mental health matters ptsd

“This Might Happen to You”- Symptoms of PTSD

This post was submitted by a site visitor and refers to signs and problems that we, as a family, encountered with PTSD once de-mobilization came and went.  Again, this has been based on my husband’s experience; not every soldier will experience the same symptoms. While some of the symptoms will be the same, many will differ from soldier to soldier.

The most confusing aspect, I think, of PTSD is not knowing what accompanies this disorder. More than likely, if you are a spouse or family member, you already know from firsthand experience that your soldier is having issues.

What does all this entail? No one knows unless you are already familiar with it or have been diagnosed. Although the military gives you a short list of “what you might expect,” sometimes it’s nice to know all the symptoms so you are better prepared.

This alleviates that “deer caught in the headlight look” when one of these symptoms shows up.

I want to reiterate that the military did not give me a user-friendly manual, so I did all of these I experienced myself, with no prior knowledge of the subject.

I have been to the Army sites, Mayo Mental Health Clinic, and many PTSD resource sites searching high and low for answers, but the best I can offer you is experience and put it into layman’s terms we can all relate to and understand.

We, dear readers, will compare our scars. Some of which we were informed “could happen,” and some they failed to mention.

What I think is funny is that the military gives you this hypothetical “this might happen to you” scenario but in jargon that most people don’t understand.

I am a smart cookie, college educated, and a reader, but I still didn’t understand most of what they told us.

Yellow Ribbon ceremonies were not something we had the luxury of during this time, but I can say, having been to several as an FRG leader, they are only touching the tip of the iceberg. As we have learned from history, the tips of an iceberg can sink whole ships.

I like how they give you one- or two-word explanations of flashbacks, hyperarousal, numbness, and avoidance, leaving you thinking, “Uh huh, got it.”

Then you are facing all this, and it’s more like, “I wasn’t paying attention!”. Now it’s not that you weren’t paying attention intentionally, it’s just that you have homecoming on the brain, and that’s all you can think of.

If you don’t have a full explanation of these terms, you are pretty much left in the dark, and it’s a little too late to be prepared.

Flashbacks or Intrusive Memories

Well, this one is self-explanatory, and although I haven’t been able to witness it firsthand because I am not psychic, it simply means reliving the traumatic moment for minutes or days at a time.

My husband told me it was like having a digital camera in his head, flipping through those moments repeatedly. Some smells can come back to haunt him, and sometimes sound…all as hallucinations.

Sometimes he can think of other things and clear his head; other times, he can’t seem to rid his mind of anything but those horrific images.

This one is hard to deal with because my husband suddenly has them with no warnings, sweats profusely, and can become very agitated.

Simple things like a car backfiring or sudden popping noises can send him on a downward spiral fast.  The smell or sight of blood also causes his serious issues with flashbacks.

Upsetting Dreams/Nightmares/Night Terrors

Through nightmares, my husband has said he has relived moments of terror for many nights after he came home.

Most of which I could make out, some of which I realized what had happened after speaking to one of his fellow members about some things that happened over there after the fact.

In this discussion, I realized then what my husband was screaming about or mumbling about in his sleep.

I have witnessed one-sided conversations, screaming in the middle of the night, moaning and groaning, yelling for his privates and specialists to “bunker down” or fussing at them for not listening.

Then we have the bloodcurdling scream of terror, which can scare the hair off your head if you are deep asleep!

I have learned that he can be pretty violent in his sleep and have suffered my share of bruises.

Waking him up from these can be a job, too, as most of the time, he is so into it that it’s hard to rouse him awake. I can say now, after some heavy dosing of Trazadone (most commonly used for nightmares in PTSD), that I can have a halfway decent night’s sleep.

Avoidance

The only doctor I can relate to is Dr. Seuss, so I can’t define and understand what avoidance is.

According to the Mayo Clinic, avoidance includes: “Trying to avoid thinking or talking about traumatic events, feeling emotionally numb, avoiding activities they once enjoyed, hopelessness about the future, memory problems, trouble concentrating, difficulty maintaining close relationships.”

Well, that beat my initial thought of avoidance as being just the avoidance of family.

