A site visitor submitted this post, and it represents her experience.
First, I am married to an Army Reserve soldier diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
My husband served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat medic in Ramadi, Iraq, from 2006-2007. Injuries from the blast of an IED, mixed with the stress of war, the loss of three soldiers, and experiencing the horrors of war, have left me with an empty shell of a man who suffers tremendously from mental wounds.
I wasn’t issued a book from the military – even a book for Dummies would have been nice – upon his return from Iraq. Suddenly our world as a family turned upside down, and it has been this way since his deployment ended three years ago.
Being a weekend warrior, oftentimes, we do not have access to the same resources as active duty personnel.
However, over the past two years, I realized that there aren’t enough resources or help for any of us in any branch. Most resources I came across had scientific jargon no one could understand, and others repeatedly rehashed that same material.
I wanted to educate myself on the subject, but more importantly, I wanted somewhere to go or someone to talk to who understood what I was going through as a spouse.
I started my blog, “Living With PTSD and TBI” to self-help myself and hopefully to help other spouses understand and validate the feelings we have for others who are out there like us.
One of the hardest jobs is being married to anyone in service, but it becomes even harder when your soldier comes home from war as a different man.
I know I sent my husband overseas, and I have no idea who returned to me. Looked like him, sounded like him, but it wasn’t him.
More and more, the taboo subject of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is coming to light with our generation of war. History has already taught us a lesson in PTSD with our Vietnam soldiers, but even today, some veterans still go untreated.
PTSD has been around as long as there have been wars – you may have heard the terms “Soldier’s Heart” or “Shell Shock.” Yep, all PTSD.
The military is trying to gain some control over it mostly because we are seeing more and more suicides and murder-suicides in recent news.
Fort Hood is one of those examples, but sensational news portrays PTSD badly because not all our soldiers are on the verge of going postal.
There has been a high increase in alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic abuse, divorce, and emotional abuse toward children.
The military provides us with some resources and education, but not enough when the spouse suddenly becomes the suffering soldier’s primary caretaker.
It’s especially not working for those of us who aren’t near such resources due to the geographical areas we live in.
The hardest part for most families is getting to the point of seeking help as a soldier and as a family. Then, once all agree help is needed, finding the right resources and getting help is a constant uphill road to travel.
Am I a professional or PTSD guru?
Absolutely not! I have no fancy medical school degree decorating my wall, nor do I have any past experiences other than dealing with my soldier. I can’t give you advice specifically for your family, but I can give you tips and advice from our family’s perspective.
I can’t solve your problems, but I can empathize with you as I am sure I have been through it too.
I can validate your feelings as a spouse; sometimes, that is more important than any therapy or book you can purchase off the shelf in the self-help section of the library or bookstore.
I will share my ups and downs, talk about subjects that no one wants to bring out in the open, and bear my heavy burden with every one of you.
I will be breaking up my first few blogs into several pieces, so you aren’t spending all day reading!
The first piece of advice I can give you as a Combat PTSD spouse is the “Four L’s,” as I call them. This I learned upon welcoming home my soldier and from other PTSD spouses.
Listen, Learn, Labor and Love
This tip isn’t just for PTSD/TBI veterans but can be for any of our servicemen who are coming back home and having issues with readjustment/reintegration.
Your soldier has just come home from war and has realized that time didn’t stop for us back home. Getting back into the swing of things, especially with family, can be overwhelming.
A spouse must first realize that war is bad, and no matter what your soldier did overseas, he /she probably has seen some stuff that would make anyone cringe. No one needs to know what happens over there, including the spouse.
Don’t push your soldier into telling you gory details, don’t ask if he killed anyone, and don’t force topics that make them uncomfortable.
More than likely, if they want to talk to you about it, they will in their own time. If your soldier decides to talk, listen without judging. Listen with open ears if they feel comfortable talking about even the smallest things.
Just because they went to war, your soldier is not less of a person than before he left.
It’s a survival process; sometimes, they just did what they had to do. Don’t ask questions if he/she opens up to you.
