Saturday, 3 December 2011

Has PTSD Touched You? / Chapter 26 Excerpt . . .

Once I was brave enough to tell my story, actually said the words aloud, I realized how many others had been touched by this disabling illness.  I was shocked!  Almost everyone knew someone, whether directly related, a close friend, a neighbor, someone from church, a friend of a friend . . . almost everyone!

“Mental illness is so much more complicated than any pill that any mortal could invent ” Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

I lived with this nightmare for 15 years.  Then it had no name and there was no help.  The longer you live with post-traumatic stress disorder, the deeper you become entrenched with no escape . . . no reasonable escape.  You can't hide in a closet or pull the covers over your head.  You learn to live with it, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, never knowing from one minute to the next, what's lurking around the corner.

In Diary of a Vet's Wife, my memoir, the man I love battles his demons alone, in the only way he knows how, unwilling to admit he's in trouble and refusing to let me in.  I'm not strong enough to fight him, I can only stand in the shifting shadows and watch . . . and be there for him when he needs me. 

Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit
- Peter Ustinov

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD?

It's natural to be afraid when you're in danger.  It's natural to be upset when something bad happens to you or someone else you know.  But if you feel afraid and upset weeks or months later, it's time to talk with your doctor . . . you might have post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is a real illness. You can get PTSD after living through through or seeing a dangerous event, such as war, a hurricane, or bad accident. PTSD makes you feel stressed and afraid after the danger is over. It affects your life and the people around you.

PTSD can happen to anyone at any age. Children get PTSD too.

You don't have to be physically hurt to get PTSD. You can get it after you see other people get hurt, such as a friend or family member.

What causes PTSD?

Living through or seeing something that's unsettling and dangerous can cause PTSD. This can include:
  • War or combat
  • Being a victim of or seeing violence
  • The death or serious illness of a loved one
  • Car accidents and plane crashes
  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires
  • Violent crimes, like a robbery or shooting.
  • Plus many other things
Related diseases and conditions:
  • Stress occurs when forces from the outside world impinge on the individual. Stress is a normal part of life. However, over-stress now points to being involved in various diseases and conditions.
  • Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts, and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things
  • Alcoholism is a disease that includes alcohol craving, and continued drinking despite alchol related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law.
  • Suicide is the process of intentionally ending one's own life. Approximately 1 million people worldwide commit suicide each year, and 10 million to 20 million attempt suicide annually.
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is a mental illness in which a person has at least two distinct personalities. Symptoms and signs include lapses in memory, feeling unreal, blackouts in time, and hearing voices in their heads that are not their own.
  • Drug Addiction is a chronic disease that causes drug-seeking behavior despite consequences to the user and those around them.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder is a serious mental illness characterized by prevasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behavior. This instability disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individuals sense of self-identity.
  • Insomnia is the difficulty in falling to sleep, waking frequently during the night, or waking too early in the morning.
  • Sleepwalking is a condition in which an individual walks or does other activities while asleep. Conditions that have similar symptoms are night terrors, confusional arousals and nocturnal seizures.
  • Nightmares are dreams that cause high anxiety or terror. They occur during rapid eye movement (RIM) sleep when related to post traumatic stress disorder.


Spring 1976 - Giving in too easily

     The torrential winter rains with their raging rivers of mud had all but dried up, leaving a path of destruction in their wake.  The newness of spring brought proof that life goes on.  Our new house was finally under construction but far behind schedule.

     "Feel like riding out to see the house?" Lorne asked, standing in the kitchen, his hands deep in his pockets.  "It's a gorgeous day.  I think it would do us both good."

     He had strolled in long after midnight and knew he was in the doghouse.

     "Sure . . . I guess," I said, staring out the window as I rinsed the breakfast dishes.  "Give me a couple of minutes to change and situate the children."

     The Sunday morning traffic was light.  The brittle breeze engulfed us on the bike, stinging my cheeks and numbing my fingers.  I perched behind Lorne and clung to him.  The warmth of his familiar body melted my anger and soothed my soul.  For a while, I felt safe and secure.

     The naked wood frame of the house looked lonely against the clear blue sky, like a barren tree in winter.  Lorne got off the bike and turned to face me.  Putting his hands on his knees, he leaned down to look squarely into my face, smiling warily.

