At Peace

When my mother asked me where my husband R was going last week, I told her that he went to a clinic in DC to evaluate his TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

My mother said, “He can’t have PTSD.”

What?

“It’s only for women.”

Huh?

“Only after they have a baby.”

After having a good laugh, I gently explained that that was called post-partum depression, something very different than post-traumatic stress disorder although you can probably get PTSD from PPD.

He’s still there now, amazed at the snowfall because he hasn’t lived in snow since he was in high school.

This stay, among the last few years that he has lived apart from us, is doing wonders for him. It is premature for me to share but I think he’s finally at peace with all of his ailments, his complaints, his chronic pain. Doctors are validating his experiences, his anecdotes of daily pain, his anxiety, his everything.

I can hear the sigh of relief from across the country.

I know him. He’s a good man. He has never been one to boast (quite the opposite of his spouse, heh), never been one to complain, and has felt guilty about his injuries because although they cannot be seen, he feels like he has to explain them all the time especially when a new batch of coworkers arrive.

He’s been talking with other soldiers who are going through similar situations.

This is exactly what he needed.

About a year after the accident, R told me he felt like he “owed” another deployment. He needed to go back for himself, for his friends who were injured, for his friends who died. Had he retired early, had he left the Navy early, had he done anything differently, he wouldn’t have arrived at this place right now.

He would have resigned himself to a life of regret.

Later he saw with his own eyes how much his command had changed since he last deployed. It wasn’t the same anymore. Many of his friends moved on or switched to different jobs. Later he realized regarding possibly deploying again, “What the fuck was I thinking?” Although we all hate that he is away, his geobachelor status forced him to find himself by himself without the distraction of a family because even though we may love our partners and families, they aren’t us. We need to know ourselves to be stronger in every element in our lives whether it is in our marriages, our families, or our professions.

How amazing it is for him to have the opportunity to learn more about himself, to know that his chronic pain is not in his head, to have doctors document his ailments both seen and unseen to the naked eye.

This hospital stay gives me hope that when he finally comes home maybe he won’t be as broken as I thought. He won’t ever be the same. None of us will.

But now we’ll at least have a map and a plan.

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The Connection Conundrum

My husband has been gone for over a week and the realization is finally hitting us.

We both have gone back to work, he at his command and me back to being a full-time mom, part-time sub, and now part-time direct sales saleswoman. That’s a whole other part of my life but I won’t try to sell anything on here. Navy Wife Chronicles is my therapy, not my sales pitch.

On Tuesday, I felt disconnected, overwhelmed, anxious. I had a lot of nervous energy that I was going to burn off playing Just Dance on the WII.

Then I got a call from R.

He had just hit a car.

He was looking for a parking spot at Naval Portsmouth hospital, circling the huge parking structure for at least twenty minutes. Anxiety. Overwhelmed. Perhaps a bit scared.

Feeling pressure to try to navigate the aisles crowded with monstrous SUVs as quickly as possible, he accidentally sideswiped a car and left a noticeable scratch.

He left a note with his insurance information, worried about being sued, worried about the insurance company raising our rates, worried about missing his important follow up appointment, worried that he was feeling so anxious.

Ah, that’s why I was feeling so anxious.

Do you believe in being so connected to someone that you can feel what they’re feeling, even thousands of miles away?

I didn’t but since being married, I do.

I knew there was something wrong on April 22, 2010 even before someone from his command called me. I woke up in the middle of the night, headed for the bathroom, and said aloud, “Something is very wrong”… even before I realized what I was doing.

Twenty-four hours later he feels better and worse. Better knowing that although the car owner called him and his insurance company, she thanked him wholeheartedly for leaving his information in the first place. Worse because now he has the flu.

Twenty-four hours later I feel better and worse. Better knowing that he’s better. Worse knowing that I can’t give him a hug.

5Ks and All That Jazz

So in order to make up for the gluttonous frenzy that was December, R and I have been busy but ew, not like that!

R is in San Antonio getting fitted for a leg brace for his left foot which helps him with movement. It is remarkable to see how much his foot has improved especially since his foot drop was so bad the first six months that when he was not wearing his leg brace, it appeared that he was en pointe.

In November his leg strength was at seventy percent and today, at his assessment today, he is at eighty-eight percent– two percent from being average for a male his age. He makes such a big deal about NOT wanting to be average, to be above average than his peers, that this was wonderful news.

We noticed that he makes tremendous gains after he participates in activities outside of his physical therapy like the 5K he ran last weekend. Makes sense though. One would probably perform better when it is an intrinsic goal rather than one that is expected. He may even be cleared in time to squeeze in another short deployment.

And I know what you’re thinking, “Oh my gawd! Would you even LET him deploy again? Hasn’t he been through enough? Haven’t YOU been through enough?”

To which I would reply, “Meh.” He’s gonna do what he wants to do. He’s gonna do what he needs to do. Far be it from me to tell him what he should or shouldn’t do. That would be like him telling me to stop going to Nordstrom!

