Thursday, April 23, 2015

Moments Of Impact

Hello. I'm Melissa, my husband and I have been married for 22 years. He served 16 Active Duty Army years. His last deployment was in 2007-2008. I remember doing the same thing then that I had done each time he was about to return/redeploy. You know, made sure the house was in tip top shape, did all the grocery shopping, bought all of his favorite things, and made plans for all the things we talked about doing when he returned. Little did I know, this return would be the one that would change everything. The defining moment. Prior to this deployment, we had a PCS move to the lovely Fort Polk, La. If you have ever been stationed there then you detected a hint of sarcasm behind that last sentence. We have three children. Two of them were Elementary age children at the time, one was a middle school student. Fort Polk has a DOD school on post for Elementary age children but it falls under the Vernon Parish school district guidelines, etc. The first time I walked into that school I had an uneasy feeling. It didn't feel warm, it wasn't welcoming, it was just cold. It didn't look like a place where children spent most of their days. It looked cold, dark, and felt like an institution. Not that I know what that feels like but they way I would imagine it was right there in front  of me. My oldest daughter attended Leesville Middle School. I don't even want to talk about our experiences with that school.  Needless to say, this was not the environment that my children were accustomed to. Maybe we had been one of the lucky ones. We had been to Schweinfurt, Germany, Fort Benning, Ga and had great experiences. Sometimes, comparing one situation to the next is the hardest thing to stop doing. Which brings me to this. Unfortunately I couldn't stop doing that. I couldn't just "suck it up" I had to move on. After being in Ft Polk for a few short months, my husband's unit was about to deploy. We decided during that time that I would return to our home state of Alabama where all of our family lived, my children had friends there, etc. So the move began. Everything was fine. It was the beginning of summer so the children were out of school and etc. I just ran into one problem that I had not considered.....my children and I had no one to relate to. This town wasn't a military town, these people had no idea what that was like, and the children in the town certainly had no idea what the word deploy meant.  I reflect on that word quite often and how it had a dark presence in my home. Deployment is a large word and it was like D day in my home. You can prepare yourself all you want to and you can make plans, you can hope for the best, but nothing can prepare you for what comes after.  This was the longest deployment we had ever been through, 15 months. That is a long time. That was the longest time we had ever been apart at one time. So towards the end when I knew of dates that things would happen like when he would return, when block leave would be, etc. I started to make plans. My Mother was taking the children and myself to Panama City Beach, Florida for 5 days. Block leave was to start the day after that 5 day vacation so I made preparations to rent a condo to stay an additional week and then my husband would make the drive from Fort Polk, La to PCB, Florida to join us. What I didn't do was prepare for what would happen. In my mind I visualized us sitting on the beach, sipping some sort of fruity drink with an umbrella and etc. You get it....we've all had that moment. After all this was our time, nobody could take that away. Iraq was a world away, that was over, we were just going to have the best vacation ever ! That's what I told myself anyway. The time came, he drove down and we immediately got down to the beach, toes in the sand, just talking. My children are quite adventurous and they wanted us in the ocean at that very moment. My husband doesn't exactly enjoy the water. He loves looking at it, walking alongside it, but if he gets in...not so much. Water up to his knees/waste is enough and he has his thrill and he's over it. Well. the children and I were in the water, enjoying the waves, made our way to the sandbar, etc. I looked back and I saw my husband pacing in the sand. I watched him walk back and forth for what seemed like forever but it was actually only a couple of minutes. I felt it, I knew something wasn't right. I got the children together and we made our way out of the water. He was gone, didn't see him, there were quite a few people on the beach and I started to feel this overwhelming sense of panic. I can't describe it but as I type this, I can feel it and smell it as if I am still there in that moment. The children and I raced up to the condo and there he stood, in the breezeway on his cell phone with one hand on the phone and one on his head, he was still pacing. I said "what's wrong? what happened?" He didn't answer, he just kept talking and pacing. He handed the phone to me and I grabbed that phone with a great sense of fear and I said "hello" It was Military One Source and the woman said "Mrs Saint, I understand that you are away from his duty station, but I need you to do this for me, for him" I didn't know how to respond to that. Tears began to flow and I don't even know what I said to her. I just knew that I had an address , a name of a counselor, and I had to get him there as soon as possible. I got him there and I would like to say that the story stopped here and that we lived happily ever after but that only happens in fairy tales. This isn't a fairy tale, this is real life and it was forever changed in that moment. We left the beach, we returned to Alabama. We packed all of our things into a U-Haul and we headed back to Fort Polk, La. Block leave continued and he would continue as if nothing had ever happened. In my mind I knew what had happened, it haunted me but what was I to do? I didn't understand. I had been told over and over that this is the way things could be, but I didn't absorb it because I didn't understand it.  