January 14, 2011
When I was getting ready for this deployment, I clicked the online PTSD booklet, What Families Should Know, What Families Can Do
. I thought it was an awesome resource-well-written. Clear. Reassuring.
My husband thought so too. "But we don't really need that," he said. "None of that stuff will ever happen to us."
Which is probably true, I think. But I still wanna be ready. So I noted the dramatic symptoms I've seen on TV and in movies: flashbacks, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, an unwillingness to socialize, inappropriate anger, reliance on drugs and alcohol.
But then I read the more subtle indicators for combat stress and PTSD and TBI, the ones that weren't so dramatic, weren't so obvious. These sounded more familiar. I hear from military spouses all the time in person and online about service members who return from deployment and just don't want to talk. Act angry all the time. Have no interest in their marriage or spending time with their spouses. Get easily annoyed with the kids. I've even heard from spouses who are stunned after the deployment to hear that their service member thinks the relationship is over.
According to the research, those can be signs of combat stress, too. But surely the researchers also recognize that these the signs are also a whole lot like the ol' He's Not That Into You. If there isn't a blood test for PTSD or combat stress, how are we families supposed to differentiate between the physical/psychological consequences of war and the crumbling of the relationship?
Because we spouses are well aware that military relationships do end sometimes. Couples-even long married couples-can develop problems during deployment. But how are we supposed to distinguish between for better or for worse from combat stress? Booklets like What Families Should Know, What Families Can Do are a good place to start. I've always found Military OneSource is great when I need to connect with a real person. I know lots of people are working on solutions to help our service members and their families handle combat stress, PTSD, TBI.
That is all good. But I want to do something now. Before anything happens. While we are both whole. Before either of us are debilitated with anger or numbness or depression. So I went ahead and printed out the booklet for Brad. He made a rude noise through his nose.
"But I bet it feels real," I told him. "I bet those guys with combat stress feel like their anger or whatever is legitimate, logical. Like when I would cry at nothing when I was pregnant. Or rage when I was breastfeeding. Those things felt real. What will be the test for us so that we both know something is really wrong?"
Brad didn't say anything then. But later during the game he said that if he didn't want to do any house projects that would be a sign that something was wrong. A few days after that he came home from work and said that if he called me or the kids any names that would be really wrong for him.
So I had him write those two things down on my printout of the booklet. "If I stop doing projects or call people names, I promise I will get help."
"OK?" he said, signing his name.
When he left I looked over that book again. I told myself this would never happen to us. I'm just overdramatic. But I wrote underneath his words anyway: I promise I will hold on to who you really are. The real you. The way you are with us. The way you are before you go. And I won't let go of that. I won't let go.
Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, DC. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.