“You just don’t understand.” Those four words seem to be the most recited mantra for many veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And, for many caretakers, that mantra is one of the most frustrating to hear. It means that our day is about to become a war zone, filled with suspicion and paper bullets of the brain. Many times in support groups we are told that we will never understand and, though we may be able to sympathize, we will never be able to empathize. I disagree.
I do understand. I understand more than I am given credit for, and I think people need to become aware that caretakers and military spouses are not exempt from the hardships of war. Our cross is just as heavy; it is simply shaped differently.
I may not have enlisted, but I did voluntarily marry a man who went into the military. He was willing to give up his life for his country, and I have given up my life, my best friend, and my partner for my country. He came home in body, but he is no longer the man I married. I stay to care for a stranger. My life no longer belongs to me; it belongs to my husband, the VA, the State, and the Republic. Just like people say that Veterans do not deserve to be pitied because they volunteered for their hardships, I am also told that I chose to stay in this marriage and deserve no more than bumper-sticker salutes.
I may not have gone into a war zone where I could be shot at or blown up, but my world is a war zone. I wake up every day ready to be a human shield for my husband. I take the brunt of the criticisms and accusations from others so that he will not be triggered. My enemy is just as invisible as the insurgents, for I never know when someone will hate me for simply being married to a military man and therefore deny me the opportunities I need to keep my family afloat. I take "friendly fire" every time my veteran is triggered. I live with a constant awareness that, if I do not keep my veteran calm, I will have to endure a battlefield of anger waged in my heart and soul with the casualties being my emotions and self-worth.
There are days I do not eat or sleep, not because food is not available to me or a comfortable bed is not nearby, but because I do not have time to feed myself past maybe some beef jerky and some Mountain Dew. Rest is fleeting when you have to sleep with one eye open to guard against being slapped, punched, scratched, or choked because your veteran is having a nightmare or heard a noise.
I do not get regular medical care. With all of his appointments, I do not have time for mine. Motrin 800 has become my daily vitamin supplement and keeps me going through the pain.
I have had to learn to deal with this warzone in my home. I am always vigilant to protect my veteran from unnecessary stimulation. I have learned to turn off my emotions when he says things in his anger. I have become less than sympathetic to people's seemingly trivial problems like the cable going out while I have gone into anhedonic mode. I can no longer stand crowds or people or driving or even phone calls. All I want is peace.
For a long time I felt my husband was lucky that he had battle buddies to help him deal with his emotions, since I had no one who seemed to understand what I was going through. But now I have found my own "battle buddies" in other military wives that ¬have come together looking for someone who understands. I found Shawn Gourley who started a group designed to help caretakers and veterans come together to fight PTSD as a united front. I have found many friends in the Facebook group, Military with PTSD, who understand this life on both sides of the coin. They have shown me that just as one soldier does not make an army, one spouse cannot stand alone either.
I may not know "war" like my husband has, but for someone who has only known peace in her life, this is war. Living with a veteran with PTSD means I am always at war with the VA, the State, the civilians, or with him. So, I do understand.
Shawn Gourley, the founder of Military with PTSD, is reaching out to everyone in an effort to help them understand how veterans and spouses live life with PTSD. Her book "The War At Home" shares her story from the perspective of her husband as well as herself. You can purchase a copy on Amazon. The book is on sale until July 8, 2012 in honor of Independence Day.