I Couldn’t Heal My Husband’s PTSD, but I’ve Found 10 Ways to Heal Myself

“You really need to look after yourself,” they all tell me, time and again. “Just take some time on your own. Or maybe get a babysitter and have a night out together.”

Stop pestering me, I answer in my mind, fighting back the tears yet again, do you really think I don’t know I need a break? It’s just not that simple. And you will never understand why…

Supporting a partner with PTSD is more difficult than I could ever imagine. Five years ago, when my husband was diagnosed, I was naively confident that I could handle whatever may happen. I was sure that with the right counselling, the right medications, the right therapy plan, and some time, we would easily beat this together. For the sake of our marriage and the sake of our young family.

But somewhere along the way, something went wrong. He wasn’t getting better, and I was slowly sinking.

So I did the only thing I knew to do. I tried harder. I gave him more space, I made more sacrifices. And before long, I was doing it all. My life had never been so hectic, it had never been more stressful. I knew a trip to the shops and a night out wasn’t going to be the answer. But I had no idea what was.

Others could clearly see me crumbling, and I knew they only wanted to help. But how could my well-wishers ever understand that I can never really take a break? Never fully escape the stress that PTSD has brought to our family. It’s a shadow that never leaves my side.

The answers eventually came, but not before I acknowledged, after five years of struggling, just how vital it is for the carer to be cared for. I had to consciously shake the guilt of choosing to put myself first, and finally accept the reality of my husband’s PTSD. No matter how much I want to or how hard I try, I can never fix this for him.

I can see now, that in the process of trying to help my husband, I had actually lost myself.

Over time, I established realistic and achievable ways to look after myself. I didn’t need distractions from my life, I needed ways to heal. And healing is an ongoing process, it takes effort and dedication. These are the choices I will need to consciously make, every single day.

 

I stopped assuming I could do it all.   No one call do it all, but more importantly, no one expected me to do it all. Not surprisingly, there came a day when I didn’t do it all. In fact, I didn’t do anything at all. And the only person who noticed was me. I was the only one putting pressure on myself, setting myself up for failure. And when the failure came, the devastation was immense. In hindsight, it was clear that I was breaking. I had to learn to lower my expectations, both on external factors, but particularly on my own personal intentions. I accept now that there will be days where I actually will be able to do it all, and there will days where I won’t be able to do a single thing. And that is perfectly okay.

I got it out of my head.   For years it all swirled around my mind, fogging my every thought and drowning my ambitions. My thoughts, fears and frustrations were slowly poisoning me. Cautiously, I let just a little seep out to a counsellor – not enough that might provoke tears, mind you, I was surely too strong for that. But when the pressure continued to build, and counselling just wasn’t enough, I started to speak to some close friends and family. It was hard for them to understand what I was telling them, for them it was like starting a book halfway through. And still, the thoughts continued to swirl. Then one day, a single thought inspired me to return to writing. I sat at my computer, and though the tears came first, the words soon followed. So many words, so many memories, and so much pain. All there, finally out of my head and on the screen. The feeling afterwards was one of utter cleansing. I will continue to write, wherever and however I can, it is my best therapy and my true joy.

I concentrated on doing things mindfully.   For years I lived in a fog. I felt that nothing could make me happy anymore, or that happiness would be put on hold until the ‘PTSD was sorted’. Ha. It seemed that no matter what I was doing, my mind would constantly linger over my many worries. It’s true that our thoughts cannot be turned off, but they can be stilled briefly with mindfulness. I tried to introduce what I had learnt over time about mindfulness into my daily life. I began drinking my tea mindfully. I started reading to my children mindfully. And I even tried resting mindfully. What I discovered was surprising. It not only offered a short break from the stream of negative thoughts, but also a small morsel of enjoyment in the task at hand, which would’ve otherwise passed in a distracted haze. Happiness, it turns out, doesn’t have to go on hold indefinitely, I just have to look for it in new places.

