Stress. Anger. Frustration. The nightmares are back. Everything is building up and I don't know if I can cope. I'm standing on the edge of a cliff and weighing out my options.
Should I do it?
I look down below and I see Satan standing there; pointing to images of who I used to be. He reminds me of prior suicide attempts. He reminds me of the standoff with police. He reminds me of the drinking and drugs; the fights and destruction. I look over my shoulder and see Jesus standing there with his hand out, willing me to turn around. What should I do? Satan calls out to me again, saying its so much easier down there. I close my eyes to think...
Thwack! A sharp pain shoots through my back. Whack!.. Thwack!... Someone is throwing rocks at me! I turn around and see people I recognize coming towards me. Why are they throwing stuff at me? Family, friends, coworkers... what do they want from me? Why are they throwing stuff at me? They get closer to me and start pushing me towards the edge. I can no longer see Jesus.
I fight back and push against the crowd. "Leave me alone!" I shout. I'm fighting with everything I have and I'm able to hold back the advancement. "Don't do this to me!" I plead. They don't listen. They are still trying to push me. I'm fighting but starting to fatigue. My arms and legs are getting weak and I know I won't last much longer. They are going to push me over the edge. When I reach the point of utter exhaustion, I turn around and look below.
"FINE! - IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?" I sprint for the edge and jump. As I'm falling I can hear their voices... "we're sorry.... we didn't mean it."
I think to myself 'kinda late for that, huh?'
I hit the ground and everything turns black.
END OF PART ONE.
This is an allegory of someone living with PTSD. There has been a disconnect from the lives we had before the trauma. When you are in the military, there is a saying "adapt and overcome." There is an instinct for survival. When you are suffering from PTSD or depression, even small things can feel overwhelming. You can't just adapt and overcome. One small problem? okay, we can get through this. Two problems? This sucks but I can manage. Three, four or five problems all at once and you find yourself standing on that cliff. Something that seems insignificant to one person can unwittingly push the person with PTSD over the edge.
Even if they don't die, they will be different for awhile.
In part two of the story, we will see what happens in the bottom of this valley.
As Veterans Day looms before us, it's amazing to reflect on how many people have risked their lives to protect our country and our freedom. Not only is this a sacrifice for the individual it is a major sacrifice to their families as well.
However, in this time of reflection we would like to bring up a much neglected train of thought. The fact that war changes people and those who served our country have figuratively sacrificed their lives. They may be with us in body yet often times their sacrifice goes beyond visible. Things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and moral wounds tear families apart on a daily basis. None of these are to be taken lightly and can affect not only the veteran themselves, but also the families, grandchildren and friends.
In February, my husband and I chose to embark on a very challenging ministry. In fact, it's so complicated most people pretend it doesn't exist or completely ignore it. And to be quite honest I think it's a huge issue in most families today. It seems to be there and yet not. To be felt yet not seen. To be ever present and yet silent. It makes people uncomfortable and yet in spite of it all we owe so much to the people who have given their lives for the cause.
So why is it that we don't talk about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) when there are so many likely sufferers in our circles? Why is it that life goes quietly on while our own fellow brethren suffer with a silent destroyer of families, a beast that seems to lurk around every corner etc. It's one of the most challenging and painful areas of today's world and it's not even being addressed. Not only are veterans suffering from PTSD, but the families are getting PTSD from the veteran. Often times the veteran doesn't even realize how they are affecting their families.
Let me give you a few statistics:
The story of Desmond Doss has been very well circulated and yet he didn't appear to suffer from PTSD. What was his secret? How did he mentally survive what he did without developing PTSD? I personally was touched by the impact Desmond Doss made in our family. Yes, his personal sacrifice touched our lives in a way we never expected...
An insiders look at living with PTSD:
Let me tell you my story. Growing up I remember going to spend nights at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Grandpa would sit us all down, Tallest to smallest on the couch. He had a very special "Drill Sergeant" type of attitude that we all loved and admired in him, and although I was young and don't remember well, I like to think we all sat up straight like good little soldiers. (although I don't think he ever ranked above an E4 ha ha... thinking about it I'll have to ask my grandma what he ranked.) Grandpa had served in the Okinawan Island's during WWII. He wasn't on the same island as Desmond Doss. However the fighting where he was, was just as brutal.
