There are very few people in our life who know what we are dealing with. Even fewer who understand. I have opted to tell a few select friends at work, though I rarely, never really, discuss the life I have at home.
The other night, a girl I would call a friend asked me what exactly PTSD was. What is it that we are going through at home? I don't know what a doctor might say. I don't know medically what is going on in the brain, when the synapses are firing, that might be the cause. What I do know is what I told her:
My husband is in my house in body, but his mind is still fighting a war. He sees threats everywhere we go. Even a kind tone of voice that is explaining a frustration can be perceived as a threat. He fears groups of people, trash cans on the street and unknown situations. He has a hair trigger for anger, he often gets mad for things I don't even understand. I am in an un-winnable situation, no matter what I choose to do or say, it will be wrong and he will get angry. I don't know why, I don't understand what happens to the body that causes the mind to be unable to come home, but I know that the man I see everyday is not really here.
She asked if he had changed. I told her that he is not the man I married anymore. I explained that it's a lot like living with a stranger who looks a lot like someone you love, who used to love you.
She was silent for a moment. She told me she couldn't imagine how hard that must be. She then asked the question that everyone is afraid to ask. The question I often ask myself...
"Why do you stay?"
I stay because I love him, even if he is unable to love me back right now. I stay because I have to believe that someday, he will get better, or at least be able to cope. I stay because if he doesn't get better, I can still love the man I have and he can learn to love me again too. I stay because I would't leave him if he had shrapnel in his leg, or had lost a limb. I stay because he is injured, it's just not visible. The new term "invisible wounds" is very apt. I stay because you can't see the wounds he has, but I can. I can see them in the way he talks, in his reactions to what he sees, and in his new behaviors. I can see his wounds.
My husband came home injured, but not in the way that so many understand. He is not learning to walk again, but he is hurting and he deserves a wife who will stand by him. He deserves a support system that he can fall back on when he is having a bad day. It's not always easy walking on egg shells and feeling like I can never do anything right. It's not easy to watch his pain and know that there is nothing I can do to ease it. But loving him is easy, even if living with him is hard.
He may not be the man I married, but he is the man I love. And that is why I stay.