     I always gave in too easily . . . I turned my head, but he took my hand and pulled me towards him and off the bike.

    "I got the message," Lorne admitted.  "You're still mad about last night."

     "I'm able to get off by myself, you know," I said, resisting his pull like a dog going to the vet.

     Lorne ignored my stubbornness and led me into the house.  Stepping over a maze of wall braces protruding from the floor, we surveyed the layout.  Lorne ducked under a crossbeam and headed  over to check out the plumbing.  I stroked the fresh new wood, trying to imagine living here.  As I looked around, I could only hope our new home would be the answer to Lorne's problems.  Only time would tell.

     Construction was finally moving forward and it should be time to celebrate, but the joy and laughter were missing.  I worried about Lorne.  Just the other day, he told me he was having problems at work.  And this was not the first time.

     Lorne was a brilliant man.  He had the mental capacity to calculate complex mathematical formulas in his head at the snap of a finger, yet feelings of insecurity gnawed at his self-esteem like terminal cancer, leaving him suspicious and vulnerable.  He complained the people at work were out to get him, purposely conspiring to make his life hell.  He told me not to worry, he was dealing with it.  But I did worry.  Lorne had already changed jobs once since we were married, for similar reasons.

     Then there was a speeding ticket I only learned about.  To make matters worse, he was driving his company car.  Most of the time, Lorne kept problems to himself, and even though I begged, he chose not to involve me.  Entangled in his silence, I searched for a reason.  At the same time, I wrestled with my own feelings of lonliness and despair.

Lesson learned . . . my two cents

"This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted."    - C.S. Lewis


  1. Wow, Nancy, beautiful writing. I was really engaged as I read this and definitely want to read more...the test of a well-written book. I love the first paragraph and your frequent use of simile.

  2. Nancy, thank you for your kind words. Writing now seems like the easy part, compared to publishing. Many say they're waiting to read my book yet there's still so much to do. But by this time next year, it will all be behind me! :)

  3. So hard to love someone so troubled. We want to help them, fix them - but it's not up to us.

    You express the love and conflict very well here.

  4. It was hard, but I never stopped loving him. Many years later, I learned I had PTSD from living with my husband's illness. And every once in a while it flares up. During some specific holidays, or when I see soldiers in combat on the news or in the movies. Thank you for stopping by.

  5. First, love is complex and hard and confusing, even under the best possible circumstances, but reading your words (which are beautiful, but heart wrenching)you give us a glimpse of the harder side. Like, Nancy, I wasn't ready to stop reading.

  6. Nancy, my father suffered from PTSD after the Vietnam war. Of course, at the time, symptoms like the ones you describe weren't diagnosed as such. As a result, many soldiers had to self-heal. My mother tells us stories of how most nights he lay awake, insomnia robbing him of his sleep. During the times he was able to sleep, I can still remember waking up in the middle of the night upon hearing him cry out. The nightmares were horrible. I'm glad that we now have treatment available to those who are victims of this disorder. And your writing is simply beautiful!

  7. Brenda, love can make us or break us, and sometimes it does both. But once we've tasted it's nectar, it becomes part of us. We can never go back to who we were. Your gracious words always inspire me.

  8. Oh Bella, to know I'm reaching others who have tasted the sadness of living with a loved one when there was no help. Yes, now there is awareness, but it's not a quick fix. And men, more than women, have a hard time seeking help, early on, when it comes to mental health. It's not macho! This breaks my heart . . . Your sharing means a lot!

  9. While writing my own memoir, I learned that the children and family members of those with PTSD often suffer from a secondary (but no less agonizing) PTSD themselves. Mental illness in any form has the potential to reach out and impact everyone surrounding the one who is ill. It is much like alcoholism that way. I hope that your writing offers you a catalyst for healing.

  10. Chelise, I am so happy you stopped by. It appears you're aware from personal experience. Writing my memoir was my SALVATION because I know in my heart I could have easily gone in the opposite direction due to the guilt and heartbreak eating away my insides. But I just kept writing which took me above the pain I wallowed in for so long. Please come by again.