What are your first thoughts when you hear military and PTSD? (Give me your honest answers guys)
Post traumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem that people develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event. In my fiancé’s case this trauma was caused by combat. He served in the army for 8 years with 3 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Ace and I first started dating I wasn’t aware of his PTSD. We had so many conversations about him being in the army, and in true ignorant land of the free home of the brave fashion, I cracked a joke saying he was “crazy” because that’s what we all think about them right? He didn’t find that funny at all and if you know Ace you know that he don’t mind telling you what he feels. “I am not crazy, but I do have PTSD and I don’t think that shit is funny”…. I felt like an idiot. No, an uneducated idiot. I offended him and I didn’t know what PTSD was! “Imagine being trained for 3 years to hurt hurt hurt and kill kill kill, and after your out no one tells you how to turn the switch off” I’ve never thought about it that way.
In the midst of him preparing for the army he also had a daughter to care for. I asked him how did the army affect his ability to be a father. He was stationed in Colorado Springs when he became a “single father”. His mom helped out with his daughter while he was in basic training, but after that he sent for her to come live with him. “My daughter saved my life and helped me cope with PTSD” The moments when he wanted to get lost in his thoughts his daughter made him snap out of it. He told me so many stories but the ones that stuck are the beginning phases that took place after basic training. What should I feed her? Should I ask her if she’s hungry? Am I cut out for this? What am I going to do when it’s bath time?(his mom was usually there to assist during bath time) He had no family out there just his army family. Ace has always been a figure it out kind of person and that’s exactly what he did. He said I looked at her and said “aight, let’s do it”. Everything wasn’t always a cake walk during this time. He told me a hair story that tickled me and made my heart smile at the same time. The neighbor that usually helped him comb her hair wasn’t available one day so he figured he would just hook up the curling iron and make it happen. Let’s just say after he tried and failed he took her to get her hair braided and kept it braided.
There are two main things that you need to know if you’re in a relationship with someone who suffers from PTSD. You did not cause it and most importantly you can NOT fix them. Prayer, love and support is all you can do! Also, you don’t need to treat them as if they are handicapped. (Big no no) After being checked in a major way I started to do my research. I wasn’t scared of him, I was intrigued. I needed to know what triggers he had, what was off limits, I mean I wanted to know it all. The first trigger I learned was different sounds. If you own an iPhone then you know the classic alarm sound. That was my ring tone and my alarm to wake me up. Ace spent the night at my house and in the middle of the night I got a phone call….He sits straight up in the bed and b-lined to the bathroom and pulled the shower curtain back. I jumped right up and went right after him because I didn’t know what was going on. I turn the corner to find him standing beside the shower with his face buried in his hands. What happened??? I was so confused. He said “That sound”. Huh? That sound is the sound for an incoming bomb…. I felt so horrible, but I made the adjustment and changed my ringtone. We got back in bed and I just held him. My goal was to make sure that he never felt alone again.
The next thing I began to notice was when he was asleep he would mumble some pretty intense stuff. He was having nightmares. Bad ones…His whole body would tense up and he would grip the bed and toss and turn. One night he grabbed me and pulled me close and just held on. The next day I asked him what he was dreaming about and he said he was protecting me. That explained why periodically through the night he would pop up and touch me or throw his leg over me. He’s a protector. He would blurt out stuff like “I’m going to kill you. All of you bastards.” I was never scared and I always felt protected because I know what to do. I knew how to help him snap out of the nightmares. (Honest moment) EXCEPT that one time!!! We were asleep and he began shaking and gripping the bed as usual. He stared saying he was going to kill whoever he was after in his dream and I reached out to touch him and he yanked my hand away. I tried waking him up like I normally do but it wasn’t working. He just started getting louder and I was like nope. I politely got up out of the bed and went to the couch in the living room. I laid there for a couple of hours and that’s when the thoughts started. Could he hurt me? Am I really safe here? I could’ve just ran and never looked back, but I chose to stay. The next day I brought it up to him and I told him I was genuinely scared. He was crushed. ” My job is to protect you, I never want to scare you.” ” I just want to be normal”…..From then on when I noticed he was having a nightmare I would first lay my hand on his head and pray for him. Next I would wake him up by softly calling his name. When he wakes up from nightmares his eyes are HUGE. He pops them open and immediately looks around the room. I just say babe it’s just me and we are at home in the bed. Relax….I made the right decision by staying. He needed someone. The more I prayed the more the nightmares started to be few and far in between. He still has them but the intense ones aren’t as frequent.
You have to be willing to make adjustments and be understanding when you are dating or married to someone with PTSD. My Fourth of July’s will be different. We spent our first Fourth of July together and it was HARD. I knew that he didn’t like the fireworks but I never asked him what he usually did on that day. He liked to stay at home with the tv up loud to drown out the sounds of the fireworks. Since I didn’t ask him of course we went out and of course we drove through a whole fireworks show. With every crack he would duck and the lights did something to him. I just randomly started talking to him about any and everything. Something to get his mind off of what was going on around him.
You will learn to be patient and compassionate. When he has his moments it is my job to make sure he doesn’t stay in that place for too long because it is easy for combat veterans to slip into a dark place. There is one day out of the year that he needs space because he lost a friend and combat buddy and he witnessed it and could do nothing to save him. On that day I do not try to lift his spirits because he expressed to me that he needs that day so I give him his space.
Ask questions but don’t be too pushy, NEVER ask if they have killed someone or shot someone. (Just don’t) When they are ready to open up you will know it, understand that you can’t fix them, be a shoulder to cry on, be a great listener, and most importantly be supportive. Know that they are some of the most LOYAL individuals I have ever met. If they say the rock with you they mean it. Your family will become their family. My life hasn’t always been so perfect and I have baggage so I can’t knock him for his past and PTSD is something he can’t help. It gets better everyday and I’m so grateful to God for the growth and progress.