Welcome to my first Living with the Army blog! First off, 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 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, has 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 and has been this way since his deployment ended three years ago. Being a weekend warrior, often times we do not have access to the same resources as active duty personnel. However, over the past two years, I realized that there isn’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 simply kept rehashing that same material over and over.
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 own blog ““ to self-help myself and hopefully to help other spouses understand and validate feelings we have for others who are out there like us. This year, I was invited to be a writer in the “Combat Coalition of PTSD Bloggers” on As a Combat PTSD Veteran himself, he also felt that there wasn’t enough being done for the families living with their soldiers diagnosed with PTSD and TBI.
One of the hardest jobs ever is being married to anyone in service, but it becomes even harder when your soldier comes home from war a different man. I know I sent my husband overseas and what returned to me, I have no idea. Looked like him, sounded like him, but it wasn’t him. More and more, the taboo subject of 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 of those veterans still go untreated. PTSD has been around as long as there have been wars – you may have heard the terms of “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 in recent news, murder -suicides. Fort Hood is one of those examples, but sensational news portrays PTSD badly because not all of our soldiers are on the verge of going postal. There has been a high increase of alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic abuse, divorce and emotional abuse towards children. The military provides us with some resources and education, but not enough when suddenly the spouse becomes the primary caretaker of the suffering soldier. It’s especially not working for those of us who aren’t near such resources due to geographical areas we live in. The hardest part on 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 actually 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 can give you tips and advice from our family’s perspective. I can’t solve your problems, but can empathize with you as I am sure I have been through it too. I can validate your feelings as a spouse and sometimes that is more important than any therapy or any 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 bare my heavy burden to each and 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 it. This I learned upon welcoming home my soldier and from other PTSD spouses.
Listen, Learn, Labor and Love
LISTEN: 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 have seen some stuff that would make anyone cringe. What happens over there no one needs to know and that means the spouse.
Don’t push your soldier into telling you gory details, don’t ask if he killed anyone, 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. If they feel comfortable talking about even the smallest things, listen with open ears. Just because they went to war, your soldier is not any less of a person than he was before he left. It’s a survival process for them over there and 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. Just let them get out what they need to in their own time and open up a bridge of trust between yourself and the soldier which ensures them they can talk to you about anything. 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.
LEARN: Education is always helpful in any type of coping with mental wounds or in any situation for that matter. The only stupid question is one that is not asked. Learn about reintegration/readjustment issues, 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 times spouses pick up on things that the soldier did not exhibit before.
Spouses can tell if their soldier seems to be forgetful, if they are having nightmares/sleepwalking, or if they are changing moods often. Keep a list of such items to refer back to at a later date. Now I am not saying stalk your loved one, just keep an 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 be a huge 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 for each of them 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.
LABOR: 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 their belts. Marriage and relationships are work, and each one of you will have to give a little and take a little. Unfortunately, for soldiers with these homecoming problems, giving will be less and less. This is where you are going to 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 have to remind myself often that I married for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and I stick by that. Keep an open line of communication in your family, make sure that your soldier knows that you love them and stand by them. Sometimes just knowing they have an open line of trust will ward off excessive problems and will make the adjustment/re-entry period easier for all of you.
Remember that PTSD has a stigma with the military although the military claims that it no longer carries one. You know, I know, our soldiers know that isn’t true. Overcoming issues with your soldier is just a part of what you must battle. You will battle the service they are enlisted in, fight for resources and fight for 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 had to face?
LOVE: I once read that “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 a lot of 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, then research and provide options for him as well as 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, a part of them understands they are having problems whether they admit to it or not. Sometimes admitting they need help is the hardest part. Be supportive, be strong, be 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 you 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 things we faced once he came home. Each service member and family experiences different things and by giving you ours along with Jessica’s, we hope that this will educate, help and give you a little more support. You are not alone!!!!
Until Next Time,
Uncle Sam’s Mistress