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31 October 2010

Dating, veterans, and PTSD, again

You wouldn't understand.  That's why I won't talk to you about it.  How could you understand?  You weren't there.  If I tell you what I dream about, what I see when I daydream, what will your reaction be?

Are you willing to tell your family when you bring me along for Thanksgiving dinner that I suffer from PTSD, anxiety, and depression... that I'm taking not one, but two antidepressants?  That I'm a regular visitor to the mental health clinic at the VA hospital?  That I know the number 1-800-273-TALK (press 1 for veterans), just in case?


What will you tell your friends when we go out, and I find myself in an uncomfortable (to me) situation and need to go outside to get some air, find some quiet, settle myself down?  Or someone says something, intentionally or not, about the war or the military that's so wrong that I have to correct them... and it doesn't come out well?


What will people think?  You're dating a vet with PTSD?  Are you nuts?  When's he going to snap?  What about that guy in that other state that woke up choking his wife a few months after he got back from the war, do you want to wind up like his wife?  All of these guys are coming back from the war with mental health issues...


I've touched on dating and veterans and PTSD before, and maybe it's the antidepressants kicking in or maybe it's been long enough since my last relationship ended that I've had time to sort things out a little.  Blogger gives me stats on what keywords people used to get here, and "dating" and "PTSD" seem to come up a lot lately, so it's not just me... I wish I had a collection of answers to write about, but I only have my own experiences.  I'm single, I'm not seeing anyone, and haven't been out on a date since July.  So maybe I'm not the best source of dating advice.

On the other hand, if you read the romantic advice forums around the web, you hear words like "ticking time bomb" and "run for your life" given to people who are either dating, or attached to, veterans with PTSD.  Someone has to say something positive, because for every veteran who has visible issues, there's another who manages to get up every day and works hard to get the rent paid and is a good, solid person-- with the same issues.  We're all in some sense fighting the battle-- it's whatever happened to us before we enlisted, and everything that happened to us while we were there, and then everything since.

Yes.  Some of us snap.  Sometimes we do things that are really, really stupid.  Sometimes we say things that we don't mean, and other times we say nothing because we don't know how to explain.  Some says when we should ask for help, we don't, because we don't know what kind of help to ask for.   We get uncomfortable at Christmas when we're supposed to be happy and jolly, and we look like we're going to jump through the windshield when someone cuts us off on the freeway.

We're late for dinner, or the movie, or we get there at 1815 when we said we'd be there at 1730-- it's not because we don't respect you, or value your time.  It's because we had to check the weather, and make sure we were covered there, and double check the stove to make sure no burners are on, and we left a light on and closed the curtains and blinds.  We had to check traffic.  In the midst of all of that, the checking and the excitement of seeing you, our breath got short and our heart rate jumped up a bit, and we had to try to settle down a little.  Then we forgot where we put our knife, and our challenge coin, and we had to find those.  And oh shit, the coffee pot's still on.  And when it comes down to finally leaving, we can't find the keys and have to tear apart the apartment to find them.

(Turns out they're already attached to our belt, the last place we look.)

We don't call because we hate being late, we're from a place where ten minutes early is late.  We're triggered and anxious and we're just trying to get there without anything bad happening, we know you're going to be pissed.  It doesn't help that we can't explain why we were late, because we were in survival mode the whole time, where we don't remember shit.

There really are no easy answers.

---

There aren't too many people in the world that I trust.  I've gotten better about admitting that I have PTSD to deal with, and I have an internal sense of humor about being on antidepressants.  I can even sometimes laugh about it, to myself.  Still, very few people know, and of those, they're all veterans.

It's Halloween today, meaning Thanksgiving and Christmas are approaching.  I'm single, meaning this year I likely won't be eating Thanksgiving dinner at a girlfriend's house, or going to a girlfriend's family's house for Christmas dinner.  In a way I dread the holidays, because everyone always seems to have more fun than I'm having... Thanksgiving week was the week I told my ex-wife that I was filing for divorce.  This isn't always a happy time of year.

Many of the people I see every day in classes won't be around for the holidays-- college students go home for the holidays.  So it will be quiet around here.

I've never actually prepared a Thanksgiving meal solo... maybe this is the year.  Maybe that sounds a little defeatist, a little cynical, but maybe I've reached the point where I don't care so much anymore about living up to someone else's idea of sanity.

Perhaps it's my experience with attempting online dating that's made me a little cynical.  Three or four paragraphs about a person, a list of attributes and likes, a couple of pictures that show us at our best, laughing and smiling, or standing on top of a rock.  Always searching for someone stable, loyal, caring, kind, likes adventure, likes being active.

It really doesn't matter if we both like country music and classic rock, or if we both like coffeehouses, or if we agree on politics. 

Get on a plane with a duffel bag of uniforms, a mobility bag of chemical warfare gear, and open ended orders, and then we'll talk about adventure and loyalty.

True, it takes the strength and courage of a warrior to ask for help.  Let's add that it takes the strength and courage of a warrior to stand next to one.

8 comments:

  1. A positive story to cheer you up, perhaps. It can happen...

    http://www.healingcombattrauma.com/2010/08/sometimes-you-have-to-choose-to-love-a-love-story-after-ptsd.html

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  2. That's *awesome*. Thanks so much for the link!

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  3. I'm a little late here ... But I've been seeing a guy with PTSD going on a little over 2 months now. He didn't tell me I noticed when he was having pretty bad nightmares ... Then a week later he called crying that he did want live anymore and "I would be better off if I never met him etc..." I told him I know you have PSTD and don't hurt yourself. I ran over to his place he didn't want me there he didn't want me to see him like that. He hadn't moved from his chair, he couldn't. So I just sat there on the floor beside his chair for 3 hours and held his hand. Somedays I really have to pray for strength and courage. My friends and family don't understand, they say I can't help him and to ruuun. But I have come to terms with the fact that if I was in his situation I wouldn't want to re-live it alone. There's someone out there for everyone yes some women may run ... But there's a few stay and those are the ones worth letting in. In the end I'm truely optimistic things will turn out okay in the end :)

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  4. It's also hard for me to let anyone see how I'm feeling. Both growing up and in the service, I learned to suck it up and go on. Many people see PTSD as something that makes vets dangerous, but much of the time we're just like your guy-- alone in our apartment or house or on the street, and we're stuck there. You did exactly the right thing, holding his hand. It's hard for me (and I'm sure many other people with PTSD) to trust someone else enough to let you in. Small acts like just being there-- not trying to "fix" anything, just being there-- really do help build that kind of trust.

    Hope things go well for the two of you. And I'll keep trying as well. :)

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  5. Thank you, I'm still trying. Don't try lol just be you focus on kicking PTSD's ass and your classes ... when your not looking they will come along :)

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  6. Thanks for posting this. It helps normalize the WTF thoughts and feelings I get when looking at my veteran friends who are clearly still struggling every day.

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  7. I've been dating a veteran for 8 months. Ptsd untreated. Excessive drinker. We were spending alot of time together. I fell in love with him. He abruptly wants to be alone and ultimately breaks up with me. It's tough on me and it's hard for me to understand how he can do a 180 like that. Love me one day.and need to be alone the next. Now I understand

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  8. Another late comment ... Hang in there brother. I can't tell you how to get better, or how to live life fully. I went 18 years (from the first Gulf War, 1991-92) before I couldn't pretend I was okay any more, had a breakdown, and got the help I needed. All I can say is you're not alone. It's been a long road, but it's worth it.

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