After some pretty trying times, my husband was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) around 2015. He had previously spent about 9 years in the army and several of those years in EOD. For those of you who are not as familiar with EOD, it’s basically the bomb squad. They remove bombs or purposefully blow them up so that other people don’t get hurt.
Coincidentally, my husband signed up for the military about a week after the attack on the World Trade Towers. So he ended up doing three tours in Iraq. All of these things sound very impressive and very important. I like to laugh when he tells me that he’s had a job interview and they’ve asked him if he’s good under pressure. And I love that he’s done service for his country. But this disorder affects our family each and every day.
According to the National Center for PTSD, “PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” Many things like earlier traumatic events, stress, and age can increase the likelihood that PTSD will reveal itself and how frequently. Social support is incredibly important.
Our family often participates in activities with the Wounded Warrior Project. The group is meant for disabled veterans, many also have PTSD. And while many of them don’t share a lot of information about the disorder, there is a commonality among them and an understanding of the daily struggle that the veterans and the families share.
So how does this affect our life as a family?
Some days it feels like I’m a single parent because my husband gets too angry handling our son. He doesn’t have as much difficulty with our daughter because she is only 18 months old. He often goes from 0 to 100 in no time because he has so much trouble regulating his feelings. The medicine he takes can have some tricky side effects, especially when he has to transition to a new medicine. He struggles with exhaustion, and he struggles with being emotionally numb. Sometimes he just retreats. There are times our children want to play with him, but he needs to completely zone out.
And then there’s our relationship. It used to be explosive. I used to resent him because I had to walk on eggshells. I was never the type of woman who sat back and allowed her husband to scream at her for something she felt was wrong. I did not allow escalation of issues without arguing back, and I definitely fought hard if I didn’t like the way he spoke to our son. So much so that in the early days, I’d just leave.
At the time, we lived in Chicago, and we had just begun telling family and friends what was going on. I was also dealing with my own health problems, so the troubles just started piling on. My husband felt guilty and needed support, but he didn’t know how to ask for it. I didn’t know how to ask for it, and what’s worse, people really didn’t know what to say. Someone very close to us said that I might be making it happen. I might be causing it and that I may need to learn how to be a better wife to him. What’s so crazy about this is that this woman had suffered abuse. This comment still breaks my heart to this day.
I’d like to think that we’ve gotten through the toughest times. I know now when he gets frustrated with our son, we “switch,” and we try to find different parenting tasks. I know that sometimes he just needs a break. I’ve also learned that changing my feisty spirit isn’t the worst thing that ever happened. For me, it’s now about finding the right time and place to discuss issues, trying to pick the right issues to talk about, and trying to talk about things away from the kids. That can be a difficult one. When we get out of line our son lets us have it. “You’re not talking very nicely to each other.” My children are so brilliant! Way to keep us in check!
Of course, there are many things I’m not sharing. I think it’s important to save some things for yourself. But I want to share enough to make sure this is something that we are talking about, as moms, as people. This might be part of your daily life. You might be secretly struggling and not be aware that there are so many other people just treading water with PTSD . . . .
The most important thing I can say is that PTSD is not a personal issue, it’s a family issue. And it isn’t a one size fits all disorder. It’s not always about flashbacks and nightmares (although there are many people who sincerely suffer from these symptoms). It’s a family issue because everyone has to adjust and even the kids need to understand.
We’ve recently bought a series of books to read to our son that has helped him understand a little bit more about PTSD:
By Seth Kastle
Please check out some of the sites below if you or someone you know needs help. Don’t be afraid to share with family, a friend, or someone at your church that this is something you are going through. Look for support. Social support significantly decreases your struggle.
Remember that it’s not your fault, it’s not your partner’s fault, it’s just another obstacle that life has handed us.