This post by Blair Hughes originally appeared on www.warriorsandwives.com
I am the wife of a Iraq veteran with PTSD. For some, like my husband Jonah, the anxiety is so overwhelming and debilitating that we are considered “housebound.”
Oh, you noticed I said “we?”
Yes, that’s because I have PTSD, too. I have a condition known as Secondary PTSD. After three deployments and 10 IED blasts, my husband has several other injuries and I am his full-time caregiver. As a caregiver, I with him pretty much 24/7. I have adopted a constant sort of vigilance in order to predict and pre-empt my husband’s PTSD behaviors. Knowing the symptoms and his reaction to “trigger situations” inside and out is key to our survival, so much so that many of these symptoms become my reality, as well. Anxiety, extreme discomfort in crowds, hyper-vigilance and isolation just to name a few.
We try. We really do try to go outside our comfort zone. But when we do we often have a massive, far longer than normal, recovery period. A simple trip out to eat at an uncrowded restaurant, during a super slow time often results in the need for an afternoon in bed. If we do happen to venture out on a good day, during “normal” shopping hours, it’s very likely we end up two steps back from where we were.
Often, we have to use grocery delivery services. We pay for Amazon Prime (thank God for their Two-Day shipping!) because during a bad spell — when you just cannot leave the house for days at a time — sometimes you still need toilet paper.
Why is it so hard? Here’s a little glimpse into our world:
Jonah also has a pretty severe Traumatic Brain Injury and other physical injuries in addition to PTSD. Due to his other injuries, Jonah becomes easily fatigued and cannot drive in poor weather or at night, but he insists on driving because he needs to feel in control due to his PTSD.
I allow him to do so, though I probably shouldn’t, or we would never leave the house AT ALL. However, I am always with him when he drives, or he will become lost and disoriented and likely, have a massive panic attack. Part of my PTSD is that he may be physically driving, but because of his TBI, I am also driving. I have to navigate, as well and point out pedestrians other cars, and even let him know when the light changes. I’m never a passive passenger, I always have to be on alert. Oddly, in spite of all this, I still feel safer driving with him than with anyone else. Jonah will swerve to avoid a plastic bag, thinking it could be a disguised IED or bomb. We cannot park near other cars (again, bombs) and circle parking lots for the “safest spot” to the point that we are constantly late for appointments. Jonah won’t even walk by parked cars.
Jonah has intermittent anger problems and outbursts — and although, I never fear for our family’s safety — we do have holes in our walls from his head and fists. Jonah’s broken three laptops in frustration. Once, I had to yank him back from lunging across the counter at Dunkin Donuts when the girl working there rolled her eyes at him for changing his order.
We have discovered ways to cope with his anger and anxiety but not eliminate it. For example, we don’t leave the house on weekends – too many people out. We don’t have regular television because that way Jonah can’t watch the news or upsetting commercials. We basically avoid most social situations.
Jonah has flashbacks and nightmares that I have to wake him from almost every night. Sometimes he thrashes around, the scariest ones are when he is virtually paralyzed, impossible to wake and he just sobs. Jonah has panic attacks at least a few times a week. He sweats and shakes, and become disoriented, he taps his foot or hand nervously. He has panic attacks from loud (but normal) noises, crowds, smells like, diesel fuel and Pringles.
Sometimes I’m not even sure what causes it, we have been in a store where we had to leave a full cart in the middle of an aisle and just leave because he couldn’t handle something.
Small children running around especially bother him, none of our children have been able to have a birthday party in the 5 years since he came home injured from Iraq because he can barely handle our own children acting like children, let alone others.
Our son who is 8 has Autism. As you can imagine, this adds a whole other animal into the mix! Autistic individuals often have normal but repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping or rocking. It’s called “stimming” it’s short for self-stimulation and has to do with sensory input. Apparently, the universe is playing a great big joke on us because our 8 year old’s stim is – wait for it – making exploding noises! Someone, somewhere thought, “Ooo! The perfect stim for a Autistic child with a Wounded Warrior father with PTSD!! ”
It might sound like I’m having one big pity party here but it’s not like that. This is just our life. This is our normal. After nearly six years, we’ve pretty much learned to accept it. We just do things differently than most other people do but there are a lot of Wounded Warrior families out there in the same position as us.
During his three deployments in Iraq, Blair’s husband Jonah survived 10 bomb blasts from improvised explosive devices. It was the last one, though, that took its toll. Jonah suffered various physical wounds, including injuries to his spine, both legs and shoulder. Although these injuries impact their life on a daily basis, some of the most difficult are the invisible ones. The effects of severe TBI and PTSD are among their big challenges. Blair is now Jonah’s caregiver as she helps guide their family through uncharted territory. They have good days and bad, but throughout they remain focused on helping each other and other families like theirs. As parents to a special needs child, Jonah and Blair understand the challenges too many military families face.