As a SeaBee he wasn't supposed to see active combat. (Seabee's or CB for 'Construction Battalion' are supposed to follow the Marines in and build the landing strips for the aircraft and bridges for the equipment after the frontline battles are over.) He was even an actor in "The Fighting Seabees" with John Wayne. (He only ran down a hill in one scene but he could show you who he was if you watched it with him.) and he got to shake John Wayne's hand.
Grandpa however, was washed into shore before the Marines and ended up having to take the beach. (There are a few funny stories I could share but it would make an already way to long blog much longer.) My point in all of this is that, he saw combat.
Back to sitting on the couch; Grandpa would take his long slender finger and point at each one of us for emphasis. "If you want to come and get into bed with us tonight, you stomp down those stairs, you slam our door and you jump onto the bed. I want to hear you coming." My dad told me once that he only made the mistake of sneaking into bed with his parents once. It ended with him picking himself up off the floor on the other side of the room. Grandpa cried the rest of the night.
Grandpa seemed to be a short tempered man, always barking orders at Grandma, yet everyone could see how much he loved and adored her. He enjoyed way to much salt on his little bowl of popcorn he kept by the chair he sat in. He cross stitched all day long (boy he made so many incredible pieces) while watching old gameshows (like wheel of fortune, the price is right, jeoperdy etc.) and munching on his way to salty popcorn. Occasionally he would make a batch of cookies and boy those died with him. Although he would often show me how he did it, (and that was one of my favorite memories with him, making cookies or his famous Mac and cheese!) mine never turn out like his did.
Another fond memory I have of him was car rides with his pretzel bag and him spending hours working me through my fear of car washes. (Yes, I still struggle with it sometimes if I must admit it.) but somehow he managed to make them fun. There were trees and bushes and thunder storms and... such sweet times.
Yet there was something that drew me to this cranky old man. An inner strength that I couldn't help but see, brokenness, loneliness, struggling all made way for a tender, loving and compassionate person. Who by the way, was so scared of the dark. One night an officer insisted he stand on guard duty in the middle of the night despite his protests of being scared of the dark and pleading to stand guard during the day. During the night he blew up one whole end of the pallet of runway because of a little tag that was flapping in the wind that refused to identify itself. Ha ha... It's amazing he wasn't court-martialed for that offense.
Years later and being married to a veteran suffering from PTSD, I see the similarities and have a little more light on what was going on and why he was the way that he was. Desmond Doss came to grandpas church one evening to tell his testimony. Grandpa and Grandma decided to go and Desmond Doss sat down for an hour with Grandpa (just the two of them) and I don't know what he told him, (he took it to the grave) but I know from then on, He was a changed man. The nervousness, crankiness, and irritation was gone. He seemed happier and more content. I would love to hear what was said.
Fast forward several years past my Grandpa's death and we come down to July 2009. I married the man of my dreams. Also, quite interestingly, he is a veteran. (My grandma told me later Grandpa would have been very proud I married a Navy man. Tee hee.) I didn't think at that time that Jeremy had PTSD because there were no signs or symptoms. However going through some challenges and looking back now, he developed them about two and a half years after we got married. (Before he was converted, he was highly suicidal and at one point was even held at gunpoint by the swat team.) All of the symptoms he was having in our marriage came to a breaking point in 2015 when he had a flashback and didn't know who I was. I had playfully woken him up by running my finger up his foot while he was sleeping on the couch. He instantly was on his feet and coming at me like he was going to hurt me. I couldn't snap him out of it. He didn't recognize me. (Praise the Lord he responded to my gentle touch.) It took him all night to snap out of it. I actually asked him to sleep in the garage because I wasn't comfortable sleeping next to him in bed that night.
