With life being so insane right now with Coordinators, advisers ( I may have more now than Obama has and still don't know what the hell I am doing), MED/PEB board, service dog, paperwork and school starting up....it's been difficult to answer and get caught up to all the emails. Since I had a battery of medical testing yesterday and under orders to rest, I thought I would take the time today to answer the most asked question that many of you have sent in:
How Do You Deal/Cope With A Veteran With PTSD, TBI, Issues?
Honestly, this is a question that is one that plagues us spouses on a daily basis and one that there really isn't a specific answer for. I have read the books, I have researched, and everything I have come across has different answers because like your question to me, I have asked that question to others. You could cram a room full of experts, therapists, and psychiatrists and still not get a single, mutually agreed upon and understandable answer. Now does all that researching, reading, exploring and asking make me some type of educated "know it all" on these issues? Absolutely not! Never claimed to be, never will be and to be honest with you readers...I am still to this day asking, exploring, educating and wondering myself how I deal with all of it!
So after reading 58 emails this morning with this very question that eludes us all, I thought I could pass on what I have learned, what has worked for me, and what hasn't. May not be the answer you want, but it's all I have because every Veteran is different. Each of us has different stories, and will have different outcomes. In that same sentence, every spouse is different. What is common among us all is that we all have problems and varying degrees of issues/wounds but, as individuals, our thresholds are different. So what works for me, may not work at all for any of you.
1. Education: I know I brow beat all of you on this but in many emails I have received, the spouse admits that they don't know much about any of their husband's issues or diagnosis. Almost everyone has a computer these days, and access to the internet. If not, there are libraries. Research. So what do you do with this knowledge? You will be surprised, but it changes the situation and you will learn how to best handle the counter-attack with your veteran. Education on these subjects will be your best coping tool that you will find. Why? Because you can't do anything but shy away from the unknown and you find yourself swimming in unfamiliar territory. First thing we do as humans is panic, defend and retaliate. This is NOT going to help you in any manner with your veteran. Once I learned as much as I could, I understood my Veteran better. You have to understand that many times, the Veterans don't even understand what is happening to them, let alone try to get their family members to understand. Once armed with knowledge, you can find ways to adapt to this new person who you are living with and that comes all on your own. Each of us will interpret this information and react differently. It's up to you though to know what you are dealing with.
2. Understanding the Veteran is NOT your old husband: At first, this whole mood swinging, yelling-screaming, foul-mouthed, foaming at the mouth stranger that came home to me, scared the hell out of me. After I educated myself, I understood the different processes they go through. How did I cope with this? I looked at my husband as many different individuals and named them. You will see me refer off and on in my blog posts about "Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde" in which is his sudden in-a-good-mood man and then BAM! Pissed off and cussing man. You will see me refer to the "PTSD Beast" which is the monster side of PTSD when it rears its really ugly head and the talons and fangs come out. There is "Mr. Downer" for when he is depressed and flat lined, "Asshole" for the times where he is well, being an asshole. "Mr. Danger" for when his adrenaline seeking methods turn into stupid, self-absorbed and crazy ass antics he pulls. "Eugene" which is in reference to a donkey we met on a Wounded Warrior Wive's retreat in which I use to envision my husband when he starts hee-hawing and going off. My "Pod Person" that came home, isn't my husband. However, sometimes...some days, I see small glimpses of him and that right there is worth all the other personalities I must live with. Each mood and each day can be challenging, but try to find humor in it. Learn each mood, each personality and find what best fits YOU as the spouse when dealing with it. When the "PTSD Beast" rears its head, try one thing and if that doesn't work....keep trying until you get it right. You will eventually learn something that does work and most of that will be through trial and error. When "Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde" shows up, I simply find other things to do or get out of the house. It's easier to walk away than be an unintended target for their anger.
