Monday, October 24, 2011

Combat PTSD and Our Family

The OIF team at the VA asked me to write a letter describing the effects of my husband's PTSD on myself and my children. This is that letter with the names omitted.

10/20/2011
I am supposed to write a letter describing how my husband has affected myself and my children with his illness. I need to detail my emotions, my experiences and the children's as well. I can't help but wonder how I am supposed to accurately describe this train wreck that has become our lives.

How do I describe A's increasing anxiety, his stifling dependency on me? How do I make strangers understand my pain, my anger? Of course I am angry, at my husband, at myself, at the Marine Corps and pretty much anyone else in the entire world. And there is more, so much more than anger.

I wonder if strangers can truly grasp the devastating effect that post-traumatic stress has had on my family. Can they possibly understand my pain when my daughter told me she was afraid of her step-father? Can they
truly grasp the feeling I had when I came to the awful realization that it has now come down to this moment, where I must choose my children over my spouse, because no child should live in fear, even if she is unable to
define her fears specifically?

Can they imagine the pain of watching as the person you love is replaced by a ghost of who he was? Can they point out the moment in our story where it all went so wrong? I can't. I wonder if they can imagine how horrible it is to panic every time your loved one's behavior changes, whether it is understandable or not. I want to ask them if these words accurately portray the terrible sense of loss and the grieving that takes place as love is overshadowed by pity and guilt.  I want them to understand just how very much it hurts me to see pieces of A as he used to be every once in a while. A constant reminder now of what has been lost. As a writer, do I have the talent and strength to make them understand the grief that comes with losing
a spouse to this sort of half-death? Can they imagine the visits from this particularly cruel grim reaper, that mocks us with glimpses every now and then of the man A was, the man he should be.

I wonder if I can accurately portray a marriage that has become clinical. Where every word, mood, or gesture, every "I love you"', every phone call, every argument or celebration has become a symptom to be analyzed. Can they feel the emotions of a marriage where every single change in behavior sparks
panic and fear?

I am confident in my writing abilities. I process most of my emotion on paper, but this is deeper than I have ever been willing to go. It is painful and ugly, and I don't know if I have the words to make it clear, but I will
try.

Looking back now it is easy for me to see clearly the progression of PTSD in my husband. In the moments, however, there never seemed to be a clear crisis.

A came home from Iraq a different person. He was not the man that I remembered. I was not concerned. I assumed that he needed time to adjust to being home, to process his feelings and experiences. It became clear after nearly a year that he was declining rather than improving. The symptoms were subtle at first. They increased slowly, almost unnoticed except for in reflection. Depression and PTSD pervaded our marriage, our family and our home over the next four years. They are patient, insidious diseases that have left no piece of our lives untouched.

I was working the night shift in late 2006, A had been home for 5 months or so. I would usually come home between 1am and 3am. This was the first time that I noticed A appeared to be having nightmares. He would yell out in his sleep, and sometimes he would begin breathing rapidly and then hold his breath. I mentioned it to him and he said he was unaware of any nightmares.

He began sleeping a lot during the day. He gained a lot of weight. He became increasingly moody and irritable. He would withdraw into himself to such an extent at times that he seemed to be unaware of his surroundings at all. He stopped paying attention to our daughters, often forgetting to feed them dinner. He snapped at them over trivial things, and let major offenses go by unpunished, even unmentioned. He would laugh at something the girls did one day, and snap and yell at them the next day for doing the very same thing.
This was when I told him I thought he needed to seek treatment for depression. I did not mention PTSD. Any mention of the VA or of PTSD was met with instant and ferocious resistance.

A began to occupy himself with different distractions. At some point, the computer screen occupied all of his attention and focus, to the point of neglecting his family. He created multiple websites, putting weeks of
obsessive attention and effort into them, only to delete them and start over. He would seem to not be aware of the chaos of our children around him until he would suddenly snap and scream at them, generally for trivial
matters. This left the girls slightly on edge and moody.

At this point in time, A would still go places with me. He became increasingly unsocial however. He refused to speak to people, refused to consider my feelings about his demeanor around people I knew and cared
about. He became more and more agitated and hostile while we were in bars or clubs. He humiliated me on more than one occasion in front of close friends and acquaintances, telling me once, "Why don't you shut your [explicative] mouth," as we signed the mortgage for our house.