I learnt how to say no.   I would hear myself saying “maybe”, or “I’ll see”, or even “okay”, and all the while my mind would be screaming NO, NO, NO! Although I was terrified of pushing my friends away if I started saying no, there came a point when I had no option but to learn how to say it to them, and I had to learn how to mean it. More importantly, I had to learn how to say no to myself. I came to understand my limits, and to acknowledge that they could – and would – vary day to day, even hour to hour. And saying yes doesn’t mean that it’s set in stone. A yes can always be changed to a no at a moment’s notice. I remembered that I don’t have do it all.

I stopped comparing myself to others.   Surrounded by friends who were all achieving and getting on with their grand life plans, I often felt pathetic. Our perpetual PTSD cycle kept bringing us back to square one, we were going nowhere. Outwardly, I diligently wore my happy mask and pretended that I was doing just as well as everyone else, but inside I felt utterly crushed. My dreams and ambitions had been packed into a little box and pushed well out of sight. But I still desperately longed for everything it contained, it was still making me so miserable. I guess it came as a shock when I recognised that there were other people, just like me, wearing their own happy masks – that not everyone was living their dreams as I had automatically assumed. It took a long time, but I gradually opened my mind to creating new dreams and achievable ambitions. The path ahead looks entirely different now, but I’ve finally buried that box and I’m beginning to walk forwards once again.

I accepted offers of help.   In my eyes, for far too long, accepting help was synonymous with conceding defeat. It confirmed that I wasn’t capable. That I wasn’t strong enough. So it was a truly terrible day when I realised that, actually, I wasn’t strong enough on my own. But to be honest, no one is. Everyone needs help sometimes, and that doesn’t mean that I’ve failed. I eventually realised that my true strength lies in acknowledging my limits. Knowing when to accept help, and also when to ask for it.

I spoke to my husband.   I didn’t do it to make him feel bad, or to imply that it’s all his fault, or to hurt him in any way. I spoke to him because open communication has always been one of the biggest strengths of our partnership – I know to lose that would be to lose our marriage. I could feel my resentment building, just as easily as I could feel my trust draining away. Along this path I felt certain that, one day, I would simply walk out, never to return. And all he’d say would be, “But I had no idea. You never told me.”  So instead, I talk to him. I let it out at times when I’m feeling weaker and he’s feeling stronger. And sometimes it does hurt him – I’m no fool – but I know that I hurt too. Together, we need to heal.

I began to focus on the right now.   The reality of PTSD is a random jumble of good days, bad days and in-between days.  And not just for my husband, but for our whole family. I have poisoned too many good days by stressing over when they’ll inevitably turn. And I have magnified most of the bad days by convincing myself they’ll never end. But when I actually stopped to think about it, I realised nothing ever really stays the same for long. So when a good day came, I made an effort to start enjoying it at the time. I made an effort to ignore the negative thoughts my mind would continue to infect me with. And when a bad day came, I made an effort to remind myself that this, too, shall pass. After a storm, the sun will always shine again.

I learnt how to support my husband without enabling him.   I thought he needed time and space to heal, so I gave him more and more, year after year. But he wasn’t getting any better, and I was close to defeat. When I decided to finally open my eyes, I saw that he had been taking all that time and space and filling it with destructive habits. I was so blinded by my determined efforts of support I didn’t realise that giving him time and space was actually stripping him of responsibility. And his confidence along with it. I was enabling him. Despite all the fears I harboured about him falling, I had to decidedly lift the burden off my shoulders and put the responsibility back on him. The responsibility as a father and husband, and the responsibility of his recovery. I learnt that I need to be strong for him, but not at him. This is the true meaning of support.

I started being my own best friend.   Why is it so easy to be kind and compassionate to my friends, so forgiving and supportive of my friends, but yet I am so hard and ruthless on myself? Is it so wrong to be nice to myself, is it so terrible to care? I constantly demand perfection, though I allow my friends to falter. I constantly demand stamina, though I accept that my friends have weaknesses. And I constantly demand strength, though I encourage my to friends cry. Although I will always struggle with this, the time has come to be my own best friend. I have been cruel for far too long, and I don’t want to be that person any longer.

