*This is a very personal account of what my life has been like in the last 2 years. It is with the greatest privilege that my husband, after having released from the Canadian Forces, has allowed me to finally write about our life together living with his PTSD and anxiety. At his request I have used the letter J for his name.
A quick back story:
:husband has been on several deployments overseas
:has an episode of depression after one of his deployments-short term.
:each deployment tacks on a certain amount of stress to the member
:a certain event that may not affect one person can send another spiraling out of control BUT the person spiraling holds it all in for fear of being humiliated or judged.
:husband gets posted to another city too soon after returning home from final deployment; family stays in current home to allow son to graduate with friends
:another event happens…it becomes too much…
August 2010: J and I and Andrew made his posting into a family vacation and drove from BC to Ottawa. Things seemed fine for the most part with the exception that J would get angry…he never got angry, even when he should, so this was out of character but I thought it was just stress from the separation we had to endure again. Once he was settled Andrew and I flew back to BC and J went to work.
November 2010: Then my father passed away so we flew home to be there with my family. I met him enroute and we continued on to NB. He seemed fatigued but I still didn’t get what was going on. I thought he was homesick. A few family members asked me if J was ok? “Why?” I asked. They felt he was a little ‘anxious’. “I’m fine” was J’s response.
Christmas 2010: A LOT OF ANGER. I was getting worried but I still and he still did not think anything more than “it’s stress”.
January 2011: The emails are what started to alarm me at first…short, quick notes about having a difficult time with getting to work. Phone calls were longer and longer. I felt something was wrong but I didn’t know what. I began to leave my email open at work. The emails became more frequent and painful. “I can’t get out of the car…I feel ‘frozen’ and I can’t move”. “My hands are shaking so bad I can’t even tie my shoes”. “I need to come home”. “You need to come here”. “I can’t sleep”. “I can’t sleep”. “I can’t sleep”. “The nightmares” Yes, the nightmares….
February 2011: Phone calls are becoming longer with me acting as a therapist. “it’s ok J” “No it’s not, I’m saying things at work that I would never say, things that are inappropriate to my bosses” “I am so angry all the time”. “J!” I say, “you need to take some stress leave and come home” He does…2 weeks and he’s embarrassed; he feels he shouldn’t need this break. “I’m a soldier”. He doesn’t want to go back but he has too. It gets worse…
March 2011: On his end he goes to talk to someone at the hospital, they convince him he needs to get some ‘talk therapy’ “I think you may have a problem” they say. “No, I don’t” he says,”I just need help with my anger and I need to get some sleep!” He finally does make an appointment, he has no choice, he’s losing it. All of a sudden he is thrust into the world he has been resisting. Mental health assessments, medication to sleep, more assessments…he hates this. “I’m releasing” he says. (getting out of the military)
April 2011: I receive a phone call from his pyschologist after she sees him for the first time…”how does J seem to you?” she asks…”he seems broken, angry, desperate” I say. She breathes out…”that’s what I thought”. I explain that I have a ticket booked to visit my mom in NB then I am coming to Ottawa to see him. “That’s a good idea” she says. A good idea…
I arrive in Ottawa…J looks like a wreck, bags under his eyes, anxious. I still don’t comprehend exactly what is happening. I ask J to go out and tour around…”I don’t think I can Denise” “What?” “I can’t go out” and he starts shaking, violently…He does eventually force himself out but I can tell it’s hard on him. He feels anxious in the mall with all the people. We don’t stay out long…
As I lay beside J at night I am alarmed at the intensity of his nightmares. He screams, he sweats and he wakes up in an all out anxiety state. It is frightening for us both. “What did you dream about” I ask. “His face…it’s always his face, those eyes, that pleading look…I couldn’t help him”.
J had a doctors appointment booked to review the assessment findings so I attend with him…”you have PTSD” “WHAT? No I don’t, I just can’t sleep, I have nightmares and I shake in the morning putting my uniform on…so badly that I have a hard time tying my shoes. And I’m angry, so angry”…”I can’t sign your release papers unless you write all that on the paperwork…you wrote here you were fine” He is placed on medical leave. He doesn’t return to work.
We have another appointment with the Psychologist later on. “You have PTSD” “No I don’t, I just can’t sleep…Stop saying I have PTSD!” As we are leaving this appointment the Psychologist asks when I plan to leave for BC. “Saturday, but I can stay longer if you think I should” “I think you should” she says. I stay and there is another appointment, a Pyschiatrist this time, who gives the offficial diagnosis: PTSD with Anxiety. Medications are dispensed. My own anxiety is increasing…
I am frightened. I ask J how he feels. He tells me “I had a plan” A plan…I know what that means and I am terrified for us.
I tell the doctor at another appointment that I cannot possibly leave Ottawa without J. “I am convinced”, I tell him, “that he needs to come home”. “He’s already on medical leave, he can’t be alone”. “He doesn’t belong here and I can’t stay here”. He signs the paperwork, we book J a ticket and go home to BC.
