I recently went to the grocery store the other day and as I was loading the car up, someone saw a sticker on another car's window that said "Medicated for your protection-Veteran with PTSD". My husband and I have always maintained a good sense of humor and not been ashamed of his injuries including his PTSD. We recently ordered such a sticker for our vehicle and obviously the owner two cars down, had the same sense of humor as us. As the lady walked past with her husband, she said "I wonder what it's like to live with someone with PTSD?" with the same disdain in her voice as if she asked "what's it like to live with a monster?". I hung my head in shame as they walked on chatting about what they thought our lives would be like but as for me? I didn't even have an answer at that time and so I let them walk on by. Normally, the Mistress would be the first to stand up and educate, erase stupidity and hope like hell that the media hadn't completely ruined someone's idea of what these invisible wounds are. I just couldn't and didn't have the strength that day.
On the drive home, I asked myself "what is it like to live with PTSD and TBI?" and the answers flooded me as the silence of the car wrapped its safety blanket around me. I had to pull the car over to the side where I could rest my weary head against the steering wheel and just let the tears come. Why could I have not stood up and said "You want to know what it's like? Here ya go, Lady".
It's waking up every day not knowing who you will wake up beside or what kind of mood he will be in.
It's living with a total stranger that you must care for and be treated like the enemies they fought against in Iraq.
It's eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at home or out always every day, by yourself even when your Veteran is with you.
It's never having your spouse to talk to anymore.
It's trying to soothe the fears of people he can see on the side of the road even when you don't even know why he is so afraid or what to say to make it all go away.
It's assuring him that bags of trash or dead animals on the side of the road are not roadside bombs.
It's not being allowed to enjoy happiness, love, or things you can enjoy because he gets jealous and ruins it.
It's being blamed for everything that went wrong, including what happened in Iraq.
It's sleeping next to someone who never goes to bed without nightmares and you learn to expect each and every sleep walking move he makes.
Its watching someone every day who gets worse with OCD behavior that you can't explain or understand.
It's lying to your friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances that "everything is just fine" including yourself.
It's being challenged in every way possible with some obstacles so difficult that you don't know how to get past them.
It's loving someone who hates everything about you no matter how hard you try or how much you help them.
It's fighting for someone and loving them so much that you sacrifice it all only to have them push you away.
It's having someone be so terribly cruel and know it, but finds it easier to walk out the door than saying "I'm sorry".
It's knowing medications, appointments, and his VA medical records like the back of your hand and not know when your last or next doctor's appointment is, or even when the last time you had a break to yourself.
It's taking care of them every single day when they are sick, but never get the same in return.
It's a game of pleasing, soothing, calming and redirecting twelve or more hours a day just to keep some sort of peace in the house.
It's being a single parent and having to explain to your smaller children that their daddy really isn't mad at them, he is just sick.
It's juggling parenthood trying to be both mom and dad at the same time.
It's having every special occasion ignored, sabatoged or completely forgotten about.
It's having everything taken away from you and not understand where it went.
It's not being allowed to cry, grieve, be angry or have feelings hurt because you are supposed to be what they want you to be. Mine would rather have us all miserable than enjoy anything he can't.
It's fighting against something much larger than yourself and wounding yourself in the process.
It's having to take care of yourself without help from your partner because they just don't care and don't want to.
It's not being able to have civilian friends or even normal military friends because they just don't get it.
It's finding comfort among others like us because we don't have to explain or be ashamed of their behavior.
It's walking a crumbling walkway and losing your footing with no one to catch you if you fall.
It's talking rationally with an irrational person.
It's having your heart trampled on every single day but still finding the strength to keep going even when they tell you they would rather be dead.
It's saving their life only to have them blame you for it every day thereafter.
There are days where I swear I don't know where the strength comes from. Other days, I am so weary to the bone that its hard to put one foot in front of the other. There are days where I feel sad for him and that makes up for half of what he has done wrong. There are days where I know I am all he has. Other days I love the hell out of him. There are other days where I wished I hadn't saved his life. It's living the whole concept of Misery Loves Company because even when good things happen....we don't know how to react because we have lived in chaos, stress and bitterness so long that it's what we are used to. It's wanting more out of our lives and still getting hurt, even though you know in your heart and mind, that is all you are ever going to get from them. It's being in a crowd and knowing that not one single person hears you no matter how loud you scream. It's knowing he will never hear you at all.
It's a battle with the world, with them, the government, the military and with yourself. You argue back and forth the reasons why you should stay or why you should run on a daily basis. The list grows every day with reasons on both sides of the argument leaving you no answer that is reasonable. It's living without a safety net to catch you if you fall and knowing there is no future that you can count on because you can only take it day by day, hour by hour. It's watching them forget things, get frustrated because they are no longer able to live a normal life, and watch them helplessly sinking further away from you when some days bring them the truth that they are disabled for the rest of their lives. It's not knowing what else you can do to help them and when you reach out your hand to hold theirs, they smack it away. It's taking on the world for them and sometimes winning, only to have them not care one way or the other. It's backing them up only to find them turn away from you when you need them the most.
There are days that we live for when they smile, laugh a little, and try just a little harder. That's what gives us strength. There are others where the bad side comes out and you are worried not just for you and your family, but for them too. It's up and down, side to side and never knowing which direction you are going. It's about survival, holding your family together through the tough times and not having all the answers. Sometimes, we lose it all. PTSD alone can be like a pack of hungry piranhas going after the first drop of blood that is spilled and not knowing whether we as the family will walk away whole. Other times, laughter and a good mood can build us back together.
That's what its like to live with PTSD and TBI.
I wondered all day today if I had simply spoke up...would that woman have listened and maybe not have such a nasty tone and disregard for us? Or would she simply just not care. My husband cared enough to go overseas and fight proudly. I cared enough to wait for him to come home and gone through hell ever since for people like her. I wonder from time to time, how many people really care and appreciate what they have and what they have been given. Does anyone really care about anything anymore other than themselves?
We Are More Than A Bumper Sticker,