Content warning: You’re going to read some things here that spouses and families have told me about what it is like to be a family of veterans or active duty member during a time of war. It might not be an easy read.

Saying Goodbye to Your Veteran

How did you feel the day you said goodbye to your veteran before they shipped out? Trepidation, perhaps?

            Trepidation defined: a feeling of fear or agitation about something that may happen.

While they were away, did you keep your phone handy just in case they called? When they called, did you listen with a third ear for any indication that something bad was happening overseas? Were you ever on a call that abruptly ended because an attack occurred? Did you ever have to wait several days to hear from your veteran because they were in black out due to hostile enemy activity?

When Your Veteran Comes Home

When they came home, did you look in their eyes, desperate to know they were okay? When they looked away, did you reassure them for the first time that everything was going to be okay? They were home now. Safe. With you. Did you believe that your love would conquer everything they experienced downrange? Do you still believe that? 

Yeah. That’s where this task all started. It was suddenly on you to maintain happy and healthy connections during a time of war. Not everyone understood that when it was happening. Now that the deployment was years ago, not everyone gets how that burden got heavier as the war continued to haunt your veteran.

I’ve seen that burden in my own family. I’ve seen your veterans. Many get depressed, blaming themselves for how the war has affected you. But this isn’t about them right now. It’s about you.

The War Affects You and Your Veteran Everyday

The war affects you and your family every day because combat-related PTSD has left your veteran less able to be the spouse and parent they want to be. Maybe that effect is mild, or episodic, but you know it when you see it. Your partnership has shifted. You end up taking care of things you expected your veteran to handle. You want to do things but they want to stay home. You leave for a while and they’re afraid for your safety. Angry outbursts are hurtful, at the least.

Many of you have become a caregiver. These are just some of the jobs that have become yours.

  • Monitor self-care habits, like reminding someone to take a shower
  • Assess medical needs, because they’ll forget medications and appointments
  • Assist with basic needs, such as making simple decisions
  • Provide companionship, requiring you to be the calm and understanding one
  • Help with housekeeping, especially if they don’t care if things are a mess
  • Prepare meals and encourage them to eat, because their appetite sucks
  • Provide transportation, you know they are too edgy to drive on the freeways

None of this is meant to shame your veteran, as if they should or could be doing anything differently. PTSD is crap to live with, and also crap to live around. Choosing to stay is a commitment to support your veteran, to fight against this invisible injury. If your veteran was missing a limb, you would have a constant reminder that something is missing that once made your veteran capable of everything they hope to be for you, and for your family. With PTSD, you see fluctuations. Sometimes, they’re working with all cylinders, and you hope that will last. Then suddenly, they aren’t well. You are probably as angry about that as they are.

Your love for your veteran keeps you there but doesn’t solve the real challenges that you face. We want to provide you some tools for managing this very difficult lifestyle, but first, we want you to know that we get it. And it’s not just us, there are many who care about what’s happening and are doing something about it, including a lot of you. This is too big for any one person, group, or agency. We are #StrongerTogether.

Where do you find local help for the challenges of loving a veteran with PTSD? What does it take for a veteran to decide to reach out? Follow us on Facebook to find more resources on being the loved one of a veteran with PTSD.

Take Care of You

Before you go to bed tonight, do something good for yourself. Maybe today is the day that you can share your challenges with a trusted friend. PTSD isolates our veterans, and you, their family. We connect with each other to lighten the burden, to have hope for better days, to keep our commitments strong.

Take care of each other,

Dr. Pam


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