There are families in trouble. Deep trouble. And today, for the first time, I finally got it. The entity charged with caring for our combat veterans is truly stressed. There are not enough beds available in any given treatment program for our combat vets when they reach the boiling point. There isn’t enough staff, there isn’t enough outreach. If you have a combat vet knocking at your door, or if his wife is knocking at your door, you can bet that they have started to boil. I have watched my own family simmer and bubble, and a few times, we have been to that boiling point. Unfortunately, it took a suicide attempt to make my husband and I realize just how fragile we really are. We all are. And it wasn’t his life that was almost put to an end, it was mine. I didn’t want to die. I never wanted to die. I don’t want to die today. But I just didn’t want him to die. And here he was dying in front of my very eyes.
My oldest child was reaching the age where he was acutely aware of the fact that something wasn’t right. But, at the tender age of 6, he had not the words, nor the maturity, to realize what it was, and that it wasn’t at all his fault. All that little boy sensed was that mommy was hurting, daddy was hurting, and they were often times very, very, angry. He began to act out. Not at school so much, but his academics did suffer. He was no longer the top of his class as he was the previous two years. He acted out at home. With such rage and anger it scared my husband and I into a paralytic state. My son lunged at my husband, and hit him. It was so out of character for him, that we both just stood there. We didn’t know what to do, so we didn’t do anything. We were guilty. We were the sons of bitches who was causing this boy to hurt! We deserved this acting out. The effects of life after combat were becoming so deeply embedded in our lives, in our family, in our children, that we felt helpless to remove them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then go read about secondary trauma syndrome, and look up some stuff on what exactly it is like to be keyed up for a year…. Then imagine coming home and having to be all la-dee-da about it. Kids running around the house and being boys and jumping on their father sends my husband through the roof. It just is what it is at this point, and we had to start being honest with my oldest about why Daddy can’t have you sneaking up on him, about why balloons are not welcome here, about why we always miss the fireworks, about why you can’t rough and tumble with daddy unless HE starts it. Sorry buddy, but it is what it is, and your daddy loves you and he would die for you. Unfortunately, he just can’t wrestle with you.
But that is not the point I am making. I am seeing more and more young families in crisis. I observe these families simmering, I recognize the bubbles here and there that give way to full out boiling. Why are so many families suffering? At first I thought it was just us. Just my little world. I wasn’t equipped to handle this, maybe this was just too hard for me. Maybe I was making my husband worse. Yes, that was it, my husband suffers because I can’t make it better, and am, in fact, contributing to his PTSD/TBI.
It is all around me, these simmering and seething family units who are just at this point surviving. They don’t even KNOW how numb they really are! But they have been kicked into survival mode, and once you get there, you just are there… It’s too much effort to reach out to move past that.
Did I ever tell you about how in 2008 I had a week of hard core panic attacks? It was the craziest thing. I didn’t know anything about life after combat, and had you ever told me that my husband’s experiences would affect me to this degree I would have said you are out of your mind. I would be in the kitchen, and just start hyperventilating. Out of the blue. I’d be just standing there making something for my family to eat and I’d lose it. No warning. Then it started happening at work. I’d have to run to the linen room, or to the bathroom and let myself go. I clamped my hands so god damn hard over my mouth to suppress the sobs, I’d lean forward so the tears wouldn’t soak my shirt, rather, they’d leave an ocean at my feet.
So I went to a therapist. She was a nice plain Jane who had her LSW or something like that and she was perched at the edge of her chair with her little note pad and pen and listened to my experiences with panic attacks. I had NO insight into why this was happening. I told her a little about myself, my husband was there, we said he was in the war and he has some PTSD but nothing major. She wrote it down. Her assessment was that I was suffering from severe anxiety ( I know, major breakthrough right?) and that I should call my regular doctor and make an appointment so I could maybe get an antidepressant (um…I’m not sad, I’m wrought with anxiety, but whatever)… and she’d see me in a week.
I never went back.
And the attacks went away.
And life was good…for a while.
Until that time I went mute. For 3 whole days if I remember right. I couldn’t talk. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, or that I didn’t want to talk, I just simply couldn’t. My mouth would actually NOT open. My husband or children would ask a question and I would just look at them. It was the weirdest stress induced reaction I had ever had. But I didn’t know that is what it was. I just thought I was losing it. I was weak, and possibly going to end up in looney bin somewhere. I didn’t know then that my life was incredibly complex, and difficult, and I was doing it alone.
But then came some in-law drama, and some work drama, and some financial unrest, and all these external pressures were bearing down on us, and I couldn’t watch my husband numb himself out of this situation. And did I mention that the laundry was piled to the ceiling, and there was a stack of mail I found in the car from 2 weeks ago, and I was supposed to call someone back I think… The more you don’t feel, the more I HAVE to feel. And in a rash and completely unprovoked move, I downed a LOT of Ativan. Apparently 14 mg doesn’t do anything but make you look like a drunken mess. The husband was on to me, and he took me to the ER where I confessed what I had done. They wanted to keep me, but I was not wanting to stay. (These things my husband filled me in on). I didn’t want to die. I wanted my husband to LIVE. It was at that point that he realized, okay babe, we have a problem, and what can we do to fix it.
So call it what you will. And say what you will about me. I see how close we are pushed to the edge. How irrational and illogical we are when we are boiling. We just feel the pain, the burning and excruciating pain, and we act so it will stop, not in a week, not in an hour, but right now. RIGHT NOW.
I am 21 hours away from a family boiling. And it is apparent that something needs to be done. I can’t go down there and be with them, nor would I want to meddle like that, but there needs to be some sort of safety net for these families. Why are all these families reaching these insane temperatures? Turn down the heat, that’s what makes sense. Help them. I know you are over worked, under paid, stretched thin, but unfortunately, you don’t really have the luxury to NOT do anything. You are going to have to stretch yourself that much more. I know it can be done. I KNOW these families are worth it. I know that if you stretch just a little bit farther, when the family is removed from the heat, and cool down, they will pay it forward, and help the next family. That is what communities do. That is what we are. We pick up where the system isn’t reaching us. We hang on until the big dogs get there, the ones who are equipped to deal with this.
But please, can you move faster?
Submitted by KM