June 27 was National PTSD Awareness Day. PTSD Awareness. This term is ironic for me because unlike other conditions, the awareness of PTSD can lack in its victims more than those who don't have it. Our family has seen PTSD rear its ugly head and like so many other cases, there was no proof of it until seemingly normal circumstances created volatile behaviors. As the wife of a veteran, I expected PTSD would come at some point, but Josh was on so much medication in the early months of his injury, he wasn't sure what was real and what was fantasy. As he sobered from the drugs, I began to see behaviors that were both easily triggered and produced emotional eruptions. It wasn't what I thought it would be and even today, it still tries to creep into our lives and steal our joy, but we have done a ton of work to understand it and confront it every day.
I conducted a short interview with Josh about the then and now of PTSD. Hopefully this helps raise awareness for both those it affects and their loved ones.
What do you think people think PTSD is and what is it for you? I think people think it has a lot to do with the nightmares and random flashbacks, but for a combat vet it can even start playing into your training-- being in crowded places or being seated in vulnerable positions can make you feel like you need to be ready to act and it's hard to calm that down sometimes.
What is the most important thing a caregiver/loved one can do for someone that has been through trauma? Honestly, the most important thing a loved one can do is make it clear that they are not there to judge. When you know that person is not trying to decide if they still love you based on the information you might share, it's half the battle of opening up.
Thoughts on treatments for PTSD: therapy, couples counseling, medication? I think it's really important for people to keep an open mind for anything that can help them, but to also keep their focus on improvement. No one should go into any kind of treatment hoping to get a numbing agent or a magic spell that makes it all go away. Treatment is about equipping yourself to handle it.
Is there anything people with PTSD can do that is not therapy and counseling? Communication is crucial, but it looks different for everyone. Paige knew when I needed to talk about something and when I needed to let something simmer, which is why the community you're communicating with is super important. I don't know what I would have done without other veterans being around me. Some people just need to be in the presence of people with a similar story without ever really bringing it up. Others want a deeper understanding of what's going on in their heads.
Eight years after your injury, what does PTSD look like now? I still don't do well in crowds. I don't ever take my wheelchair in public because I feel vulnerable sitting down while other people stand up around me. Occasionally, I have nightmares about my bad days in Afghanistan. However, I think it is going to parallel my physical injuries. With my walking, I find that some things get easier and some things don't. I think my PTSD moments are like that. For example, I am fine around fireworks and I still enjoy shooting guns but big crowds always get me nervous.
What do you do to combat PTSD? I don't think I will ever stop watching people the way I was trained to when I went to Afghanistan, but I mostly do what I can to get myself to less crowded areas and I try to scope out good places to sit down. I have to accept life the way it is, me as an amputee and the fact that I can't change the past or present. I have had a few segments of my life where something bothered me to higher level than normal. In these instances I basically made Paige aware of it so she could look out for it too. We never really talked about it, she was just able to start looking out and that made me feel better. I just try to remember that God's got me.
What do you wish people knew about victims of PTSD? First, we aren't crazy. Second, that it might be a lifelong battle. I don't think I will ever wake up and feel like it won't be a problem anymore, but I also know that it's something that can steal the joy out of my life if I don't confront it. I heard a great quote one time from Reverend David Eubanks of the Free Burma Rangers. David Eubanks is former Special Forces and has seen more than his share of violence and war. When asked about the things he had seen, he said "I definitely feel sorrow, but I don't let myself feel shame." That really spoke to me because shame is what keeps people from asking for help, finding friends, and learning about themselves out of fear of what they might find.
The disclaimer to every single one of these answers is that they only speak for Josh Wetzel. However, when Josh and I heard testimony of other veterans, whether through documentaries, books, or just talking with other soldiers, it made it easier for Josh to say "it's not exactly like that for me but I feel similarly about...." Sometimes forming the sentences is the hardest part. While this might be a battle, our prayer is that no one fights alone.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17