It's surprising that outside of the military community, many people don't know what PTSD is unless they've been diagnosed themselves or live with someone who's been diagnosed. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) doesn't have the media glamour of other better-known mental ailments like Schizophrenia or Alzheimer's, but it is very common.
Military families are acquainted with the illness, PTSD sufferers and families alike dealing with the aftermath of war in the [dis]comfort of their own homes. Beyond the military, PTSD sufferers abound in professions where violence and death--or the mere threat of it--exist on a daily basis. Firemen, police officers, corrections facility workers, covert federal agents, emergency room workers, EMTs, to name only a few, are at risk for a diagnosis of PTSD.
Yet, PTSD is the black sheep of the military and professional world where it is most likely to emerge. People don't like to discuss the fact that they have PTSD, and most times are not encouraged to admit they have it. It is somehow frowned upon. Unfortunately, men are more likely to suffer with PTSD since they dominate many of the lines of work where PTSD thrives. These men are not coddled and cared for when they start exhibiting symptoms of their disorder, but are usually chastised and ridiculed for their 'weakness', and often cast aside or cut off completely from the work that often defines them as a man, as a person. The same will hold true for any woman in these positions or professions... they will be ridiculed and cast aside if they exhibit PTSD.
Where there is a PTSD sufferer, there is potentially a spouse living with PTSD.
For a spouse living with PTSD, life is an ocean of eggshells. A spouse tiptoes around the PTSD sufferer, being careful to: keep the house quiet while they sleep; to not say anything disagreeable so as to avoid unnecessary arguments; to not do or say anything that can trigger a PTSD 'episode'; and to shift conversation mid-stream with other family members, friends or colleagues when the sufferer is present so that the PTSD sufferer is not upset or adversely affected by the discussion.
The existence in the PTSD home is not normal by anyone's definition. A spouse living with PTSD is the insulation between the sufferer and the rest of the world. That insulation becomes an actual wall, as real as any other wall in the house. You take on the role of Guardsman of the home, divine protector of the sufferer. You protect its contents. You dig a moat around its walls to keep the outside out and the inside in. You do not host a party here to celebrate junior's birthday. You do not invite friends over for a cup of coffee or a Friday night dinner party.
You do not speak of your life to anyone outside of these walls. People who know of it outside of these walls could potentially make things worse. If the sufferer also has addiction issues (a common pairing for those with PTSD), the concerns are compounded. A word through the grapevine could result in the sufferer losing their job, or their professional credentials or any monetary assistance they've been able to secure. You, as the caretaker, could easily lose your job as a result of needing to spend so much time at home caring for the sufferer, for calling in last minute too often for 'emergencies.'
Seek outside help.
There is so much at stake when discussing PTSD with the outside world and yet it is the only way for the spouse to free themselves of the heavy burden of guarding the ever-fragile PTSD-diseased fortress. The Veterans Administration has medical treatment available through its hospitals for military sufferers of PTSD, but if you are not in the military, resources are extremely limited. It is difficult enough to find therapists who specialize in PTSD; support for their families seems non-existent.
If you or your spouse suffer from this disorder and you seek care but can't find it, you might get the impression that you are the only one(s) dealing with it. However, the onset of PTSD amongst the general population from national disasters like 9/11 at the World Trade Center, or natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina should remind you that you are not alone. If local support is lacking in your area, reach out online for a support group or form your own. Websites like www.meetup.com allow you to form a group in your local area for any topic you can think of, attracting potential members in your area. A simple search for "PTSD support groups" in your internet browser brings up a long list of possibilities.
Take comfort. Although life is anything but normal for a spouse living with PTSD, it can be made more normal when you simply realize that you are not alone.