October 10th was World Mental Health Day, this post is dedicated to all those who battle daily and the hope is to encourage more open conversation; free from judgement and embarrassment.
Hi, my name is Danielle and I NEED therapy. Like for real, I need therapy at least twice a month so I can handle the craziness that is my life with grace and composure. From the outside looking in many may find this "need" as a surprise. I am married to my best friend, have two beautiful children, live in a picturesque setting, and own my own business that allows me to work from home. I am the first one to openly admit that I am extremely blessed. If you were to meet me, you would most likely say I am energetic, positive, and encouraging. But the truth is my life is HARD, there are struggles no one sees and there is a part of my life that is very misunderstood. Here is my story....
My husband and I. In case you are wondering about my wild hair, we were headed to a festival in the desert.
I met my husband almost 15 years ago, I was working as a bartender and he was stationed with the Army close to where I was working. Upon meeting him, I just knew in some way or another, this man would be a big part of my life. We didn't start dating right off the bat but instead built an amazingly strong friendship. We both played witness to a series of romantic relationships but never had one together. Derek dated friends of mine and I started a long term relationship with the man who would father my two children. During this time, Derek deployed 3 times. During his last deployment, he spent leave with myself and my now ex in Oklahoma. That was when I began to realize my feelings were deeper than I had ever admitted. Yet we remained only friends. Derek returned to Iraq and on his first convoy out, his truck was hit by an IED, killing his co-driver. My phone rang at 3am and I just knew it was bad. Long story short, Derek spent 85 days hospitalized and almost lost his leg. At that time I had no idea how ultimately this day would impact the rest of MY life.
Back in the day before babies and good judgement
Fast forward to 2012, life had changed and Derek and I reconnected. Those true hidden feelings were expressed. On July 6, 2013 we married. When Derek and I started our relationship, he openly expressed his battle with PTSD and because he truly wanted our relationship to flourish asked if I would attend his therapy sessions with him. Though I had never been to therapy, I was completely open to going. I had always believed in having an outlet to discuss one's problems without the fear of judgement. I too had past experiences that probably needed to be explored so going was not something I was against. Truthfully, I had NO CLUE about ptsd and how it affects not only the person suffering from it but those close to them. But I had seen some signs that if left untreated could become life altering events. PTSD is very sneaky. Some days are pure bliss and life flows seamlessly. Other days are chaos and simple little things that we shrug off as mere inconveniences can create an avalanche of reactions. I learned quickly the terms hypervigilance and survivors guilt. I saw these play out in vivid color. I accepted that certain social activities such as going to a movie or a place with large crowds would cause anxiety and irritability. I learned coping skills and how to redirect my husband's attention enough to get thru shopping on Black Friday. For over 4 years, my attention was solely on his mental health. We touched lightly upon mine but only in terms of how I could help more on those hard days.
Life moved on, we relocated and settled into our new life in Cody, Wyoming. We attempted unsuccessfully to get Derek set up with a new therapist within the VA system for our region. At this point though, we both believed we were at a place where therapy wasn't needed as frequently, so though frustrated by our failed attempts at finding a new therapist (that was a good fit for my sometimes difficult partner),we chose to move forward without therapy. All was good for quite awhile, my business was starting to grow, the kids loved their new town, and Derek started college. Then life threw us quite a curveball....now for so long we focused mainly on Derek's ptsd that in many ways we didn't focus ENOUGH on his physical challenges. His leg, his back, his neck, well you can see where I am going with this. Physically things started taking a turn for the worst. Derek's pain level became unbearable some days and his mood went downhill along with his mobility. With every appointment, our frustration grew and that is when we actually could get an appointment. If you have ever dealt with the VA, you know the struggle. The media's portrayal of the VA is kind, it is the biggest cluster EVER. We literally went months with no answers, increasing pain, and a new level of relationship strain. For the first time in our marriage, I questioned our future. I felt helpless. Then what I can only describe as divine intervention, we were introduced to the VA caregivers program. Of course, my husband being stubborn as he is, said NOPE! No way was he admitting he needed help with daily life. No way was he having his wife labeled as a caregiver. For months the application sat in my planner untouched until the headaches started. Unbeknownst to me, Derek started experiencing severe headaches and dizziness at work. He attributed it to skipping meals and powered thru. His behavior and attitude at home started to decline quickly. Anger became the norm and I started noticing more and more short term memory issues. He would constantly forget things on a regular basis. The demons we thought we had contained years ago came back more powerful than ever. And that is when I made the "we change this NOW or else" ultimatum. The very next day, we sat and looked deeply into our options and by the end of the day, we applied for the caregivers program. Within 1 week, the process for approval began. Suddenly those appointments we unsuccessfully tried to make were made. Along with forward momentum in that area came a flurry of training for me. More education on the laundry list of problems were facing as well as HUGE push for caregiver self-care. I admit I rolled my eyes because in reality I sucked at self-care. Part of my training included completing 6 weeks of sessions with a therapist who also happens to be the spouse of a combat veteran.
