept alive by life support was going to be taken off of it according to wishes presented in their living will - the machines would be turned off and the person would either breathe on their own or they'd die. For our marriage, things were very much the same. My wife needed to get the space she needed (turning off the machines) so that she could process through the intensity of her emotions and figure out whether she was able to move past them and recommit to trusting me and loving me the way she knows I need (finding out whether our marriage will breathe on its own). Here's how the five stages of grief play into this:
However, rather than a means to an end, separation can be a helpful tool to stay together. This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is troubled and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge together more, get as close as we can, and do more to "make the marriage work".
After reading that excerpt, things started to make a whole lot more sense. Our lives were financially stable, our work was stable, and most importantly, I wasn't only stable, I was ME again - the guy with the inner fire and the sense of purpose. It was finally safe for my wife to not be in survival mode anymore and when she let down the walls she had put up to survive, she was completely overwhelmed with how angry she was. She fully recognizes that I never meant to hurt her, but the end result was the same: She felt like she had been betrayed and abandoned by me for the better part of the past almost four years, since our daughter was born. As anyone will tell you, the more deeply you love someone, the more deeply you hurt when you feel abandoned and betrayed by him.
All of a sudden, I understood completely why she needed separation. The emotions she was feeling were so intense that any time she saw me, it triggered her emotions and none of them were particularly happy ones. The only way she could possibly start to work through all of this is by removing the source of the pain: Me. So, a few nights ago, I explained to my wife that I accepted her need for separation and why. Believe it or not, it was a huge relief for both of us. Up until that point, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find a way to accept her need for space and that the marriage would end before we even had a chance to work on it - not because we wanted it to, but because of irreconcilable differences.
Over the past few days, we've spent a lot of time getting on the same page and laying out the groundwork for separation and what it means for us and for our daughter. By loving my wife and supporting her in her need for space, we have already started down the right road. It may sound weird, but working together to coordinate the separation has been the closest my wife and I have been in years - because we are working together to save our marriage and working together hasn't been in the cards for a while now. In the next blog post, I will detail our Separation Contract, what it entails, and why. I could continue on and make this all one massive blog post, but this seems like a logical place to split it up. I know that there are readers out there that are probably in the same position we are in and can't seem to find a way forward. I hope that the struggle that I've gone through, both with the PTSD and Depression and with coming to terms with my wife's need for separation can help those of you out there that find yourselves facing a similar scenario.
Thank you all for your constant support and continued readership.
I know I haven't blogged in a while. I haven't kept up on a lot of the things that I need to be. I have been feeling really burned out and have been struggling in a lot of ways that have not been easy on me or my family. This is really raw and emotional for me, so bear with me...
I have been working in a high tempo, high stress, retail environment for four years now. When I first started working there, I was a rising star. It took two years for me to implode and end up on short-term disability. When my daughter had been born a few months before I went out on disability, it sent me into a tailspin. I obsessed about being a supernatural provider and withdrew emotionally at home, cutting off my wife and daughter from love and companionship. Thus, I went out on disability.
When I returned to work after fighting through my PTSD and learning to cope, I swore that I would always be prescient at home from now on. My goal was come home from work with the energy and emotional awareness to be a good father and attentive husband. What ended up happening is that my reliability at work and my availability suffered greatly. It was made clear by my employer that they needed a level of reliability that I have not been providing over the past few months.
This raised my stress level at work, making work a 'non-permissive' environment - a place where I was at risk of losing my job or benefits or both if I couldn't sort this out. It made me realize, regress my performance to a mean over time and it is readily apparent that retail work is grinding me down and taking a long-term cumulative toll on my performance at work. That toll has sped up since I swore to always put my family first.
So now I have some hard decisions to make. The only work I find fulfilling is being of service to others. I have to balance what is best for me long-term with the welfare of my family. It's not a fun place to be, but one I am confident I will work through.
I know I haven't been active recently in the community I created. I know I haven't blogged as much. For that I am sorry. I needed to set myself in motion and resolve this issue with employment. Now that I have the short-term leeway to figure it out while ensuring the welfare of my family is giving me the time and space I need to figure all of this out.
I want to thank all of those people who have reached out to me via email to express concern over not hearing from me and from my readers who reached out to ask how I was doing. I truly value your compassion and understanding!
It's amazing how quickly medical problems can add up to turn coping with PTSD into trying to walk through a minefield. I'm struggling to understand why all of these random health problems seem to keep happening to me, but it's getting old and particularly challenging to deal with. While I am not out of the woods yet, I am starting to feel a little better. That being said, the stress of this past week has taken an incredible toll on my wife and I. I am physically exhausted as my body continues its struggle to heal. My wife is beyond emotionally exhausted after having to resume the role of full-time caregiver of our daughter (and me). What makes that even worse is that these were physical issues on my part that were not (as far as we know) related to my PTSD.
Here's the synopsis:
As you can see, it's been a long week. While I am proud that I have been able to keep a lid on the anger (barely), it has been substantially more difficult to keep the catastrophic thinking and anxiety at bay over the course of this week - especially when I thought about my job security. At some point a company is going to decide they've had enough and I live in an at-will employment state. I kept on thinking, with how unreliable I have been because of health issues over the past year, they would be justified in letting me go. While that outcome is improbable, the catastrophic thinking was pushing to convince me that I was going to lose my job.
