I am not one to put stickers on my car, but when my husband was deployed to Iraq in 1990, I found a bumper sticker that I proudly displayed:
My family and friends were a tremendous help and support to me during my husband’s two deployments, but there were some things that I had to face alone. My girlfriends could only stay so long before they had to go home to their own families. Spending night after night alone became depressing and fear of the unknown was my constant companion.
When my husband returned home from his first deployment, I expected life to pick up where it left off. Once the honeymoon was over, I started to sense things were a bit different. Not knowing anything about PTSD, I assumed these issues would eventually work themselves out and go away. Since we had never heard of PTSD, we did not seek help.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is complicated. A simplified definition by Mayo Clinic states: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Marshele Carter Waddell is the wife of a U.S. NAVY Seal as well as an author, speaker, and the founder of a ministry for military wives. She summarizes her experience with PTSD this way:
When my U.S. Navy SEAL husband returned from Iraq with only a broken leg, I praised God that he was home safe and sound. In the months that followed his homecoming, I sensed that his leg was the least of our concerns. Although he was recovering physically, his soul still walked with a limp. His unseen wounds, caused by war zone experiences, went unmentioned, unnoticed and untreated. Slowly but surely, these invisible injuries infected our marriage, our children and our family life. He was home with us in body but in his spirit, a war still raged. From irritability to irrationality to nightmares and emotional paralysis, it became clear to me that my veteran husband was suffering from post-traumatic stress. For two years, my husband denied any need for help and unintentionally led our family into a land of silent suffering.
Marshele is a tremendous resource and encouragement to many military families.
My husband’s second deployment was cut short with a flight from Baghdad to a hospital in Landstul, Germany. A bothersome pulled muscle led to a chest x-ray which revealed a mass in his chest. He underwent several tests which eventually led to major surgery to remove the “steak-size” tumor in his chest. The diagnosis: Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells and lymphatic system. After 10 days in Germany, we spent a month in California for follow-up tests and recovery from surgery. He was then released from active duty and sent home to South Carolina to undergo chemotherapy and radiation.
We were unaware that my husband actually came home with two illnesses. One was diagnosed as cancer; the other was left undiagnosed and untreated for approximately 10 years.
About a year ago, a military doctor said to my husband, “You are suffering from a pretty severe case of PTSD and need to get help.”
Even though my husband knew he was dealing with something, he never entertained the thought of PTSD. After a period of denial–but also a time of searching and studying–he realized the doctor was right. My husband has gone from complete denial to recently stating, “I think we should become the experts on PTSD so that we can help others who suffer in silence.”
Most people understand that joining the military takes incredible courage and sacrifice. I agree but I will tell you that my husband’s willingness to share his story and his battle with PTSD is far more courageous than fighting in any physical war. I am humbled by his willingness to be the poster child so that others do not have to suffer in silence like we have suffered. It is only by the grace of God that we have survived this long. Thank you, my brave wounded warrior!
Let me take a moment to speak to our friends who just read this and fainted because they thought we were the all-American family that had it all together. May I say two things to you? First, does anybody have it all together? Don’t we try to look like we have it all together because we think everybody else has it all together? Secondly, don’t feel guilty for not noticing. (But, now that you know, feel free to bring some meals…and chocolate!) It’s OK that you did not notice. In fact, we even tried to hide it from you.
When we received the cancer diagnose, I remember Ron saying something I didn’t expect: “Don’t tell anybody yet.” After a couple of days later, he was ready to talk about it, face it, and conquer it.
Ironically, he has dealt with this silent killer called PTSD the same way. He never verbally spoke the words but his actions said, “Don’t tell anybody yet.” It’s taken more than a couple of days to be ready to talk about it, face it, and conquer it, but now he’s ready. (Thanks again, babe.)
We fought Saddam Hussein together. We fought cancer together. Now we’re are fighting PTSD together. There are millions of wounded families struggling with PTSD. Some are looking for help; some are running from it. We understand. We want to offer our story, our experience, and what we are learning. We would love to hear from you as we study, learn and write about this illness.