This is part two of my advice segment. I am happy to report that I will be writing on PTSD on another blog that is geared towards all military spouses! It will be a one stop place with blogs on all subjects. I am very excited about this possibility and will be looking forward to the July launch of this new site!
To the Spouses,
Obviously you are looking for help or possibly some reaffirmation that you are indeed not the crazy one when you found my blog! I am going to try, and that word is stressed, to give you my best advice and help from personal experience as I have gained it. Once again, I am not a professional but merely a wife such as yourself that is enduring the hell of PTSD and TBI at home. This is combined from reading, advice from fellow spouses, and advice from Vietnam Vet wives who have lived with PTSD for 25 years.
Tie the Yellow Ribbon: More than likely when your soldier was on his way home, you had some type of information briefing from the military going over such things as reintegration problems, readjustment periods, changes if any in benefits (for our Reserve and National Guard), and possibly a glimpse of info on PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. If you haven't, you need to first contact your Family Readiness Group leader in your unit if you have one, and see about getting some of this information. Although I haven't had any good experiences with MilOneSource, as an FRG leader myself, I can say that every state is different and they can offer you some help with information. For us Reserves and National Guard, the Army is putting on "Yellow Ribbon" ceremonies in different parts throughout the deployment in which educates spouses and family members step by step of the deployment. In my experience, I wasn't too happy with the portions skipped over by the "professionals" in reference to PTSD and TBI as I felt it was more important than insurance changes. Each branch may have different programs, so can only speak from experience on the Army Reserves. I can say that, on experience as a spouse and as an FRG leader, more than likely you weren't really paying attention to those briefings because you are so damn excited that your spouse is coming home! I have heard from others that "R&R was spectacular and my husband was fine. So I didn't pay attention because I didn't need the information then". Exactly! Who would pay attention? The first thing I was thinking was my baby is coming home! No more stress, no more single parenting, no more communicating over the internet, SEX, and of course, no worrying. The thoughts of having problems never occurred to me, or many others because well, we thought everything was fine. That's how you get blindsided ladies...and suddenly that perfect house of cards comes tumbling down leaving you with only the joker in hand.
What the hell is wrong with him: By now the first few weeks he is home, you have noticed small things or big things but attributed it to merely readjustment problems from being overseas. As the months pass by, you may have noticed sleep walking, mood changes, sudden outbursts, keeping himself away from others, anger, freaking out over loud noises and the list goes on. Things have become rocky at home, arguments start, knock out drag down fights, sudden distance between you and your spouse, not to mention all the other little things like keeping you awake when he suddenly jumps up looking for his gun, or talking in his sleep. You start to question, he gets mad and pushes you further away. Now your perfect R&R seems so far away as you suddenly realize, this is not my spouse!
Realization: Seeking help for this is going to be hard. Some really want to get help, and others fight it as if we suddenly wanted our spouses to have a sex change or full frontal labotamy. The first thing I suggest you do is walk into a bathroom...look into a mirror and take a deep breath. Repeat after me. "My spouse has gone to war and has returned a different person. He will never be the same again." Once you have done that, you can then begin looking for help. Often times than not, spouses will have a denial period themselves. Some spouses can be suddenly abusive, or drinking and then fights begin. Others will have "up" days where you think a 360 degree turnaround has happened and everything is fine. You think in your head over and over, this is just a phase that will pass...but in your heart, you know differently.
Pay Attention: The best advice I was given, of course two years too late; was to keep a small journal. Sometimes all these symptoms or problems add up and become confusing. So when you sit down and suddenly are asked, what symptoms does your soldier seem to be exhibiting? You suddenly have a huge brain fart and forget! Then you chide yourself because, holy hell! How could you forget all this stuff and only mention a few! It's very easy to do. Take a small notebook and jot down some of the things your spouse is doing. Is he forgetful? Is he drinking or distancing himself? Nightmares or sleepwalking? Showing signs of hypervigilence. Is he having issues with going out in public? You live with your spouse and are able to notice the smallest of changes in them. Things you may not be aware can lead to serious red flags on a diagnosis. When you notice something, write it down.
