Voices of Wives of Wounded Warriors
Voices of Wives of Wounded Warriors: Living with TBI and PTSD
By Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.
PTSD and TBI wounds wives
“We were high school sweethearts and engaged. When he found out he was going to be deployed, we had a courthouse wedding. Two days later he left for 15 months in Iraq.”
“Every time he came back from a deployment, a piece of him was missing. He’s just not the same person now.”
“My children don’t understand why he yells at them. They think he doesn’t love them anymore.”
“He never hit me before he was injured. But now there are times when I do not feel safe in our home.”
“He still sleeps with a gun in our bed.”
“He never touches me anymore. The loss of intimacy makes me feel rejected and unloved.”
These are the voices of the wives of wounded warriors. After managing the household and family during long and often multiple deployments, they are now caregivers for husbands who are living with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders. Many of them are young – just in their 20s – and newly married. Many are mothers with young children; others wonder if they will ever have children now. Some hold full time jobs and find some sense of normalcy and escape in the workplace. Others are full-time caregivers for their husbands 24/7 and rarely leave home.
Military and civilians worlds – distinct but coexisting
The military culture and life is different than that of civilians. The women with husbands in the service as a career have moved many times from base to base. Their children have changed schools over and over. They have packed up, left friends, moved across country or overseas, changed jobs, and rebuilt their lives more times than many of us can imagine. This resilience is now being tested even more as their husbands return home with disabling injuries. Even now the transition from the military community to the civilian world is a lengthy and confusing process. Many of their husbands are being treated in warrior transition units and still in the lengthy process of disability determination and review by medical boards. This can take years. Meanwhile, their lives are on hold.
For others whose husbands are in the National Guard or Reserves, they bridge both military and civilian worlds and don’t quite fit into either. Many lost their jobs when they were deployed and now face uncertain futures as they try to pay the mortgage or rent. They travel back and forth for medical treatment and rehabilitation while they try to put their lives and families back together.
The emotional trauma of caregiving
Each day the wives of wounded warriors try to understand what has happened to their husbands and to their marriage and to their family. As caregivers, they are under enormous physical, emotional and financial stress. Many are experiencing compassion fatigue which is also called secondary traumatic stress. Depression, emotional swings, anxiety, sleep disorders – many wives are having these symptoms as the cumulative stress of caregiving builds over time.
Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD as it’s commonly called can take a heavy toll on the individual and on relationships. Each disorder is complex but when both conditions coexist, the effects compound each other. The changes in behaviors, emotions, and cognition can be frustrating, challenging, frightening and overwhelming for spouses. Simply put, it is not only the warrior who has been injured. The home is also wounded.
By Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D and Dianne Kane, D.S.W.