No one enjoys talking about mental health issues. Even in the civilian world, there is a stigma – mental health is not treated the same as physical health. We don’t have a problem talking about breast cancer or diabetes; but when it comes to problems like depression or PTSD, we feel a bit more uncomfortable.
When you enter the military realm and face mental health problems, that stigma becomes even stronger. It wasn’t until recently that the movement to tear down the negative connotation (as related to PTSD) began. We still have a long way to go, but it is comforting that there are so many organizations and individuals offering hope for healing.
Hearing the stories of other military wives whose soldiers struggle with PTSD can also be extremely comforting. They remind me that this is not a battle to fight alone. They know what it’s like to be a “soft target.” They know what it’s like to schedule meals at restaurants outside the normal meal times, in order to avoid crowds. They have seen the outbursts of anger. They know the triggers. They know that even reaching out and touching their soldier’s hand could sometimes be met with rejection – and while that is difficult, they know why.
But the good news is that a diagnosis of PTSD is not a death sentence. The Warrior has said, “It’s not like I’m gonna sit around and feel all sorry for myself.” Soldiers with PTSD can live functional, healthy, productive lives, as this veteran describes at BrainLineMilitary.org. Life after combat is different, and I do NOT want to downplay the difficulties. But I believe one of the keys to effectively handling PTSD is being honest about it. It can’t be hidden or be treated as something taboo; otherwise, it will fester and become a thorn that could eventually tear down a relationship. When The Warrior told me that he was diagnosed with chronic PTSD, I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders. It’s not that I was happy about it, but it was validation that everything I had observed over the past year was not in my head or overblown. It was real, just as real as any physical war wound. The same goes for TBI.
If your soldier has returned from combat and things seem “off” for about a month or two, don’t be concerned yet. But it is right to become concerned if it’s been four to six months and the symptoms persist. PTSD could also be “delayed onset,” which means the symptoms show up six or more months after combat. Take notes on everything unusual you observe, even if the details seem minor. This could be of use later, to determine what is PTSD and what could be overlapping TBI. Finally, do not blame yourself. Resist the temptation to look inward and cower from the problems. Instead, look outside yourself, find helpful resources, delve deeper into your faith, and talk with your warrior if you can. If not, take baby steps towards that last goal. It can be slow-going, but the walk is worth it.
Resources of the Week:
On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by LTC Dave Grossman
Hope for the Home Front – Facebook support group
Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home by Marshele Carter Waddell
“Help for My Life” video series on PTSD
“How War Changes the Mind of a Warrior” by Dr. Keith Ablow