A recent post relaying one young wife’s desire to help her husband, a current soldier who suffers from PTSD, did generate responses, either sympathizing with her or commenting on personal experiences like hers. The following written by David Desjardins CD explains what he and his family went through as he suffered PTSD. His comments also include what he believes helped him and may help other families coping with members suffering from PTSD. He also owns a service dog specifically trained to help those with PTSD. BONNIE
Hi Bonnie, you have no idea, how much I can relate to this account. First off, I must state that I am in no way a social worker, although I will shortly be taking formal training through the Canadian Mental Health Commission as a peer councilor, which I am looking forward to a great deal.
OK legality stuff aside, let’s talk help. I can totally understand how the young woman and family feel, including their thinking that things may be better off without ‘Dad’ in the picture. I put my family through the same thing, and as an MP (military policeman) saw it countless times. Unless there is family violence or they feel threatened, I personally would never suggest this. As this solution may seem like a wake up call to the family, to the member, or person who is experienceing the trauma, it has the potential to mean a total betrayal of those that he is supposed to trust and support him. In many cases, this would result in further withdrawal, serious substance abuse, or worst case, self-harm.
Understanding what is going on in a person’s head, who is suffering from an OSI, is like skipping through a minefield with your eyes closed at best. Even the injured party doesn’t fully understand what the hell is going on with him. To the young woman, and, this is probably not very clinical, but, I would suggest NOT trying to understand on her own, what her husband is going through. This is where a therapist can help them both articulate what they are feeling to each other.
Distraction is common, very very common, and by the sounds of it, unless there is more that is not being said, video games are much better than some of the alternatives. Bear with me. I know I’m sounding one-sided here. As I’ve already alluded to, many succumb to alcohol, drugs, or other vices that drive a permanant wedge into the family dynamic. I’m not saying that it is acceptable to totally devolve into the games and ignore duties and responsibilities, although I too did this early on and totally alienated my family.
For me it was my work. I would spend 18 hours a day, vetting reports, or reviewing cold files in the comfort of my office. I was killing myself and my family life with work. After I sustained my physical injury and was trapped at home, I slipped back into the dark places and wouldn’t leave the bedroom, partially due to the fact I couldn’t move unassisted, and didn’t want to ask for help.
Playing computer games are challenging for him, and an excuse not to talk to socialize, or risk answering any questions that may trigger unwanted memories. The avoidance of family is for the same reason. He doesn’t want to answer questions or remember.
I once told my therapist that I now realize why Vietnam veterans would return over and over even though they didn’t have to. Especially after being “over there” more than once.
Anger is a strong mental state, not an emotion, but the result of multiple emotions….(my shrink would be so proud of me with that statement). While deployed, depending on your taskings, anger is what you feel most of the time, anger frustration, panic, all coupled with adrenaline spikes that can’t be explained in words. Subject a person to all that 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 8 months and then bring them home to a “normal” society, with social expectations. Believe me, you don’t feel “normal” back here. The only place you feel normal is “over there,” where your feelings are justified and no one questions you. In addition, you are constantly looking for that adrenaline spike. Kinda hard to find it in the streets of suburbia unless you hire someone to shoot at you for the rest of your life.
Back to distraction a little bit. Video games are provided by PSP overseas for the troops to “relax” with while not on tasking duties. This may be a contributing factor to ‘Dad’s’ obsession.
What is of the utmost importance here is that neither the young lady nor the children feel that any of this is their fault. I cannot emphasize this enough. What ‘Dad’ is experiencing is not about them. They have done nothing wrong. PTSD is actually worded as a normal mental reaction to abnormal circumstances. So, they have to realize as well, that ‘Dad’s’ not going crazy, although it may seem like it. It sounds like the son already has a pretty good grasp on what ‘Dad’ may have gone through; however, a research session of what PTSD is, based on his age, may be beneficial to helping him understand that what ‘Dad’ is going through is normal and it can be controlled. If the young lady is a reader, I would suggest a book entitled, Vietnam Wives. My wife was given a copy by one of my therapists and it really opened her eyes and facilitated conversation between us.
About therapy — Well now, there’s that old adage “you can lead a horse to water but….” Every base/unit has social workers for the spouse and family members. If he’s not willing right now, get her in there and talking. The more she keeps bottled up, the more volatile the whole situation can become. It is very much like a cancer that will eat away at you. Get the kids in therapy. Not only will they have an outlet for their feelings, they will also gain a better understanding. And I don’t want to hear any of this BS about being afraid to jeopardize hubby’s career. A) It won’t. It will actually save it, and B) What career is worth ripping a family apart for nothing? As much as I loved my career, FAMILY FIRST.
Once she has spoken to a social worker/counciller/ whoever, it may just be enough to make ‘Dad’ realize that he needs to do the same. He’s in there, he’s just trying to deal on his own right now like your a typical male who is too stubborn to ask for help or admit that there may be a problem.
I was there, and it took a huge leap of faith for me to get my head out of my ass and start talking, but by God, it saved my life, and my family.
The CF has come a long way in education of Operational Stress Injuries (OSIs); however, there are still those old-school assholes who plant the seeds of “weakness,” especially within the combat arms. One of these individuals, whom I can remember vividly, took his own life instead of seeking help. Now I ask, who’s weaker? It takes a brave man/woman to stand up and say, “I have a problem and it’s destroying me…..Help me please.”
But they have to recognize this for themselves.
For the young lady and her children….please, speak to a base social worker, usually located at the base/wings MFRC building. None of this is your fault. Speak to someone, and stay strong, for yourselves and your family.
For ‘Dad,’ you are not alone in this. You do not have to suffer alone or try to figure things out yourself. It does get better. I won’t BS you and tell you that it could ever be “cured”…controlled yes, and the more tools you have at your disposal to control the triggers the better off you are and more able to cope and lead a normal life. Also remember that is is not the fault of your familly. They are there for you, to support you and to love you. Your anger, frustration, confusion, etc, is not targeted at them; it is because you are not understanding your emotions…..
Ya ya, I know I sound like a shrink. The point is, there is help available. Use it. Sure therapy can suck, large, but what sucks worse: talking to someone a couple days a week or losing everything you love and hold close? Besides, video games are always better with two or more players.
There’s so much I would like to tell this family, but I’ll leave it at a short novella for now. Hope some of this helps. I’m also available for future discussions on PTSD recovery.
David Desjardins CD