I started pushing him into therapy, etc. He went, he continued to go each and every week. With each passing week more medication poured into our home. The cabinet that once held spices, cooking and baking supplies was now "his cabinet" His medication cabinet. I watched the person that had once been so vibrant, so full of life, etc. slowly morph into a person that I no longer knew. Things we had once done together, I was now doing alone. I became lonely, withdrawn and in a dark place. I would suddenly get chills, start to sweat, feel like terrible things were going to happen out of nowhere. I had to seek help for myself. This was out of the ordinary for me. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. My entire life had changed. His "problems" had become my problems. I began to fall into this dark place where nothing was enjoyable anymore. One day I decided, that's it, I have children. I can not do this another day. I applied for a job with Youth Sports in Fort Polk and my life changed. I would spend hours working outside in the swampy Louisiana heat. I loved it. The children and families I worked with changed my life. I could relate to people, they could relate to me. My children started a different school system in Louisiana, they loved it. Everything felt normal again. A year and a half went by and to me and the children life was great, we were happy, content. We were continuing on with life. My husband was in therapy. He was doing great, or at least I thought he was. Then things became different. He started pacing the sidewalks at night, blasting his music through his ipad. I started to notice that he was texting a lot. One day his phone went off, I picked it up to hand it to him and you know Iphones, if you receive a text it displays it on the screen. The text said "I Love you" the sender was "Jason" I thought, Jason?So Jason loves you? I've always been rather curious so I picked the phone up and hit contact info and got the number. I went to my phone, blocked my number and called it. Did Jason answer? of course not, it was a female. I said excuse me, who is this? She said "ummm this is Wendy, who is this?" I replied....Melissa. To make a long story short, Wendy was a high school sweetheart, his first real relationship, etc. I was furious. What did I do? I went into a fit of rage and everything I had been feeling since I stood right there in that condo breezeway in PCB came out, if I felt it, I said it. I didn't care. I was done. All of the things I had felt, all the things I had been through with him....I was done, it was out in the open" Well he rushed out of the house. Later I would find out he went to behavioral health. He had been doing many things that I classified as "STUPID" just straight stupid in my mind and I was done! A couple of weeks went by, he went to a lot of appointments. I continued working, we didn't talk a lot. I was still very angry.  He had more medication and a new diagnosis.....Bipolar, and PTSD and the term TBI was thrown around in casual conversation. Getting past this for a moment and kind of taking it all in and trying to research the "diagnosis" on my own came the next blow. He had been contacting DA without my knowledge to try to PCS. He came down on orders for Ft Campbell and just didn't think he needed to tell me this until the last minute. I didn't understand. Our children were happy, I was happy, but that didn't matter to him. That was my thought. We moved. My oldest daughter had the hardest time of all. She was to be a Junior and here she was leaving a school and friends she loved to finish somewhere strange and new once again. We made the move, things progressively got worse with my husband. He ruined my credit, he ruined his credit. He had highs and lows and struggled with himself all the time. The first year at Campbell I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer. I was to have surgery at Vanderbilt in January, he was to deploy to Afghanistan. His Commander suggested that he stay back. He said you've deployed enough, you need to sit this out and take care of your family and yourself. I went through surgery, everything was fine. He was on rear D, he was home a lot and went to therapy weekly. Well, his  unit returned 9 months later and my husband was sent to WTU. They decided that it was time for his career to end. After being in WTU for almost a year his VA ratings  came back. He had a date that he would get out of the Army. We made arrangements to stay in Clarksville. My job on post and my children liking the area were part of that decision. During this time I had 2 soldiers come to my door one day and tell me that they needed some clothes and personal hygiene products for my husband, he had been hospitalized and was suicidal and was in a mental hospital in the area and that I would hear from him "soon" Two days passed and I was told I could come visit him. I went to this cold, dark, institution. It was full of soldiers, walking around with no strings in their clothes, shoes, etc. In that moment I knew that things were bad, they were really bad and I didn't know how to handle it. I "sucked it up" I put on my brave face, I held his hand, and I listened. I actually stopped every thought in my own head and I listened. All this time I had heard him talk. I had listened but this was different. I knew that this was a man who had hit rock bottom, he needed help. That was 2 years ago. He is medically retired. Things have changed, I am his caregiver now, appointments at the VA are part of the "normal" now. I am so thankful for the Nashville VA. I am extremely thankful for Mrs. Elbrink, from the caregiver support program who actually listened to me talk and knew exactly where I was coming from and made me feel "normal" This is my new "normal" I work part time, I manage the household and I take care of my children and most importantly,I take care of him. One of the things that I miss the most is that no one takes care of me and I long for those moments. I look back at that moment in PCB, Florida and I often define that as "The Defining Moment"  If you google the term defining moment this is what you will find : 

noun1.a point at which the essential nature or character of a person, group, etc., is revealed or identified.


Life is all about moments of impact and how they change our lives forever. This was MY impact, MY defining moment. I am forever changed.
Thanks for reading, 
Melissa 

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