Spouse 1: “What is wrong with your husband, if I may ask?”
Spouse 2: “My husband was in Iraq, Desert Storm. Was shot in the leg and hip, has SEVERE PTSD, and has now started to feel just so dizzy all the time. Uh, it’s just so much. And yours?” (Looking back at Spouse 1)
Spouse 1: “Oh you know, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, chronic pain, knee problems, back problems from his broken back from that one time he jumped, because, you know, he was a Paratrooper in Iraq and went to Afghanistan, too. How long was he in for?”
Spouse 2: “Yeah, my husband has Traumatic Brain Injury, too. He was in the Army for 5 years and one deployment…that I know of; since we met after he got out.”
Spouse 1: “Oh, my husband was in the Marines for 8 years with 4 deployments.”
You know, the kind of silence that happens when you try to figure out what to say without getting yourself in trouble after someone practically just told you that your experience is inferior to theirs.
Spouse 1: (Turns toward me) “Sometimes I wonder if the people at the VA all just sit around and laugh at us while we sit here in the waiting room.”
Me: “Haha, yes. It does sometimes feel like an episode straight out of the Twilight Zone.”
Spouse 1: “May I ask what’s wrong with your husband?” (I’m not sure if she realized that I heard her ask that very same question to the lady 3 seats over)
Me: “Oh you know, PTSD, TBI, Arthritis, bad back, bad knees, Anxiety, chronic pain, and the list goes on. You wouldn’t think there is anything wrong with him just by looking at him though.”
Spouse 2: “YES! That is probably one of the more frustrating things. Trying to explain to someone that my husband’s injuries are REAL.”
Spouse 1: “Yes, you would think that being shot at 24/7 for 6 months at a time…”
(Before she could go on, there was a light chuckle that interrupted her; enter Spouse 3)
Spouse 3: “At least he only had to do 6 months at a time. My husband’s first tour was 16 months, his second was 12 months and his third was another 13 months, because they extended him. He got hurt on all three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
This conversation goes on for about 5 more minutes, all of us chiming in about our husband’s deployments, ailments, injuries and frustrations with the VA. And let me tell ya, I can go on and on about the VA!
Then it hit me!
I am right in the midst of some sort of weird and very twisted competition in which it seems important to rank each other’s stress level, caregiver duties, family burden and career sacrifices based on our husband’s disabilities! The same disabilities they developed due to injuries they obtained while deployed. The injuries they obtained, because they had the guts to volunteer and fight the “bad guys.”
What was even worse, is that I had Elijah with me. Although, he was totally oblivious to the fact that his mommy was bragging up a storm about how hurt and sick Daddy is; it is this conversation that has stuck with me so vividly.
- How could I turn my husband into some kind of freak show for everyone to stare at without even having to pay the price of admission?
- What do I know about his PTSD?
- How could I act like I have an iota of an idea about how his injuries may truly affect him?
- What do I know about his TBI?
- What do I know about the events that caused all the ailments he has now?
- And, how in the world could I talk like this in front of our little one?
Since that day and that very conversation, I have made the conscientious effort to evaluate the words coming out of my mouth BEFORE I speak.
I remember when my husband was still Active Duty (and growing up, when my father was AD), hearing women talk like they were the ones in the service.
Now, I understand that this one statement may very well ignite some deep-rooted, safe-space-violating, negative feelings. However, this is what it felt like to me. When I replayed that conversation in my head- and I still replay it, it’s kind of like a weird obsession that helps me how to figure out how to fix just about anything I have a problem with– I saw myself as a wife wearing her husband’s disabilities.
I am not really sure what it is and why it seems like every time a group of military caregivers comes together, every one tries to ‘one-up’ the next CG with their veteran’s injuries and tour of duties?! Or is it just me?
Hindsight is 20/20
In hindsight, it seems quite ironic that, we, who should at the very least understand one another and provide some level of support, are breaking one another down in the most cynical fashion. AD military spouses have more resources at hand and have a far more close-knit community feeling compared to post-military caregivers. We are in the shadows of the VA, trying to keep our own jobs and careers in tact, and constantly fighting some sort of fight with someone- whether it is for local resources, housing, food, stable income, financial security, healthcare, veterans’ benefits and a million and one other things. Many of these, we are left to figure out ourselves with no clear information or support.
I feel as though we are breaking each other down as caregivers, rather than helping one another by having this secret competition.
Why would we do this instead of helping one another and attempting to form a more coherent and supportive post-military caregiver community?
In the end, we can pretty much only count on each other. No one will truly understand what it’s like to be the spouse or caregiver of a veteran. Regardless of how much combat the veteran has experienced. The veteran status alone, puts our relationships in completely different categories. Many of us may have had serious relationships before our current one. If that relationship was with someone who never served in the military. Think back to it for a minute and ask yourself these questions in response to that relationship:
- Did you ever have to deal with a massive load of acronyms? I don’t remember having to know 100 different acronyms, just be able to decode a piece of paper or get any kind of information.
- Did you ever have to deal with your loved one continuing the military mindset? From the perfectionism to always having to be prepared for the worst. In my previous relationship, I was the perfectionist. (Well, I kind of still am, but that’s besides the point here 🙂 )
- Did you ever have to deal with 20 different people just get ONE appointment set up?
- Did you ever have to deal with the VA?
If your answer is as closely as it can get to a collective NO, then it may be a lot easier to see why others won’t be able to understand our struggles as military/veteran caregivers and spouses.
We are a unique group of women (and men, of course) who take our promise of loving and being there for our spouse “through sickness and in health” very serious. We are who they can depend on. We should also be able to depend on each other!
I hereby challenge all of us to tone down our secret competition.
To cherish one another and be the rock to lean on when one of us needs the strength to keep going. Because no one will understand our struggles, excitements and sometimes quite screwed up and dark humor more than another veteran’s wife.
Disclaimer: Everything I share is solely based on my personal experience and is for informational purposes only. This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please view my disclosure policy.