I remember vividly receiving the phone call from the psychologist confirming my husband’s diagnosis of PTSD. It was on the day of our daughter’s funeral. The pregnancy that had ended too soon resulted in the child we’d never fully know, and who’d never breathe in this world, being placed in our arms. We were awash with grief, stumbling, trying to make sense of the heartache we felt. The phone call brought a sense of relief as at least now we had a diagnosis which would explain the darkness that seemed to loom over at times on the horizon. Perhaps now, we were closer to a closure. Closer to a cure?
The reality is though, like so many know, there isn’t a cure, per se, at least not one that we’ve found. There’s treatment. There’s medication. In time there’s a new normal, but one with limitations and fences ringed around it to keep them safe, to keep you safe.
The point of diagnosis brought with it, a steep learning curve. It was like the lid came off and no amount of pushing or shoving could put that lid back on. We found anger and aggression just leaking into our home. The dark cloud on the horizon had officially ‘moved in’.
My husband would go away for treatment, to learn and come back awash with a terminology I didn’t know, more broken than before, with memories of the past vividly being relived in front of him. We learnt that to rebuild, he had to let go and stop pretending that he was ok. We had no idea about the brokenness and the fear he had been hiding, the trauma he had tucked away, because army men are ok…until they are really not ok.
Closely following the anger, was this world of depression and anxiety, where even the simplest outing became a place of fear and angst.
Meanwhile I was sat in a world of grief, for the child I had lost, and the husband who’d disappeared, desperately trying to look after our two small children at the time.
Organisations like the Ripple Pond are absolutely vital. They offer a space that just isn’t available more ‘typically’ where grief and emotional support are concerned. Whilst there is treatment for Veterans, the families who live in the shadows, learning to understand and navigate the monster that is PTSD have been cut loose. How do you explain to a world around you, that your husband isn’t a bad person, he’s just not well right now? How do you explain that he’s trying, but he’s lost in a trauma that his profession didn’t protect him from, nor prepare him to deal with?
At 16 my husband, carrying a proud sense of duty and a desire to serve his country, signed up to the army. He signed up to do the right thing, but at 16, your brain is still developing. The training that prepared him to cope in the harsh realities of a military service in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was one that taught him to bottle his feelings, work harder and turn his fear into aggression. Which when coupled with trauma is a toxic combination, which manifests into an even more toxic delivery.
Organisations like the Ripple Pond, allow and make time for a conversation society doesn’t have space for. A space to grieve the partner who’s struggling, a space to learn the lingo, understand the triggers, find ways to protect yourself and protect your family, campaign together for a safer world, for more to be done and for the families to be heard and our children provided for.
Our story is not alone – and neither are we. There are so many of us. There are so many stories.
As a pastor of a local church, I see some of the struggle and the heartache that exists across society, some of the places where life has simply been unfair. For us, our faith has been a huge part of our recovery and the introduction / housing of a new normal. When I don’t feel strong enough, I run to God. When I’m afraid, I have someone to put my trust in. For me, my faith is not about wondering why something happened, but it’s about finding help in the struggle and continuing to hope.
As part of our journey, I wrote a book called Courageous, telling some stories from the Bible while honestly telling some of our story. I wanted to reframe the conversation for those who are walking through what feels like an endless journey. The courage you show, is phenomenal. There are so many amazing people that I’ve met through the Ripple Pond and other organisations who won’t be defeated by their circumstances, but still choose to make the world a better place. Courage isn’t always the gigantic moments that make the news headlines, but the simple determination to hope, to believe, to keep loving and giving, to not give up and to not lose heart, and to make the world better for those struggling. That’s what we have to give.