Opening the First Door: More than likely, you and your spouse/family have argued, fought and slammed a lot of doors and you have spent sleepless nights with tons of tears. Fighting about the issues isn't going to make him jump up and down and be willing to communicate. The best advice I can give you is to sit down as a family and talk. No yelling, no accusations....simply say we are having a meeting and all of this is going to be laid out on the table. We as a couple/family want to help you and if you feel we need to stop, we will. As a spouse, you are probably wondering what's going on with your significant other so asking him what's going on with him is the first thing. Of course, they are going to buck and whine like babies and say nothing! The next thing is to say, "I am noticing some problems since you have been home and want to help you. I can't do that if you won't let me. I married you for sickness and in health, married for better or for worse. Let's talk". IF the soldier is not ready to talk, don't push it. Simply say "When you are ready, you come to me and I will listen for as long as you want me to". I told you, it's not going to be easy getting them to talk about or even admitting they have problems. But from other spouses and from marriage counseling, this is what my husband wished I had done.
Don't ask, Don't Tell. As a spouse, and as a human being...curiousity is always going to enter...you are probably wondering what could have possibly caused all these problems? What did your husband do over there? What did he see? Now in some cases, a soldier can simply leave on an airplane and enter the country and never see any action at all and can still come home exhibiting PTSD symptoms. It's just something that happens. For others, the action is what got them, the high stress, being seriously wounded, living through horrifying experiences. Living day to day with just the knowledge they could die tomorrow can sometimes just flip the switch inside their heads. After a drunken episode with my husband who served as a combat medic, I realized that yes, my curiousity was satisfied but I was horrified! I knew my husband would serve in a bad field, and reminded him when he left that I knew he would take care of all of his soldiers...but some things happen and you can't save them all. I figured in my head this would be the reasoning behind his PTSD. It wasn't. The soldiers won't talk about what went on over there, and as a spouse and knowing what I know and hearing from others....the best thing for you to do is don't ask. Some spouses push and push trying to help, but in reality you are bringing to light experiences they are struggling to keep inside. More than likely, some have done some things they aren't proud to do but followed orders because they had to. Some feel that they may change their spouse's point of view or respect of them because what they have done. Some just don't want to deal with it period. Your job is not to ask. You can make a statement of "whatever happened over there, I will always love you and be there". Pressuring your soldier to talk about anything that happened over there is simply a mistake. You don't need to know. If they want to tell you, then listen to them without judgement. Be patient, and not pushy!
Hurry up and Wait: Getting your spouse to even admit he has problems and getting help is a long wait for many. No soldier wants to admit he is having problems especially for those who are extremely all military and worried about stigmas, their fellow soldiers and their thoughts of them, and of course, their career. Stop and ask yourself this question. If you were in his position, and possibly the main source of income, insurance, and that is what you know and do/love...would you not be scared to say "I have issues?". Of course you would! It can take a long time, and its an uphill battle all the way to fight to get treatment for your spouse. It's not easy, it never gets any easier, and it will get worse before it gets better. Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, so more than likely you are not going to be able to get help for him until he is ready, if ever.
Educate Yourself: The best advice I can give any spouse is to educate yourself. Seek out information, resources, stockpile your arsenal inside your brain. There are many misconceptions and stigmas associated with PTSD. Look up "Soldier's Heart" and the term "Shell Shock". You would be surprised to learn that PTSD in soldiers has been around for as long as wars have occurred in our civilization. Family Readiness Groups should have some information available for their soldiers and spouses. Most of the time, the Army suggests we send them to MilOneSource, but check out others. If you don't have an FRG in your unit, look next to your unit's chaplain. He/she is not just there for the soldiers only and often times, can be very understanding and of course, confidential. Look for resources near your installation, near your home, check near your local VA. If they are out of Active duty for the Res/NG, they need to be put into the VA system anyway to ensure disability benefits whether they readily admit problems or issues. If they are active duty, they can go to the Vet Center which is usually located in the same area as the VAs in most cases. Educating is sometimes soothing, because we can then tackle it as a problem rather than dealing with the unknown. Such sites as www.familyofavet.com, http://www.ptsd.va.gov/, or http://www.realwarriors.net/will have some insightful information for families and veterans. Find therapists in the area that take your military insurance. Nothing wrong with going "outside" the military to get help and no one needs to know. Stockpiling information and finding resources to help, will enable you as a couple/family deal with it when the soldier finally comes to terms that he/she needs help. Be prepared! Find out what needs to be done once you can get your soldier to recieve help.
