PTSD and TBI are the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are referred to as the invisible wounds of war. However, just because something is invisible doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And its existence can have a profound impact on the quality of our lives.

Pain of the Shattered Dream

While he was still on active duty my husband’s invisible wounds continued to whisper. After several more combat deployments, his wounds were hemorrhaging and demanding to be seen and treated. Mark was diagnosed with chronic and severe PTSD, and a few years later more tests confirmed that Mark had incurred multiple and extensive traumatic brain injuries from his combat service. In some respects, it helped to know what we were dealing with as a couple and as a family. Finding the name for a cluster of disturbing symptoms is always a relief of sorts to the one who suffers and for his closest family and friends. It gave us an initial fresh dose of hope that we could find a way to make things better. Yet the comfort of the diagnosis was bittersweet; we were still faced with shattered dream

I began to see things rightly at my first counseling appointment. Mark and I both knew that something was terribly wrong on the home front, but were not able to find the source of the problem on our own. I suggested that we go to counseling to find some answers. At the time, he was serving as the Director of Operations at Naval Special Warfare Group TWO, training, manning, and deploying and redeploying hundreds of SEALs to two war fronts between his own multiple deployments. His schedule was bursting at the seams, and he was adamant that the problem was mine, not ours, and certainly not his. I knew that if I didn’t find some help soon, my own sanity and our marriage and home life would implode. I was in a dark place, faced with the greatest temptation of all, the temptation to lose hope in God. I walked into my first counseling session not sure what I would find, a bit embarrassed to have sunk so low that I needed mental health care, but desperate for any help.

I had dreaded the exhausting process of bringing a total stranger up to speed on my life. We were years deep into this mess. We had wandered so long inside this maze that I was convinced no one could ever find us. Yet somehow I knew that if I didn’t allow the wounds to be reopened, irrigated, scraped, and allowed to regenerate new life that the injuries would turn gangrenous and we’d be done. I explained to my new found “best friend” that not only had my husband changed since returning from combat, but that I, too, had changed. I told her that I was worried about myself and concerned for my own sanity. I described to her my constant confusion, my jumpiness, my short fuse, my difficulty sleeping, and my bouts with uncontrollable sobbing.

With a quivering chin, I timidly whispered, “Is PTSD contagious?”

She sighed and sent a sympathetic, knowing smile in my direction. I fully expected her to find humor in my naïve question and to reassure me that PTSD was certainly not infectious.

Yes, you could say that PTSD is contagious.” Her answer made me lightheaded. “Everyone who lives with a traumatized person is affected and can begin to speak and behave in ways that mirror his words and actions.”

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I swallowed hard.

“You are experiencing what’s called acute stress, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue.”

I was a doe in the headlights. “How long have I got, Doc?”

Questions for Reflection

  1. Have you noticed any changes in your service member’s behavior or personality or habits since his/her return from war? If so, what changes have you noticed?
  2. Describe one or two incidents or scenarios that first alerted you to changes in your service member.
  3. Do you feel comfortable talking openly with your service member about his/her symptoms or struggles? If not, why?
  4. Has he/she sought professional medical help or counseling services for PTSD concerns? If not, why not?
  5. Would you describe your service member’s symptoms as mild, moderate, or severe?
  6. In your opinion, is your service member’s condition improving since his/her return? If not, please explain.
  7. In your own words, how does a vet’s post-traumatic stress symptoms affect his/her spouse, children, and extended family members?
  8. What has been the most difficult aspect of this challenge for you (feeling isolated and alone, lack of reliable information or resources, anger, sadness, fear, feeling unsafe, domestic violence, self-medicating or substance abuse, addictive be- havior, helplessness, etc.)?

Adapted from Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home.


Copyright © 2013 Marshele Carter Waddell and Dr. Kelly Orr. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

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