Do I really need to point out that post-traumatic stress disorder is not a happy topic?
It whispers of horrifying ordeals, traumatic events, and torturous exposure. It speaks of the darkest depression, of crippling anxiety, and of terrifying flashbacks.
And for those who live alongside a loved one with PTSD, it cries of explosive outbursts, shameless intoxication, and a complete withdrawal from their identity.
Nothing is ever quite the same once PTSD enters a home. Sleep is disturbed. Routines are destroyed. Careers are overturned. Dreams are continuously postponed. And families are crushed.
No. PTSD is not a happy subject.
But I want to tell you about the other side to my story, the side where I can still find my smile and know that it’s not all for nothing. Because the day my husband was diagnosed with PTSD we both took our first step along an uncharted journey, and we didn’t do so by choice.
After years of trudging along this path, worrying about where the next bump will be or if the clouds would ever clear, I unwittingly locked myself into a single thought: PTSD is nothing but a relentless misery.
It was many years before I was ready to pause long enough to consider that there might be another side to my story. So when I finally did, it was a shock to recognise that my husband’s PTSD had actually been teaching me some very significant lessons since that very first day we stepped onto its path.
And for the wise counsel his PTSD has offered me, I can be nothing but grateful.
“How are you?” is no longer just a greeting It usually rolls off the tongue without us even realising, somewhere after “hi” and shortly before “what have you been up to?” But these four little words hold a new importance and genuine meaning for me, and I now ask it because I care to hear about the honest answer.
My appreciation for those on the frontline is boundless A job is a job is a job. Not true. The people who are drawn to the defence forces, emergency services or anywhere else on the frontline are extraordinary individuals who deal with unimaginable events every day. And then they go home. Although a uniform can be peeled off at the front door and a hat can be lifted from a tired head, people working on the frontline can never truly leave their job, and their job never really leaves them. I’ve always appreciated how hard these people work, but I now know the sacrifices they make and I understand the battles they face.
Living alongside PTSD puts relationship issues into perspective How did I get to a point where I wished I was complaining about a husband who never thinks to empty the dishwasher or fighting with him about whose turn it is for some free time away from the kids? I listen to my friends moan about forgetful partners and disputes over holiday destinations and I find myself grieving for the marriage I once had. Cooking dinner every night makes no difference to me now, I only care that my husband is sober, calm and present. I only hope he is guarded from the depths of his depression, the traumatic flashbacks and endless nightmares.
I now appreciate the importance of living in the moment “I’ll be happy once he gets on top of his PTSD,” or maybe “I’ll be happy once he finds a new career path,” or perhaps “I’ll be happy once he stops disappearing and drinking himself into oblivion.” How long did it take me to realise that I cannot put my happiness in someone else’s hands and expect them not to drop it? How long before I understood that happiness was never intended to be an end point. I began striving, instead, to live in each moment, and it was in those moments that I discovered where my joy had been hiding all along.
My children are learning life lessons about mental health and chronic illness Life is ugly, and life is unfair. Though of course no-one wants their children to see this. We try to shelter our kids and protect them when adversity eventually does strike. But when I realised that not every misfortune can be neatly hidden away, I chose to speak openly with my children and involve them instead. We talk about the ugly sides of life and we discuss why life is naturally unfair, because it now has real meaning for them. They don’t need my protection from life, for this is their life.
I have uncovered an inner strength that I never knew existed I used to believe that emotional strength was something to be built up over time, much like physical strength. We can’t walk into a gym and suddenly lift the heaviest of weights. But throw my life into continual chaos with a mentally ill husband breaking under the pressure of complex PTSD and suddenly I’m at the wheel, navigating our family safely through the bleakest days and the darkest nights. I didn’t recognise this woman at all. I wasn’t trained for this, there wasn’t any guidance. I honestly didn’t know how strong I was until being strong was the only choice I had. It’s a deeply secure feeling knowing that, although I still like to lean on others once in a while, if things turn to shit again I can trust my own capabilities and step up.
It has shown me what’s truly important in my life Grand ambitions, regular promotions, striving towards goals and paying off the mortgage might be how many choose to create a successful and satisfying life. But what happens when those things are stripped away from you? Well, then you get the rare chance to see the real pillars of a meaningful in life. A normal day of hanging out the washing, going to work, collecting kids from school, yet another meal to cook and a good book before bed. In one life I would have called it monotonous. Now it tells another story; a story of healthy children, a husband striving for recovery, and a secure family. This story is nowhere near as glamorous, but then again, real life probably never is.