Open communication doesn’t happen in our marriage – not for the duration of our marriage, but especially since he has been home.  It’s not just about avoiding war-related topics; it’s pretty much anything and everything.

The most we talk about is what he might want for supper that evening or perhaps the latest about his mother if he listens to me long enough to rant.

I have no idea what is going on with my husband’s life.  What a shame, huh?

Considering this used to be my best friend, we shared everything.

He avoids large crowds, crowded small places, family, me, and the list could just keep going.

Every once in a blue moon, my PTSD Vet will relay information on his Iraq ventures to me.

What he has told me has left me horrified and shocked, so I can understand why most of them don’t want to talk about it.

Emotional Numbing

Oh yeah. What irritates me about the military’s “maybe/might/possibly” definition is that it doesn’t quite explain the lengths to which this numbness goes. He doesn’t care about anything or anyone. Period.

He doesn’t care what he says, how he hurts people, how he lets them down. He doesn’t care if he hurts himself or any consequences of his actions.

He doesn’t even try to act as if he cares. That’s not emotionally numbing, Uncle Sam; it’s emotional death.

It’s the end of my old husband and friend. It’s an empty shell of a  person with no heart and conscience.

They don’t feel anything, don’t care about anything, and feel nothing.

The most common complaint of combat PTSD veterans is that they know they should feel something but can’t.

Their minds have lost that hardwire to be capable of feeling. The soldier might go through the motions of saying what you want to hear, but do they feel apologetic?

Do they feel love and happiness? Nada on all the above. They are just there.

You will come to see me refer to my combat PTSD veteran with many names – some nice and some not so nice. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Pod Person,” and “Empty Shell Man” are my three nice ones.

They all describe the situations and moods my husband has.

“Pod Person” best fits this description because they left a normal person and came home like something from outer space where an alien has switched them with a pod person.

They sound like themselves and look like their old selves, but inside, it’s just walking empty zombies.

Avoiding Activities THAT He Once Enjoyed

Let’s revamp that phrase. Let’s add that he avoids all family members and work buddies, loses interest in fishing (which was his all-time favorite pastime), wastes time in his garage, and, of course, doesn’t spend any time with his wife or kids.

This has to be one of the hardest things to deal with because most of the time, the spouse or significant other feels it’s them, and trust me, talk about a slap to the old self-esteem!

The only activity I can say my husband still enjoys and doesn’t avoid is football.  Any football.  With football fanatics, we could have a nuclear meltdown outside, and the world could be lost, but as long as football is still on television, it’s all good.

I sometimes come across things purchased as hobby items, some never used but once or twice, and it saddens me because he has lost so much interest in everything.

Hopelessness About the Future

I can honestly say I don’t understand this one, and perhaps in my situation, this is the only one that has me stumped as far as a layman’s definition.

I know he hasn’t mentioned school, growing old, concerns that we have a pre-teen on our hands, driving lessons to deal with soon, or college plans…nothing.

He says he has nothing to look forward to and doesn’t want to.

We used to sit and discuss how we would live up here on this ol’ mountain, discussing our dentures and hoping the grandchildren raise a white flag before coming up the driveway, so pappy doesn’t shoot.

That comforting rocking chair of a future holds no place with him anymore.

Most couples can look forward to growing old together, sharing the memories, or what can be with our children, but my vet doesn’t have an interest in any of it.

Hyper Arousal

In the beginning, when I first heard this term, I thought it pertained to sex! Naturally, after researching (insert blush here), I realized that it had nothing to do with that!

The best way I can define this is when your vet comes home and sleeps with his gun. Perhaps he wakes up and reaches for his gun.

Constantly watching behind his back as if something is going to walk up behind him, entering a room and sitting with his back against the wall, or fear of coming up on a corner on a street where he can’t see around it.

I have also seen my husband walk into a place and immediately scout out all exits, carefully looking around the place for “out of place” patrons or suspicious characters.

Simply put, the vet is always on guard at any place.

They can’t seem to relax, and they don’t seem to understand they do not have the same potential threats as they did overseas.

Memory Problems and Trouble Concentrating

His memory seems to have gone MIA somewhere between Iraq and Tennessee.

