This is a subject I still struggle to get right. How do you know when is the best time to share your struggles with family and friends? How much do you share? Are you ready to share at all?
These questions can drive a person nuts when they are still recovering from an episode. It can slow down the recovery or even set it back a little. The way I see it is simple:
Don't share until you are stable if the person you are telling is emotionally invested in your well-being (i.e. - parents, spouses, etc.) This can cause them unnecessary worry and make them feel obliged to offer up unsolicited advice. Find someone you can share with who is outside of your real world support group. Having someone to talk to that will remain clear-headed is a must. So many folks are concerned about being transparent with their loved ones that they forget that this healing process is for them too! Take time out for yourself. Any other approaches to these questions, let me know!
Three times in the past day I have been asked how you reassure your wife that it's not her fault. Many combat vets with PTSD, when they are in a bad stretch, become emotionally detached. They become depressed, unresponsive to the loving administrations of their spouse. The bad news: There is no silver bullet to fix this.
The good news: There is a lot you can do to reinforce that your PTSD is not her fault.
The following is based on my personal experience:
I'm a Failure: many spouses feel like a failure if they can't snap you out of it. They feel that your emotional distance is because they have done something to make you love them less. We all know this is not the case. Logically, they know that it's not their fault, but their heart is telling them something different.
Recommendation: Even though you don't feel up to it, force yourself to reassure her. Touch her on the arm, give her hugs, back rubs, your undivided attention for just a second to look her in the eyes and tell her it's NOT HER FAULT. Make sure it registers. Say it as often as needed.
Feeling Isolated: Look into finding her a support group for spouses who are struggling. In many cases, just knowing she's not the only one going through this can validate her feelings and make it easier to accept that the PTSD is the problem - not her.
Recommendation: A really good resource for this can be found here if you prefer face-to-face support. There are a lot of online peer-to-peer support networks. Check out this website for more information. You need to help your spouse find the support she needs. It can be hard to focus on anything other than yourself - PTSD is inherently a selfish malady from my experience (selfish, as in you get wrapped up in yourself and have not time for anyone else).
Feeling Overwhelmed: Your spouse, when things get this bad, often has to do everything alone - tending the house, working, tending to children, paying bills, etc. Oh yeah, and tending to YOU.
Recommendation: Take all of that responsibility for a while. As exhausting as it will be for you to tend to everything for a day, tell your wife to go take a day for herself. You take care of everything at home. If you don't trust yourself to attend to the children and you have family nearby, tell them the situation and ask them to take the children off your hands to help your spouse stay sane. If you are feeling stable enough to reciprocate emotionally, take a day away for both of you. Your gentle and intimate touch can make all the difference in the world.
These are the big ones I can think of. There are other marital issues, but concerning reassuring your spouse that your PTSD is not her fault is pretty well covered by this list. If there is anything I didn't cover or any specific questions, please comment on this blog post. I would also love to hear from other people to hear what they do to battle this.
I was unaware of this Presidential Decree until a few days ago. Thank you, President Obama. This day of appreciation is long overdue. I can't even begin to explain all of the ways my wife has been there for me over the last four and a half years. What I do know is this: I wouldn't be happy and successful if it wasn't for her. I love you, Dani, with all of my heart. Thank you for being my hero!
Ok, so what does this mean for everyone else? So much attention is put on the war-fighters that often the general public forgets that this war is fought at home by military spouses as well. If a service-member is worried about what is going on at home, they aren't focused on their mission - distraction leads to devastation. So many spouses out there fight the war by assuming the stress and responsibility of every aspect of home life that they normally share with their partner. They are, in many cases, incredibly stressed out. When they talk to their loved ones, though...Everything is going GREAT!
For most, there is a huge sigh of relief when the spouse returns home and adjusts. They pick up where they left off, work at getting to know each other again and carry on. For some, there is no relief. Their loved ones return home, broken in mind, body and spirit. The spouse is left to pick up the pieces of a shattered memory of their loved one and get to acquaint themselves with a whole new person. PTSD has left an indelible mark on our society that will not be forgotten or ignored. It can't be. After a decade of sustained conflict, thousands of spouses have been shouldering the burden of caring for a service-member. Up until last year, the recognition warranted for their heroic efforts have been largely ignored by our society. THIS MUST END.