At the bar one night we got into an argument because A had left abruptly and gone to sit in the car. I was angry and embarrassed and was arguing with him. He told me that he didn't want to go back in because he couldn't stop seeing dead people. He cried. I had never seen him cry before. The next morning he acted as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened and got angry with me for suggesting that he seek counseling through the VA.

Another evening out was ended abruptly when A told me that he had to leave the club because he felt like stabbing people. I didn't realize then that he actually wanted to stab people, that the lights and crowds and noise were overwhelming for him.

In the spring of 2007, I came home late from work and was upset. A took a handgun out and yelled at me that he was "going down there right now to kill that guy". I had never mentioned a guy. We argued about him taking the gun because he did not have a carry permit yet. I only recently discovered that T(my oldest daughter) had heard the fight and had thought all this time that A was pointing the gun at her mother.

In early summer of the same year, after an evening out drinking we began to argue. I am unclear just how the argument escalated to the point that A again got the handgun and placed the barrel in his mouth with his finger on the trigger. I dialed 911 on my cell phone behind my back. He heard the operator answer and told me very calmly to hang up the phone. It was bizarre really, and scary. I hung up. I somehow got my hand over his, managed to get my fingers behind the trigger. After a few moments he let go of the gun. I sold the gun the next day while A stained the fence outside. He did not mention the night before. He acted as if nothing odd had occurred. When I pushed him to seek treatment once again, he resisted. He said he was fine. I told him that people that are fine do not put guns in their mouths. He told me he was just drunk. I told him that people that are drunk don't put guns in their mouths unless they are seriously screwed up. He agreed to call a counselor. I was satisfied.

He still refused to have anything to do with the VA and made an appointment with a local therapist. The councilor said that he was unqualified to help A and referred him to a doctor . A took offense. The way he saw it, the guy had snubbed him or something. I chalked it up to ego and figured he would make another attempt to find help. I was wrong.

A stopped drinking any alcohol. He stopped going to bars. He said they "put him in a bad place". Gradually, he stopped going anywhere at all except for work.

As our lives grew more stressful, with both of us working full time and another baby, A sunk deeper and deeper into himself. He showed very little emotion or affection for me or the children. He would provide most of the basic needs for the children, but emotionally he was as unavailable to them as he was to me. Going out as a family soon became too overwhelming. He would start out in good spirits and quickly become irritable and withdrawn. Young children quickly pick up on the moods of their parents and they were soon irritable and unruly as well. Arguments about his behavior were unproductive. He seemed to either not care or not see the emotional impact his behavior was having on our children.

In the winter of 2009 our arguments increased both in frequency and intensity. We were both working ten hours a day. A was responsible for child care from the end of his work day at around 4pm until I got home at 6 or 6:30pm. Most nights, I would arrive home to children that had not eaten dinner, done homework or had baths. This meant that the majority of the child care responsibility was mine, as well as most of the household
responsibility. The kids would eat late, go to bed late, and have to get up early so I could drop them off at the babysitter's house in time to be at work. This made for two sleep-deprived and crabby little girls. T began
falling way behind on her homework and receiving bad grades.

Frustrated, I argued with A about doing his fair share around the house rather than staring blankly at a computer screen all night. A got inappropriately angry, began screaming at me, inches from face about how he
was worthless and a bad father. When I told him that he just needed to "step up" once in a while, he got angrier. He screamed that I didn't even know what that meant and then picked up the Christmas tree and threw it across the room. He broke several ornaments that held sentimental value to me and our daughters. I cried, fixed the tree, glued some of the ornaments and watched him clean up the mess he had made. I spent the next day near tears, sort of in a daze, wondering exactly what had happened. A acted as though
nothing odd had occurred the night before.

Over the course of the next year I began growing wary of leaving the kids with their father, then feeling guilty for having those doubts. There seemed to be only two gears to A's parenting. Full out ignore mode, and
inappropriate yelling and discipline.

My oldest daughter, T, would tell me things that A had said or done before I came home. She would say he had slapped C, our middle daughter, or yelled at them or that he was "being mean". C would confirm what T said. T would say that A had hurt her arm and show me the red mark from where he had grabbed her and A would deny any wrong doing, or downplay the situation, or tease T for being too sensitive. He would call her a liar or other mildly offensive names. He would tell me he wasn't yelling and that we would know when he was yelling. I was torn between protecting my children and not wanting to believe that my husband would lie about something like that. It's understandable that a child would lie. I wanted to think that a grown man
and father of three would not. I couldn't quite believe A though.  I was worried about my oldest daughter, who was failing school and seemed so unhappy at home. A's presence in the home had an immediate and negative effect on T. She would go from a happy, carefree little girl to sullen, withdrawn and moody the moment A walked in the door. Most evening when I came home from work, T was in her
room alone. Many evenings, she was crying.