Let them talk it out; let them stomp and cry if they have to without any interruptions from you.
Let them share what they need to in their own time and open up a bridge of trust between yourself and the soldier, ensuring they can talk to you about anything.
The first step to healing is to let them talk without fear of upsetting you, getting what is on their mind out in the open, and not being judged by their spouse.
Education is always helpful in coping with mental wounds or in any situation. The only stupid question is not asked.
Learn about reintegration/readjustment issues, and educate yourself on PTSD symptoms and signs, so you know what to look for.
Keep an eye on your soldier for any possible “weirdness” that occurs. You know your soldier better than anyone, and often spouses pick up on things that the soldier did not exhibit before.
Spouses can tell if their soldier seems forgetful, if they are having nightmares/sleepwalking, or if they are changing moods often. Keep a list of such items to refer back to later.
Now I am not saying to stalk your loved one; keep a general eye when you are around them. Talk to your post/unit chaplain for resources or your FRG leader if you have one.
If not, learn about it online. Being educated in these subjects will be helpful to you, I promise.
Keeping your soldier in touch with their battle buddies can greatly help. More than likely, their buddy is having some troubles, too.
Keeping an open line of communication with someone who “has been there” is a key element because they were there together, know what happened, and can freely talk without being judged.
We have my husband’s battle buddy on speed dial on all cells and home phone! I call from time to time when my husband has episodes and needs to be talked back down a little.
Also, remember that PTSD and TBI symptoms may not show up right away; PTSD can show up many years later.
And you thought deployment was hard! Trying to get into the swing of things as a whole family and facing some issues once they come home is going to be tough, even for those of you who have multiple deployments under your belts.
Marriage and relationships are work, and each of you will have to give and take a little.
Unfortunately, for soldiers with these homecoming problems, giving will be less and less. This is where you will have to put on your big britches and forge ahead.
As a family/couple, you will need to find your place again in the family unit just as the soldier will.
Adjustment problems are normal, and if they turn into PTSD, you, as a family member or spouse, will have to decide, “Can I take on these problems?”
I often have to remind myself that I married for better or worse, in sickness and health, and I stick by that.
Keep an open line of communication with your family, and ensure that your soldier knows you love them and stand by them.
Sometimes just knowing they have an open line of trust will ward off excessive problems and make the adjustment/re-entry period easier for all of you.
Remember that PTSD has a stigma in the military, although the military claims it no longer carries one. I know, and our soldiers know that isn’t true.
Overcoming issues with your soldier is a part of what you must battle. You will battle the service they are enlisted in, and fight for resources and the help they need.
No one said it was easy, but as in anything, nothing is ever free in life. You have to decide as a family, do you love one another enough to embark on one of the hardest things you have ever faced?
I once read…
“All families are like quilts. Although they can unravel at times, love can stitch them back together.”
As corny as that seems, love can hold many things together. Show your soldier that you care and want to help.
Don’t force help on him or make demands, as this can sometimes make issues worse.
If your soldier needs help, research and provide options for him and your family. Yelling, “You’re crazy, and you need help!” isn’t going to help things. Provide an outlet and options for them to look at and consider.
Although they might look at you like you’re the crazy one, some of them understand they are having problems whether they admit to it or not.
Sometimes admitting they need help is the hardest part. Be supportive, strong, and firm, and show your soldier that your love for them will carry them through.
Letting them know you see issues you are concerned about and that you want to help can sometimes be the one thing they rely on and shows them that you have their back.
Love yourself by taking some time for yourself as a spouse. Love your children, and make sure they are not pushed to the side during all this.
I hope this helps some of you as it has helped me. Again, I am in no way a professional, and just like you, I am fumbling in the dark with my soldier as we are searching and exploring help for him.
In my next blog, I will discuss my soldier’s symptoms and the things we faced once he came home.
Each service member and family experiences different things, and by giving you ours and Jessica’s, we hope this will educate, help, and give you a little more support.
You are not alone!!!!
Until Next Time,
Uncle Sam’s Mistress