Monday, September 13, 2010

~Mental Health Monday Guestblog~ PTSD

Today's guestblogger is a good friend of mine who I have known for about 5+ years now. I am very thankful that she was willing to share her and her husband's story with me and all of you.

Hello, my name is Brittany and I am married to an Operation Enduring Freedom Vet who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2007. My husband's case a bit different because he was never deployed in a combat setting, but to a place that wreaked havoc on him psychologically for six months. We knew when he came back from his deployment in 2003 that things were difficult for him. Nightmares riddled his sleep, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts snuck up on him at random, and his patience and general zest for life where disintegrating.

Like any good paranoid service member, my husband opted to keep his problems to himself. Unfortunately when you are in the military, if you are deemed "undeployable" you are essentially no longer any good to the military. My husband loved his job as a Navy Corpsman, and wanted to make it a career. It became increasingly harder for him to "hide" his condition as the PTSD manifested into a general depression and he began to gain weight; he was sent into a final tailspin in February of 2005 when we received a late night phone call telling us that his father had committed suicide. The last three years of his enlistment in the Navy were a struggle. He was verbally combative with superior enlisted and officers, his weight yo-yo'd, and it is only by the grace of God (and some really good higher enlisted friends who went to bat for him) that he didn't get disciplined or discharged early.

Since getting out in 2008, my husband has been hospitalized twice at a Specialized InPatient PTSD Unit (SIPU) at the VA Hospital in Roseburg, OR. He started seeing a counselor early in 2008, but only because I made the phone call and drove him to the appointment. He was pretty sullen and grumpy, but he knew things weren't going well for us, and after a particularly bad incident one evening in May, he knew that he had managed to frighten me. We were lucky in the fact that the
counselor had gotten us in immediately, and my husband had clicked with him fairly early on in their sessions.

Also during this time, my husband was working as a customer service representative for a major medical insurance company. He was having difficulties working there, but didn't understand why or how. He didn't understand that the passion and outrage he felt for his wronged insureds' was too extreme. He found himself going straight up to the Vice Presidents of the company and waging war on his insureds' behalf. He even managed to get company policies changed in a few cases. He didn't realize that while he was battling these individual wars, that his voice would elevate - high - or that he would hit his desk, or his leg, or throw papers. He didn't know that while he was eloquently stating his case on behalf of the insureds' that his face would screw up into a hostile, menacing glare or that he would flush with anger - but his coworkers (mostly women) did, and they were afraid of him. He was so shocked, and genuinely hurt, that someone could be afraid of him because he truly is one of the sweetest, most caring men, who would never hurt anyone. His personality is genuinely happy and easy going - but the PTSD has manifested within him and made this alternate person who comes out when threatened or when he thinks something/body is being wronged. (I do need to note that while my husband worked for this company, he was promoted twice, and won a customer service rep award. He was exceedingly good at his job.)

After his second hospitalization, we decided that he would no longer be able to return to work. We applied for, and were granted, Unemployability benefits from the VA, and he hasn't worked since July 2009.

I have learned the hard way that this is not a topic you can discuss easily with people who are not affiliated with the military. Like most mental health illnesses, people do not understand, or choose not to understand, what you are struggling with. My own sister believes that my husband should be able to take a pill and simply "be better." Pills can only help with the chemicals in your brain, they cannot help with the thoughts or memories that haunt your days and nights.

Our life has changed considerably due to my husband's PTSD. We used to have people over a lot, go out a lot, do things with other couples, etc. He has imposed on himself (and essentially me because I want to be with him) an isolation. His "bunker" consists of his house. He can control who goes in and comes out of it, how long they are here, where they go, what they see, what they do, etc. One of his biggest "side effects" from PTSD is the control factor. He NEEDS control, because he lacked it during that deployment. Because he had no say in what was seen and did. The big difference between him and veterans just beginning their recovery is my husband is aware of his need for control, and even knows that in most cases it is unnecessary. It is something that he works on consistantly. Saturday was my 30th birthday, and we had about 10 people over to the house. I was really worried about how he would handle the stress of having that many people over, and wanting everything to go so well for me, and in the
end, I was really needlessly worrying. He did amazingly well; he did have anxiety prior to people being there (upset stomach, slightly dizzy, and sweating) and he just confided he had another relapse towards the end, but truly he did an amazing job.

So where does that leave us now? I can report that I am 37 weeks pregnant with our first child, a little girl. I have a crazy mixture of emotions, some of which are the regular first-time mommy emotions, some of which are the, "My husband has PTSD and I don't know how this is going to change things..." emotions. For the last 7 years, things have been just him and me. For the last five years, things have been about him, me and working with his PTSD. My husband will be a stay at
home daddy, and he really can't wait for her to be here. I am not afraid of leaving him with her when I return back to work. He is amazing with children, and has wanted a baby of his own for a while now. While he still has the symptoms and anger management issues, I know in my heart that none of that will matter when it comes to her. I do slightly worry about him being shorter with ME because he will be keeping it together for our daughter, but that is a bridge we'll have to cross when we get there. Right now, I remain optimistic and hopeful.

The thing I tell every wife/girlfriend/mother/sister of someone who has been diagnosed with military related PTSD is: it's not the be all, end all. You will have hurdles, slip ups and setbacks. But you can still have a good life together. Treatment is essential. Couples counseling is recommended. Communication is a must. If you find yourself not communicating, just talking/screaming at each other, then go to the counselor together - sometimes s/he can decode what you're saying and put it into terms the other person can understand. Once that door is opened, walk through it together.

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