I do not believe that my husband ever physically abused my children. I do believe that he has been emotionally and verbally abusive towards the older kids for quite some time. He seems to act out when he is alone with them, and then deny any accusations they make, even when it is glaringly obvious that he is lying.

I was beyond stressed, and possibly a bit depressed myself. I had the best paying job I had ever had in my life with room for promotion. I liked my job and I was good at it. I quit in late 2009, unable to establish a balance of work and home. I resented A for not taking care of more things at home. It felt, at times, that he was purposely making things more difficult for me.

I asked A on multiple occasions about going to the VA, or about the Helmets to Hardhats programs in the local unions. I resented his lack of ambition. It seemed he was happy to stay forever in the position we were in. which was mostly always broke and barely able to feed our kids. I thought he was lazy, or didn't really care about supporting his family to his best ability. He kept saying it was too late for him to change jobs now, that he would only be around for another ten or twenty years. I still thought he was lazy. I resented being unable to provide for my children the way they deserve. I resented the fact that I had to return to work just two weeks after the births of both C and Q, because we were unable to afford formula. I resented that he did not seem inclined to better our lives. I worked three jobs for a period of time, resented the time I spent away from my infant son and two daughters. A worked fourty hours and stared at the computer screen the rest of the time. There is so much anger. So much resentment. So much kept inside because I am unable to predict his reaction. I never know if he will have a reasonable discussion with me, get defensive and cold, or go into a rage about something. So I keep it in, and it builds up to overwhelming proportions.

His behavior during arguments was becoming increasingly physical. He kicked in our front door, breaking the knob side jamb and the ripping the trim from around the door. The door had hit my wrist when he kicked it. I spent the next few days with it in a brace. He hadn't meant to hurt me then, he couldn't see through the door. It was several months before we were able to lock the door securely. He had thrown and broken things in anger since his return from Iraq. He had become increasingly destructive though. He threw the computer tower and monitor on one occasion, knocking the deck over while I was sitting in front of it. The kids were home and witnessed it. More recently he broke the glass door at my work, angry that I had stayed late
and had a couple of drinks. He has broken the windshield and the passenger window on our van.

By the spring of 2010 there was very little of the man that I had loved left in him. I cried, begged, fought and threatened to get him to seek help. He refused over and over.  The only emotion he was able to display was anger. So I used it. I fought with him, constantly about his behavior.

At this point, I was miserable just being home. I didn't realize that I had allowed A to make me and the kids his whole identity. I missed the fact that he had anxiety attacks when I was gone. When he told me I was his
everything, I missed the desperation in his voice. I didn't think about the fact that he would only do something with me around. Our families couldn't see the depression, because he used me as a safe zone. He would seem to have a good time, almost like the man I had married. I thought that he would not leave the house. I didn't realize that he couldn't.

I thought he could see the pain that we were experiencing. It is incredibly heart breaking to see the man you love disappear slowly into this darkness. It is sad and scary to look at the man that you married and realize that you do not know who he is anymore. I knew that I could not continue on this way. I threatened, for the millionth time to leave him if he did not see a doctor. He could not have known that I truly meant it this time. He did not make an appointment. A friend of mine sat him down one day and told him quite bluntly that A stood to lose me and the babies if he did not seek help. I didn't register the fact that it took him three whole days to get angry with me for discussing what he thought was HIS business. I didn't realize he was losing the ability to show anger, which was one of the last emotions that I saw in him.

When I discovered that I was pregnant in March of 2011, we decided to have an abortion. We were in no position, financially or emotionally to have another child. It was a difficult decision, and one I only regret on
occasion. A did not accompany me to the office for the procedure, which hurt me irrationally because I had told him he didn't have to. Days later I had a sort of emotional breakdown. I wanted, needed actually, the emotional support of my husband. Generally, I do not cry. Generally I can put a happy face on no matter what. Thinking about the abortion, I began crying, sobbing really. I laid in our bed crying as I have never cried before or since. My husband rolled over and went to sleep. Obviously, I was extremely hurt. I wondered how he could do something like that to the person he was supposed to love. I couldn't do that to someone I didn't like. I figured there was very little point in continuing our relationship, and began thinking about divorce.

