Even your three year old can use the acronym "PTSD" in a sentence correctly.
When my hubby came back from Iraq, all I could think about was getting him home. After a brief episode of bodice ripping, I figured we could then begin to reacquaint. I mean, really, I remember what being a teenager is like. After all those months of deployment, I begin to physically feel like I did at age 17, and it's not pretty. I seriously couldn't not think past that initial first hug/smell/touch that would lead rather quickly to bed.
And the first day home, that's pretty much how things went. I met hubby at the airport (that in itself is an embarrassing story) and we headed back to our hotel room. After all the travel and *ahem* other things, hubby was exhausted. He slept for about 16 hours.
My first clue that things were going to be a little odd was while we drove home - about five hours from the airport where I picked him up. As we headed down the 99 in California (quite possibly the most boring drive on earth), my husband begin to randomly inject odd words into the conversation.
"Trash bag, right"
"Dog, straight ahead"
"Broken-down car, left"
"Excuse me, honey," I broke in after a few of these incidents. "But just WHY are you describing the scenery to me?"
"Why do I need to know that there is a dead cow by the side of the road in Madera? There are ALWAYS dead cows by the side of the road in Madera! It's not a novel concept!"
"Oh!" Hubby seemed surprised. "I guess I was calling out threats."
That, less than 24 hours into our re-introduction, was my first experience with having a post-deployment marriage. We had already made plans for me to do the driving for the short term indefinite future, since hubby had spent months tooling around Baghdad in a variety of Toyota vehicles. As bad as the traffic in California gets, combat driving is really not appropriate. We had already planned for hubby's down time.
We hadn't been prepared for hubby to feel uncomfortable if we weren't taking combat precautions in our minivan in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. More than once hubby waited for a few seconds after everyone piled in before visibly shaking himself and starting out. For a few weeks, he wanted to put our third daughter in the rear of the van with a SAW.
Calling out threats isn't the only issue we encountered when hubby first came home - he was also very quick to anger. His adrenaline would begin to gush if certain buttons were pushed, so we actually had to limit his time with news channel shows that featured talking heads. Of all things, he had his anger triggered by an interview with Sylvia Brown!
"If she's such a psychic," he said through gritted teeth, "Why doesn't she have a real clue what's going on?"
"Oh, I don't know, hon," I said. "Maybe she's been getting her information from spirits who work for CNN."
Hubby and I have always had a very co-dependent relationship. We've always done everything together and spent every spare second together. I assumed that would be the same when he came home.
Not really. It's not that he loved me any less, but even my mother (maybe especially my mother) would say I have an... overwhelming... personality. My hubby needed some down time after spending every second with a gazillion other sweaty, stinky, men. He needed some time to get used to the fact that there weren't going to be any mortars hitting unexpectedly. It took him about a month after that first night to sleep an entire night without waking up at the regular time EOD used to explode ordinance.
He was open about it, though. He had been fairly honest with me during the deployment about what was happening to him (with my overactive imagination, I'm one of those who needs to know just enough to not go into imagination overdrive with too little information), so when he would shoot awake at 3 a.m. I had a pretty good idea what was going on.
For about six months after hubby came home from that first deployment I had no idea what was going on. I knew that I loved my husband with all my heart and that I couldn't imagine life without him. But by the same token, I wondered if we were even going to make it as a family. I was scared silly that he might have outgrown me while he was gone. Interestingly enough, although he didn't say it at the time, hubby later told me that he felt the same way. While he was gone I had been able to handle everything - all four kids, homeschooling, his aging and angry mother, our finances...
Apparently, the sight of the multitude of computer programs I could not figure out how to install on our desktop was the one thing that assured him how much we needed him at home. On my side, the fact that he devoured everything I cooked with obvious glee was my proof positive that he still needed me around. It's funny how those little things are so reassuring.
And it's funny just how much of a difference in reintegration little things like that make.
Even today, my husband will not let me refer to the emotions we went through and his physical reactions to things like car doors slamming in public and dead farm animals by the side of the road as "PTSD". His feelings are -and they are very typically male feelings- 1) he's over it now, and 2) it wasn't that bad. End of discussion.
In talking with other wives who have had their own experiences with reintegration, I would have to agree. Hubby's first deployment homecoming was bittersweet and scary and wonderful and hard all at the same time. But it was certainly smoother for us than for some other people. Different experiences and different personalities make hundreds of different reintegration scenarios. The fact that I'm a huge klutz who can provide comic relief merely by attempting to walk across the sidewalk helped. Laughing together makes life easier, especially when we are laughing at ourselves.
That all helped, but I couldn't help but notice that even though there is daily more and more information out there for people with PTSD, there wasn't a whole lot for those of us that have to live with them. As a mil-spouse, I'm very solutions oriented and independent minded. I'm more than happy to fix things myself... if someone will give me a heads up on what tools I need or how I might need to do it. In our case, laughter was the cure. Whenever hubby called out a threat, we would dead-pan an acknowledgment.
Hubby: Trash bag, left
airforcewife: Trash bag, left
Hubby: sigh *snicker*
On that day when the eldest daughter finally noticed a "threat" before hubby, we knew that things were going to be just fine.
So, today, two deployments and a couple of years later, we still have a few things that hubby does differently from pre-war. Just a week ago he woke me up in the middle of the night to ask me what I had done on the Task Force [I'm changing what he REALLY asked me for security purposes- ed]. My insane giggling woke him up and he grinned at me rather sheepishly as he lay back down in bed.
So, it's different. But then again, it would have to be. Many people have a far tougher row to hoe after returning than we did, and I would never make pronouncements about what someone has to do, has to be, or is doing wrong. We all have to do the best we can, whatever it takes.
But I did want to make sure that my mil-spouse sisters and brothers were well aware of this - that you are NOT alone. We are all here for you in this, and going through this right along with you. And of the many things that help us to heal - that we can count on this family love and belonging might be the most important.
mentalhealthscreening.org offers anonymous telephone counseling and other options for servicemembers and their families.