My grandma told me a story one time that she woke up being punched in the face and held grandpa the rest of the night while he cried. Jeremy has struggled with just about every PTSD symptom that is possible during this last 3 years in particular. Our once happy home is often shadowed by past experiences that we weren't even a part of. We walk on egg shells as we try not to make him mad and stay away from any trigger that would make him cranky. Often times we dread him coming home because we don't know what mood he might be in. I don't worry about him hurting us physically but I struggle with the mental stress that all of us suffer under the stress of dealing with PTSD. Knowing my husbands symptoms are only his PTSD can be very draining to be around. The kids often don't understand why daddy gets upset with them. However, I want to make it clear, we have had several downs and many many more struggles but Jeremy is still the man of my dreams. You see, in hurting people there are amazing things. Jewels that are buried under charcoal that just need to be dug up, cleaned up and polished. Each one shining in a beauty all it's own. Of course this takes years of patience, practice, love and determined to make things work attitude.
In February of 2017 Jeremy and I founded, survivinghome.org. It originally started as a ministry for veterans with PTSD, and now has transitioned into veterans and first responders with PTSD. This last summer we attended an Oregon conference and we set up a booth at the event. While we were there we had several teens request classes on how to help their friends with suicide prevention and helping domestic violence PTSD as well. We see how God is working Surviving Home into being a ministry that addresses all aspects of in-home issues. As you can imagine with all of these requests it's a little bit overwhelming as we want to help as many people as possible and show Christ as their one true source of strength through the good times and the bad.
As I have been working through a manual for spouses dealing with PTSD, a burden has been laid upon my heart. I never really realized how much I have changed and how much PTSD has affected my life, thinking and functioning. Does that mean there is no hope? Does that mean that our lives will always be this way? Does it mean that we will never be able to see the loving sensitive side of my husband again? No, I am a veteran of living with veterans with PTSD. There is a better side, and there is hope. My husband doesn't intend or even realize how he comes across often times. It doesn't excuse the behavior but it does help to understand that what they do might be different from what their heart is.
So if any of you are struggling with an environment beyond your control in your home, please know, there is hope. There is a life. You may not be able to control the circumstances that come into your home or life, but you can control how you react to them. Each day is a new day. Each moment a new moment. Loving a veteran takes a fierce love, great sacrifice, breaking down walls and building up each other. Understanding each other and constantly seeking the jewels that are hidden in the charcoal.
Do you know a veteran? Can you offer encouragement to them today. Can you thank their family and them for the sacrifice they have made for our freedom. Get to know them, take some time, learn what their life experience is. In every veteran, in every serviceman there is a deep commitment to sacrifice and to support each other and their fellow countryman in any way they can. They may come across as cranky or stick to themselves. They may be a challeng to get to know but I guaruntee they are well worth the effort and you will find jewels beyond your wildest imaginations. So let's all hug a veteran today.
My hands are sweaty, my heart is racing and my breathing hard!
The tones have just gone off! What kind of call am I going to have this time?
UN1! Not again!
I’m trembling inside, hoping we don’t arrive first as I don’t want to be the one in charge!
It’s a 3 month old male, not breathing and unresponsive!
Oh Lord, I can’t handle this! The anxiety washing over me is almost unbearable.
We aren’t successful and after the call, I’m in tears!
I feel like I am falling apart on the inside yet I have a chart to write and more calls to run, all while pretending I’m perfectly okay.
How can I go on?
I’m in denial! It’s nothing I can’t handle! I really don’t need to talk to anyone about this!
I’ve done my job for years and can keep doing it just fine, I continually tell myself!
Every day I go to work, I feel the anxiety washing over me!
Sometimes I feel almost paralyzed.
I’m a paramedic and I’ve seen things no one should have to see!
I’ve comforted too many grieving people!
I haven’t been able to save everyone and even when I get them to the hospital before they die, it’s sometimes not enough!
What do you do when you have these feelings?
Do you ever feel hopeless? Whatever your situation, there is help, I promise you!
As I share my story in these blogs, I hope you can find the same thing I have, peace! Hang in there friend! You aren’t alone!