In early July of 2011 I told A that I was going to leave him. I told him I was desperately unhappy and that I could not trust him anymore. I told him quite clearly that I was not in love with this man that he had become. I
told him that I did not get married to get divorced, but that I also did not get married to be so miserable. I told him that I would never be the sort of person that could be happy in this place where everything is the same. He told me that he could be the man I wanted, needed him to be. He made a few phone calls. I stayed. I don't know why, but I drug my feet in leaving. A became more active. He started doing things around the house. He started to play with the kids instead of just tuning them out. He didn't seem so dead on the inside. He began showing me exorbitant amounts of attention. He took two weeks of vacation in what he thought was an attempt to mend our marriage. I didn't realize he was sinking further and further into darkness.
He was grasping at me desperately as a life line. I was the only thing he had left to hold onto. He went to the doctor.

The doctor gave him a preliminary diagnosis of severe clinical depression. Dr. V told me later that he initially attributed A's illness to combat PTSD, but that A was in such a fragile condition and so resistant to anything
related to the military that he was afraid to push too hard about the PTSD.

A explained to me that he had truly believed our relationship was fine, and that we were happy until I had broken his delusion with the news that I was leaving him. I began to realize the severity of A's illness and told him that I would give our marriage another chance. He continued to see Dr. V and got a prescription for an anti-depressant from our family doctor.

Even though I had told him I would give this marriage another chance, in my mind and he A I was already gone. There had been so much pain in the last few years, I was incapable of lowering my defenses. A tried all that much harder. I sensed that A's attempt at reconciling this marriage was unnatural. The more space I needed, the more he tried to pull me to him. It was during this week that A's rages escalated physically from property damage to physical abuse. During an argument one night he took the car keys from me because I wanted to leave. Then stood in the way of the car, blocked the driver's door, and attempted to push me out of the seat, which wasn't new behavior as he has done this on many occasions when he didn't want me to
leave. He picked up a tactical style knife I had in the car, forced me to to hold it by placing his hand over mine and tried to make me stab him, screaming at me that I might as well just kill him because I was leaving him
anyway. I managed to let go of the knife. He physically took the car keys from me, re-injuring an old injury to my thumb. He slammed my hand in the car door when I attempted to open it. He broke the windshield out of the van by repeatedly slamming his head and fist into it and broke the passenger side window with his fist as
well. He knocked the phone off of the wall when I attempted to call for a ride. He shoved me multiple times, refusing to allow me to exit the front door. As I tried to pass him he used his forearm to shove me back by the
face, resulting in a black eye. When I did get out of the house and tried to walk to a friends he physically restrained me and accidentally (?) knocked me to the ground in our neighbor's yard. He then offered to take me to my friends, but ended up driving erratically, speeding and taking sharp turns around the block multiple times while I sat on the floor of the van and cried, pleading with him to take me home. After what seemed like a long time, but probably wasn't, he pulled the car into the front yard and seemed to calm almost
instantly. After an hour or so, he dropped me off at my friends. Our children were not present during this occasion. Later that day he picked me up, he was sad and remorseful, but also defensive, telling me in reference to the black eye, "It's not like I meant to do it".

I wanted to take my children and leave the home. I was afraid he would kill himself.

During the third week of July A reached some sort of crisis stage. He did not eat or sleep for four days. He became delusional about our relationship. His anxiety became palpable. He could not sit still. He paced, smoked like a chimney, he was sweating and rubbing and scratching his skin. He tapped his feet, picked imaginary lint off of his clothes, and chewed his fingers and nails.

After the third day of no sleep A called me at work, crying and despondent. He apologized to me for everything he had put me through. He cried over the way he had treated the kids. When I got home that evening we had a long discussion about our relationship. He told me that he realized that it was unfair of him to ask me to stay after all we had been through. He said that I deserved to be happy. I felt good about the whole thing. I felt that I could now leave him, and he would not do anything drastic. He seemed to accept the fact that the marriage was over and he would continue to seek treatment. I fell asleep. He did not. When I woke up an hour and a half later, A's entire demeanor had changed. He seemed to recall nothing of the conversation we had had in the wee hours of the morning. The physical signs of his anxiety had increased. "Come sit with me." He said, as though we were a normal couple. I shook my head no. He stopped moving. Totally, all at once, just stopped. It was creepy, but not yet terrifying.

