Saturday, July 24, 2010


This week was a rough one. Jay is about two weeks into his new medication and it seems to finally be leveling off. But, wow, what a terrible transition. He was so angry. Everything I said set him off. He hasn't been able to drive and that's been a huge sore spot for him. Add the fact that it's ME telling him not to drive and you can imagine the conflict that results.

He did finally get to drive, though. He decided he was driving to his appointment with his therapist, Jan. I reluctantly agreed. I didn't have much choice. I know that he did ok, but there were times on that little trip that I felt his reflexes weren't as quick as I would like for them to have been. I felt very much like a mother in the car with her teen child, behind the wheel for the first time. He didn't drive thru the gate onto post since being on post raises his anxiety so much. So, he pulled over into a shopping center and we traded places. I was so relieved to be driving again. I gave him lots of praise and told him how proud I was of him. If he's so determined to get back to driving then it will do no good for me to express every single doubt I have.

As we sat in the waiting room before Jay's appointment it became very clear to me that he and I were at a fork in the road of our marriage. A couple months ago, when he was in the hospital, I had gone to an appointment with his therapist there. As we all walked into his little office Jay sat down, I sat next to him, and then we moved our chairs closer to each other so we could hold hands. Brian, the therapist, said the chairs were set up a certain way for a reason. He said he could tell how close a couple was by which chairs they chose (there was another empty chair across from us) and whether or not they faced each other. Not only did we hold hands, but at times we pressed our feet together. As we sat waiting for Jan, though, I had sat down where I always do, but instead of sitting next to me, Jay had chosen a spot several chairs away.

All week I had been battling with Jay. His anger had been out of control. He had been destructive. He had cussed at me for the first time in the seven years we have been together. In a rage he had gone into his garage and spray painted HATE on the wall. This was so disarming to me. I took a picture of it to give to Jan so that maybe it would help her see what I was dealing with. When she came in the waiting room to get him I handed her the photo and said, "I don't know what you had in mind for him today, but can you just help him?".

She said, "Of course." She kept him back with her for an hour and a half. The office closed at 5pm and around 5:10 they finally came out. She sat with me and explained that everything Jay is experiencing is normal given what he's going thru. She told me that this won't last forever. She told me that it was ok to let him drive. On our way to the car Jay told me that she hadn't been alarmed by the picture I gave her. He said she seemed glad that he had a place to go to let off steam. I like Jan. I respect Jan. But I wonder how well Jan would sleep at night if her husband spray painted HATE on the wall. I wonder how she would feel if this is what the neighbors could see...

I want to paint over it but Jay said he needed to leave it up for awhile. Great. I can only imagine what the neighbors think of us. Jay tells me that I shouldn't care what the neighbors think. But I don't think it's fair that he can tell me how to feel.

I'm embarrassed. Jay already has an angry look about him. When he came home from Iraq he started covering himself with macabre tattoos; creepy images of death. He wears black t-shirts and blasts screaming, death metal from his garage as he works. The other day he told me that as he and a friend (from PTSD therapy) were standing at the garage door talking, a woman was walking her dog up our street. She actually crossed the street to keep from walking by our house. MY HOUSE!!!!! They waved to her to try to be neighborly. But it's too late. We are the strange people.

In two hours we will be sitting in another doctor's office in the city. Dr. W referred us to a guy who is going to map Jay's brain. I can't give any more details than that because I'm very unsure exactly what's happening. But, I know it's supposed to last about two hours and will give us an idea if there is evidence of a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and where exactly it might be. It could also show us nothing. Which would be frustrating. I'm told that you can prove that there has been a TBI but you can't prove there hasn't been one. Meaning, if nothing shows up he could still have significant damage that just doesn't want to be documented, which will just make things harder for us down the road.

What puts all this in perspective for me right now is something that Jan said as she was talking to me the other day. She confessed that she had gone thru her own battle after her husband died. She wasn't relating to me but she was trying to show that she felt anguish similar to what Jay feels. Just hearing her say her husband had died flipped a switch for me. With everything Jay is going thru, I'm sure Jan would gladly go thru it with her husband if it meant she could be with him again. I will hold on to Jay and cherish him. He is still here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Plot Thickens

When I started this blog Jay was just beginning his journey thru this disorder. I knew very little about PTSD but I knew that WE were madly in love and that whatever IT was, it was not enough to tear us apart. I was given advice from doctors and therapists on how to keep our marriage strong. I listened to what they said and I read all the books and pamphlets they gave me. I read how to deal with selfishness, rage, and all the other brutal side effects that this disorder can dish out. But, in my heart I felt that THAT advice was for other people. My Jay would never be difficult or mean or rude. My Jay was sweet and kind and loved me more than air. In truth, it was the fact that HE was so great that we were not only going to make it thru this, we were going to thrive.