 

dawn-sunset-person-woman

28 thoughts on “I Couldn’t Heal My Husband’s PTSD, but I’ve Found 10 Ways to Heal Myself

  1. Anonymous says:

    thank you so much. like many before me have said, this too is how I feel. I need to work on the improvements and healing parts. tears of understand and not being alone in feeling this way poured out of my eyes. Thanks for creating this blog. I have printed this posting to help me work and accept PTSD in our lives.

    Like

    • Lea says:

      I’m pleased to hear that my words have brought you some solace and some answers. I began writing to heal, but using my words to connect with others feeling the same way has been a very powerful journey.

      Like

  2. Penny says:

    Your words are like they flowed out of me except the helping ME part I still haven’t done that yet. My hubby a sufferer for almost 8years doesn’t have a clue what it does to me. I can be up at 4am giving our lawnmower a service and cleaning what I didn’t get done the night before before our 3yo wakes and trashes it all again. Ty for writing what we all feel and know we must do eventually I’m sure we will get around to doing it.

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Thank you for your comment, Penny. Supporting a loved one with PTSD can take such an emotional toll on us, and there’s often very little thanks, if any. No one can pour from an empty cup, so I realised that I would need to become better at filling my own first. Though often it’s easier said than done. Take care.

      Like

  3. Jan says:

    I have just found your blog Lea. I spent the wee small hours of this morning reading it from beginning to end. Whilst I did have some knowledge of PTSD I had no real idea of the toll it takes on the family. Your honesty and love shine through. I have been crying over this half the night, and feeling guilty because I could have maybe done more to help. To help you I mean.
    Lea I have always thought you were an amazing person, but you are much more than that. You are the epitome of a supportive wife and mother. Your children are amazing and getting more so every day.
    Please Lea, don’t be scared to talk about how you are feeling. We who love you just want to help. I asked your husband a while ago if he knew what a treasure he had in you and all I will say is he does.
    The love in your home shines out above anything else.
    Whilst I don’t want to see you go, I truly hope the move back to Tassie will bring you some peace.
    I love you Lea, always have!

    Like

  4. Skye says:

    Thank you. I’m sitting reading this in the bathroom with tears running down my face. The first time I’ve really cried since 2012. You are so right, by taking too much on myself I’m not only wearing myself out but stripping him of the opportunity to contribute.

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Although my words were upsetting for you, I hope they also brought you some solace, Skye, that you are not alone on your journey. None of us can help our loved ones if we don’t first look after ourselves. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care.

      Like

  5. Mel says:

    The words you wrote, could have come
    Right out of my mind.
    Everyday I find myself doing more and more while I say no more in my mind. I’m tired, so dam tired and I just can not see anything changing.
    Thank you for your open and honest words, at least I know I’m not alone 💐

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Thanks for your comment Mel. There comes a point when doing more and giving more just isn’t an option anymore. When nothing is changing no matter what you do, sometimes the best thing to do is stop and start giving to yourself. Take care.

      Like

  6. Stacey says:

    I lost my soulmate after he struggled with PTSD for 13 years. We had an amazing year together and I am so grateful for my time with him.
    Even in that amount of time, I see so much of myself in your words, and so many of those feelings linger and even have intensified in the wake of his death.
    Wishing all of you strength and peace. I’d do anything to still be walking the path with my Travis.

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Stacey, your story is heartbreaking. Thank you for finding the strength to share your story. Even on the toughest days, I am grateful that, at least, we are both still here fighting the PTSD. Take care.

      Like

  7. Anna Sisson says:

    Wow these words could have been mine words. It is somewhat liberating to hear someone else who has shared my same feelings yet at the same time sad that you too have had to endure the same as I. It has been about 5 years for my husband as well since he was diagnosed with PTSD. It has certainly changed our lives in almost every aspect. We have four daughters and the toll on us all has really manifested itself to us this year. I too have taken a step back in order to care for myself. I love my husband dearly and will continue to always be by his side though there are defiantly hard days. It is hard for outsiders to truly understand that commitment and it times it has made me feel lonely in my conviction to never give up. Thank you for your real and honest perspective on living with PTSD.