I went into the bedroom to talk with him again. He began fidgeting again. He asked why I was mad at him. I was thoroughly confused. I told him that I thought he had understood that I simply could not do this anymore.  He stopped moving again. I got up and walked into the living room, down the hallway and into the bathroom. He followed me. He did not speak, he did not try to touch me. I used the bathroom and opened the door. A was standing outside of the door with the most horrible expression I have ever seen. I have seen him look far away and distant. This look was different. There was absolutely nothing in there of my husband. It was like looking into dead eyes. I cannot describe it in words. I know my husband would never hurt me, would never hurt our babies, but I did not know this man in front of me. He was not my husband. He was nothing.  The psychologist described this as "flat affect". I can't describe it accurately at all. I have nightmares about that day, that moment when I opened the door. I had known A could become suicidal, this was the first time I thought he may become homicidal.

Instinct sort of took over from there and there is bit that I don't entirely remember. I was terrified, for myself and for my children. So, I lied to him. I told him that we would be okay, but that he needed to get some
immediate help, in the form of inpatient treatment. He started to fidget again. I lied some more. I told him I wouldn't leave him, that our marriage would be fine.  I just had to get him somewhere safe, both for him and for us. When he admitted to having suicidal idealization I talked him into going to the ER. I knew he was only doing it to make me stay. I didn't care. I figured I could burn that bridge later.

He was hospitalized for two or three days in the acute psychiatric ward at Porter Starke Behavior Health Center in Valparaiso IN. He then went to his mother's house to spend a week. I was afraid to let him back into the home, for multiple reasons. Having made us the center of his universe for so long, I was afraid that coming home would cause a deterioration in his condition, which was remarkably improved since the ER visit. I was also afraid of him. He was put on FLMA at work, dropping our already miniscule income even further. I was forced to drop most of shifts at work as A had always stayed with the kids on the nights that I worked. I couldn't have taken them to a babysitter during the week when they had school and was unable to find someone to watch them in my home.

For a time, after A returned home from his parents, he seemed to be improving remarkably, and then began to decline quickly. He began exhibiting physical signs of anxiety, sweating, pacing, fidgeting. It worried me and
terrified me. For a time I didn't mention my observations because I was afraid it would downplay the progress that he had been making. The constant worry and fear was having a physical effect on me. I surpassed any stress threshold that I had imagined I had. I could not sleep. My stomach was burning, my head always ached, I cried a lot. My stomach burned. I forgot to eat, found myself unable to write, and at times found it difficult to breath. I thought that I was probably going crazy too. When I did finally mention the things that I had observed, it started arguments and screaming matches. It seemed to me that the whole thing was starting all over again.

When my own stress became too much to handle, I asked A to leave the home for a period of time. I told him that I was afraid of him, that I was unable to feel safe in the home. I told him that I did not want a divorce but that if he didn't give me the space I needed it was probably going to end that way. No definite plans were made that night. The next day his behavior was odd to say the least. He had cried until he threw up the night before. When I spoke to him on the phone the next day he seemed positively giddy. He was cheerful and pleasant, as though we hadn't discussed his moving out. Again, it was creepy. I had to go to the grocery store. Over the course of the hour I spent in the store he called me four times and texted me a few times. I grew uneasy, left the store before I finished shopping and rushed home. When I got there, he seemed to be in good spirits. He was sweating though, and fidgeting and shaking. I was overwhelmed, angry and scared. After the kids went to bed I told him that I was going to go have a beer with our friend, Melissa and that I would be home in a half an hour. He became intensely angry, took the car keys and refused once again to let me leave. When he set the keys down I took them, at which point he attempted to wrestle them from me hand and we ended up on the kitchen floor, with him laying on top of me, pinning me down as he tried to pry the keys out of my hand. My own anger escalated and I hid the keys to all of the vehicles as he packed his suitcase and yelled at me. I told him he could have the key to his truck after I got back from the gas station. I took our son with me as he was still awake, bought cigarettes and returned. A was no calmer. He had found the keys to a friend's house that I had had for some time. He threw them across the street and then shoved me against the car. I am ashamed to say that I swung at him, hitting him in the jaw. I went into the house and sat down. Cried a bit.