Still looking for it, but I am slowly losing hope that it will be found.  I used to think he was so preoccupied with other things that he would forget…but it’s getting worse, and the more I think about it, the more I see it in everyday things.

Some days it’s just forgetting what I told him to pick up at the store or simply forgetting family obligations or promises made.

It can be appointments, work days, or medications.  “I forgot” seems to be a daily statement from my husband and sometimes can be the most infuriating aspect of PTSD, especially when something is important.

Most of the time it’s like dealing with someone who has ADD.  We later determined that my husband was suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which can also add to the severe memory loss.

Double Whammy for us, and all I can do is pin a note to his shirt and hope he gets to where he needs to be.

Much of my time is spent reminding him to take showers, shave, take his medicine, eat and even get up and go to bed.

Difficulty Maintaining Close Relationships

Ain’t that de truth! Seriously….who thinks of this stuff?

Should this even be a number in this classification of symptoms?

Looking at the top signs listed here, one could ascertain that holding down a committed relationship would be quite hard, perhaps not just for the person with PTSD but for the significant other!

I have learned that the vet will often push aside their spouse and destroy everything in their path.

I don’t think it’s intentional; it just somehow happens.

I think they intentionally punish themselves out of guilt and frustration, and we, as the family, are just too good for them in their minds.

It’s easier to lash out and push away than it is to try to cope with what’s going on in their heads.

Anger and Resentment:

It can be any little thing or a big thing.

I find that he is angry about everything most of the time. I’m not always sure what it is about, and sometimes the anger is geared toward me.

I wonder, “What did I do wrong this time?” This happens weekly and daily when it’s at its peak.

Resentment

I find that sometimes I feel he resents me for being here. Resentful that he has children, resentment towards the military, resentment towards the air he breathes.

In the almost four years with my PTSD vet, I have learned that we, as spouses/significant others, are just scapegoats.

Often they don’t realize they are being so nasty or mean; other times, they black out and are unaware of anything, period.

Perhaps guilt stems from their anger; maybe it’s because a deeper part of them realizes they lost so much of themselves in the white sands of Camel Country.

This anger can turn into emotional outbursts, volatile behavior, and aggressiveness, so be cautious.

Sleepwalking

This was the first time I knew something was wrong the first few days he was home.

He would fall asleep, and then when he was deeply asleep, the games would begin.

Sometimes it was yelling out or kicking.  Other times I would wake up after feeling movement and find he was standing on the bed trying to work with what reminded me of control buttons, invisible on the ceiling.

How this over 6’5″ man detoured the ceiling fan that was going on every night continuously amazed me.

Other times he was walking around the bedroom and the rest of the house, looking for someone, although I never caught his name.

Other times, he would wake me up, grab me, and curse at me. Scared me to death!

Getting woke up out of the blue and finding this pod person standing over you and cussing you doesn’t say, “Good morning, sunshine!”

The hitting and the kicking were just about too much for me.

One night, I woke up, and he started yelling about someone not paying attention. When I tried to gently wake him up and say, “Honey, it’s me,” I got his hands wrapped around my neck and called all sorts of names.

Once, I hit him back and said, “Dammit, let go!” He stopped, rolled over, and went back to sleep. I never told him about that night, not knowing if 1. he would believe me or 2. it would make him feel bad.

I knew he couldn’t help it. I haven’t slept well since then, and it’s been over three years.

I installed baby gates near any stairs, child locks on doorknobs, and missed enough sleep that I will be seventy before I get caught back up.

Going Anywhere in Public is Difficult

Okay, let’s face it, most men don’t want to go grocery shopping with their spouses or head to Walmart because Walmart is sometimes a cornerstone to hell if you catch it on a busy day.

In the short amount of time, we have spent with each other, I am so desperate for time with him that even grocery shopping allows me to feel like he is with me.

In some places, he gets irritable and cranky; in other places, where people start bumping into him, he flips out and starts cussing.

Sometimes he gets so bad I get embarrassed, and he ends up leaving, and I end up by myself on the verge of tears.

At one store, security was called on him because they thought he was threatening me.

Advice number one: Tell Home Depot management that you have a vet with PTSD and cops do not play well in their PTSD-screwed-up world.

