The Abbess and Me
The Abbess and I have been married 26 years. We have dealt with PTSD for all of that time. Now we did not always know this was the case, not until she received the diagnosis back in 1989 and even then we did not really appreciate the effect that it was having on her and us. She has written a wonderful piece over at her place, the Abbey Normal Abbess’s Blog entitled “The Abbess talks about a household with PTSD” which I have linked here: http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/the-abbess-talks-about-a-household-with-ptsd/
Any regular reader of this website knows that the host, Padre Steve deals with PTSD, a gift that he brought home with him from Iraq. There are a decent number of articles here that reference my struggles in coming to grips with this, how it affects me and how I am working with Elmer the Shrink to figure this surreal, confusing, illogical and sometimes frightening mess out.
Now before I came home with PTSD and actually figured out what the hell was going on with me and why I was falling apart I had little understanding of what the Abbess was going through. She suffers from childhood PTSD, abusive father, generally un-protective mother who probably had her own childhood abuse issues going on and a sister who physically abused her. She also was traumatized when she was between two and three years old when a Doctor removed a cyst from her face without anesthesia, that is one of her earliest memories and for many years caused her to fear going to the doctor. When we started dating the family was probably in one of their more peaceful states but there were plenty of times where I saw some scary shit going on. At the same time the Judy that I knew was the confident young college student, gifted artist and President of the Delta College German Club with a vibrant faith. There were hints back then that she was damaged by her family of origin but I just took it as something that she would simply grow out of. I had read about PTSD in Vietnam veterans but kind of brushed that aside and had no idea that someone who had not been to war could suffer from PTSD.
After she was diagnosed with childhood PTSD neither of us really knew what to do with it and most of her therapists did not deal with it and instead focused on depression and one even tried to diagnose her and turn her into a sufferer of Dissociative Identity Disorder the diagnosis formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. That was a fiasco brought on by “Christian” therapists who tried to find demons in everything. Of course if there were demons involved or Satanic ritual abuse that made it easy, you didn’t need to deal with the PTSD or any of the psychological components to what was going on. I think that these therapists, one of who is now famous for his diagnoses of former NFL star Hershel Walker did great harm to Judy and others in making a psychological diagnosis based on unsupportable “spiritual” causes. These spiritual “causes” were not based on fact, but rather the therapist’s suppositions which were based on conspiracy theories usually involving how police worked with satanic groups to conduct satanic rituals and then return the victims to their homes. If we know what we had known now we would have made a malpractice suit against the therapists and pastoral counselor involved in Judy’s treatment at the time.
It was not until I was on active duty in the Navy that a therapist began to work with Judy’s PTSD. Even still with her getting treatment I was still learning how to grapple with all the reactions that I had seen for years because to me they were still not logical. I am a methodical and logical person and if you know anything about PTSD you quickly find that much of what happens to a person has nothing to do with logic, but what the brain and the nervous system are doing and not how a person is deciding to act at a given point. So when Judy would startle or have some kind of meltdown I would try to counter with logic. This to my surprise never worked and I was always left frustrated. Over the years I became a bit more understanding but still would have trouble with the severe startle reflex as well as the occasional meltdowns which over the past couple of years have gotten to be less severe because of a conscious effort to help her work through her PTSD symptoms and become more aware of what was happening and triggers.
PMS -PTSD Judy’s Best friend said to me “You’re a girl now”
Then I went to Iraq and came back with PTSD with all the trimmings. I think that she started figuring it before me so when I finally crashed on June 16th 2008, I do remember the date well, she was not surprised when I came back and told her that the doctors thought that I had PTSD and were referring me for treatment. The good thing for me was that they did not refer to the Psychology or Psychiatry clinic but to the Deployment Health Office where I met and began to work with Elmer the Shrink. My first visit to his office I got a copy of the Doonesbury book dealing with coming home from war and PTSD. I laughed and cried all the way through the book. Until I went to Iraq I had never been a big fan of Doonesbury but I really appreciate it now. Military.com has a link to the Doonesbury at War series which I find quite nice to have.
I appreciate the help and understanding of people that I work with. That helps; I don’t have the sense of abandonment and isolation that I experienced the first 8 months that I was back from Iraq. I think that my medications are getting managed a bit better as well. One thing that is hard to understand when you first start getting treatment is that you are kind of an experiment in progress as the doctor’s figure out what works and what doesn’t work. This I think can be very frustrating to people who want “fixed” right now.
Some of my dreams get pretty physical
Before I went to Iraq she was the more observant one of us. Now I am the more observant. The one value of PTSD that I don’t really want to lose is my awareness of what it happening around me. It has I’m sure been more help than hindrance getting me out of dangerous situations quickly because in many cases I sense things even before I see or hear them. As I have pointed out in other posts this has come in handy especially in our nutty Hampton Roads traffic and the “kill or be killed” mindset that you have to have to survive on I-64 or I-264. While I like the ability to do this the startle response that I have now is really annoying. We have a phone in our house that the ringer sends me into orbit. If I am sitting in the living room when it goes off it scares the absolute shit out of me as it does Judy. It is interesting to see both of us almost jump through our asses when that damned thing goes off. Inevitably it is the damned Rite Aide Pharmacy automated line or a equally damned telemarketer that does this. Other loud noises get me. I was driving to work and there was a vintage Chevy Camaro just ahead of me and in the adjacent lane to my right. It was still in that morning twilight when the Camaro started backfiring out of its twin exhaust pipes. The backfire sounded like a burst of semi automatic weapons fire close up and the flashes from the pipes looked like muzzle flashes. Other unexpected loud noises get me as does the sound of helicopters, especially at night. I don’t do crowds well unless they are at a baseball game. I went to do the invocation yesterday at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard to kick off the annual Combined Federal Campaign. I was expecting a small rather sedate event. It was nothing of the sort. There were at least a couple of hundred people in a relatively small auditorium, a band, reports and photographers, a color guard and drill team from a local ROTC unit even balloons and banners. The noise and light, many moving pieces gave the event a pep rally feel which drove up my anxiety level pretty bad. I was able to keep from having a panic attack or a meltdown, but it took work not to fall apart especially with the week that I had had and the fact that in the previous 31 hours I had only 3.5 hours of sleep. I don’t like my outbursts of anger which can border on rage depending on the sense of danger that I feel although some expressions that I have come up with in these events are pretty funny as I question the parentage and oedipal tendencies of some people. Anxiety, tremors, muscle tension, insomnia and nightmares are no fun either.
I guess for me that the war is not over and I know that if I was to go back I would do just fine. I almost think that another deployment to either Iraq of Afghanistan would help me in some ways. I guess I might get another shot at it as things continue to develop over there. Personally I think I need it to close the loop and one day when peace comes to Iraq to go back there to visit some of the Iraqis that I got to know while there.
Somehow I was More Relaxed in Iraq than I am Here
So now I am much more understanding of what Judy has lived with since childhood. She has been a help to me in understanding my struggle as well and what I have experienced has helped me have a lot more compassion and understanding for her. The only one without PTSD is our little dog Molly so it does make for interesting living around our little household.