United States of America
I have been thinking this over for several days, trying to start my story in an uplifting way. The more I thought about it, the more I felt compelled to write about the dark place I go to often. Please read no further if you prefer the positive, inspiring side of living with someone with PTSD, but remember that this life is a see-saw and I have as many ups as I do downs. I don’t think I have ever read much from people explaining the downs.
I have been married for thirty-six years to a Vietnam Veteran who has moderate/severe PTSD. I did not marry until I was thirty years old, so I thought I was well prepared to deal with being married. In the beginning, I believed all my husband’s criticisms and his ugly words. I was just a “bad wife” and my husband’s unhappiness was my fault.
Three years into my personal nightmare, I watched a PBS show about Vietnam Veterans and the counseling centers that help them. Everything they said rang true, and I mentioned it to my husband. We went to the Vet Center for counseling for several years. Knowing the name for it was a huge relief. Though when we had to move states for his work, there was no Vet Center or counseling available in our new town.
The years went by. Our two sons are now grown and we have two grandchildren. There was a period of calm and I thought we had finally weathered the storm completely. Though not so fast. Months or weeks or hours or minutes – sooner or later my husband’s criticisms and verbal abuse always returned.
In the early years of our marriage, it would crush me and send me to tears. At some point I hardened to it and decided it wasn’t my problem if he was unhappy, it was his problem. He recently did some cognitive therapy but still refused to go to group counseling. There is nothing more I can do in that department. So back to the dark place I go.
When the atmosphere is too oppressive to breathe, I go to my fantasy world. I hate to even type this, and it doesn’t make me like myself very much, but I imagine what life would be like without him. I used to wish I was dead. And there was a time when I wished that he was. How can someone so unhappy continue to go through life? But these days I just imagine a life alone, with no strife or unhappiness.
I know he doesn’t choose to be unhappy but there is so much to be happy and grateful for that, at times, I have no compassion for his problem. It seems willful on his part to wallow in unhappiness, so I try to remind myself that he can’t help it.
I have only shared my life situation with the one friend I still have (he has driven off everyone else in my life in a very passive-aggressive way), but it is difficult to make someone feel what this life feels like. You can explain it, but it is like explaining color to a blind person. They don’t have the tools to know what it feels like unless they have been with someone like this.
I often tell people that his anger is like a light switch. Normal people have a one-to-ten scale: I am annoyed, I am angry, I am really pissed, etc. Whereas my husband has a switch, or a landmine, if you will: he is fine and then, bam, he wants to kill someone. Never ever knows when you are going to step on one.
I have occasionally told some Veteran friends that I now have PTSD from living with his PTSD for thirty-six years, but I say it in a joking tone and they take it the way I present it. But I believe that it’s true. I have a real “bunker” mentality and try to avoid all triggers just for a few moments of peace and joy. At my very darkest, my inner voice says that I have died inside. My husband may be the walking wounded but, in the worst of times, I truly am the walking dead.
So my advice to others is to acknowledge the dark places, if you need to go there, but return quickly to the happiness innate in all human beings. Life is a blessing. Getting through it is a huge struggle for some of us but there is still joy there if you choose to look for it.
In my darkest hours, something as simple as looking out the window and watching my two resident bunnies frolicking in my yard pulls me back to the shiny side of life. God Bless.
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