Our children love love love Chucky Cheese, and although I can honestly say that place makes me want to be an alcoholic, sometimes a parent must endure the crappy stuff to see their children smile.

On the other hand, he would rather stay home, letting me face the questions of “Mom, how come we can’t go here or there” and then try to explain that places like that upset Daddy or simply that we will go another time.

I resent that.

Extremely so. I resent that we can’t go anywhere without an episode or ruining it for the whole family.

Some days I give up on making memories other than ones made here at home or simply any memory that doesn’t include him.

Paranoia

Gosh, where does one begin? Since he has been home, there have been so many accusations I could not remember them all, even if I wanted to.

Some have been just out and out ludicrous, and others have been so hurtful that I am not even sure I could ever get those comments out of my head.

They range from having supposed affairs while he was gone, poisoning him via his meals during supper (although we all ate from the same pot and at the same time), stealing money from our account, and hiding it in a secret stash.

What money? It’s not like we are making 100 grand a year! And the most hurtful of all…accusing me of getting pregnant on purpose with our two children.

Even accusing me of getting pregnant by another man while he was gone and trying to pass it off as his.

I got pregnant within the first two weeks he was home, and throughout the whole pregnancy felt no matter what I did, I could not prove to him that this was his child.

Naturally, once he saw his son and the tell-tale trait of his side of the family, there was no denying it.

His paranoia can range from driving alongside large tanker trucks on the highway (I have learned to drive behind them or speed up to pass them) to paranoia about neighbors or people in our community who might be terrorists, to even children who suddenly walk up or near him.

The list is endless here with the paranoia, and sometimes I want to smack him upside down and tell him how silly he is being on some things.

Ruins Every Important Moment or Holiday

Sabotage, I tell you, and I can’t figure out why! It doesn’t matter whether it’s Christmas or our anniversary, there is an instigated (by him) fight or he acts like this total monster, so we are all angry at him, and the event is ruined.

Nowhere in all this PTSD resource information can I find anything remotely about this.  I think this is linked to the “no happiness” zone of PTSD. We are happy, as he is supposed to be, and the “pod person” can’t be happy.

I can’t remember one family get-together or holiday/anniversary/birthday that hasn’t been ruined in the almost four years he has been home.

It has gotten so bad that my children shy away from holidays because they “know how dad gets.”

From my preteen’s perspective, I can see how he understands it. But from my four-year-old? These words should never be spoken out of his beautiful innocent mouth.

High Sex Drive

I think this has to do with the adrenaline rush or his medications.

He could have sex four times a day every day and never be happy with anything less than seven days a week. I read that one of his medications causes his sex drive to be higher, but seriously?

No woman could stand it seven days a week! Now, this is in the first stages of being home. Later down the road, the sex drive is abruptly halted due to medications the VA puts them on, which can cause the downstairs departments to go on a very long vacation.

The issues with high sex drives can be a problem because here we are, slowly careening towards infidelity and porn/sex addictions.

Violence

He often gets mad and then wants to “kill that person” who ticked him off, of course not literally, but still, he can just go on and on to the point I get angry at him.

Sometimes it seriously concerns me, and I haul his butt back to the VA for a routine check.  Often, this behavior makes me think of him as a child in a bout of a temper tantrum, and my only hope is I can find something to pacify him.

There have been several occasions where I have pushed him out of my way when he has gotten up in my face to scream, and only because he is so close, he is spitting in my eyes.

Although domestic abuse is not occurring in our household, I can say that our brand-new home has taken a few hits for the team and Home Depot and Lowe’s are now my favorite stores.

I can’t stress how important it is to GET OUT if violence occurs in your home and it causes physical harm. It can get worse, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to fix it.

They can often blackout or zone out, leaving them more dangerous and volatile.  Some of our men can kill their spouses with bare hands, so it’s best to walk out, call the police, or do whatever you need to put your family in a safe situation.

You can love someone and have to walk away; there is no shame in that. As the spouse/significant other, you have to care for yourself, especially if children are in the household.

Blackouts

Sometimes he experiences blackouts when driving down the road and does not know where he is going or how he got there. Other times when he gets on his tirades, he doesn’t remember doing something or the things he says.