Even on bad days, we still fight for each other
Going into my first session, I had no clue what to expect. The only therapy I had experienced focused on Derek. No one really spent a lot of time asking how I was. And in reality, I didn't really know how I was doing. I knew I was tired. I knew I felt stressed. I knew that wine was needed some nights because I didn't have the energy to face how I was feeling. I had not faced how truly scary parts of my life were. I was too proud to admit that my life felt heavy most days and I felt such immense pressure that I had to fight back tears daily. After seeing in black and white the reality of my husband's physical health and seeing its effect on his mental health, the reality that is our life hit me hard and fast. It took two sessions for me to truly open up and then it was like a faucet of emotions was turned on. I faced the fact I too had become hypervigilant in ways because I didn't want any trigger to affect Derek. I had become almost like a nagging mother towards him because I so badly wanted to protect him. I wasn't living life anymore instead I was simply just getting by. Childhood trauma? Oh yeah, we dove into that as well. For once, someone wasn't only concerned about how Derek was doing, someone really wanted to know how I felt in this situation. Someone actually understood how lonely it could feel, how exhausting it was explaining that your partner isn't trying to be a jerk but they are struggling that day, and finally someone understood the fear that comes with knowing your partner has quite a battle ahead of them. I finally had a voice again. Half way through my first 6 sessions, my husband pointed out a change in me. I was calmer, more at peace, and communicating my needs in a better way. I started cutting myself some slack and I became very aware that some of my coping mechanisms were not the healthiest. I needed to talk about those feelings I hid away and were afraid made me look weak and whiny. As much as I was hoping to handle it all on my own, I realized I couldn't. After my 6 week session, I chose to continue on. I schedule an hour and half twice a month to talk it out. Even if the session is spent laughing about things that most wouldn't find funny, this time is solely for me to share all those things that weigh on my mind. I have started putting myself higher on the list each and every day. I started taking supplements to help with the harder days where I am feeling anxiety and panic set in. Meditation has become a daily habit again. The saying "you can't pour from an empty cup" is at the foundation of my mindset now. I can't successfully help my husband and children if I am unwilling to help myself.
Now if you are still reading(I know this is a crazy long post!),the main reason I wanted to share this glimpse into my life is because it needs to be shared. We need to be unapologetic about our struggles. As the wife of a combat veteran, we need those who don't walk our path to understand that it is overwhelming but seriously amazing. My husband and his battles have made me a better person. My desire to help him be happy and at peace has me wanting the same thing for myself. My journey has made me realize that I want to help others in my situation. PTSD, TBI, and all scars (visible and not) of combat affect the whole family and as the wife of a warrior I owe it to him to be the best and strongest advocate I can be. To accomplish this, I need an outlet. I need someone who can help me decipher my emotions. And I need to proudly share that "yeah, this girl needs therapy!". This journey is a whole lot easier with a great support system. To all my military and veterans wives, don't be embarrassed or afraid to seek help. It doesn't make you weak, it simply means you are accepting that this life can be heavy and it helps to have someone who has your back.
Go forth and be sparkly, beautiful!
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