For those of us who have a loved one with post-combat issues, every month is PTSD awareness month. But since June has been “officially” labeled that, I’m inclined to focus more publicly on it.
It’s been a year since my husband Mark was diagnosed with PTSD. He had been dealing with it for about a year already, but this was the first time to get validation. As I wrote HERE, it was a relief for me. It was a relief that things weren’t my fault. It was a relief that there was an explanation for the change in his attitude, emotions (or lack thereof), and verbal expression. It was a relief to simply KNOW.
Soon he was gone to Afghanistan again – “my home,” as he half-jokingly said. Saying goodbye this time was much harder than the first. Perhaps one element that added to the pain was the knowledge of what post-combat is like. The knowledge that war does come home. The knowledge that one doesn’t return whole. The knowledge that you are sending someone who is already not whole into another situation that could continue to break him.
We maintained MUCH better communication than during the first deployment. However, there were still some low points. There were times I’d leave my desk and be gone for longer than my allotted lunch time, talking with him. I even had to text my manager once and tell him that I couldn’t make it to a meeting – because Mark was having a difficult time and I just couldn’t pull away.
In February he returned, and those first couple weeks are a sweet period where one almost forgets about PTSD – almost. About a month after the homecoming, we were eating dinner at a favorite restaurant filled with people. But there was one point where I almost cried. How we started having a deep conversation as our hibachi chef was doing his show, I don’t know. But when your veteran begins talking, you listen intently and don’t interrupt. I savor those moments, because they aren’t frequent and I can gain much valuable insight – even if that insight is painful or sad.
Even at our rehearsal dinner, PTSD was a guest. While my gregarious family was reveling in the joyous occasion, Mark, Matt, and their parents were sitting in a quiet room. The twins were explaining what it’s like to return from combat, changed. What it’s like to be emotionally numb and depressed. What it’s like to be surrounded by people who are happy – and be angered by it. What it’s like to feel broken and that you can’t relate to anyone. I almost couldn’t believe this conversation was happening at our rehearsal dinner. This was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives! But yet, I could believe it. During those moments, there was a deep chasm between my family and us: people who cared but would never understand, and those of us steeped in the reality of post-combat.
So where are we one year after diagnosis? We have improved so much! We are working as a team now, with unified goals and dreams. We are learning how to be married and how to live together. It is not all marital bliss, but I still say that I wouldn’t trade this military life for any other. Why?
Because “Pleasure is deepened and enhanced when it has survived a moment of tedium or pain…In the same way, marriages become more stable only after disillusionment has brought the honeymoon to an end…Marriage joys, like all great joys, are born out of some pain. As we must crack the nut to taste the sweet so, in the spiritual life, the cross must be the prelude to the crown.” ~Archbishop Fulton Sheen
We have already lived that. The Army has done a great job of providing disillusionment; PTSD is a fabulous honeymoon-ender. But how could we ever hope to experience true, lasting joy if the bitterness of the cross had not been tasted? I can’t ever know what Mark has experienced. However, I DO understand fellow military wives in that I know what you have gone through. If you’re new to this PTSD thing, I get it. Those early days are burned into my memory. It’s difficult when you’re dealing with a beast (PTSD, not your husband!) you don’t understand. But in time, you’ll start to grasp it. Never completely, but in some part. Keep going, and keep trying to crack that nut. In time, there will be sweetness. Keep supporting your soldier and “Never, never, never give up.” (Winston Churchill)