“I feel a deep sense of hopelessness,” one woman wrote on the Spouse Calls blog about her husband’s post-traumatic stress disorder. “Is there anyone out there living with someone with PTSD that is coping? ... I need someone to tell me if it’s possible to live with someone who has this disease.”
Another spouse asked, “Does it ever get better? I have faith that my husband will one day open his heart to me, but sometimes it’s so hard to keep positive when I feel like I am dying inside.”
These questions are hard to hear, much less answer. So when I heard about Andrea Carlile’s book, “The War That Came Home,” about surviving PTSD, I called to hear her story.
Andrea said hopelessness was familiar territory for her. Her husband Wesley’s post-traumatic stress, which surfaced after his second deployment, destroyed their marriage and brought Andrea to contemplate suicide. She said she realized she had to live for her two young daughters, but it was a difficult journey back to wholeness for her and her family.
She said faith, therapy, compassion and understanding were each essential to the healing they’ve experienced. Andrea and Wesley were separated and on their way to divorce before they were reunited.
“Our marriage was transformed over a period of the course of a year,” she said, “from a horrible situation to a much healthier relationship.”
Andrea said she and Wesley wanted to tell their story to give other families a reason to hope.
“I hear the same statements repeatedly,” from other wives of PTSD sufferers, Andrea said.
“They say: ‘I thought I was alone. ... It feels good to know someone else out there has lived through this, and they were able to get through it.’ ”
Anne Freund, a clinical psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs and author of “Taming the Fire Within,” said recognition of the problem is an important step.
“The more you know about PTSD and the natural reactions to war, the better you can cope with it after returning home,” she said. “It’s a lot easier for family members to cope with a veteran’s reactions when they understand why he or she is reacting the way they are, and that it’s a result of their experiences in the war zone.”
Andrea Carlile said at first she had no explanation for her husband’s moodiness, withdrawal, depression, anger, nightmares, insomnia and eventually substance abuse and violence. All are symptoms of traumatic stress.
“I didn’t know what PTSD was,” she said. “I just knew my husband was not himself at all.”
Andrea said that counseling was the key for her and Wesley to be able to communicate with each other again and recover. She said their faith was also essential, but this was no overnight miracle.
“Anything worth having is worth fighting for; you’ve got to fight for it. That’s our story,” she said. “God gave us the strength to get through the steps, but you have to go through the steps.”
Both she and Wesley have made changes.
“I have a lot more compassion,” she said. “He has a lot more understanding that he has an issue that he needed help with. Both of those things have to work together for it to work. The wife has to have compassion and be able to be more patient at times. The veteran has to be willing to say there’s something wrong.”
Andrea acknowledged that their work isn’t finished.
“It’s not been perfect. It’s never gonna be perfect,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll ever be completely symptom-free. He still has nightmares. He still gets tense at times. It’s just different, the way we cope.”
Freund had encouraging words for couples such as Andrea and Wes: “As long as there is some degree of healthiness in the family to work with, there is definitely healing to be had,” she said.
Andrea Carlile sees a purpose in her experiences. “Because we had such a healing, we want to share it,” she said. “We want to see other good endings ... it’s still ongoing, but we were able to come through it.”