Remember: Now that you are armed with information, you realize that your spouse has some problems that he/she can't help. Here is where it's tricky. Separating your anger from understanding. As a spouse, we blame...we get angry, we accuse, we get frustrated. That's completely normal!! When things get bad, try to keep in mind that they can't help the way they are. This doesn't mean they don't love you or their family, they just have problems. Their minds are constantly going and so many things at one time. It's very hard for them to stop and sort through all these thought processes in their heads. When you get angry, stop and remember your education. They may have come home to you, but the war still lives on inside their heads 24 hours a day. It's nothing that's going to go away and even with treatment they will struggle for the rest of their lives. Don't automatically just throw in the towel and give up, fight. Fight for your spouse, and once he/she comes to terms they will understand that you are there and willing to fight along side of them. This doesn't mean automatically blame every thing your spouse does to PTSD or TBI, because every marriage has some problems and every couple argue/fight. You will be in trouble, they will be in trouble, hey it happens. Just know that somewhere deep inside, your spouse is still there. You just have to help clear the fog and help find themselves once again.
Forget Me Not: As we go through all these ups and downs, and the world suddenly seems to be revolving around our spouses with issues...its very easy for the spouse to be left out, and if any, the children overlooked. Your job as a spouse is to help your sig other but you have to remember yourself in the process along with your children. In educating yourself, you probably came across some things in reference to your family and yourself. You will need someone to talk to, your children may need some type of counseling. SEEK IT OUT. If you have insurance and don't feel like you can go to a military installation, then go outside! Having a therapist for yourself and someone you can relieve all this flooding of emotions, moods, fights, and struggles at home will help you tremendously. Keep a journal, or blog such as I am doing. You don't have to post pictures, or your names....keep it anonymous. Finding an outlet for yourself has got to be a priority in your life. Seek out other spouses. There are several blogs on the internet....email them! FIND A BATTLE BUDDY. Your soldier had one overseas while serving, so what's so different for you? Seek out others on post, or nearby. Call the VA to see if they have any resources for this. Every VA has a social worker for the mental health department. Call and harass that person for resources! Be aggressive in your search and don't give up if nothing pans out right away. If you can't find a group, start one! Seeking help for yourself is a necessity because I tell you....doing it alone sucks! Remember yourself first especially in safety purposes. If it becomes dangerous or hazardous to live with your veteran, then do what you must do to protect yourself and your children. Being selfish all the time is not a good thing, but there are times in everyone's world, that you must focus on yourself, your children and staying safe is a priority.
Facing the Unknown: Facing such symptoms and getting a diagnosis is going to be one of the many hard jobs when married to PTSD/TBI. Often times, PTSD and TBI is not screened among our soldiers coming home. By educating yourself, you know what to look for and by journaling what you have, you can help your soldier get the proper help he needs. By seeking out resources for you and your family, you have the ability to keep fighting. Look at these issues as an unwanted guest in your home. A burglar with the intent of stealing away precious items that you love...will you tolerate it? No! Face PTSD and TBI head on and as one. Sometimes its hard, sometimes it difficult getting everyone on the same team, but it can be done. Remember that you aren't alone, and that nothing is ever easy. Feeling the way you do sometimes, or having a breakdown is normal! If you didn't feel angry, resentful, hurt or unloved...you wouldn't be human! Remember that families are like quilts. Although they tend to unravel at times, they can be sewn back with love. Corny I know...but it's true.
Do I have all the answers? Nope! I am stumbling along just like you are desperately seeking out more and more answers. I blog, I am quite vocal about these issues and trying every avenue. It's been a hard long road for me to travel, but my husband and I have found some common grounds to stand on. He helped me write these last two blogs and for that, as I'm sure he will re-read this, makes me love him more for trying to help me, help himself and others in the process. Tomorrow may be different and I will be so angry with him I could spit nails! However, in the long run, I know this will help and hopefully help you as readers who are seeking others that are in your situation.
As always, feel free to comment, add on resources or ideas. We are getting more and more readers, so keep it coming! Anything you can add may help another spouse in finding help!!
Until Next Time,
Uncle Sam's Mistress