Thursday, August 29, 2013

He Was Broken by War, There is No Shame in That

Somewhere along the line, the collective psyche of the US decided that our men must be able to be warriors on the battlefield, full of heroics and loyalty to the nation and nothing else, but normal everyday people when they touch back onto US soil.  The transition is supposed to be seamless with nothing from either life bleeding through to the other.

Coming home and being unable to switch back to a tender husband and loving father after the horrors of war is unimaginable.  And shameful.

But why?

We as a nation, as a group, as a whole, have set an unlivable standard.

How is it right to expect our military to leave the normal human morals behind and then be shocked that they are unable to reconnect with their more "human" side when they return?  Can you say that you have been through hell, any kind of hell, and come out the other side untouched and unchanged?  I can't.

Just living with the aftermath of multiple deployments and years as a nation at war has changed me.  So why does it seem to be thought of as shameful to admit that war changes you?

It is not to say that everyone comes home with PTSD.  People do not have to lose their humanity.  But to expect the masses to fight a 12 year war and remain unchanged is an extreme form of naivete that I can't understand.

I don't know what my husband saw.  I don't know what he did.  And I don't need to know to know that fighting a war but retaining your sense of self is not always easy.  He was trained to be a Marine.  A fighting machine.  He has said that those who join the Marines join to fight.  They wait for war, they often welcome it.  Maybe that's true.  But if it is, if they truly are trained to be the best fighter of any war, then to expect them to transition back to a life in a civilian world and not see threats everywhere makes no sense.  They are trained to do exactly that, see the threat, neutralize it and move on.

My husband has admitted that in times of great stress, when we are fighting and he shut downs, he sees me not as a wife, but as a threat to be neutralized.  And why shouldn't he?  That is what he was trained to do.

We are living in a world of unlivable expectations.  It is unreasonable to say that our service members must be capable of taking a life, an act that is thought of to be immoral and inhuman to do, but then expect them to retain both extremes in harmony.  To say one must be a war fighting machine, but also a gentle and loving father, husband, neighbor and co-worker, is to say that the dueling conflict within must be resolved without guidance.

It is not shameful to come home struggling to leave the war behind.  It is what we asked of them.  Fight a war.  My husband did just that.  And now that war lives with him everyday.  "Broken by battle."  The dueling conflicts of who he is supposed to be cannot simply resolve because he stepped off a plane and was home again.  Some make the transition easier than others, but there is nothing wrong with the struggle.  It is we, those who have placed that expectation on them that should be considering our actions.

Instead of understand, we surround them with stereotypes and expectations that are impossible to meet. My husband did what he was trained to do and it was inevitable that, at some point, the switch would not flicker on and off so easily.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Overwhelming Sound

Things become so overwhelming that I find myself sitting alone in the house when my husband is gone and just relishing the silence. There is always so much noise.  The TV is always on, the click of his keyboard always there in the background.  The sounds of kids outside enjoying their summer.  A constant onslaught of noise and my life feels noisy enough as it is.

It's not that there is constant shouting.  We are in another patch of him ignoring me that is going on three weeks right now.  It's that my life FEELS noisy.  It's like the constant control I have to maintain, the constant inner dialog that helps me keep my sanity or simply make it through my day makes life feel like there is never ending sound coming at me in a constant barrage.  Me against the world.

So, when he is gone and I am alone, I sit in the quiet.  I allow myself to enjoy the momentary silence that will inevitably be replaced as soon as he is home.  The sound of his boots on the ground, stomping up the stairs.  The sound of his keyboard as he chooses to interact with his friends online instead of speaking directly to me and the sound of my own thoughts reminding me to steady my voice, tread lightly, speak softly, maintain control... My constant mantras to allow me to successfully navigate our day without a fight, or at least, without a massive blowout.

I find that I can even hear the grinding of my teeth through it all.  I can hear my muscles tense each day that comes closer to his return from duty, or hour from his return from work.  I can hear him coming even when he is no where around.  And the sound can overwhelm my senses.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lessons Learned by an Unwavering Caregiver

A pretty amazing story was sent to me.  And while I understand that this is a PTSD blog and this story centers around cancer, I want you to read it.  Caregiver is a term that many of us have grown used to using and seeing in relation to someone with PTSD, but there are so many others out there who have earned the title of caregiver.  And much of what we do is the same.
Please welcome my guest poster and read this wonderful post about what being a caregiver to his wife, taught this amazing man.
The events on November 21, 2005 changed the lives of my wife, Heather, and I forever. On that day, she was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a form of aggressive cancer. During the course of events on that very same day, I came to realize that I had become a caregiver for a loved one diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. With little experience in caring for others, I felt a strong sense of helplessness. A diagnosis of cancer was the last thing we had expected after celebrating the birth of life a few months earlier with the arrival of our first and only daughter Lily. Although we had looked forward to finally spending a holiday as a family at our Lily’s first Christmas, our plans rapidly changed as we faced one crisis after another.
As our physician described the affects of mesothelioma in his office on that day, it was clear that my role as caregiver had already begun. The doctor had recommended three options for Heather’s treatment that included the local university hospital, a premier regional hospital that did not have a current treatment protocol for mesothelioma, and a physician who specialized in treating this disease in Boston. As always, I looked to my wife for her input on the decision to be made, however; her face remained fixed in a fear and shock that would not permit her to speak. I grabbed her hand in mine and quickly made the decision that Boston was the best option.

The next two months were overwhelming with continuous doctor appointments, trips to Boston and medical procedures. Heather could no longer work her full time job, and I could only work part time because I had to take time to care of her and our baby. The process of paying medical bills, carrying for my family and working when I could arrange care for my baby quickly took a toll on my state of mental health. Although I always expressed a strong resolve for Heather’s recovery, at times I secretly feared that I would lose my precious wife, become bankrupt and be left alone to care for an infant child. Overwhelmed by the prospect of grief and loss, I faced the anxiety, emotional pain and exhaustion in silence.
My wife and I will never forget the compassionate care from friends, family and people we did not even know. Friends and family took the time to help care for Lily, stay with Heather at home while I worked and strangers even offered financial assistance. How can you thank those who help you in such a time of need? The most important lesson to learn about being a caregiver is to know you need help and allow people to assist you. No matter how big or small an offer of help may seem, always accept a helping hand to lessen a list of seemingly endless tasks.  During the worst times, I was so thankful to have someone to talk to, work out my fears and realize that people really do care about me and my family.

For those who provide loving care for their family member struggling with a diagnosis of cancer, it may be the most challenging time of your life. A life-threatening disease produces fear of the loss of a loved one; anxiety about providing enough money and the endless hours of performing tasks that never seem to have an end in sight. During this time, ensure you have someone to talk to about your fears and allow yourself to resolve your hope for the future.

Heather and I were one of the lucky families. After she endured surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy, Heather beat mesothelioma and went into remission. In addition, she remains cancer free and healthy to this day, over seven years later. I have learned from our fight with cancer that our time is precious and anything is possible with perseverance and devotion. With my renewed faith in hope and endurance, I returned to school fulltime to pursue a degree in information management.

The challenges of being a caregiver for my wife and daughter had given me the experience to juggle commitments, endure pressure and handle stress. Returning to college two years after her cancer diagnosis was an endeavor that I embraced as fully as caring for my family. I not only graduated with honors but I was chosen to give the graduation speech for my class. The irony of my speech was that I would have never thought that five years ago I would be standing behind the podium with a college degree and a beautiful family. Even our most difficult experiences can strengthen our resolve and restore our dreams. My family taught me the value of commitment, love and determination.
Cameron Von St. James
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance


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