3. Knowing that most of what is directed AT you doesn't mean it's FOR you: I had a hard time with this and often times, I still find that I get my feelings hurt when he yells and screams at me for something else. Over the last couple of years, I have learned to tune out most of it and try not to wear my heart on my sleeves. Easier said than done is probably what you are thinking. Understanding their wounds will help you accomplish this but will also allow you to see that they can't help but lash out. If you are there....you are/will be the target. I once had a therapist tell me that although they may seem like they are foaming at the mouth and ranting at you for nothing that you did or had control over, take that time to listen as they are often letting you inside without you realizing it. Everything is cooped up in that small organ called the brain and they don't know how to reach out or tell you that this made them angry, sad etc. Much of the time, they are scared. That made a lot of sense what she told me that because once I learned, I found that my husband in all his yelling was actually his way of opening up and letting me inside. Showing what they are feeling and how to express it in the appropriate manner is one of the biggest challenges because what we know as "normal" isn't in our worlds anymore. In this, you must learn to stand up straight, move the feelings aside, listen, and let them get it out. I usually find that once he is done, he is actually easier to deal with than letting it bottle up and explode.
4. Being a part of their lives: Often we find when our veterans come home, we are suddenly living together but not really "together". I struggled with this as the relationship changes and it's very hard to find a place where each of us can mutually come together. As I learned, educated and asked questions...I found that my husband was actually more open to me because I was trying. Rather than fighting and yelling back, I tried to rely back on what I learned as my focal point to stand on even ground with him which helped tremendously. Again, learned through mistakes and trying again. By attending the appointments with my husband, showed him that I was still by his side and interested enough to learn to adapt to his disabilities. Learning to recognize their triggers is one of the biggest things. If you know that crowded places piss them off or if being in a particular situation stresses them out, then don't push it on them or force them to be in those situations. Finding resources that you CAN do together is a great way to help adapt into this new life. I found that by paying attention, learning what sets him off, learning what he can do actually helps him communicate with me a little more and we find a common ground we can stand on. If you aren't showing them that you care enough to go that extra mile to understand, they won't move an inch because in their minds....you aren't trying at all. It's very easy for you to be seen as the enemy and every little thing you do will be viewed in their mind's in huge blown out proportions. Often times, they are merely pushing your buttons, so you will be angry and that in turn punishes them. It's really a vicious circle and it's up to you to put a blocker in that circle.
5. Understanding they will never be the same person: This is one I find I still have trouble with and to this day, often my heart misses my old husband terribly. I recently was reviewing VA medical records in which he reported that he thought I was leaving and taking away his children, that I was poisoning his food, and that I was picking on him for no reason. It really hurt to read all of that because I couldn't understand WHY he would think such things of me! I know in the educated part of my brain that is part of the paranoia that comes with PTSD and that in his mind, he probably really does believe this. In the feelings part of the brain, it hurt like hell. Much of the time everything is about him or the world revolves around him, and often times we as the spouses lose that helping hand/companion that we had before war. He doesn't seem to care when the kids and I are sick, or if something happens in the family. He has just become numb and flat-lined. I just talked about this to a dear friend of mine the other night who quickly reminded me that in their minds, they just aren't capable of such things anymore. I guess what helps keep me going is seeing small glimpses of what he used to be. Occasionally, an acknowledgment or a simple I love you makes it worthwhile.
6. Knowing when to take care of yourself: Coping with our Veterans can literally suck the life out of you like a blood thirsty leech. Compassion and patience can go right out the window if you don't cling to it somehow someway. I have been really bad about NOT paying attention to myself and letting my husband control much of how my life is run. I decided that I didn't want to be just a "caregiver" anymore with PTSD and TBI ruling every little thing I do in my life, hence the blogging. This is my way to still have a part of me, but document our life and struggles in hopes that it helps others. I realized I was having some health issues and after a good hearty scare, realized I haven't been taking care of myself like I should have. I am still learning in this department because I am a giver and not a taker, but in living with such issues...you still have to have a life. Surround yourself with other spouses like yourself. You may think you are alone as many of you have written in to tell me and trust me, I hear you! I have small children and cows surrounding me and no one in the area who "gets it". However, with technology today, you can find other support groups online and although weird as it may sound....my friends live inside my computer. Hahaha! There are many support groups online such as the Wounded Warrior Wives through Operation Homefront who have chat forums. It's nice because not only are you seeing that you aren't alone, but can find answers, open up to other resources and the list goes on. There are retreats and resources out there, you just have to take the time to find them. I am trying to find myself more time for me, and just for me alone. If in all of this, I think this is one of my biggest challenges is to let go and give myself some attention.
