Daily Prompt – First Date with PTSD

I woke up just like I would any other Saturday. Well rested and happy to have the whole day free of work. To my right was a wall and to my left lay my handsome strong man, still sleeping in. I smiled thanking God for my luck and climbed over him and outta bed. I fumbled my way into the bathroom and then down the hall to the living room/kitchen of our two bedroom apartment. I wasn’t one to put breakfast off for very long after waking up.

I started some bacon, let my dog Ranger out to go to the bathroom, and went back into our bedroom. My boyfriend was awake, but still in bed, trying to soak up as many extra minutes of sleep as possible I’d guessed. He seemed groggy and still exhausted. Like he’d only gotten a couple hours of sleep instead of nine. I kissed his forehead and told him I was making breakfast. The response that came next was completely unexpected..

“Im not hungry baby don’t worry about it.”

To anyone else that might not have been a big deal, but for him it was. He was never one to turn down a meal, especially not breakfast in bed made by his favorite cook. Something wasn’t right. But maybe he was just tired, maybe feeling kinda sick. So I let the first wave of concern cruise through my mind without a second thought. I went back to working on breakfast and checked on him again.

“Are you sure you don’t want breakfast baby?” I asked coming back into the bedroom.

“Maybe later. Im just not hungry right now.” Came his voice from deep beneath the covers. He had turned toward ┬áthe wall and wrapped himself into a tight caccoon, his face barely uncovered.

I knew something wasn’t right then. I grew up in a completely dysfunctional family. My mom a mental case, with severe depression among the list to go along with her frequent emotional crisis. My father with anger issues. It was the perfect brew for daily blowups and conflicts. There were a few things I learned to do very well from my childhood. One was how to make myself blend into any situation, the other was how to let others depend on me, rather than leaning on them. The third was probably the most healthy and invaluable lesson of the the three. I learned how to pick up on changes in people sooner than normal. I knew this was more than just him being tired or not feeling good, at least in the sense of being sick. I crossed the room and sat next to him on the side of the bed placing my hand on his shoulder..

“Baby whats wrong?” I asked.

“I just don’t feel like getting out of bed today, I don’t wanna deal with the world.” He almost cried out, not angrily, but his tone somehow urging me desperately to understand. Something was definitely not right. “…Im sorry..sometimes this just happens.”

I sat his breakfast on the dresser next to him ten minutes later. He never touched it. I had no idea what to do. I knew this had something to do with his PTSD but I still didn’t understand what was going on. Why was he feeling like this? What triggered this? What I didn’t realize then was that there wasn’t always a “trigger” for days like these. Or rather there isn’t always a trigger for the nightmares that caused these days.

He finally emerged from the bedroom late in the afternoon, only to replace the bed with the couch. He walked up to me slowly, shoulders uncharacteristically slumped, and hugged me close to him for a long moment before falling into the couch and turning on the tv. He seemed a little better, but not much.

In reality this event wasn’t as bad of a day as I thought when compared to what future “bad days” would hold. He watched the tv with an expressionless stare, occasionally closing his eyes and tensing his face in a grimace. His thoughts having wondered away from the cartoons displayed on the screen. He didn’t speak to me unless I talked to him first. He wasn’t rude or angry, but his answers were short and forced.. Like the mental energy it took pained him to speak. The way someone whose sick or hit rock bottom might respond. He didn’t feel better until the next morning. It was as if he had simply slept it off.

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Like I said in reality this was an easy day. In retrospect it probably only seemed as difficult as it was because it was the first time it happened since I’d been with him and I didn’t know exactly what was going on. I felt worried, anxious, and confused. I felt more helpless and useless than I had ever felt before in my life, a feeling I would quickly become familiar with. Days like this come as frequently and infrequently as my husband’s brain dictates. It is almost always caused by nightmares the night before. Those nightmares can be triggered by something obvious or be seemingly random.

Sometimes I can sense these days coming on even before my husband realizes it, other times it doesn’t take long to pick up on. There are fortunate days where my husband has nightmares but doesn’t fall into such a deep depression that he can’t function. Other days he can’t even muster the will to get out of bed, many days he can’t be around people. I can’t do anything to change this. I can’t “fix” it because there is nothing to fix. The war is a part of my husband and will be forever. My duty is only to support and love him while he carries this heavy burden for the rest of us.

I am working on a page that describes my husband’s PTSD and symptoms personally. I will also continue to post more about our experiences and struggles through this battle.

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How she feels about it..

This is a quick emotionly filled message sent on a day I felt frustrated and helpless that I couldn’t be there for my husband..just some venting from the wife of a hero that’s all.

