When I married my husband ten years ago, I had known him for four years. I knew a lot about him. And he knew a lot about me. We had a clear plan of where we were heading and what we wanted our married life to look like. There was so much to look forward to.
But just shy of our fifth anniversary, obvious cracks had begun to appear. I realised our plans had lost their momentum, and even simple things seemed to take more effort and were becoming increasingly difficult. Along with children, anger had become a constant presence in our home. I tried to voice my concerns with the limited knowledge I had, though it wasn’t until a close friend spoke privately to my husband about these cracks that he would finally acknowledge them.
I had known my husband for nine years when he was given a diagnosis of complex PTSD. Sadly, it wasn’t a relief to finally have an answer to all those cracks, it felt as though we had both been handed a sentence.
From my medical background, I understood that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder meant my husband had an anxiety disorder following long-term exposure to traumatic events in his career as an Ambulance Paramedic. I was certain that it would involve a cocktail of medications: antidepressants, anxiolytics, sleeping tablets, and possibly antipsychotics. I anticipated that he would require ongoing intensive cognitive therapy with a psychiatrist and clinical psychologist.
But no one could tell me how long therapy would take. No one could predict when things might get better, or that they may get worse. No one could guess what would become of his career. No one could foresee what it might do to our family.
And no one could prepare me for what it is to be married to PTSD.
But, after five years of stumbling along this perilous and erratic journey with my husband, I now have a fairly good idea…
It is to worry about where he is, what he’s doing, if he’ll come home, if he’s been drinking, if he’ll remember, if he’s okay.
It is to hear the sharp words and venomous tongue, but not let yourself listen to them.
It is to watch extreme anger erupt out of nowhere, but have no time to take cover and no way to extinguish the fire.
It is to walk on eggshells, and to teach your children how to follow in step.
It is to frequently torment yourself by wondering what your life might have been like if he hadn’t developed PTSD.
It is to automatically answer “I’m fine”, when in all honesty you’ve forgotten what fine feels like.
It is to soothe your children, repeatedly, during times of family stress, and hope they believe you when you tell them that none of this is their fault.
It is to always put yourself last in the futile hope that your efforts will further his recovery.
It is to helplessly watch him relive the trauma that haunts him day and night, and then helplessly watch him try to drown those memories with any drink at hand.
It is to recognise how strong and resilient you have become through necessity alone.
It is to desperately live in the moment on the good days, and to hope for a better tomorrow on the bad ones.
It is to live with resentment, fear, anger, jealously, frustration and shame, but needing to make peace with all of these in order to keep going.
It is to berate yourself often when reminded of much worse situations other people live with.
It is to learn how to look for happiness in what you still have, rather than what you used to wish for.
It is to worryingly recognise in yourself the emerging signs of secondary PTSD.
It is to finally accept that you can’t fix him, that you can’t fix this, and that no one should ever expect you to.
It is to hope for a better future but not being at all sure what that might even look like.
It is to grieve for a man who you still see each day, and sleep next to each night.
It is to cry, at times, more than you think possible.
It is to stare at your wedding ring and wonder if you really would do it all over again.
And it is to cry, at moments like these, when you actually stop to think about what it is to be married to PTSD.
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