The biggest challenges of living with someone who has injuries like PTSD and TBI, is the constant defending of the Veteran's life and that of ours. We sometimes live in silence due to fear of judgment of the outside world, in some cases, Child Services is a fear, and in others; the look of pity and the confusion that crosses people's faces when they don't really get it. Not too long ago, I didn't understand either and I try to be patient with people who show disdain or make judgmental comments albeit hard to bite the tongue. If not for me, deciding for myself and for my family five years ago...I wonder who would have educated me on such subjects? The outside world isn't the only ones we find ourselves in the defensive position. We must defend the injuries to the military branches and hope like hell they don't drop us over a large cliff somewhere, hoping we will just go away and not get back up. The promise of "The VA will take care of you my brother/sister" falls short and here we go right back into a vicious cycle of defense. We must then deal with the VA systems where many are finding they are having to fight for their rights and benefits promised to us and earned. In many cases, like that of Social Security Disability, some of us find ourselves facing hearings although the medical files are a zillion pages long.
We recently found ourselves in that exact position of trying to defend my husband's injuries to an attorney who had no idea what either injury was, or how it impacted his life and that of mine. I don't mind educating someone, advocating on these issues but there comes a time or two I wish that I could just walk in and say "He is a disabled Veteran with these injuries" and someone say "Oh no worries! I know all about this". Even our local American Legion VSO officer who is known for his shark like approaches and wins for Veterans, told my husband he was too young to give up and to get back on the horse and just ride it. "PTSD is just a nice way to say your depressed. Take a pill and deal with it". If only it was that simple......
I sometimes feel like the world just left us behind. I know during deployment that my husband had no other choice but to leave us behind in his mind because of his job. Time stopped for them but for many of us who survived deployment, it kept going slowly. It was always nice to drive down the road and see a fellow "Proud Army Wife" sticker on the back of a car, or a "Support our Troops" bumper sticker. For all those, it made the time worth it because I thought a bumper sticker showed pride, love of our country and respect. When they come home, the clock suddenly speeds up for all of us and we see that we just don't seem to fit in anywhere in time. Those we thought were friends have quietly withdrawn. We ourselves, have withdrawn into this safe haven we call home. After five years of this haven, it starts to feel like a prison. There are days where I drive down the road and I see my house that I fought for so hard to keep, we saved so many years for and represented a new life for us....and it now has an ominous look to it. It feels oppressive, suffocating and safe all at the same time.The bumper stickers we now see are faded from the sun, scratched off from many washes never to be replaced again. I sometimes wonder if that bumper sticker represents their pride still and respect? Or is just as faded, long forgotten and washed away from the sun and the rain?
I like to think of the positives and its probably my biggest downfalls as I am prepped by a past family who ran a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C when all else fails. When it comes down to say, the Social Security prep for the Hearing, and being drilled for five hours of grueling, bombarding questions of why we think my husband is disabled; it makes one think about all the wrongs that is in your life. We live in a certain lifestyle, we manage routines and structures, we try to be the best parents we can be even when one really can't do that. We deal with the obstacles, the ups and downs of emotions, the weariness of fighting all the time with the government and its become almost numbing and we then learn to do it almost by rote now. Mechanical movements almost with absolutely no show of emotions. To have an attorney not take the time to respect, show some sensitivity as she was portraying the Judge and how he will ask; was to say the least a little disheartening. I left that afternoon with a raging Veteran and a screaming three year old and cried all the way home. I have been put in certain positions and Lord knows had my share of stupid comments stemming from just ignorance, but never before did I feel like we don't belong anymore than I did that day. I felt horrible we had to put my husband through that, I felt ashamed and almost embarrassed for the attorney and most of all? I was angry.
It dawned on me that we just sat through five hours of defending our lives, to someone we are paying to defend us. It's difficult to pick apart your day, and to really look deep at what our Veterans do and can't do. To pick apart every little detail of what the spouse/family/caregiver does and then try to all of a sudden deal with the realization and try to defend it. It was five years all over again suddenly in front of the woman who is to defend my husband's rights and entitlements to Social Security Disability. Of course, I know much of this is a formality due to age. It's common knowledge that Social Security would rather pay out for an elderly person who might have ten to fifteen years left of their life span, than that of a wounded thirty something Veteran who will outlive the elderly person times three or more. Having to explain and defend our life just suddenly felt wrong, and we were both very vulnerable in front of her. I guess most of it is because we were one of those families that didn't get dropped off the cliff but thrown off. We fell in a crevice so deep it took us two years to get out. To be fair, the attorney didn't know our history. Didn't know the first thing about us except for our names and partial health history. It was just the fact we still to this day after five years, still keep defending ourselves.
To add all of this on top of the Medical Board, you then find you are defending yourself and your Veteran with the rest of the family. You find you are trying to explain to your children, then must deal with all the immediate family, in-laws, outlaws and the rest of the gang. Sometimes its tiring to hear how someone has a bad back, but Lord have mercy and "bless their heart" they are disabled and just can't expect to work. Someone else has cancer, or a bad car wreck...its the same "bless yer heart" and "what else can be expected of them?". With this though....its harder. Most of what I hear is "leave him". "Cut your losses and run". "I just don't know how you deal with it". Even with our Southern Appalachian twang, I hardly ever get a "bless yer heart". I still to this day wonder why that is? I find that I now stay away from having to explain it all over again to say, a non-profit organization. I know they don't know me, I don't know them and its just not worth the breath trying to get someone else to understand. The most that anyone has understood our lifestyle is those that live with it. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time finding those "others" close by although I can feel them nearby. This leads me to some anger because I wonder why they can't step up, allow me to have someone nearby who is raising their hand with me. It's not that I am afraid of pioneering my way through a backwoods moo-cow town area, but God sometimes I wish I could just find someone.
Anger seems to fester quite a bit with me these days. Most of the time, I can walk away and try to focus on something else but it still is there. One thing happens and before I know it, I am angry about the last damn five years. I am hoping since I am receiving counseling, that is one of those things that I can work on as its just not me at all. I love to laugh, love to smile, love to talk and most of these I rarely do unless its with the right people. My defenses have been built so high I often wonder if I ever will be able to let them down? Or will they permanently stay up and how much will I miss if I keep myself closed off. Some of the comments made I can always deal with, shrugging them off with just raising my chin a tad bit higher. Some of them hurt to the core and those are a little harder to shake but I do it none the less. Explaining I can do, but with as much news and media is out there in regards to PTSD and TBI (minus all the negative crap) you would think people would pay attention. However, I have found that most people know more about the Kardashians or the infamous "Octomom". Why is it our society can worry so much about who wore what to the Oscar's, or what the latest gadget but yet, do not know that 1 Veteran in every 80 seconds commits suicide?
I think my frustration comes from having to try so hard to defend my husband and the reasons why I stay with him. Not from explaining his issues and not be ashamed of them, but feeling like I MUST defend us because there isn't anyone else there to speak out for us. Yet, "Octomom" seems to get front page Yahoo, and is one of the most "clickable" likes on Google these days. Some days I wonder if it will ever end, even after we leave the military and we finally get settled with Social Security and the VA. Or will we always be destined to defend ourselves to others and more importantly....trying to explain to ourselves that this is just the way it is and there's nothing we can do, than what we have already done. That is to keep going and survive.
Survival 101 Completed and Passed,