PTSD Symptoms and the Early Warning Signs I Wish I’d Known
Seven years ago my life looked very different. Seven years ago I had no idea about PTSD symptoms.
My daughter was an energetic toddler, full of chatter and sparkle. My eldest son was a newborn, keeping my nights busy and my days even busier. I was on maternity leave, happy to spend many long days playing dress-ups and peek-a-boo in our home near the beach. And my husband was consumed by his role as a paramedic, spending long shifts on the ambulance with ever-increasing patient loads.
I had a normal life. And it looked very much like the lives of everyone around me. So when there seemed to be a gentle shift in our home, when I vaguely noticed that things felt a bit off-kilter, I certainly didn’t dwell on it.
“Nothing stays the same,” I thought to myself, “and anyway, aren’t we parents now? Of course everything is going to seem different.”
But things were different. And it had nothing to do with our children.
My husband had begun silently sinking into the murky depths of his traumatic encounters. He could sense the pull, but he choose not to look down. And when he began losing sight of us, he didn’t reach out to me for help. He didn’t know he needed to.
As the months marched on, I could no longer pretend that becoming parents would cause such destructive changes. And I could no longer pretend we still had a normal life.
With the gift of hindsight, the early warning signs of my husband’s PTSD are now blatantly obvious. Though at the time they were not only insidious, but also unrelenting and devastating.
He was always so tired. Not in the sense of needing a string of early nights, but a deep and enduring exhaustion. But he was a shift-worker, of course he was tired. And we were parents with a toddler and a newborn, of course we were tired. The early nights became a priority, but the fatigue never left him.
There were less catch ups, less dinners out, less parties. Though the invites were all still there. Initially, with the relentless demands of two little ones, I welcomed the shift. But when we began missing important events with close friends, I was not so naive as to not question why.
In addition to his gradual withdrawal from those around him, there was also his subtle abandonment of the activities he used to pursue with passion. It seemed the waves were no longer quite right for a surf, and his downhill bike required maintenance that it never got. He may have been spending more time at home, but he still never seemed to be quite there.
Schedules were abandoned, commitments were forgotten. I would get furious and frustrated, but it made no difference. Surprisingly, he would claim no memory of full conversations and, at times, entire days. This was well before I took notice of the abrupt vacant stares I now know as disassociation.
There was simply never enough for him, but the quantity wasn’t going to make up for the quality in any case. The nightmares were apparent, even to me, as he cried out in his sleep, unable to wake from unseen terrors. He craved rest, yet he resisted sleep.
We may have had some tears, though we still had laughter, and jokes, and dancing around the kitchen in our pyjamas. But his moods would begin to swing wildly and irrationally. We’d be laughing one minute, and the next he’d be storming off in anger or trying to cover a sudden flow of tears, leaving me stunned and confused.
For an ordinarily chatty guy, he gradually had less and less to say. The quiet moments in our home began to stretch on for hours, and invariably I would find him lost somewhere in a screen, of any description. Is it normal to have to invite your husband to have a conversation? Is it normal to even have to question that?
The arguments started cropping up more frequently. His patience ran short more and more often. I would find myself trying to calm him down after an unexpected outburst over the most trivial of things. The term ‘walking on eggshells’ became my unspoken motto around the house. Anything to stop the shouting. Anything to avoid the anger. And then things got even worse.
It was not only the steady disappearance of the alcohol in our house, it was also the empty bottles I heard dropping into the recycle bin as he returned home after every shift. It was the long nights he spent alone in the shed with a bottle in hand, and it was the drunken stumbling up the stairs to bed.
Over the following six months, our life mutated into a living nightmare.
Things were different. Very different. At this point, seven years ago, we were unwittingly teetering on the threshold of PTSD. He didn’t know he needed to reach out for help. And I didn’t know how to ask him.
The signs were all there. If only we’d listened.
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