“Ha. You know some people actually have the nerve to think my husband is selfish or doesn’t care about me. When I show up to any kind of event without him. They’re so ignorant they have no idea he’s at home in bed because just the thought of being around people those days make him anxious and shaky. He beat himself up one time just because he couldn’t come shooting with me and his brother. He had nightmares when he napped that day and was shaking in bed unable to even talk to me before we were supposed to go. He’d been making me practice dry firing my pistol for weeks and teaching me stuff to get better. And the first time taking it out I couldn’t figure out why I was all over the place and no one would help me. I was frustrated with myself when we got back and he beat himself up for hours because he was mad he thought he shouldve been there with me because He could’ve fixed my mistake and had me shooting center mass in no time. People have no idea how much he loves me. They’re all ignorant assholes.”

180 Degrees

This is quite a bit out of order but it’s going to take me a little time to get the blog all set up and I have several posts to make. Regardless this is something that happened recently and seemed like a good start. This post is just to give a little insight..

I am a very lucky woman that my husband opens up to me and trusts me with his emotions stemming from PTSD as well as he does. Having been with my husband for two years now I tend to think I’ve got him all figured out. When you’re around someone long enough you pick up on a lot of things almost on a self conscious level. Their body language and tone of voice give off all sorts of cues that you learn to notice and read without much thought, thus knowing them so intimately you can (hopefully) learn to react to their cues in the best ways possible.

For example, when I get overly stressed (or am tired and hungry) I often tend to breakdown faster than a four year old without a nap on Christmas day. My husband, bless his heart, has to put up with me..but he does an amazing job. He can pick up on my body language and triggers pulling the pieces together before I fall apart at all. He’s the best kind of medicine as far as I’m concerned. Similarly, I can tell better than anyone when he’s off his game. I can often tell if he had nightmares the night prior before even HE notices his mood change in the morning. All by the cues I’ve learned to pick up without much hesitation or confusion.

This week however, was different. Like I said I’m lucky my husband is so open with me. He has shared many stories and feelings with me about his time in Iraq and the Corp, but even he isn’t always able to open up to me completely. I don’t think anyone ever could after going through even half of what our men and women have gone through over there. A couple days ago a man that deployed with my husband shared a story on his blog about an RPG that had hit their humvee in Iraq. I recognized the story as one my husband had told me about, only this was from another Marine’s perspective. It was a little indescribable how it felt to read it from someone else’s point of view. I had never heard anything about his time in the Corp from anyone but him. I guess I could call it humbling, and since I have always been very curious and interested in his past it felt good to learn even more about my husband.

Typically when my husband has a “bad day”, by this I am referring to PTSD, it starts in the morning when he wakes up and lasts most of the day. Sometimes it can happen later if he naps and has nightmares..those seem to be his biggest triggers. Usually. Other times it can stem from talking too much about the war. I can usually pick up quickly on his body language and verbal cues and redirect the conversation before it has any lasting effect on the day. That afternoon, however, I did not pick up on it fast enough. When he picked me up from work that day I told him about the blog post and how it was really interesting for me to hear it from another perspective. (Rather than hearing my husband tell me what happened in a humble no-big-deal kinda way, I got to read one of his fellow marines give thanks and credit to my husband and a few other ‘brothers’ for saving their lives that day). It made me proud to hear confirmation from others that he is the hero I look up to everyday.

Something in the seemingly harmless information I shared with him, mixed with what things he could have already been dealing with in his head that day, triggered a very quick 180 degree turn in his mood. He went from normal and happy to very quiet and dejected in a matter of a sentence. Let me stop and give a brief description of my husband. He’s a very strong man. Your typical broad shouldered, defined farmer’s muscles, strong square jawline, rough hands kinda guy. Along with a presence that demands obedience in a room. He is very much an alpha male. And he’s fought, front lines, in the bloodiest battle of BOTH the wars. He is a scout, infantryman, he is a Marine…..This strong man, my husband, went suddenly silent, and was on the verge of shaky tears by the time we got to the first stop light. Listen. This man does not cry.

I quickly went into my comforting wife mode, apologizing and asking what was wrong.

“It’s ok…I’m just remembering, and those are memories I just can’t handle today.” He’d responded evenly.

Normally, like I said, I’d have time to catch on and stop a change before it happens, but this time I did not. I learned another quick lesson that day. I do NOT in fact have it “all figured out”. Sometimes because I am so used to my husband and he has come so far with his PTSD and healing, I can forget that he still has to battle this every single day. Sure some days are easier than others, but it is not something that just comes and goes. It is always there in the back of his mind. He works daily to fit back into this thing we call ‘civilian life’. This is the invisible battle.

I believe that learning to cope and to be there for your spouse is something that grows and changes constantly even in your average everyday marriages. Learning how to be there for your spouse who may have PTSD or TBI is no different. It is important to learn from mistakes and experiences, but one must always remember we will never have it all figured out. But that is ok. I am a firm believer that as long as someone always genuinely tries their best to be better they can not fail. Learning to be the best for your loved one is an organic ever-growing process.