Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Love and Support are Not Always the Easy Choice

I had a great conversation with a very close friend this morning about many things. This friend is a psychiatrist and has become much like family for us. We value his help he has freely given us through many crisis situations and the overall support he provides for us. He in turn, shared with me this morning how much we teach him. He told me how often he talks about us, and our story with his own patients in DC. He specifically asked me to write this post, to share with everyone one part of our conversation today.

As a caregiver/spouse especially, but also any family member of someone suffering from PTSD, we have to remember to always support and love our wounded warrior. This love and support comes in many different forms and often is not easy. I know this sounds silly to be telling people this but it just isn't as plain and easy at it seems. We have to be able to separate the individual from the illness. My husband dissociates and can be very dangerous and frightening when he does this. However, I know that he is not choosing this behavior. It is something totally out of his control, much like someone with epilepsy. They are not choosing to have seizures, rather it is something out of their control that happens. My husband is not intentionally being dangerous or frightening, it is a symptom of his illness. It is not who he is and does not define him. However, it is something that happens and therefore something we all have to be prepared to deal with. We still love and support him the best way we can.

Another part of this love and support is knowing when to step back. This is a tough one, probably one of the hardest parts of this and comes in often. Many things that my husband witnessed and had to do in war are horrific and have contributed to his PTSD. Because of these things, my husband often withdraws or gets depressed. It is natural for me to want to know what is on his mind, to know what is weighing on him so heavily. However, I have learned, that much of the time I just have to let that go. I have to let him own that and not insist that he share it with me. As a spouse, I find that I always want to know what is bothering him. After all, I am his spouse. He should trust me enough to share anything and everything with me! This is the wrong mindset for a couple dealing with PTSD. It's not that he is trying to be secretive, it's that he is trying to protect me from those horrors. As a man, he feels it is his job to protect me and due to his injuries he often can't do this. Well, as long as I can let him, this is one way he can still protect me. He can protect me from the horrors he participated in, witnessed, or whatever the case may be. I HAVE to allow him to do this without taking it personally.

I learned this lesson early on thankfully, but that doesn't mean that it always comes naturally. Often our heroes are ashamed of the things they had to do as well as the emotions they experienced in response to these actions. It is an extremely vulnerable place for them to be and I don't think we can ever fully grasp that vulnerability unless we have walked in their shoes. As their spouse/caregiver, we have to allow them the space they need, and let them know that we love and support them always. We are here for them for anything, but we also understand their need to protect us. Thank them for that. Let them know that you realize this. I think it will make a big difference for the both of you.

Even Now......Gina

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