Spent a bit of time talking with a firefighter wife from out of town this morning. Her story is so similar to mine. I just want to reach out to the wives/spouses and partners of first responders and say this: We know more today than we did 2 years ago when my tragedy was unfolding, but the list of signs and symptoms we read about are not as easy to recognize as we would like to think.
Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD include:
· Intrusive memories: It’s common to relive the traumatic event in memories, which can manifest as flashbacks, nightmares and disturbing thoughts about the incident.
· Avoidance behaviors: In an attempt to prevent extreme distress, individuals with PTSD tend to avoid reminders and feelings associated with their trauma. This could involve certain places, activities and even people, potentially disrupting normal daily functioning.
· Increased arousal and reactivity: Symptoms of these may include irritability, anger, aggression, hypervigilance, insomnia and startling or becoming sensitive easily.
· Negative changes in mood and thought: Symptoms of these may include negative mood shifts, distorted beliefs about oneself, others and the world, feelings of detachment and guilt, or lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
(IAFF Center of Excellence https://www.iaffrecoverycenter.com/behavioral-health/ptsd/)
Chip’s progression of his symptoms happened slowly. I realize now it was a lifetime of “stuff” and over the last 5 years of his life, it looked more like a marriage that was slowly deteriorating rather than a mental health issue. At his retirement ceremony in 2012 he spoke of his demons at the city building in front of his brothers, city council members, citizens and his family. Little did we know that it was a foreshadowing of his progressive breakdown, as well as, a demonstration of the intrusive memories that were plaguing his sleep. I took for granted that his sleep disturbance was normal for a first responder but rarely joining me in our bed should have been a definite warning sign. His lack of intimacy in our relationship made me feel unloved and rejected and now I recognize it as a way of detaching himself from me. Toward the end, he missed my birthday, Mother’s Day, and for our 31st anniversary I insisted that our 2 children join us for dinner because I knew he would be on the phone dealing with work issues. He was constantly working, upsetting the balance that we had worked so hard to create in our family and work lives.
The slow progression alone is deceiving but the emotional toil that the relationship takes is borne by both. So instead of recognizing the mental health issue, I focused on my pain attributed to the breakdown in the marriage and the affects it had on me and my children. I realize now that I am not the only wife to be trapped in this situation. Hopefully someone will read this and recognize the signs, and instead of prideful anger, fear and hurt, they can find a way to engage help for a much bigger and sometimes tragic problem.