I was asked again the other day, how I can live with a man with PTSD, especially a Marine combat vet.
It’s because I remain open and flexible even when I don’t want to be. it’s cause I have had my own battle with PTSD. It’s because there’s a deep and abiding love between us. It’s because I haven’t lost the ability or desire to learn and adapt.
I’ve learned when he’s hit a rough patch or having a bad day, he uses TV to escape and feel in control of something that feels normal. Typically, I won’t fight him on this. It only makes things worse. He doesn’t need a mom telling him what to do or punishing him by taking it away. Instead, I try watching something with him, usually wrestling. The point is I find something, anything, to get involved with him, and get some communication going. Spending time together even watching wrestling with him helps strengthen trust. Many times, just being in the same room, doing my own thing is enough.
I’ve learned a lack of intimacy and/or sex normal due to being numb. Do you have any idea what it’s like to look at your family and not be able to feel anything? It’s never happened to me. I bet it’s awful. That confuses and creates anxiety inside of him. It’s not about me, it’s about him trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Sometimes his brain just isn’t on board. This probably contributes to the next point.
I’ve learned that anger, yelling, cussing, and reacting are his first line of defense. He yells and reacts on impulse. usually before he has a chance to think and respond. Overreacting or doing thoughtless things on impulse are apparent in all parts of his life, not just when we have an argument. The trauma he has survived has caused physical changes in his brain and he beats himself up for it, even though it’s not his fault.
The Amydalae in his brain control the fight or fight response and they now are always on alert. He can go from 0-60 in a nanosecond. It’s what kept him alive for years. Every situation can feel like an emergency. He spent years in places where everyone wanted to kill him. Indeed his brothers and many died right in front of him. The Amydalae can’t always differentiate between There and home, especially when there’s conflict or an argument. He will not argue with kid gloves on. He plays by a different set of rules right now. We hope it will change but that part of his brain has been permanently changed by being blown up, concussed by bombs and mortar fire and being in a gun turret of a CH53 when it crash landed.
I’ve learned his spending habits where money is concerned are caused again by a lack of impulse control because of changes in his brain. I am fortunate in that he recognizes there’s a an issue with money and he trusts me to handle our household affairs. There have been times when he also doesn’t see the point of saving for a future that may never come. Death and loss are a part of who he is. He saw his buddies laughing and joking one minute and dead the next.
I’ve learned that getting and keeping a job are very difficult for him. In fact, I don’t know of many combat vets with PTSD that can hold down a job. It can freak him out to be in public. A busy grocery store can send him running for the hills. His mind races with 15 different scenarios of what bad can happen in a busy place and what he’ll have to do to protect his family. The civilian world is a universe away from the military world or life in a combat zone.
He did not ask for this. It happened during the course of his service to our country-many of those spent in combat zones and situations. Just as a person who fights cancer, a person who is blind or an amputee did not ask for that to be a part of their life, neither has he. And he fights hard everyday not to let this thing consume him- again.
Living beside someone who lives with PTSD is sometimes damn hard, I will be the first one to tell you that. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle on so many fronts- with a bloated and inefficient bureaucratic system, with doctors, with moods and daily stresses. It’s not going to be easy. There’s no quick fix or a magic pill he can take that will solve the problem. It won’t just go away either. But things can and do get better.
When I chose him to be a part of my life, I chose him for good reasons. Those reasons have not changed nor have they vaporized. Living with PTSD has not changed that. He is still that same person. I accepted him for who who he is, the characteristics he has, the connection and love between us. And sometimes, just sometimes, PTSD serves as another way to deepen our bond and bring us closer.