But, PTSD alters the way the brain functions. When the average person is faced with something that causes fear: a stranger at the door, speaking in public, etc., the brain creates a fight or flight response. A pretty simple concept. We get a rush of adrenaline that lets us either run away or stand up against whatever the stressor is. We might get sweaty, our muscles might tense up, and according to what I've read we might get tunnel vision and our hearing becomes more sensitive. All of these things are survival mechanisms. We face the stressor (or run away) then our bodies go back to normal. A person with PTSD is in that heightened state ALL the time. It never shuts off. Sweating, muscle tension, and certainly in Jay's case, VERY sensitive hearing, NON-stop. His body ready to fight or flee at all times.

So far, Jay has been able to experience all these things every minute, even while sleeping, and not let it affect the way he treats me. That is, until he started yet another medication this week. Last month Dr. W put Jay on a medication that's aim was to eliminate the zombie episodes. It worked. But it turns out that Jay's frequent violent outbursts (followed by almost euphoria) meant that whatever was causing the zombie-ness was also still stirring around Jay's brain. So, he put him on another medication to stop the rage before it destroyed Jay's life.

I haven't gone into Jay's anger all that much. I get so little time to sit and write that I tend to not want to focus on the negatives. But the truth is that he is so very angry now. And since his brain doesn't function like it used to, he misunderstands things very easily. This means that simple little arguments can lead to major breakdowns. During his rages he has destroyed a few of his tools and punched screwdrivers into the garage wall. A few days ago he got upset about something trivial and when he read his garage's digital thermometer and saw that it was 105 degrees he picked it up and smashed it on the floor. I asked him why he had done it and he said that he didn't need to be reminded that he was hot.

He constantly spews profanity. I'm no prude, but I rarely cuss. For no other reason than it just sounds silly coming from my mouth. Jay's cussing is out of control. It's not like he just tosses out a curse word when he stubs his toe. His profanity actually hurts my ears. He throws out words that are violent and nasty and hateful- not to us, but to strangers on TV or people driving by (who thankfully cannot hear) or at inanimate objects that have not worked the way he thinks they should. It's so unnecessary and so undeserved that I'm having trouble letting it slide. I've warned my children that this isn't ok behavior and they understand that Daddy's different now because of the boo boo on his brain.

This new medication, which is supposed to curb this anger, is doing something very nasty to my husband. All week he has been different. Not quite the zombie state from his first week home, but he's slow moving and his eyes are so odd that he looks high or very drunk. His movements are as if he is in slow motion and he doesn't look at me, he looks thru me, like he's not quite focusing. He has stopped initiating conversations with me. We have had some serious fights because of his misunderstanding something I've said. Thankfully, I have been able to corral my own emotions to see that it's all the disorder and more likely the new medication, that is causing this personality shift. So our fights are not actually battles but more my trying to convince him that I am not the bad guy.

When I started this blog, the 'love story' part was effortless. It's easy to love someone who is kind and gentle and who obviously loves you back. It's easy to love someone who is hurting when he holds you and tells you that you're the only thing saving him. It's easy to love someone who WANTS to be loved.

It's turning out to not be so easy to love when that person is bitter and angry and hurtful. It's not easy to love when the other person resents you because you've become the care-giver and he's become the cared-for. And it's especially difficult to love when the other person has pulled away and gives you no reinforcement that all your efforts to make his life better are even appreciated.

I guess if this were a fairy tale this would be the point where the lovers are tested. PTSD has managed to turn us against each other. So, in our tale, the brave prince has been put under a dark spell that makes the princess believe that he no longer loves her. But, I believe in happy endings to corny love stories so this is but a twist in the plot. The princess will remember that, deep down, the prince's heart can't beat without her and that he needs her now more than he ever has. She will persevere and find a way to lift the horrible spell. And of course, they will live happily ever after.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Freedom ISN'T Free

A couple weeks ago my daughter asked me what the phrase "Freedom Isn't Free" means. We were sitting in an office in the hospital when she had read it on the wall. It was a small poster that was inches from my husband's head as he was bent over a desk, struggling with the paperwork that starts the med-board process. He was painfully recording dates and places and events and occasionally looking to me to fill in the blanks when his mind wouldn't let him remember all the details.

It could not have been a more achingly poetic moment. I could not explain to her at that time exactly what it means for us because I would have dissolved into tears. I gave her the pat answer that throughout history many men and women have died to protect our freedom; our way of life. That in fact freedom is very expensive.

