Through the Eyes of PTSD (A day in the life…)

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In honor of our military families past and present, and in reflection on our upcoming Independence Day, I wrote this as a reminder to myself and to others that the freedoms we enjoy every day are most certainly NOT free.  Many people have heard of PTSD, but very few understand the painful daily struggles and the devastation that it can bring to an entire family.  When you see life through the lens of PTSD, it is a completely different view — a dangerous world full of triggers and trauma at every turn.

So today, from my own experience and with the input of my husband, who suffers from these invisible wounds of war, I offer you  “life through the eyes of PTSD”.   May it inspire in you both compassion and gratitude for the high cost of freedom.

(WARNING:  This contains some graphic descriptions that may trigger a servicemember with PTSD.  PLEASE USE CAUTION!):

6:00 a.m.  Someone is grabbing me and I come up swinging – then I realize it’s only my wife trying to wake me up.  The adrenaline flows while I try to take a breath and calm down.  My wife looks startled and is staring at my hands – I realize they are clenched tightly into fists.  I feel bad for scaring her and foolish for my reaction.

6:15 a.m.  I finally manage to drag myself out of bed – I probably only slept 3-4 hours if I’m lucky.  My wife thinks I’m a lazy piece of crap because I can’t get moving in the morning – she has no idea that I’m up most of the night – every night.  I don’t even bother to try to explain.  My back is to the bedroom door as I get dressed – she comes into the room suddenly and I startle again.  Damn it, I hate that.

6:30 a.m.  The sudden sound of the toast popping up sends me halfway to the floor yet again. Thankfully no one saw me that time.

6:40 a.m.    My wife comes up behind me to give me a hug – it scares the sh** out of me and I turn around and instinctively push her away.  Now I’m pissed – I’ve told her a million times not to do that.  She looks hurt – but I don’t care.

7:15 a.m.  I watch the morning news and see images of some government slaughter in Syria.  The pictures bring back memories I prefer to forget—I feel restless.  My stomach churns.  F*#ked up world.

7:30 a.m.   My daughter starts whining about some stupid toy she can’t find.  I explode – I can’t handle it when kids whine about crap that doesn’t matter.  I’ve seen kids who were missing eyes and limbs, who were orphaned, who had been tortured, who were living on the street with NOTHING – they have a right to whine.  I wish my kids could learn to be grateful.

9:00 a.m. My wife suggests we go to the park.  I don’t want to, but she insists we need some “family time.”

9:30 a.m. We’re supposed to be leaving for the park, but no one is ready.  My stress level rises – we have a planned destination and we need to get there – if we delay, people could die.  I shake my head to remind myself I’m not in the army anymore.

10:00 a.m.  I’m driving behind some slow jackass… My rage is building and I can’t control it.  My wife sees that I’m tense and tells me to calm down – it just pisses me off more.  I tailgate the car, honk my horn, then slam on the accelerator and swerve wildly around him.  My wife screams at me to slow down.  She doesn’t get it – we’re sitting ducks for a sniper if we don’t keep moving.  It takes me several minutes to remember I’m in Wisconsin, not Bosnia.  But the adrenaline keeps surging nonetheless.

10:30 a.m.  We’re at the park, and I hate it.  There are people everywhere – I can’t keep track of them all.  My son keeps running ahead of me, and it pisses me off.  I grab him by the arm and hold on tight – he resists me and it makes me angrier, but I keep it stuffed inside. He doesn’t understand I’m just trying to protect him.  A kid screams somewhere – adrenaline shoots through me.  My instinct is to save him…my wife stops me – “Some boy just fell off the swings, honey – he’s fine.”  We start to walk on a trail in the park.  I hear something move in the woods, and I am instantly on alert again.  My body is so tense now, I’m getting a headache.  I tell my wife I want to go home.  She looks disappointed, but she understands and says “OK.”  I can tell my kids are mad at me though – I screwed things up again.

11:15 a.m.  On the way home, we pass a bloated dead deer on the side of the road.  That familiar stench of death makes me gag – no one else seems to notice.  My head is flooded with images of mass graves, rotting flesh, wailing family members, corpses hanging from trees, dead bodies in the ditches.  I drive faster as if I can outrun the flashbacks –I just want to get home.  My wife yells at me again for putting her and the kids in danger.

11:45 a.m.  I can’t take anymore.  It’s easier just to go numb and forget.  I head to the bedroom to try to sleep for a while.  I’m exhausted.  I just want to get away for a while.  My wife just glares at me when she sees me in bed again, and she slams the door.  Screw her.