I finished my second 5K ever on Saturday. I walked the entire thing with a friend who has vowed to join me in three more races this year. Our time was the base point of which we will beat at our next race in March.

In regards to food consumption, I have not bought diet soda in a week. I… um… have indulged in chocolate this week and maybe ate too much a few times but eh, most of my meals are smaller. Also, there are less carb-y snacks in the house and when the kids want the carb-y stuff, the must eat fruit first. I just wish I walked the walk like I talked the talk.

MilSpouse Friday Fill-In #15

So over on Wife of a Sailor, Wife posts questions for other bloggers to answer on their own military spouse blogs. (Still with me so far?) And since I’m multitasking (waiting for a pocket of time to shower for tomorrow’s sub job while cooking tomorrow’s lunch, letting the dogs run around indoors for a change, squeezing in a couple of loads of laundry), I thought this might be fun to fill out while the chicken poaches in onions, garlic, and chicken broth. I’ll thrown in a couple cups of spinach and cherry tomatoes in an hour and voila! Our lunch (and dinner) for tomorrow!

1. My plans for this weekend include Zumba followed by all day at the pool, but what I’d really like to do is…

GO SHOPPING! Oh, how I’ve missed scouring end-of-season sales and stocking up on kids’ jeans at Old Navy during their $10 jeans sale. I’ve missed sauntering from Nordies to LOFT to MAC, my perfect trinity of bathroom and closet needs. I’ve missed hunting for bargains at TJ Maxx and clearance racks at Ann Taylors, LOFT and regular (even though between you and me, I can’t afford regular without a full-time job).

Budgeting is A MUST and even though we may see better financial times in the next few years, I hope that I will continue to be thrifty and a bit more conservative with spending with still the occasional spree at the end of each season.

2. I consider the Labor Day holiday…

as a reminder of a new school year even though our kids have been in school since July. I get all goofy like Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail”, waiting for fall to arrive and excited over back-to-school stuff like sharpened pencils and an empty bulletin board.

3. My favorite meal for cookouts is NOW HUSBAND’S HONEY DIJON CHICKEN, but HE wouldn’t agree.

He is a “red meat” person and loves slow and low burning brisket on the grill though since the accident and our impending mid-life crises (I know, I know. We’re only in our late thirties but we’re trying to eat healthier when we remember) he has a new appreciation for chicken and fish. Still, give him the choice and we know what he’d pick.

4. So far, my favorite part of summer has been SLOWING DOWN.

I pulled the kids out of gymnastics when we went to Virginia in April and when I got back, I was called in for jury duty for a two month criminal trial! In that time, everything ended. I’m talking about sub jobs, catechism for our oldest (that’s Catholic Faith Formation or CFF; kinda like Bible school), Girl Scouts for the older daughter… all those ending with the school year. It was really nice to have evenings free and even nicer when they weren’t in school.

Another great thing about the summer (or maybe life in general) is that all of us as a family are beginning to look at what’s important. Saving money is a huge priority to us so we’re finding ways to save without noticing such as finding the FREE DAYS to museums or attractions around town and taking advantage of the pool at our gym since it’s a necessary expense for me. Spontaneous play dates at the park or pool have been great as well. This summer I’ve started to really let the kids be in charge in meal prep and clean up in general. My sanity may be returning. We shall see…

5. When it comes to deployments, my philosophy is DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO.

Every deployment was different for me. I was very tempted to move back home for R’s first deployment and could you blame me? I was a newlywed for six weeks, left a career, left my family, and moved to the opposite end of the country.

But for some reason I didn’t want to move back. Even now it’s hard for me to articulate why. Perhaps it’s because we were living a life together and I wanted to hold onto what we had together which was our small two-bedroom apartment in Augusta. Maybe it’s because I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to marry this wonderful, caring, selfless man so I should suck it up.

I didn’t think it could get any worse during deployment than having two young children in preschool, teaching first grade, and being pregnant! OH BUT IT DID as you all know…

Have a great weekend!

Thank You For Not Leaving Me

I heard those two words a lot from my husband throughout our marriage. Thank you for getting me Taco Bell. Thank you for cooking (though that one was rare because I don’t cook). Thank you for getting me the new Stephen King novel. Really sweet nuggets of acknowledgement that he didn’t have to say but did anyway.

One thank you I didn’t expect, especially after the accident, was this: “Thank you for not leaving me.”

And he said it repeatedly.

To which I’d reply, “Why would I leave you?” Dumbfounded, of course.

Then he’d rattle off reasons why any woman would leave at this point in our relationship. “I’m broken. Look at me. I don’t even recognize myself.” Sure, he was banged up, physically and at times, emotionally. So?

“I’m useless. I can’t even help you with the kids.” My husband was bedridden for about two months and in a wheelchair for four. Um, you are supposed to heal right now and not worry about us. Besides, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left any combination of the children in his care for short periods of time, even when he was at NNMC in Maryland. In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do but I wasn’t gone that long and I left the potty-trained ones.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t have some dark moments since the accident. We did. Oh, good Lord, nothing harmful. Just really deep and sad insights about where he’s been, where I’ve been, where we’ve been as a couple, and where we’ve been as a family.