A came in the house acting a little strange. He seemed to be drunk. He was unsteady and held his hand up to my conversation. He said enough and told me he had to throw up. I laughed at him a little, told him that he should not have drunk the whole bottle, because I assumed he had finished off the bottle of rum that was in the refrigerator. He told me that he hadn't finished the bottle, he had finished all the bottles, which made no sense, as there was only a single bottle in the house. I walked outside and discovered all three of his medication bottles empty and on the lawn. I dialed 911. Police, firemen and the ambulance showed up, and A went willingly to the ER at St. Anthony's in Michigan City, where he was under observation for a time before he was moved up to the acute care unit on a mandatory 72 hour hold. I was again stressed beyond my limit. I had a meeting with his psychologist, who informed me that his preliminary diagnosis was severe clinical depression with psychotic features and PTSD. I learned that A had been less than totally honest with Dr. V and also with me and was relieved when Dr. V agreed that his best course of treatment was a residential program for PTSD. I learned that A experienced auditory hallucinations and that he disconnected from reality.
Dr. V told me that A was in no condition to determine what appropriate discipline was for our children. I was ashamed to tell the doctor all of our experiences, embarrassed that I was afraid of my husband and that I did not want him to come home. I was never the sort of person to be afraid of any thing. I didn't even know anymore who I was. Because I would never have been that girl with the black eye trying to explain that he didn't really mean to hurt me, that he was sick, that it probably wouldn't happen again. I was never the woman that would allow a man to mistreat me, emotionally or physically. I was conflicted about my own identity, torn between not wanting to walk away from a husband that needed me and was ill and not wanting my daughter's to learn that it was okay for anyone to hurt them under any circumstances. Another stress threshold surpassed. Another week of emotional distress. A train wreck as a mother, as a person.

A's behavior while on the acute care unit was bizarre and scary. His anxiety was incredibly high. He displayed irrational anger and rage. He felt that we were throwing him away by asking him to enter residential care. He asked to please not leave him and told me he didn't remember taking the pills. He said he didn't want to die, he just did stupid things when he was so angry or anxious. I realized that I could not bring him home. He was seemingly unaware at times of his behavior at all. I was scared of what he might do in such a state, to me, our children and to himself. He was again diagnosed with PTSD and depressive disorder. I made frantic calls to every suicide prevention coordinator listed on the VA website.

Unfortunately, it was Columbus Day weekend, and I didn't hear back from anyone until Tuesday. The suicide prevention coordinator from North Chicago IL, called me early Tuesday morning. He went out of his, above and beyond what he had to to help me get A transferred to a VA hospital as soon as possible. I took back all of the bad things I had ever thought or said about the VA. Unfortunately, St. Anthony's was unwilling to assist in arranging a transfer and would not consider assisting in transport arrangement. The suicide prevention crisis line suggested that I move him immediately to the ER at Jesse Brown in Chicago Il. I would have to take him myself. The coordinator from North Chicago called again, and told me to take A straight from the hospital to Chicago. He said since he was willing to seek treatment, my best bet was to get him there without stopping anywhere. Shortly afterwards, St. Anthony's called to inform me that they were releasing A later that day and I experienced my first full-blown panic attack, complete with chest pains and hyperventilating. I was hysterical and nonsensical when I phoned my friend. She came over and calmed me down a little, said she would watch my kids while I went to get A and drove him to Chicago.

When I arrived to pick him up, A's behavior was inappropriate considering the situation. He was almost giddy again. He rubbed my legs and arms, tousled my hair and gave the impression that he was just fine. He had told the social worker he intended to go directly to the VA. When he realized that we were going directly to Chicago his mood changed drastically. He became extremely "labile", another term I learned from Dr. V. I have witnessed mood swings in my husband before. I have never seen instantaneous mood swings. It would have been fascinating had it not been so terrifying. He alternately sobbed, laughed and screamed. He went from one extreme to another almost instantly. It was bizarre.

We waited at the VA for something like 7 hours for him to be seen. He was confrontational and angry when we were seen by the nurse. He downplayed his symptoms, told them that he wasn't suicidal and wasn't thinking about killing himself. I filled in everything that he left out, tired of covering for him and convinced that he was in a crisis stage, whether he admitted it or not. He was angry at my interventions, and attempted to validate all of the behaviors that I outlined, individually. I gave up trying to explain my concerns and began talking to his doctor instead. When he admitted that he heard voices to the doctor, I cried, for him and for us. His demeanor changed and he reached out to rub my arm. He told me not to cry and I started giggling. I laughed hysterically until I cried again. I decided that insanity is probably contagious. A voluntarily signed himself into the acute care ward at Jesse Brown, I suspect because he knew that if he did not, he would not be able to come home. I left him in the ER waiting for transfer to the acute care unit.

