My husband has a saying about his PTSD. “I don’t have PTSD, PTSD has me…because if I could lose this shit, I would lose it in a heartbeat.” When we were first dating, I thought it curious he couldn’t recall his address, only the location of where he shared a condo with his friend and roommate. When I got to know him better and realized he memorized EVERYTHING because of his dyslexia, it occurred to me he may have short term memory loss. Not severe, but enough to make his day to day life a little crazy. I also noted that there were times, he would get in the car, start the engine and then look at me and say “Ok, what are we doing?” as if we hadn’t just had a conversation in the apartment, down the steps and into the carport about exactly where we were going. It was disconcerting in the beginning. I didn’t know whether this was real, or feigned, or why one day, he would get up on a mission and have A to Z lined out, and another day, he had no plan of the day, nor did he care if he had one or not. I overcompensated, as I am wont to do. I would have not just one route to a location, but a couple of alternate routes, until one day he told me “Stop. Stop managing me”.
I got my feelings hurt then, and since then. But, I’m not a doctor. Nor am I a trained counselor. My experience had been nil, regarding PTSD. I read up on the condition and spoke to a couple of professionals, but translating the criteria for PTSD listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders or DSM-III or IV, had terms like, “traumatic stressor”, “avoidance and numbing symptoms”, “distress and impairment”. These terms didn’t equate to my guy, he was on some days in the first months of the year, just kind of quiet. The kind of quiet where we could be in the house all day and not speak to one another, after the initial “Good morning, Babe…” He would reach out to me, touch me in passing, but he could go on with his task at hand, and not say a word. “Avoidance and numbing symptoms”…you think?
My denial of my husband’s symptoms, or my “gloss over” may have helped us both in those early years. Looking back and reading some journal entries, I sometimes think I should have been a lot more concerned about him. I recognized aspects of his symptoms, but I accepted them…to a point. My husband is a good guy. One of the few out there that are genuinely good guys. What I saw and read about Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD did not necessarily equate with my guy. He is grounded in faith and family. He has a sharp, quick wit. He never drank or experimented in drugs. He was an athlete in the Marine Corps., loves Judo and golf and is so competitive. What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that your neighbor, your uncle, your cousin, your friend, your co-worker and the guy at the 7-11 may suffer from PTSD. I worry, just from what I have experienced and noted on a personal level, that our current veterans, who have dealt with multiple tours may be more at risk for stressors than the Vietnam veterans.
There is this part of me that believes we have the power to help heal ourselves. Yes, we need doctors and medication in some cases, in other’s we need coping tools, in all cases we need prayer. I pray for him and those who suffered like him. I prayed he would receive the message he needed in counseling. I prayed for patience and wisdom. Patience to deal with those days that challenged him more than others. Wisdom to know when I was in the midst of “one of those days.” Wisdom to appreciate the days when I was not.
I learned to not panic when loud noises would lift him out of his chair and ultimately out of the room, the movie theatre, a family gathering, an office, and a gym. Hyper-vigilance, especially this time of year, the anniversary of his wounding, for me, becomes an exercise in restraint. Over time, I learned his sleep patterns change during this time of year, and this month in particular. He stays up to early hours of the morning and sleeps late into the day. Stressors that typically may not be a problem, become one. A dream, a sound, a smell, a picture… “Avoidance” became “bunkering”. He would not want to socailize, perfering to stay inside. He would not shave his usually well groomed face and head, letting the gray hairs show. He seemed to age before my eyes. He would not engage, preferring his sweats and tee shirts to his levis and polo shirts.
It took the words of the WWII veteran in his group to resonate with him. My husband said the veteran came up to him at the end of one of last year’s group counseling session and patted his face and said…”You are too young to have this” touching his beard. The beard came off that day. That was a year ago.
This year, the beard never materialized. This year the “bunkering” was minimal for a couple of reasons. The WWII vet that made a fuss about his beard, suffered a heart attack last year and is still hospitalized. We have lost a couple of dear friends to illness. Depression may or may not have factored in each illness and the lesson that was caught, is that tomorrow is not guaranteed. You can live it, desensitized to the world around you, allowing your fears to engage you to the point they marginalize you, or you can take a deep breath and live each day, one day at a time, facing the pain of engaging in a society that has little clue of the enormous sacrifice each veteran has made, each veteran’s family has suffered coping with a loved one that comes back forever altered from war, and like the majority of us, take the joy along with heartache.
Notes from my ongoing project: Train’s Comin’ – Our Journey with PTSD