Granted, spouses have each other to turn to for support. They also have (thanks to the internet) incredible support forums to learn and share their experiences. We have Veterans' Day. They now have Military Spouse Appreciation Day. I don't care if no one in your family has ever served. You still understand the sacrifices that military families make, day in and day out. Take the time of your busy day and thank a military spouse. It's amazing how far a simple 'thank you' can go. And for all those service-members out there with a spouse either at home waiting for your return or supporting you as you adjust to civilian life, take the time out of your day to reflect on all that your spouse has done for you. I felt guilty for not having said the words sooner. My wife knows I appreciate everything that I do for her, but I still can't believe I have never said the words.
Thank You, Spouses, For Everything You Do! We Would Be Nothing Without You!!!
This one is directed to all of those families out there dealing with Combat Related PTSD that have children. Have you thought about what you would or should do if your spouse has a severe or prolonged episode? Dani and I have talked about this extensively and we have come up with a plan that works for us. Here's what we decided on.
I know it sounds extreme, but I would go to any lengths to ensure the safety and peace of mind of my daughter and wife. I am not recommending that every family set up a plan just like this one. I am asking that you talk about it with your spouse and come up with a plan that you feel comfortable with, if you feel it's even necessary. I don't think that it will ever be necessary, but I would rather have a contingency plan in place in the event that something drastic causes my world to come crashing down around me.
First off, I wanted to thank Kenna for asking the question that motivated me to write this: Kenna asked me to clarify what I meant by 'get away' in my last blog post and I visited her blog to learn more about what she was actually struggling with so that I could address her question appropriately. From what her blog says, loving someone with PTSD is very new to her and she is struggling to learn how to deal with it. Kenna, you are not alone in this and thank you for having the courage to learn how to support someone with PTSD. Here's what I can tell you about my experience with this feeling and what I know causes me to need to 'get away'.
When I am feeling the effects of my PTSD the emotions I feel are anger, guilt, depressed, afraid, confused. I am angry that people died. I am guilty that I survived and they didn't . I am depressed because I can't deal with the intensity of either emotion. I am afraid that I won't come out of the funk I am in. I am confused because I have NO IDEA what caused the episode this time.
A caregiver's innate response to a loved one being in distress is to want to comfort by hugging, touching, talking and, in general, 'being there' (being in close proximity) for the one in distress. In most cases, this is actually the worst reaction a loved one can have.
When I am episodal, the I am feeling all of these intense negative emotions. If my wife was to try to 'comfort' me, I wouldn't be able to handle it. Here's why: The emotions I am feeling are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to the ones she feels for me. I can't handle both sets of intense emotional input at the same time. Because I don't have any choice but to feel the emotions I am feeling, my response is to get rid of the source of the other emotions that I am not ready to deal with - i.e. I feel an overwhelming need to 'get away' from my wife and all other external input that might make it harder for me to deal with my PTSD.
What My Wife and I Have Learned:
Lesson One: Communication is Everything.
We keep the lines of communication open at all times. I let her know what kind of mood I am in and how my PTSD is currently affecting me. Depending on the answer that she gets will dictate how much she interacts with me at that given time. If I am episodal, she doesn't even need to talk to me. She has learned to recognize the signs and leaves me alone to work through it. She knows that when I am ready, I will come to her and talk to her about what I have been dealing with.
Lesson Two: Create a space in your house/apartment that is their 'PTSD Fallout Shelter'.
It is important that the person who has PTSD has a safe place IN THE HOME that they can retreat to when the need arises. I cannot stress how important this is. If the person suffering from PTSD feels the need to 'get away' and only has to go downstairs and play video games in his man-cave to get away, he never has to leave the house. This is critical. So many horrible things happen when the person with PTSD is forced to leave the safety of their home to find this space.
Lesson Three: Be Patient.
As a caregiver, it can be incredibly hard to resist the need to 'smother' their significant other with love and support. You have to have the patience to wait until they are ready to receive what you have to offer them. Do not take it personally if it takes a while and DO NOT EVER THINK IT'S YOUR FAULT!!!