J’s confused and troubled and embarrassed at what they labelled him as. This feeling of his, this denial, will haunt us for the next year…maybe longer.
It’s a secret now, J is home but we don’t tell anyone why. Then I do lean on my sister’s and brother with J’s permission. “I need an outlet” I tell him. Then a few close friends “he has anxiety”. I tell them, so that I can breathe…
The nightmares continue…
May 2011: The appointments begin. Doctors, Pyschologist. One step forward…5 steps back. These appointments are weekly. I attend every one of them. J wants me there. J cries, J denies, J shakes so violently that I sometimes needed to turn away. J sweats through his shirt every appointment. Soaked with anxiety and confusion. “It’s normal” says his Psychologist. Normal, I think…what the fuck is normal? This isn’t normal. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! My husband is not supposed to be ‘frozen’ in the back yard, scared and scarred. My husband is not supposed to be unable to drive, unable to go out, unable to participate in life. My husband is not supposed to have PTSD, anxiety, depression, agoraphobia! This. is. not. NORMAL.
I am supportive, I am angry, I am tired…I am happy when J states “I think I must have PTSD” “yes J, you do” I say…”it’s ok”. “no it’s not” he says. He denies again. Always a step back. We fight, we talk a lot. We fight. I scream, he shakes. I tell him I can’t understand why he can’t accept, he tells me he doesn’t know. He feels guilty about being on sick leave…I tell him he is getting the best possible care. He tells me he doesn’t need it…even though he is shaking again…he wants to release, again. The doctors convince him, again, not too. Not yet. Let the process work for you. You’re still not there yet. You’ve come a long way but not yet. He feels guilty about getting paid. He feels sick being on sick leave.
“I don’t have PTSD…I didn’t see anyone get killed” I have heard this statement repeated so many times. J feels he is minimizing PTSD because he feels that you need to be in direct combat or be a direct witness to the carnage…he feels that he just has anxiety. “Yes, anxiety as a result of PTSD”. We all tell him this, me, his doctor, his Psychologist. J won’t have it…it’s a symptom of PTSD to deny.
These sessions continue until March 2012…they are painful for J and for me; to see your husband reduced to a shell and have to claw his way back is a terrible process to witness.
Fitness becomes my drug. I sweat out the hurt I feel for J. I pound out the frustration I feel, the injustice I feel, the ‘poor me’ I feel. I become angry too. My anxiety increases; I think I am having a heart attack. I go to the hospital…I’m fine..”stress” they tell. Haha…really? It’s not their fault…they don’t know what I have been dealing with. J of course feels guilty. Guilty that I am suffering too.
March 2012: J finally puts his release in. He is determined to get off sick leave and thinks he will be fine once he is “out of the military” This is against my wishes, and his doctors. He is still on medication. He still finds it difficult to go out for a long period of time. He stills has acute anxiety episodes. But he wants this, so he does this. He signs the paperwork, it’s done.
April 30/12: J is out of the military.
May 2012: J is still not able to work but he does feels a little bit better…until he doesn’t. “How was your day J?” I ask after work…”I didn’t have a good day”
The nightmares are pretty much gone. The anxiety continues and will probably continue for life. It’s his new normal.
June 2012: J is trying to feel better. I still use fitness as my drug. Not a bad choice considering. I am waiting for J to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I will stand beside him as I have always done. I am his strongest supporter and his worst enemy. I will push him to move forward, little nudges that he still resists…but not as much as before.
I am not sure where the next chapter will take us. I do know that we have weathered a very big storm. It’s like a tsunami…the earthquake happens…then silence…then whoosh out of nowhere this incredible wave rolls uncontrollably toward you. You know you can’t avoid it but you try anyway. Then it hits and your world falls apart. Then the clean up begins and it is a long, slow process. The sun comes out again and sometimes you bask in it, then you remember what lays ahead and you cry. Soon, though, you are able to bask in the sun more often. Then you smile…
I know our boys, especially Andrew, had to endure a lot of anguish. He was witness to a lot of the tears and anxiety. He was also a wonderful support for his father. He was a rock for me and as unfair as this may have been for him to witness, I think he learned a few things from it too. I know he is affected by it, how could he not be? Thomas lives away…he’s in the military . He also supported his dad with phone calls and always made sure to ask me how I was and how his dad was doing. I am grateful for our boys.
We are not unique in this experience. Unfortunately in this world we live in there are more and more invisibly injured soldiers coming home. I feel for them and their families and what they will go through. Maybe someday I will talk to someone who has gone through this or be able to help the family members going along for the ride they didn’t ask for. Not yet though…I’m the one that is not ready…
Please share my story with anyone you feel it may help. The last thing we need to feel is alone. I am stronger from this experience, but it has also cast a veneer over me. My strength may be a weakness…I’ll let you know.
Now you know why I chose the name FitPsychology.