Six years ago life as my three kids and I knew it changed. We were so excited because our soldier was coming home after being deployed for 15 months, we would finally be a complete family again. Considering this was our sixth deployment, we had no concerns or worries and knew what we should expect and how the reintegration process would go. Man, did we get a rude awakening. By about day six I was trying to figure out what aliens had invaded my husband’s body. I found myself living with this person that was like a stranger.
I still remember the day my Mother-in-law called me and said, “What did they do with my son, because this person is definitely not my son.”
I was relieved because I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought he was different. Now, I realize that we all change with time and we knew things would be different, but what we had was a guy who looked like my husband, but that was where the similarity ended.
I give briefings on deployment and reintegration and I always tell everyone that a 20-40% change for up to six months is a normal transition. I had maybe 10-20% of the man I had put on a bus almost a year and a half earlier. I think to get the whole picture I should rewind to life before this deployment.
I was seriously spoiled. I had the most amazing husband, who totally spoiled me and made my birthday seem like a national holiday each year. He was this amazing Dad who never missed anything the kids were involved in, and would sneak them out of school early behind my back to take them out for ice cream. Now, I had a husband who didn’t realize it was one of our Birthday’s, Valentine’s Day, or even our Anniversary. He missed the kids birthday dinners and soccer games and when he was home he spent more time locked away in our room than with us. There came a point when the kids just wouldn’t accept the excuses I would have to come up with when he missed something important in their lives.
This motivated me to do research about PTSD. I remember thinking in the back of my mind that this couldn’t happen to him, he had done this before, he knew what to expect in combat. Then, I read a checklist of symptoms and realized I had checked every box. I jumped up all excited because I felt like I had figured it out. Granted there were many other items he struggled with that weren’t on the list, but I felt like at least there was now a starting point. I called him all excited about my great find. I screamed, “Baby, I have finally figured out what is wrong with you.”
His response was totally not what I was expecting. He said, “Wrong with me? What makes you think something is wrong with me?” Then I heard dial tone. That was the day I realized that he didn’t even realize he had changed.
The kids and I tried to sit down to explain to him what we saw that was different which made him really angry. A few weeks after we had confronted him, he called to tell me that he was being command directed to go to Fort Knox for a mental evaluation.
He said, “Can you believe they think something is wrong with me?”
I, of course, being the sarcastic person that I am, said, “No, what on earth would make them think that?” I was totally jumping up and down on the inside screaming yes! I knew that if the military told him he needed to get help, that he might just do it.
At Fort Knox we were interviewed by a psychiatrist, and I gave him the list of things I had been keeping of how my husband had changed. I will never forget the moment when the psychiatrist said that it might not be just PTSD, but possibly TBI. He went over a bunch of the TBI symptoms with us and I remember thinking, wow, he does still like me; he just doesn’t know how to show it.
I called the kids the first moment I had alone to tell them everything and there was almost this collective sigh among us. We realized that he did care and wanted to be with us, he was just stuck in this place where emotion didn’t exist. I remember ending the call with, “He likes us, he really likes us!” That is when our new journey began.