7. Setting and Knowing Your Own Limits: Out of all of this...this is the most important one and one that often leads to the question of how to deal. I have been through it all, and second chances have been given because I understood and was educated. Love will often blind you and also give in to second chances. However, I will NOT let my husband use me as a physical or verbal punching bag. I will NEVER allow him to hurt my children or someone else. I will NOT allow him to do everything he wants to do, disabled or not, and not face the consequences of his actions. I set guidelines and know my limits and most importantly his. Once those gets crossed, its best to walk away for each of us. I try to promote understanding of PTSD and TBI but at the same time, you can only take so much. So for those of you who write to me asking whether you should stay or not? I can't honestly give you that answer because I can't. I don't know what your situation is, I don't know how bad it is, or what you have been through. It would be crazy for me to even attempt to try to come up with some lame ass comment to your question. Best I can offer is this. You do what you need to do. If you aren't happy, and you have tried...sometimes you just have to walk away. It is ok to love someone and just not be able to be around them or hell, even like them. You know your own limits and what you can deal with and adapt to, and that's for all of us. You have to make the decision on your own and follow through with it. The Veteran must understand that there are limits to their behavior and often times, we all know that behavior can easily become volatile and dangerous. Don't stay because you might look like a bad wife, or "not supportive" as one person stated. If you have done everything you can, and things don't improve...do what makes you happy and most importantly, protects you and the children.
So in closing this long winded "non-answer" to the most asked question that has been given to me, realize that I am just a spouse like you are. I am living with the same person, the same issues, and problems like you are. It's been a long path for us and one with many physical and emotional challenges, but you aren't ever alone. I think what keeps me going is just stupid, blind, adoring love for a man who went to war and never came home. There are parts of my "pod person" that I have grown to love and accustomed to, but I still grieve for things long gone. There will be many many bad days, and few good ones. I take one day at a time, prepare for the worst,expect a disaster and hang on to the smallest of hopes. I know that sounds depressing but I am sure many will agree that is all you can do. You learn from each day, and learn from the challenges. Take that wisdom and put it to good use. There isn't a manual, or a "break glass in case of emergency" box with all the solutions that many of you seek. It just simply isn't there. For the love I have for my husband, I would cross the ends of the world for but know in my mind....that he simply would not for me because he is no longer capable of doing so. However, I hang on to the tiniest glimmer when I see a part of his old self, and the hopes that I can find more of them that keeps me going. I hold on to hope period and as we go through each day, I discover more strength and wisdom about myself and other spouses than I ever had before. Learn to let go of the past, which is extremely hard....and move on from this point forward. There is no going back. I am a firm believer of the "if one door closes, another shall open" phrase we often hear as we have discovered that.
I hope this helps someone. Again, maybe not, but its the best answer I have for these types of questions. It's one of the hardest ones to be asked because you have to stop and wonder "how the hell am I dealing with it?". It's not something you can explain, or teach...it comes through hard work, patience, and the belief that love and hope still exist. I stand my ground, I stand firm and I fight. I wake up, I let go of yesterday and deal with tomorrow when it comes. For each of you who wrote in, thank you for sharing with me and I wish I could have a "Here is what you do" words of wisdom for you. I wish there were such things. Just know you aren't alone, there are others exactly like you, and we are all facing problems just in different degrees. Just open up your mind, find your own strength and you will be amazed at what you can overcome.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.