I’ve been married for eleven years, and not one of those years has been an easy one. Even before PTSD became a part of our lives, marriage was hard work. But it was always worth the effort.
In the early years I would often wonder about other marriages. Did they have the same fights as us? Did they worry about the same things? Did they talk and shout, or did they cry and shut down?
I didn’t expect a perfect marriage, but I did want it to last forever.
When the first divorce within my circle of friends was announced, the realisation that not all of us were in this forever left me cold, it left me empty. And it made me wonder even more. What was it that made us different? What was it that kept us growing together instead of apart?
But then, five years into our marriage, I stopped wondering about other marriages. PTSD had been written into our story, and everything had changed.
In the beginning, my husband and I naturally drew together. Adversity had struck, and together we would face this challenge. Shamed by the pain and shock of his PTSD, he turned in to find me, and I was already there, ready to hold him. I became his rock, prepared for the burden of his terrors and his fears, his nightmares and his tears.
We were a close family unit that kept up appearances on the outside at all costs, and, like so many others, we dealt with our demons behind closed doors. Month after month, year after year, I helped carry my husband through his darkest days. We had seen each other at our worst, and this intimacy – ironic though it was – bound us together and strengthened our relationship in ways that it would not have otherwise.
But although I had stopped wondering about other marriages, I recognised a new feeling overtaking my senses. An ugly feeling. Envy. I began wishing for just a normal marriage again, with just normal relationship issues.
PTSD had brought us ongoing financial strain from years of lost work, major trust issues from patterns of hidden destructive behaviour, and substance abuse heartache. I would listen to the issues my friends were dealing with, and inwardly I resented how easy they seemed to have it. And they were taking it all for granted.
Though, in all honesty, it’s likely that every couple will face adversity at some point in their lives. Whether it be a major illness, a tragic accident or death, a career collapse, a family breakdown, or a natural disaster – no one is immune from hardship. So time and again I would berate myself for the envy I felt, when I knew that so many others have challenges far greater than ours.
As I gradually let go of my envy, I soon found new marriages to wonder about.
We met other couples and other young families who were living with PTSD. From the outside they looked exactly like us – they laughed, they made coffee, they paused just a moment too long looking wearily at something no one else could see.
How were they coping? How did they manage? I didn’t dare ask. Their vacant looks told me enough. And I was honestly too scared to know the truth.
Despite their battles, they were clearly the resilient ones. They were courageous in their stand against PTSD as they continued to fight for a recovery that would keep their family together. I watched them, from the outside. We can be like them too, I tried to convince myself. Surely we can be just as strong and resilient as they are.
But as the years wore on, the weight of my husband’s PTSD was becoming unbearable. Although I still appeared just as capable to the outside world, the strain was crippling me inside. I no longer felt like we were turned in to each other, I no longer felt like part of a strong family unit facing adversity together.
As his relapses and destructive behaviour began to crush me, all I felt was an overwhelming desire to push him away, to throw him off my back so I could finally catch my breath.
Perhaps we weren’t like the other couples after all. Perhaps we were never as strong and resilient as them. They seemed to roll with the punches so much better than us. They still appeared to be in love. I felt suffocated. And I felt sick.
But then a phone call.
Was it a shock? I still can’t say either way. We knew this family better than most, and then just like that it was over for them. They had crumbled under the weight of their PTSD. And I still don’t know how to feel.
Should I feel sad that their children were inevitably caught up in the middle? Should I feel frustrated that they weren’t better supported in the aftermath of a psychological injury? Should I feel sorry that they didn’t find a way to heal in time? Or should I feel scared for my own marriage?
Scared, because this family, in so many ways, is our family.
These days, the only marriage I wonder about is my own. What shifted the balance for us? When did we stop drawing together and start pulling apart? There are days that we feel barely connected by the merest thread, and I’m dreading the day that something might snap.
I think I’m strong enough to survive the tumble. But do I actually want to lose him forever? Is it still a matter of if? Or is it now a matter of when?
Please. Don’t answer that…
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