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Thanks for your comment Anna, it seems we are on a very similar path. And just like you, I find comfort in knowing that there are, in fact, others out there who understand first-hand what I’m living, but it also saddens me that the struggle is felt by so many. Take care on your journey, and remember to concentrate on what you need first.

      Like

  8. April says:

    This was posted on The Art of Healing Trauma’s facebook and I really found a lot of help here as the spouse of a PTSD-inflicted person. Thank you.

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Thanks April, I am pleased to hear you found it helpful. It’s not easy to be the spouse of someone with PTSD, and it’s so common to forget yourself when giving your all to care for them.

      Like

  9. Betsy | The JavaCupcake Blog says:

    This is the first time I’ve truly ever read something that I can relate to 100%. It was almost like your words were mine. Everything you spoke is exactly how I think and feel about my situation. My husband suffers from combat related PTSD and we are transitioning out of the military right now. Thank you for sharing your voice… and thank you for letting me know that I am not alone in these feelings… I will be reading the rest of your blog posts on PTSD. If you’re interested… here’s a bit about my struggle. http://javacupcake.com/2016/07/coping-caregiver-wounded-warrior/ Thank you. xxoo

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Betsy, thank you for your comment, and I’m so pleased to hear that my words have been able to bring you some solace. I have read through your story, and my heart truly goes out to you. This path is such a difficult one, but it doesn’t have to define us. Please take care, and stay strong.

      Like

  10. tristanhankel0313 says:

    I’ve just started a blog about our life and i feel like I could have written this!
    This month (August) is 5 years of dealing with my husband’s PTSD. He was Special Forces for 16 years and that comes with a price in the end. I’m so glad I found you. I needed this.

    Like

    • Lea says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tristan. I’d be interested in reading your blog also – it is so therapeutic to know that we’re not alone walking this journey. Take care.

      Like

    • Lea says:

      I’m pleased my words are able to help others. These are the steps that have helped me, but there may be other things that also help you with your journey. Take care.

      Like

  11. Anonymous says:

    My husband has been diagnosed with PTSD due to the abuse he endured as a child at the hands of his parents and an ‘uncle’ . He began having problems in 2003. It got bad around 2006 worse when the Dr’s took him out of work in 2008. We lost our home, had to declare bankruptcy, had no place to go, but my dad let our family move into his home. In 2010-11 he was made to switch Dr’s and forced to go to our local mental health office. Thoes Dr’s changed all his meds, and the result was 4 car wrecks in 5 months. He was literally manic. Up one minute down the next. When he complained about not being able to function properly the Dr’s would up his dosage. After the last car accident, I called his family doctor and told him I hid all his meds,the doctor took me out of work to stay home with him and i eventually had to quit my job of 18 years. His family doctor found another doctor for him. They told us he was on three different types of meds that should never have been used together. I was so ready to throw in the towel, but after almost 25 years, and all the love we had I just couldn’t. I’m so glad I didnt. He’s so much better now, not great, but such an improvement compared to before. We have a daughter who will be 16 in November and now I worry about her more than I do him. It’s hard trying to explain to her why daddy has these problems, but she is so great and helps him just by being herself. We just hope she gets a chance to go to college, if she can get a scholarship. My husband feels as though he’s let us down, bcz he can’t work anymore. it’s not his fault, he can’t seem to grasp that he isn’t to blame for his family. In 2017 we will be Celebrating 30 years together and it hasn’t been easy, but there has always been LOVE !

    Like

    • Lea says:

      You have been living a very tough journey for a long time. I commend you on your amazing strength and resilience to stand by and support your husband through all he has been through. I hope he also appreciates what you have done for him, and continue to do. 30 years is a huge achievement, and hopefully your next 30 will have much smoother seas! Take care.

      Like

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