I was drained, emotionally, physically and mentally. The effects of this condition on our family cannot be easily summarized. There are so many emotions, extreme and most often, conflicting. I desperately want my husband to get better, but I know in my heart that he will never be quite the same. That I will be lucky to see glimpses of the man that he used to be. I know that our marriage will never be what it should have been, if we are able to salvage it at all. I know that the person I should be able to trust the most, to rely on the most is incapable at this point of providing any sort of support, emotionally, physically or financially. I wonder if my children will be adversely affected as they grow by the emotional neglect of their father, by his mood swings and irrational anger, by his outbursts and delusions. If we stay in this marriage, I wonder if my son will grow up and find it acceptable to take his frustration and anger out in physical abuse, because he is only two years old and can only learn by what he experiences and sees.

I pray that A will be able to manage the symptoms of PTSD, but am terrified that our entire lives will be a rollercoaster of these extreme episodes. I am afraid I will spend my entire life trying to analyze his behavior and mood, unable to confide in or have a rational discussion for fear of triggering his anxiety and bringing this nightmare back again. I don't know if he will ever be able to handle all of our children at the same time on
his own. They overwhelm even the sanest of people.

PTSD has affected our entire lives. My hands still hurt most of the time, from the car door and the struggle over car keys. I spent days wrapping my ribs after being pinned to the floor under a husband that is over twice my weight. I am struggling to understand where mental illness overrides the personal responsibility for one's actions. Torn between salvaging my pride and self-esteem and supporting my husband through this insidious illness he has. Struggling to come to terms with the person I have become, the things that I have done, the things my children have gone through all these years. Trying not to hate myself for allowing us to get to this desperate point in our lives.

In other areas of our life? Our mortgage is past due, I don't know when we will be able to catch it up. I cannot pay for my children's basic needs. My son has outgrown nearly all of his clothing, and I can't afford to buy him any new things. My family has been providing groceries. I have applied for food stamps and will have to contact some local charities. I am avoiding doing so because it shames me to admit how badly I have failed in the family department. A's FMLA has ended now through his employer and my children are without insurance. I don't know what I will do if one of them gets ill. A friend of mine paid to have the oil changed on my car and filled the tank because he knew I was broke. More conflicting emotion. gratitude soured by
shame.

I won't go so far as to say that PTSD has ruined our lives, because everything can be changed, everything can be fixed and nothing is hopeless. But it has definitely ruined the life we should have had, and could have had
together. It has changed us all, separately and as a family unit.

I hope this letter. er, short novel. can illustrate just a fraction of my pain. I hope I have accurately portrayed every aspect of our struggle. If not, I will be at a loss to provide any further detail. These pages contain
the essence of my own struggles, the pain, fear and anger go soul deep and I'm afraid there simply are no words to describe them more accurately.

Submitted by KA

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your courageous battle with your experiences with PTSD. You are not alone.

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  2. What's the update on his and your progress?

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  3. I haven't looked at this in while. It makes me cry. As for an update... We are doing well. He spent some time in an inpatient VA center, which helped astronomically in regards to managing his anxiety. Unfortunately, the depression has proved a bit more difficult to manage,but he is still a million times better than he was a few years ago. We are still married, and while we still have the occasional argument, there has never once been a repeat of the aggression, violence or rapid escalation. So, all in all, we are doing good and working on great. :-)

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  4. This is from a very long time ago and I'm not sure if you will get this message. However, I am currently battling quite some demons and am in a similar situation to your husband. My wife and I are barely hanging on and I'm in and out of myself. Im.not sure where or how you found the strength to stay by his side but I'm hoping that my wife will as well.

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  5. I realize this is old, but thank you for sharing. Your story down to the words your husband used is parallel to ours, only I ended up having to had mine sent to jail. As he sits in there because I was unable to convince the cops to take him to a mental institution, I have 2 more days to try and figure out how to get him the help he needs. He's already a disabled vet due to bipolar disorder, but he never got evaluated for PTSD properly....or lied, I don't know. I know he has it. I've witnessed him come back from Iraq worse every time. It's awful.

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