We have a guest blogger this week!
Jamie Dement works as an IT Security Consultant for HP on a military contract. She lives in Florida with her husband, son, and 3 cats. She has been a caregiver for her Army vet for the past 13 years but only recently opened up and admitted her struggles and feelings in an attempt to heal emotionally. Now she uses her writing and her own experiences to help other spouses and caregivers. You can read more on her blog at: http://caringforaveteran.wordpress.com
Have you lost your friends along your military journey? Those friends you used to tell everything to, hang out with, and share sacred moments together?
But ever since you’ve married the military, you’ve drifted apart? Be it from PCSing, not enough time due to work, or just not having anything in common to talk about anymore because you now speak a different language? All those acronyms. All the regulations, protocols, and standards. All the things you have to censor. All the things you now have to come to terms with, like the military comes first, the long hours, the training exercises, the deployments.
Your friends no longer understand you or your spouse. They grow tired of inviting you to do something and always getting the “We can’t because…” answers. They can’t, or won’t take the time to understand military life. You’ve learned to find new friends within the military community. The small, close-knit group that goes through the same military situations every day. Those people understand you and you
make friends. And you lose them to retirement, PCSing, or ETSing. But you know there will always be
someone else to fill the gap of that lost friendship.
But what happens when you’re the one to ETS or Retire?
What happens when you move to a place that doesn’t have a large military presence?
What happens when your veteran can no longer work, or even get out of the house?
What happens when you can no longer make the friends you once could?
You slowly become a hermit.
My husband always made the friends. I’m an introvert. I observe. Many people are intimidated by that but once they get to know me, I never shut up. But it’s that hump I always have to get over. He was the one who opened conversations and found our niche. But after his accidents and deployments, when his pain started to get out of control, it took him away from life. After getting out of the Army, with his history of pain and medication, calling in sick, leaving work early, all added up to him not being able to get, or keep, a job. Not only did the pain force him into isolation, but so did not having a job. Our circle of friends dwindled and when we moved to Florida we had to start all over again. We had no friends here, and continue to have none. It is a military town, but it is Navy. They look suspicious of the Army.
The other half are civilians who have no understanding of what military life is like.
I thought maybe when our son entered school we could meet some new friends. But therein lies another problem. We started our family late. We didn’t have our son until we were 33. Now that he’s in school, the parents of children his age are at least 15 years our junior. What could we possibly have in common with them? Add to that, the lack of understanding of military life. Or when we do find military, it’s a trigger for his guilt, his anger, and his depression, as well as the loss of his dream.
We tried getting involved with some families at school. We’ve tried getting involved with the Boy Scouts.
We hoped to find friends in anything we could. But my husband’s pain limited his involvement. Doing anything strenuous triggered his pain. Being outside in the bright sun triggered his migraines. No one understood. And no one wanted to. They looked at him, and me, with pity or disdain. One person even was so bold as to say, rather snottily, “Well, you don’t *look* disabled.” And that cut him so deep and it has yet to heal. The words that always hurt me deeply are the words that say I should I have left him.
How can I explain to someone that it really is a disability if they can’t see it? How can I explain to someone what we deal with on a daily basis? His impulse control issues, his anger issues, his pain, his medication, his memory issues? How can anyone possibly understand, without being judgmental, what all is involved with the invisible wounds of chronic pain, of PTSD, of TBI? How can anyone understand without living it?
Because none of our acquaintances ever went further than the social gathering we were involved in, it was hard to express those things. I’m guarded with my troubles to begin with, never wanting to air dirty laundry, start drama, or show weakness. So my explanations were brief. I learned what to say that people could understand – he suffers migraines. It was simple and a lot more people understand that
than everything else that we deal with. People never pried too deep. They looked at me with pity, never inviting us to do more with them outside the organization we were mutually involved in.
Those who did show any signs of caring, always tried to offer solutions to his migraines. When I told them I’ve tried it and it didn’t work, a lot of the times they would get offended, thinking I blew them off.
They would keep trying, until one day they would just stop. They never understood, I’ve been doing this for 15 years; I’ve tried everything. And then that would end the relationship.
Again, I was alone.
It never really bothered me…much. Sure I missed the friendships we once had. Sure I missed doing things outside the house. But it wasn’t until I had my breakdown, when I really needed someone to talk to, someone who understood everything I was going through, did I truly feel alone.
I made a point to go searching for caregiver groups. Maybe someone, somewhere, would understand.
But everything I ever found was caregiver groups for aging parents, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. I would feel so uncomfortable, out of place, and guilty for my own struggles when there’s were so much greater.
It wasn’t until a long-time friend mentioned Secondary PTSD to me, said I should research it. I didn’t even know there was a real thing. But there is. I wanted to know if the VA could help *me* since I’m dealing with my husband and his PTSD diagnosis and I had been spiraling out of control, falling down a deep dark pit of despair myself, all because I was overwhelmed with dealing with everything and feeling hopeless to change it.
I searched again for caregiver support, but tacked on the words “veteran” and “military”. This time, though, I found a lot of things dealing with this only it was specifically designed for veterans suffering from TBI and PTSD from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. How frustrating that these groups were so segregated. Or so I thought.
Eventually I found out that the VA has a new program called the VA Caregiver Support Program. And that’s when everything exploded.
Well, not quite. I first had to get over my fear or new people, my fear of looking weak, my feelings of selfishness because there’s so many people out there that are so much worse off than we are, and the feelings that I just wouldn’t belong because it was only for those people who were a part of OIF/OEF.
It took me two weeks to get up enough nerve to call the VA Caregiver Support Program. But when I did, I found out that there are things I could participate in because my husband was a veteran and I was his caregiver. There are still some things that I am on the fence about, like applying for the stipend. But that may come later. But I signed up for an online group, as well as an in-person workshop the VA had. Now, if only I didn’t chicken out about the in-person one.
I knew I needed help. I also felt like I couldn’t let people see me at my weakest. So I struggled daily, inducing many anxiety attacks, trying to convince myself I *had* to go to this workshop. And I’m so very glad I did.
I met some lovely women who were going through some very similar things. It opened my eyes to see that their veteran exhibited the same symptoms. I was so very relieved that I found out I really wasn’t alone, that people *did* understand.
The door had been opened. My spirit lifted and I could finally see a glimmer of light off in the distance.
Because I was persistent in my quest to find someone who could relate to me, I did.
Because I forced myself to reach out, to contact someone who might be able to help, they could.
Because I forced myself to overcome my anxiety and go to that workshop, I found others in similar situations.
Because of that workshop, I found Trench Talk and it has made a world of difference. I can go there and read other people’s issues, offer some advice, vent about my own, without being judged, without being looked at in pity, without being tossed aside as a waste of energy.
The women I’ve met in Trench Talk have made my life better, fulfilling, and I can carry on with my life as a wife and caregiver to my veteran.
When things get too overwhelming, I have a place to ground myself and show me a new perspective, give me support, prayers, and hugs. They are there when I need them.
And I am more than willing to be there for them when they need me. While we all are not living the same life, we do share similar experiences and emotions.
We are a family.
I am no longer alone.
I have a home.
You can find Trench Talk on Facebook, at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/trenchtalk/
We’d love to meet you.