True. But, there is so much more to tell her. For every soldier who has paid the ultimate price, there are thousands of others who have still paid dearly. Some have given their legs, their arms, or like her dad, their minds. They've sacrificed their youth, their comfort, and precious years with their families. Some have fought because our government made them, some have fought because they felt called to do it. ALL deserve our utmost respect.

For every soldier who has ever died there is a mother and father who lost a child. For every soldier who couldn't handle the stress of flashbacks and pain and turned to drugs or alcohol, there are children who lost a father. For every loving spouse who returned from war angry and bitter, there is a couple who lost their marriage. It is a spiderweb of tragedy and grief.

Since Jay returned as a broken version of the man he used to be I have been struggling with the 'WHY?' of it all. What was all of this for? Someone's political agenda? Greed? I can knock myself out trying to find a point to it all.

But, if I sit back and just let go of my anger, I know the answer that will work for me.

As we are all with our families this weekend celebrating our nation's birthday,
lounging in our lawn chairs,
chowing down on too many hotdogs,
laughing and joking with our friends in our cozy neighborhoods,
watching our children waving their sparklers,
knowing that they are free to be whomever they wish to be,
and that they'll never know a thimble-full of the pain a lot of other children do,
THAT feeling...
that feeling of warmth in our chests,
and calm in our bellies,
that feeling that all is right with our part of the world...
THAT is the WHY of it all.

Freedom isn't free. I know that. It is a very expensive gift that I will never take for granted again.

The Mad Hatter

Just weeks before he came home from Afghanistan Jay mentioned to me how much he wanted a Mustang he had found online. I knew that he had been receiving treatment for his then suspected "anxiety disorder". I knew that he was feeling low and uncertain of his future. Yet, I was positive that as soon as he got home, I would make it all better. I thought, naively, that one look at the kids and me and all would be perfect again. But, just to be sure, I would drive out of state and pick up this magical car for him because THAT would be the icing on the cake-of-recovery.

We needed a second car but we certainly didn't need this particular car. It's terribly impractical, hard for me to drive, and loud. When I drove it home it drew so much attention that I felt very uncomfortable. It's not a fancy or expensive car. Just an old '87. But, to talk to Jay, you'd think that every hope and dream he ever had rumbled under it's hood.

Now here we are nearly three months later. Jay has all but lost his mind, has received a PTSD and TBI diagnosis, spent several weeks in a psychiatric hospital, and returned only slightly better. The car that he lusted over sits in the garage undriven, except for the couple times he's had the courage to test out whatever new whatchamacallit he's decided to put on it.

I have often regretted buying that car. I drained our emergency fund to buy it. It raised our insurance. It is a money pit as there are endless (unnecessary) projects that Jay is indulging in. And although he won't say it, I think it's a constant reminder of the fact that Jay is sick because he can't bring himself to drive it. But, thru it all -bad decision or not- it is making Jay happy. And it keeps him busy and gives him something to focus on.

Still, the car makes me very nervous. I rarely turn my back on Jay right now because I never know when his mind is going to slip. Our daughter spends a lot of time with him out in the garage when she's home so I am able to do other things in the house. I opened the garage door not too long ago to find the car jacked up with my love and my daughter underneath it. I nearly threw up. He was teaching her how to change the oil. That's fine. But all I saw was a million ways that this could end badly! They changed the oil without incident. But, just three hours after this, Jay had a horrible episode that I can only describe as a seizure. What if it had happened under the car? What if he had made some kind of mistake and hurt P? He would never forgive himself.

Just before he came home from deployment I took the kids to see Alice in Wonderland. I nearly cried when I watched it. It was so clear to me that The Mad Hatter had PTSD. Of course, he was already 'mad', supposedly from mercury poisoning from the hat making process. But, after the horror he witnessed during the massacre of the White Queen's people by the Red Queen's Jabberwocky, he changed completely. His personality flip/flopped depending on the situation at hand. He had flashbacks. He would get a sad, lost, empty look in his eyes sometimes. Tell me these aren't symptoms of PTSD.

I told Jay this and as he watched the movie later he felt the same way. I can't imagine how it must feel to identify with a character that has gone crazy.

Like a lot of guys, Jay names his vehicles. When it came time to name the mustang, after we had thrown out a dozen ideas, The Mad Hatter became the perfect fit.

Naturally, my car became Alice by default. Although, I think it's quite fitting. In the movie, Alice becomes very attached to The Mad Hatter and takes it upon herself to look after his mental health. She chooses her words carefully to make him believe that 'normal' is terribly boring and she, herself, is convinced that Crazy is a wonderful place to be. I could learn a lot from her.