Sooo,,,Now that I have turned the corner with my health issues and finally feel like I am on the road to recovery, I now have to contend with the emotional/PTSD fallout from everything I went through this past week. The anxiety and adrenalin are still going strong and it is hard to keep a lid on them and not freak out. But I am still here, somehow.
I can't even imagine how hard this past week has been on my wife, She just can't seem to catch a break and enjoy a little bit of stability, what with the PTSD and the random health issues. It makes me feel incredibly guilty. While I know that the physical issues are completely out of my control, it doesn't change how guilty I feel that she had to experience that emotional distress, take care of me and our two year old, and work to bring in money to keep us financially stable. Seeing her that distraught and still fighting made my heart clench in my chest. She just never gives up. She fights until she literally can't stand up anymore. It's disturbing to think of where I might be right now if it wasn't for the amazing fortitude of my wife and the strength of her love for me. It's why I will always be dedicated to her, working as hard as I can to see her happy and fulfilled, despite my problems.
Tomorrow is Superbowl Sunday. All I keep thinking about is how we need tomorrow to be uneventful and restful, for both our sakes. So, here's to hoping.
As always, the post-holiday funk lasted longer than I expected it to. I have been trying for over a week to write something meaningful for my blog, but have been dissatisfied with what I had written and deleted a total of seven drafts before finally figuring out what was bothering me so much.
I was depressed, severely. I had no idea why and it was frustrating as all hell to find a way to articulate why being depressed made me feel annoyed and angry with myself. After all, the rest of the holiday season went pretty smoothly. I didn't have any major issues with my PTSD. I didn't have any anger issues with family. I really enjoyed my time that I did get to spend with family, despite my standing desire to avoid large family gatherings out of fear of my PTSD getting the better of me in those situations. I refused to let my fear of the PTSD keep me from enjoying the company of family I don't get to see very often.
So, imagine my surprise when I woke up on January Second, depressed as all hell and fighting the urge to hide in a deep, dark hole for the better part of the month. Why the hell am I still depressed? It doesn't make any sense. Why would I be depressed when everything went so well?
It took me until tonight to finally put two and two together. It was the release of pent up stress from working in a store that experiences extremely high customer traffic. Having to contend with large crowds, disgruntled and stressed co-workers, demanding customers, and substantially less sleep ratcheted up my stress level substantially. It was the release of this pent up stress that triggered the depression.
So now, I have to claw my way back out of this funk so that I can focus on all of the things that matter to me most: Family and Family. I am thinking that the break from blogging, while necessary, deprived me of an essential release valve for my stress.
I have my first individual and group therapy sessions of the year tomorrow and I am really looking forward to getting back into that groove as well. Maybe other reasons will present themselves during therapy. I am certainly hoping that I can make a breakthrough tomorrow. This depression is sucking the motivation out of me faster than I can recharge my batteries.
Am I the only one experiencing this? I doubt it. It would be very helpful to hear from you all on this matter.
My wife and I were talking yesterday about how we both tended to respond to situations out of habits formed over the past two years. I didn't to do something, my wife gets frustrated and mad, I feel guilty and withdraw. For any other vets and spouses, does this sound familiar? I am sure we are not the only ones who have fallen victim to habit.
When I realized what was going on, my wife and I talked about it and we came to an agreement, a compromise that will hopefully help us from falling into those habits. Here's what we agreed on:
What's the reasoning? I have a tendency to fall asleep for a nap after work because work is very energy consuming. The end result: There are a list of tasks that I would normally do that didn't get done that, over the course of time, made my wife resent me for not doing. My wife and I talked about this and she agreed to afford me the opportunity to show her that I DO CARE. So after coming to this agreement, I thought a lot about the stress my wife was under. My wife did all of the work around the house. This was because she either didn't think I would remember to do my tasks or she thought that I didn't care. This led to an enormous amount of Caregiver Stress and eventually, Burnout.
So today we tried an experiment. I had a day off today. Last night I talked with my wife about going out somewhere and doing something. While she was gone I would do chores around the house and afford her the opportunity to decompress and unwind. She said, "Well, some of the folks from the gym are going out for breakfast tomorrow..."
So this morning we woke up, and my wife went out to breakfast with friends, leaving our daughter with me. After breakfast, she went out to the mall. While she was gone, I vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, mopped the floors, and folded my laundry - all while trying to keep my daughter entertained. When my wife came home in the early afternoon, she said she felt stoned. I jokingly told her, "This is what feeling relaxed feels like." Later in the afternoon, my wife got ready and left for work. I prepared dinner for Caley and me and then cleaned up the kitchen. My wife came home from work relaxed, happy, and grateful - three things I haven't allowed her to feel in way too long.
Now the evening is mine. I get the rest of the night to relax. So it works out well for everyone. It also helps me feel better because I don't feel like a burden rather than a husband.
I would really love to hear from Veterans and their spouses on this issue. It's too important to ignore.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.