OK, I think that's all of the important topics. Thank you, Kenna, for asking this question. If you need any further clarification or if this has brought up new questions that you would like answered, please let me know!
Ok, so the past few days were rough on me. I needed a few days off from everything and it really helped me gain some much needed perspective. My daughter was the one that really brought me around. She seemed to know that I was very upset and was adamant that every waking moment she had be spent smiling and giggling at daddy. Not only that, but she gave me my first REAL hug and my heart melted. All of my problems went away for a little bit. She is as compassionate as her mother and has eyes only for me. I love every moment of it can't think of anything else I would rather end the day with: A kiss from my loving wife and a smile from my daughter. The best medicine in the world.
The day started off great. We went down to her parents' house and I guess, after church, the exertion from the past few days caught up with me and I passed out on the bed with my sleeping daughter. I woke up having partially aspirated bile that came up the back of my throat while I was reliving me most horrendous experiences as nightmares. Needless to say, that set the tone for the rest of my day. Gagging and almost vomiting in the bathroom because of aspirating a little bit of bile didn't help and I felt like I had to puke for the next few hours. I was afraid to draw a full breath because it made me want to gag and vomit all over again. It's the first time in a long time that something like this has happened outside the safety of my home and it really shook me. I also have to deal with feeling guilty because I partially ruined my wife's birthday. How do you explain to your in-laws that you just had a traumatic event and need to get the hell away from everyone and everything? I know that my behavior at their home probably left them feeling clueless and, I wouldn't doubt, insulted and a little concerned. I would be if I was in their shoes.
But, hey. I am home, my wife and my daughter are safe and I am back to some semblance of calm. I now have to worry about what caused this to come out of left field the way it did. Did something trigger this? I am completely lost on this one and it's going to take some time to figure out.
I was putting Caley in her swing this morning when I took my hands off her to get the clasps that were stuck behind her on the seat. She decided to go rigid as a board, causing her to slide forward and tilt the swing back --she face planted right into the hardwood floor. I quickly scooped her up but was extremely traumatized by this. I felt like the worst father in the world and went into full episodal mode - flat affect and everything. I was a complete mess and was concerned that I was going to have to call out of work. Then, Dani needed help changing a diaper and I had to hold Caley (which I was afraid to do) after Dani had changed the diaper. Caley looked up at me with really wide and serious eyes, cooed softly and then tucked her head under my chin and hugged me in that special way that only babies can do. It was like she was saying, "Daddy, I know it was an accident. I still love you. Please hold me and reassure me that everything is OK". My heart melted and my episode crumbled around me. The guilt I felt washed away. She showed me how a hug can heal more than words could ever hope to.
I had a wonderful day today. I got up feeling rested, I spent a lot of time laughing with my daughter and I welcomed two new moderators to my Facebook Forum. Everything was going great until I went to pour some coffee late in the day and I spilled it on my right hand, scalding the crap out of it. It is really red and painful right now. The physical pain was soon joined by emotional as I flashed back to Iraq when my hand was also really red for different reasons. I could even smell the blood in the air. My wife could tell something was wrong and she asked me if I was ok. I told her that the last time I remember my hand being this red was when I was in Iraq. She instantly responded with, "No it's not. The last time your hand was that red is when you handed our daughter to me." I had mentioned before that the blood associated with my daughter's birth had helped by giving me a positive association for blood. And I was right. Thinking of Caley's birth started calming me down a little bit. The flashback became an intrusive recollection, which I find much easier to contend with. Yet another reason why support is so important - where would I have spiraled to if my wife wouldn't have been there to snap me out of it?
I pulled a really long day at work and had to call my wife to let her know that I wasn't going to be able to watch Caley tonight when she went to work. It sucked. This kind of thing doesn't happen very often at work, but it still made me really angry that I was missing out on bonding time with my daughter. I have had a lot of late shifts recently and because of that, I haven't spent much time with Caley in the past week. I didn't realize that not spending that time with her would have such a significant impact on my emotional stability. I almost broke down and cried after I got off the phone with my wife. I was able to calm down but it made the rest of the day that much harder to get through. I now feel like I need to go hide somewhere so that my daughter doesn't have to see me this way. It shows on my face. How do you deal with that?
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.