MICHELE, “Minds Interrupted” 2013 Las Cruces, NM

I don’t remember much about that day my husband left for Iraq. I have tried to remember by putting myself in that painful state but all I remember is sadness. The vision of 165 men and women boarding a 747 in full military gear with helmet, vest, rifle and pistol is all I remember. I still feel the cold car at 4am, the smell of the rental car and uncontrollably crying.

How did I greet the kids after seeing him leave, I don’t remember. I took a picture of myself as I drove in the driveway, and as I look at it today, I still can’t remember what happened next. But that was the day everything in my life changed.

Our first date was in August 1987. I was 16, a junior in high school, and he was attending NMSU. When he came to the house that day to meet my family, I can remember being very excited. We visited for hours before he asked me to the movies. We choose a silly scary movie at the Rio Grande Theater. Upon arriving I could hear girls giggling, my sister and her friend were there to embarrass me. After the two of us went into the theater, I remember he kept looking over his shoulder, looking for my sister no doubt. There wasn’t much time left when he finally had the courage to put his arm around me. When he did the row of seats fell back. It was so funny.

My husband used to be patient, kind and understanding. He was great at detail. One could not have asked for a better father. When I stayed at home with the children; he would give me a day to myself and take the kids on drives, hikes, and was very attentive to their needs. I was fortunate to have help without asking twice.

Anytime the family would have a get together we were usually the first ones there and the last to leave. We went out on dates, just the two of us, or out dancing with friends on the weekend. We could talk easily and he remembered what was said.

Around the kitchen table is where I enjoy hearing everyone’s stories. It is also my place to find peace because it generally means I have cooked an excellent dinner! I remember one evening very well. My husband had been at military drill in Baton Rouge where he was a commander. I remember the fear as he began to speak. I got up to walk away and, he raised his voice and told me to sit back down.

I knew what he was going to say and I did not want to hear it. I wanted to throw a temper tamper. I remember looking into the kids’ eyes, and then the news came. Our unit has been alerted to participate in Iraqi Freedom and in a matter of weeks he was deployed. Never again would the kitchen table be the same, never again.

When he arrived home after his 16-month deployment, I saw the changes immediately. At first I laughed it off, thinking he just came home from 16 months of stress. At the time of his return no one had mentioned the possibility of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The days turned to weeks, then months and the forgetfulness, anxiety, sleepless nights, grew worse.

I found some information about soldiers returning with similar problems and asked him to seek counseling at the Veterans Administration clinic. He started to see a social worker and came home one day to inform me that nothing was wrong, it was all me.

I accompanied him to the next appointment only to be told by the counselor that I was the problem; that I was a “bitch of a wife”, and there was nothing wrong with him. And I needed to quit meddling.

Yet my husband’s sleepless nights continued to worsen. His behavior was getting worse— forgetting clients on the phone at work, missing appointments, forgetting to pick up our children from school. Even a two-item list from the grocery store was too much. He was constantly anxious about almost everything, and then the yelling began. He started yelling at every little thing. Especially at our son.

It took five years after his return before he received a diagnosis. It came at a critical point in our relationship. We were both at the point of hating each other; he had already told me he wanted a divorce. I couldn’t accept it; I knew deep down that something wasn’t right; I wasn’t ready to give up, but I never could find a breath, a moment of peace. Every day was getting worse for all four of us.

I went through his mail one day and found a letter from the VA, ordering him to a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t even know he was going to see a doctor. I walked into the appointment full of anger and hate.

The doctor told me that he had sent my husband for a CAT scan and the results showed damage to his frontal lobe. I broke down crying uncontrollably. At least now we had a reason for his behavior. For the first time in years I looked at my husband with hope, and saw the same look in his eyes.

After a year of doctor appointments and counseling, it was time to tell the children what was going on. I can remember my husband telling the children he had received hearing aids that day. There was a chuckle from both of them. We all agreed it was about time!

The next evening he explained to them that he had PTSD. Our son began to cry and said, “You mean I wasn’t the reason.” Finally he knew he wasn’t the reason his father kept yelling.

I fear I will never have the emotional connection with my husband the way it was before. Today I seek emotional connection from my girlfriends. Yet I know they must be weary of hearing the same story.

When I share my struggles with him, he becomes anxious, obsessive, frustrated and forgetful. Although we work together all day, it is difficult to share the day’s ups and downs. I no longer share all of the childrens’ difficulties as he is unable to process it. When I do, I regret it as I see that he’s overwhelmed and can’t cope with the information.

I know it is not his fault and yet our lives have become so difficult. Not just mine, but my son and daughter too. And yet, in growing to meet these challenges I’m a bigger person. I reach out to other families and help them deal with the same problems. The love for my husband and my family along with being an advocate for vets and their families gives me strength.