It’s like another part of him takes over, and his mind is no longer there.  He can walk into a store and be there for hours. I have had many calls where I have had to go pick my husband up because the store thinks he is “casing” the place.

He goes in and thinks it’s 10-15 minutes when in reality, he can be there for five hours and never once realize it.

Driving down the road while doing this is extremely dangerous, so I must drive him now to where he needs to go.

Everything is Everyone Else’s Fault

Let’s play the blame game, ladies and gentlemen!

I don’t know if this is even relevant to PTSD but seems to be consistent with other spouses I have spoken to whose spouses have PTSD.

I can’t even get an apology without him adding a “But so and so ticked me off” or “I’m sorry, but you constantly nag.” Ummm, ok.

It seems to be a constant thing, whether at work, with friends, or at home….it’s always someone else’s fault.

Most of the time, though, I take the blame for it all….even when he doesn’t tell me what’s wrong.

Blaming is easier for them to do than it is to face up to their failures and issues.

The Stupid Syndrome (Seeking Adrenaline Rush)

The Stupid Syndrome, as I so lovingly refer to it, can be from anything that gives them an adrenaline rush.

One night under the influence of several Busch’s and Jack Daniels’ products, he mentioned that doing stupid stuff gave him the same high or adrenaline rush as he had every time he would go outside the wire overseas.

Some can be petty incidents, but other times I want to smack him upside down and yell, “Are you stupid, or do you want to kill yourself?”. Hence, the name “Stupid Syndrome.”

The stupid syndrome can also be linked to infidelity, stealing, and murder. Many case studies are being done with Veteran Prisoners serving life sentences for killing someone, all while on the search for a high shot of adrenaline.

Smaller things can be driving while intoxicated and speeding dangerously. The rush they had every day in a war zone is often very hard to duplicate, so they are constantly seeking more and more.  It’s like a terrible addiction.

Their brains are permanently hardwired to live under duress and in the “flight or fight” mode.

Once they come home, they don’t know how to duplicate this process, and they need it because that’s what they are used to.

Secrecy and Lies

Not sure how to describe this one. But I have all of these incidents cemented in my memory like men often claim we do.

Mostly it has to do with money or financial transactions. Others can be as small as saying he was at a friend’s house when he was somewhere else.

I often think he has an affair, as any sane woman would automatically think when there are lies and secrecy, but everything he has done has been verified. So why lie about something so piddly and unimportant?

The entire time we have been married (pre-deployment), there were no lies and no secrets….just since he has been home.  He can lie about the smallest things, making me wonder why he even bothers.

If you are going to lie, lie BIG. My husband was never a liar, and since he has been home, I can’t trust him as far as I can spit, which isn’t very far.

The Infamous “D” Word

Now I admit that since he has been home, things have been so complicated and stressed that I have said if we could not work things out or he didn’t love me anymore, I should leave.

I partially accept responsibility for my words, but it seems like sometimes that is the only way I can get him to listen.

However, when he gets angry in self-defense, he constantly says, “I don’t love you anymore” or “Go away and leave me alone” constantly.

I have tried to explain to him, “I hate you, get out….wait, don’t go. I love you,” which is not healthy for the family or me. Hell, it wouldn’t be for anyone!

So why does the big ugly “D” word comes out when we get angry? Is divorce really what he wants? I don’t know.

Some days I feel if the kids and I  left, he would probably kick up his heels and cheer! Another part of me says he doesn’t feel that way; it’s just easier to hurt me because he is hurting and has no one else to take it out on.

The biggest part of me wishes that the man I loved and married would look at me and say, “If you leave, you will take all of my happiness, and I can’t live without you.”

Sigh….the romantic in me. Guess this is no movie, ladies because the leading man failed to rescue his one true love.

Self-Medicating and Addictions

Now I haven’t been faced with any more than drinking heavily on occasion, but there are more and more spouses filling the e-mail inbox on my blog asking about porn addictions, gambling, alcoholism, drugs, and infidelity.

I can’t give you much of a definition of this, but I think it’s a temporary band-aid that covers up all the emotions they are going through.

Our biggest issue here is with money. Exorbitant spending/shopping addictions were a big problem with my vet but one we have been able to solve.

