Dear Ms. Vicki,
My husband has been deployed five times and I don’t recognize him anymore. I know he needs help because he refuses to be in a crowded place. This means we can’t go to a concert together or to the movies. He can barely stand to go out to dinner.
He has nightmares at least three times a week where he wakes up screaming and crying and even hitting at the air. Now, we don’t even sleep together because I’m afraid he will hurt me.
We never make love anymore; it’s been months since he even touched me. I don’t know where to go from here. I just want him to get help, but he won’t. He thinks he will lose his job or that his commanders won’t think he’s useful anymore.
Thinks He’s Crazy
Your letter is just like so many that I have received from spouses, fiancées and servicemembers about PTSD. It is not unusual that your husband would be afraid to seek professional help because of many fearful reasons.
Recent changes mean that impacted servicemembers are now referring to post-traumatic stress as an injury and not a disorder. Efforts are being made to decrease the stigma associated with the diagnosis. There are new guidelines and criteria for a diagnosis that may make it easier to get treatment.
Working with servicemembers each week, I am amazed at their resilience. I also spend a great amount of time trying to dispel myths associated with this diagnosis. Here are a few of the myths I think you and your husband need to explore.
1. I’m Crazy: Servicemembers often ask me, “Am I crazy?” It’s normal to feel like no one understands your experience. You may feel like your experiences make you different from everyone else. Servicemembers who improve after a traumatic incident say their connections with their battle buddies provided insurmountable support because they were able to validate their experience. Remember, you and your body have been stressed to the max and you are trying to make sense of everything. You are human, not crazy. So work on keeping strong personal and social relationships with others.
2. I Am Weak: Anyone can get post-traumatic stress. Two people can witness the same event yet have different outcomes. One can develop the symptoms of PTSD. The other may not. This is not a matter of physical strength or courage. Our personalities and our temperaments are a big part of who we are. PTSD is a normal response to a significant stressful event, not a weakness.
3. I’m Used Goods: Servicemembers with post-traumatic stress often feel like they are incapable of continuing to serve their country. They also feel ostracized from their commanders and other leaders. I often hear a servicemember say, “I let everyone down.” Or, “Everyone treats me like I’m used goods -- washed up.”
Acknowledging your symptoms and discussing them with your loved ones and a professional will help to decrease anxiety and help normalize your experience. You have changed, but this is a part of life.
4. I’ll Never Get Better: Post-traumatic stress is treatable. However, you may never forget what you experienced. Treatment can help decrease the symptoms and the extent of the paralyzing memories that interfere and stop you from enjoying your life.
Don’t see your symptoms as an unbeatable challenge. Combat is stressful, but servicemembers can learn to reframe stressful events and move toward a happy future. Here are some great resources below that will help.
Symptoms of PTSD can cause impairments in careers, relationships with others, and even your physical health. So many strides are being made in the treatment of post-traumatic stress. Reach out and try for help again.
|Ask Ms. Vicki PTSD|
Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, has been the Dear Abby for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology.
Ms. Vicki appears regularly on Military.com and in the Fort Campbell Courier. Her column has also appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.