There was one time (oh, he’ll be mad if he discovers this blog) when he was still over at the VA in Palo Alto that shook me to the core. He was still in a wheelchair, still learning how to transfer from bed to chair and back and that day he was transferring to the toilet when all of the emotions building up inside of him exploded. One of the kids didn’t put on the toilet seat properly which caused him to almost fall. The kids and I were watching TV in his room when I heard a crash and an F-bomb. Okay, he’s a sailor. It was a string of swear words and a nurse that was helping him left in a hurry. Other nurses came to assist.

I asked what happened in there and he was still angry, still swearing. And I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault. No one had done anything wrong.

But I started bawling and the kids were looking at us with big eyes. Even now I can’t type this without blowing my nose a gazillion times.

In this moment, everything became clear. He’s here but he’s not. He’s been through something so terrible and so awful and so nightmarish; I couldn’t deny it any longer.

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My husband is a Wounded Warrior. He’s not going to be the same.

Ever.

I believe because of his stubbornness, his determination not to let this rule his life, he will try his damndest to keep it together.

Now if you know me personally, you’d probably describe me to be positive, funny, and extraordinarily beautiful (had to throw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention). I don’t wear my dark emotions on my sleeve. I tend to glean over scary details. But who wouldn’t? Self-preservation? Maybe. Still in denial? Perhaps.

I am sort of embarassed to admit that we went to marriage counseling after this while he was in Palo Alto but it was the best thing for us. The psychologist was a very sweet woman who baffled my husband when she suggested she take the kids for a couple hours so we could spend some time together and they followed her like Pied Piper. It was essential that we had someone listen to us and help us sort out emotions that were starting to bubble over.

He shared with her that he thought all the women he saw at the VA, spouses of Wounded Warriors or of TBI patients, were amazing. Their husbands, he said, were really lucky their wives were still with them.

Later I asked him, “Why wouldn’t they be?”

He said, “Most women would probably leave.”

I shook my head. “I think those women would have left anyway, accident or not.” Like when we used to talk about how he knew so many people in the military who cheated on their spouses. But I believed they would have cheated anyway, even if they weren’t in the military.

I have seen many spouses spend almost every breathing moment with their loved ones. They’d stay until a nurse or doctor gently suggests they go to their hotel rooms to get some rest. I met an Army wife in Bethesda who’s husband was wounded by an IED a second time, the first being only three years earlier.

Are these spouses amazing? Absolutely. Show me one that would leave at the first sign of hard stuff and I would bet my favorite Coach platforms that she was planning on leaving regardless. Just needed an excuse, that’s all.

So in case you were wondering, he still thanks me for not leaving. And when he does, I take a deep breath and say, “I’m not going to leave you. I’m not going anywhere.”

It’s time you met some folks I know

So I get a text this morning from my dear hubby:

“Ran 5K in 37 minutes.”

What the…? For those of you new to this site, let me hit the rewind button for you…

Here we are at the happiest place on earth, March 2010

A few weeks later, my husbad deployed to Iraq for a six month tour. Less than a month into his deployment, his car rolled over and crushed his lower body. I couldn’t bring myself to take any pictures of him the first few weeks after the accident. I don’t know why. I suspect I was still in denial and having photographic evidence would make it real, that this nightmare was a reality.

After a few weeks at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, he was transferred to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California via Travis AFB.

My husband and our son M at Travis AFB. He was heavily medicated and doesn’t remember me taking this picture.

He spent about four months in a wheelchair. He’s with our daughter A in the courtyard outside his room. Both have a new set of wheels.

And look how far he’s come. Great job, babe! So proud of you!

The Call

On April 23, 2011, I got the call that I’d been dreading since we got married.

Armed with a caramel frappuccino, I was enjoying my first PTA board meeting. Ten minutes in, my phone vibrates. The kids are at my friend B’s house for the end-of-the-soccer-season party. One of them probably spilled juice all over themselves.

It wasn’t B. It was Mike, one of my husband’s coworkers who I hadn’t seen or talked to in two years, not since we left Virginia. Why would he be calling me–

Oh sh*t. My husband.

Though if the worst had happened, his friend wouldn’t be calling me. His friend would be at my door.

But still. F*ck.

I quickly excused myself from the meeting and went outside. “Hello?” Still confused. I knew it was Mike.

“Hi, it’s Mike. Boats’s friend. I didn’t want you to hear this from anyone else but he has been in an accident. His car rolled over and they’re taking him to a nearby base. He’s going to get surgery.”

I am surprisingly rational at the oddest times. I thought about what he said. My husband wasn’t dead. He’s going to be fine. His friends weren’t at my door. I replied, “So… okay. He’s going to get surgery. He’ll get fixed and go back out?” My husband was a tough old bird. He often said the only way he’d go to a hospital is if he had bones sticking out of his body.

Silence.

“Um no. he’s going to be transported to a base for surgery, then to Germany for another one. He’s coming home.”