4:00 p.m.  The sound of a helicopter wakes me instantly and I’m on my feet.  It takes me a minute to realize there’s no danger.  I realize I’ve slept most of the day away.  I drag myself out to the living room and face the wrath of my wife.  My kids immediately start hanging on me to come and play with them – I shake them off and push them away.  Their hurt faces register with me, but I don’t feel anything.  I just need some space – why can’t anyone give me that?!  I sink into the chair to watch T.V. – my wife will barely look at me.

5:30 p.m.  My son asks me to go throw a football around.  I really want to.  I head outside with him, and I feel myself starting to relax.  I love watching my son’s face when he catches a high, long throw.  I feel normal for the first time all day.  A few minutes later, a gunshot rings out and I hit the ground.  I scan quickly looking for the sniper, then realize it’s just a neighbor doing some target practice.  I pretend that I just fell down so my son won’t ask any questions.  I feel like a dumbass.  I try to focus on my son and the football, but the shots keep ringing out – I can’t take it anymore.  I drop the football and walk away – actually I drive away.  I see my disappointed son in the rearview mirror.  Why am I such an a*#hole?

8:00 p.m.   I finally return home – I feel better now after having a few drinks at the local bar.  I just needed to take the edge off.  My wife immediately tears into me – I tell her off and try to go to the bedroom to get away.  She follows me.  My children pipe up too – “Daddy, where were you?”  “Daddy, can you read a story to me?”  “Daddy, are you OK?”  My daughter starts crying.  I want to comfort her, but the sound of her wails brings images of explosions and screaming, terrified kids.  I finally lose it…

“JUST SHUT THE F#%K UP!  GET AWAY FROM ME – ALL OF YOU!”  My voice is so loud it seems to shake the house.  I don’t give a crap.  I push a chair over as I rush to the door  — I just need to get away.  I crush my fist into the door frame as I slam my way out of the house.  Screw them all, I think.

8:30 p.m.  I sit in my truck, watching the blood stream down my arm from my knuckle.  Dark thoughts fill my head:  They would be better off without me.  All I do is f*#k up their lives.  Damn it!  What the hell is wrong with me?!  I consider turning on the truck and stuffing something in the tailpipe or driving down the road and just ramming myself into a tree.  I think about taking the rest of my bottle of Xanax.  I think about finding my gun.  I just want this hell to be over.

10:00 p.m.  I come back inside.  My kids are in bed.  I love them so much.  I look at them sleeping there, and I feel a longing and pain that I don’t want to feel.  So I shove it back down and go numb.  I slip into bed next to my wife and watch her sleep.  God, I love her.  She doesn’t deserve this.  I wish I could make things right.  I drift into a restless sleep, but I’m up again an hour later.  Insomnia — the hell that tortures me all night long.

5:00 a.m.  I finally drift off to sleep on the couch.

5:30 a.m.  The nightmare is back – one of the many images I can’t erase – I see her body torn in half.  Her legs are twitching and mangled.  On the other side of the truck, her upper body is a bloody pile of guts and skin.  I want to throw up.  I tried to save her, but the truck came too fast.  I hear a sound behind me and turn to see a tank headed toward me… I wake up in horror.  I’m drenched in sweat;  my heart is beating fast and hard.  I can hardly breathe.   My wife is here now – she heard my screams and came to help.  I push her away, and she starts to cry.   I can’t stand crying, so I just walk away.

F*@k it ….another day in hell…..

This is the scene in hundreds of thousands of homes across America – the price of freedom is far too high for many.  This Fourth of July, as you enjoy your picnics, camping trips, and time with your loved ones in the peace that this country offers, please remember these struggling military families in your prayers.  Gratitude and compassion can be very healing. 

**If you’d like to leave a comment or question, scroll back to the top of the post and click on the small “comment” link under the title.

If you or someone you love is suffering in this way, please visit some of the following sites for information:

PTSD symptoms and treatment

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-TALK

9 Comments on “Through the Eyes of PTSD (A day in the life…)”

  1. Such a painful process…are things looking up now? It breaks my heart to hear such a harsh reality.

    • Sorry it took so long to respond — Yes, things are better now. All of these triggers and symptoms described here still exist — what is different is that my husband and I have learned to recognize the triggers sooner and avoid them if possible — and my husband has found some strategies to cope with things better if he is triggered. We have support systems and resources that we didn’t have before. So… life can still be a minefield, but with God’s grace, a “day in our life” doesn’t usually look quite like that anymore.

  2. Most of us can’t even imagine what goes on in the military……and after…..God Bless you for sharing your story……and may you reach many with your mission to help others in the same situation…

  3. That was hard to read, but all I kept thinking was that it must be 100 times harder to live.

  4. Can’t decide who I cried more for – Sean? You? the Kids? Does help us all understand a little more of what our soldiers and their families are going through. You all deserve our praise and appreciation.
    P.S. I still think “Unwitting Soldiers” is a great descriptor.
    Love you all

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