Self-destruction is a common thing with PTSD, whether it be small or big problems and ones that need to be addressed ASAP.

So there are my vet’s mental battle scars laid out before you.

Kind of scary if you look at them for the first time and are not experiencing all of these. It is even more enlightening if you are seeing issues in your soldier.

I like when the military and professionals tell you that if your soldier exhibits these signs, seek help immediately! Before I get too deep into that topic, let’s save that for another time!

For those who made it this far, I hope you found some comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only one going through all this.

If you are going through this or something else, leave a comment! There is always something I have missed or not experienced but is important to share it with others.

This did happen to me.

~Uncle Sam’s Mistress~

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This article was written by a visitor to the site. All of our contributors served in the military, are married to someone who serves in the military, or have a child who serves in the military. These Army soldiers and/or family members enjoy helping others by sharing their experiences.

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16 Comments

  1. You have an amazing ability to distill the VA bullshit into reality. I’ve loved with PTSD for 23 years and it does get better overall but some things stay or even get worse. Sex four times a day? Check. That led to no sex due to drugs and meds. Today it is all I think about and while everything is functioning I have destroyed the desires of my wife.

    I wish you the best.

  2. Thanks for this. I’m a vet and after years of denial went to the VA because we were starting our family and I didn’t want my future children to think my actions were “normal” and start mimicking them. I found this site because I’m searching for a reason. I’ve been unfaithful since coming back; I’m ashamed of it, and haven’t (until this post) told anyone. (I know this won’t sound right to those who haven’t experienced it) What’s so crazy is that I am totally committed to my family, I’m not interested in another woman, I love my wife. Yet, I find myself searching out strangers, it’s not the sex. It’s the danger. I know it’s crazy and doesn’t make sense, which just adds to my frustration. I don’t know what to do; I live in constant fear that my actions will hurt my family. I don’t know what to do, I’m medicated now, that keeps me mostly sane and stops me from trying to choke the shit out of some dumbass in a store or restaurant. I still think about it, it’s just easier to hold back now. Before medication and therapy I had flashbacks, I didn’t sleep more than 3 or 4 hours a night for 5 years, I have zero interest in the things I used to like. I want to do them, and have even tried to start, but just have no enjoyment anymore. I’ve completely distanced myself from the friends I had before combat, and have a really hard time keeping up the few people I’ve allowed in since, and they’re vets too. In fact I won’t associate with anyone BUT vets, I don’t like the inevidable questions.

    1. I commend you for owning your affair, even if just online. As the wife to a combat vet and the ex-wife to a combat vet; I understand. My husband recently had an affair, his PTSD had led us to a dark place in our marriage especially compounded with our blended family dynamics. I knew something was off and I found the text messages between them while he was at work- in real-time as they were texting discussing me and our marriage. I went numb. Three days later, he came home- full of shame and self-hatred. I knew the affair was a means to numb himself emotionally rather than actually face me and our children. It was easier for him to hurt me and himself as punishment for his outbursts that came on when his PTSD was triggered. Eventually, he opened up and spilled it all. She was one he could manipulate and fuel his ego to make himself feel better about all the sh!t his anger had done. She meant nothing to him, he ended it with her immediately after the “incident” occurred and he had immediate remorse and that is when he owned it all to me. I work with vets and I have for 20 years, so I fully understood what was happening (even though I didn’t like it) and I honestly wasn’t mad or hurt. We just needed to discuss the triggers that had occurred to lead him (and us) to this position so we could work on them together. Unfortunately (or fortunately-depending on how you look at it), I have a psy degree and work with both public health and government agencies regarding veteran mental health; I knew it was nothing personal really. It is now the battle of getting him to stop hating himself and for him to accept I do truly love him. But now is the time to begin working on better understanding the underlying issues to resolve them.

      I wish you luck. Try to understand what led you to feel like you had to step out. Is your wife a safe place or another battlefront you have to wage war on? Does she understand your MOS and what happened while deployed? Are there ways you can help her understand if she doesn’t? What do you need from her to feel safe, even in your worst moments? Remember, she can’t be there for you if she doesn’t know and you hide what you’re going through.

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