Have you ever left for work in the morning knowing your husband is suicidal? You wonder all day what you’ll come home to, and say short prayers hoping he makes it through another day. That’s the life of a PTSD caregiver.

My name is Shawn. My husband, Bryan, is a 23-year Army veteran. After completing seven tours in Afghanistan in a special operations unit, he retired with a medical disability in 2013.On our first date that year, he told me that he had PTSD and was a recovering alcoholic. You know us, women, though; I thought to myself, I can fix him!

I am also a Kansas City, Missouri police officer and I knew about PTSD. A few weeks after we met he called while I was driving home. Something was wrong. I picked up my then 2-year old daughter and rushed over. We found him in crisis mode, frantically searching for his combat boots, which I knew were packed away. After backing himself into a corner of his closet, I asked if he knew where he was. He shook his head no and broke into tears. At that point, I knew I could no longer be the girlfriend. It became obvious that he was having a flashback, and I needed to be a police officer. Trying to talk him out of the situation didn’t work, and just as I was ready to call an ambulance, a small voice over my shoulder cried, “Momma, what’s wrong?” Bryan’s focus went to my daughter, whom I had almost forgotten. When we’d walked in on the situation, I’d wished I hadn’t brought her, but couldn’t change it at that point. Now I was thankful she was there. Somehow Bryan knew she didn’t fit in the scenario and her tiny voice brought him out of it and back to the present.

Caregiver. The moment it all began.

A new identity was taking shape, although I would not realize it until a few years later.  Life had become unpredictable. I read all that I could about PTSD. Knowledge is power they say, although I felt very alone and overwhelmed. I had nowhere to turn, and I felt I was losing the battle. I decided to go to therapy and there I found that I was suffering from a mild form of PTSD and depression. Both Bryan and I were learning to cope with the symptoms of this disorder together.

Bryan and I had a rocky start to our relationship but persevered with God on our side. We married in 2015. PTSD is misunderstood. My family did not support us, which has been hurtful to me. Life was going well for us until the Veteran’s Administration told Bryan that he no longer needed therapy. In the months to follow, I slowly watched my husband go downhill. The anxiety, hypervigilance, and nightmares were back. I feared he might be suicidal. He isolated himself, pulling away from me and the things that he liked to do. The anniversary dates of significant events from his deployments wreaked havoc in his mind. He couldn’t handle it, and after four years of sobriety, he took a drink. I was petrified. I wasn’t equipped for this, but there are no coincidences. One day at work I heard about a program that some officers were attending.

Warriors’ Ascent

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Warriors’ Ascent (WA) is a local nonprofit that holds free week-long retreats for military, veterans, and first responders dealing with PTSD. I texted Bryan the words “Warriors’ Ascent.” He attended his first class within a week, and a few days later I got a text from a friend about an upcoming female cohort retreat. He’d surmised from experience that I was probably neglecting my own needs and he was right. Both Bryan’s and my life changed that week, and we are now on the alumni committee. I reach out to the families while their loved ones are attending the retreats. I’ve started a Caregiver Family Support Group with the goal of helping other caregivers feel less lonely and isolated. Researching how to get the group going, I discovered Hearts of Valor, a not-for-profit that provides financial support to peer facilitators, including my group.

Hidden Heroes

According to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation, and documented in Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers, there are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States. My story may be different than other caregivers, but the emotional trauma we experience is the same on many levels. We are plagued with loss of identity when we feel we have to quit our jobs to care for our wounded service member. There’s frustration and loneliness because the person we married isn’t the person that came home from the war and the lack of understanding that we receive from our communities is so disheartening. The list goes on and on, but it is a caregiver tendency to hide all the internal turmoil beneath a smile.

Senator Bob Dole spent eleven months at Walter Reed Hospital after being injured in Italy in World War II. During this time Senator Elizabeth Dole witnessed the frustration, fear, and struggles of the patients’ loved ones. She was inspired to found the Hidden Heroes organization. My journey has given me opportunities that I would have never had if it hadn’t been for meeting my wounded warrior. I was recently selected to represent Missouri as an Elizabeth Dole Caregiver Fellow. I am honored and humbled to have been selected for this role, which now gives me a national platform to advocate for those caregivers who make incredible sacrifices for wounded, ill, and injured service members at home.

There are many ways that our community can get involved. Support with your time and/or contribute financially to the organizations that are helping caregivers. Caregivers rarely get the opportunity to do something for themselves, so providing respite for them is greatly appreciated. Feel free to email me or give me a call.

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Photo Credits:

Shawn Moore and Warriors’ Ascent