August 22, 2010

Compassion Fatigue and the Combat PTSD Caregiver: Dismantling Super Woman

A comment was left on my previous blog and one that made me think for quite a while afterward. Anonymous posted,
Breathe, remember you are a parent with medical challenges to deal with. You are a full time caregiver to a warrior with multiple diagnoses.This can lead to burn out pretty darn fast. Please take care, take a moment, take off the super woman cape for a few minutes and take care of you.
Thank you Anonymous for the comment and kind words. When I read your comment, the first thing that popped in my head was "How do I do that?". Once I chewed on that thought, the next was...."how many of us Combat PTSD/TBI Veteran's Wives are wearing that proverbial Super Woman Cape and unable to shed it?".

Some days I am amazed how much I get accomplished and wonder how in the world I did it all. Of course, this would explain the exhaustion I feel most of the time but, still leaves me in awe that I was able to do it and get it done. I wake up at 6 a.m. and go until 12:00-1:00 a.m. and the days just seem to run into each other leaving me confused on what day it really is. Some days I feel like everything is piled up high and must leave myself notes around the house in order to remind myself of everything that I must do or remind someone else to do! There is one I must rouse out of bed at 6 a.m. to make the bus, one I must force out of bed to get him to Pre-K by 8:00, and then the little one who most of the time is just plain ticked off I had to wake him up! Once those three are done, then I must wake up my Pod Person which usually takes me an hour and a half of shaking, yelling and pulling off the covers because his medicine leaves him in a comatose state at night.

Breakfast is served to the little one while I am chugging what's left in the coffee pot, medicines are laid out for my husband, and then I am thinking of what to do about supper. Morning learning time for my little one, FRG paperwork/emails most days, and then tackling my other emails which involve blogging, candles, or just family and friends. Dishwasher has to be unloaded and laundry to be put in or folded/put away. The phone rings off the hook with my daily call from my Mother-in-law whether I want it or not, and my sister who usually calls me every day. Beds to be made, replies to emails and blogs that I just answered, and reminding my husband what he needs to do for the day. If I am lucky, I might be able to grab a quick shower to wash my hair and that is probably the reason why I just had it all cut off. I originally thought it was due to a mid-life crisis, but in all honesty, it was due to time constraints.
Before I know it, it's time to go back on my hour round trip to pick up my Pre-Schooler and smile like I mean it to the other parents although I really just want to scream. Homework for that one, fighting with the little one for a nap, and then while still planning dinner or prepping, the oldest walks in, has a ton of homework and asking if I had time to bake a special treat/snack. Supper is completed, baths must be given, teeth brushed and bed time stories which usually is three round of Dr. Seuss and then kitchen cleaned up from supper. Between all of this, I don't know how I am fitting in all this VA paperwork, research, blogging and dealing with my husband's daily issues! By the time I get to shower or bathe, it's almost midnight and I must get back up again only to face the same crap the next day! There are bills to be paid, checkbook to be balanced and then not to mention all the doctor appointments I must keep between the three kids and my husband!

I would love to rip off the mask and admit to the world, that this Super Woman can't do it all. I could reveal my true weaknesses and throw down my cape, stomping on it in pure frustration and disgust. However, in our do we as Caregivers give ourselves that luxury? If I stop and loosen the cape for just a moment, the whole world can suddenly stop and fall apart. I can't depend on my husband to get it done, or even remember to try and get it done. There would be no money in the bank accounts if I didn't manhandle and choke hold the checkbook, there would be no food on the table because no one else can cook or walk into a grocery store to purchase it, and my husband would still probably be asleep like he is now. There would be no homework help because daddy can no longer comprehend what he is reading, or begin to use thinking processes to tackle geometry or biology. To reveal my real self, I must contend with the effects it will have on my whole family. There is no time for a break, there is no extra money to do nice things for just me, and of course, no relaxation or stress relief. There is no help, no extra family nearby except for my Mother in law and well....there is no family that I can rely on and leave without worries or stress.

Dealing with the angry outbursts, putting up defensive walls, and being the safe refuge for not only my children but my husband, does indeed become very tiring. I don't honestly think that I could have one day without stress or even just a couple of hours. Just the emotional strain of living with someone with PTSD is exhausting but more so, the knowledge that it's never going to change! The resentment I harbor underneath my false bravado sometimes becomes more than I can handle. How in the world I swallow all that and still breathe, is the most amazing part of my whole existence. I get comments all the time from my Army wife buddies wondering how the hell I do it all the time. Beats the heck out of me but I want to tell them "If you only knew the half of it".

Some days when my husband wants to bitch and fuss because he had an "incident" somewhere or with someone or he yells because the kids are too loud, I really want to yell at him and ask "Are you really that far gone that this is all you are concerned about? I am worrying about fifty million things and the only thing you can pitch in to relieve some of it, is to add more stress on me? What the hell happened to you over there that made you come home to become this self-centered, selfish, irresponsible, mean and hateful person? There are no Iraqis with guns inside the grocery store, there isn't enough money to be blowing on such items as a new gun or tools that you won't use, and no matter how hard I try, kids are kids...they aren't going to be as quiet as mice no matter how much you yell!"

In all fairness to him, he does try to help me or often times ask if there is something he could do. Yet, everything that needs to be done he can not tackle it for a variety or reasons! The kids have become so accustomed to me doing it all, that they give him a hard time in such times like bath time. My husband becomes very easily aggravated and tense, so that leaves me with one pissed off man and two screaming little ones. If I let him clean up, he somewhat starts and is slow to get done all while asking a ton of questions like "well where do I put this? Can we not just leave it in the sink until tomorrow?" What's the point of that? That means I must still get it no matter what time of day it is! I wish I could just leave a list and say "you handle is going to the bookstore for the rest of the day".

I often stop and look at myself in the mirror and really don't know who I am anymore. Some people refer to me as strong and confident, while I view myself as being compliant and simply adjusting to my environment. There really isn't any strength because I don't feel strong and confident.... I am only confident that so far I have been able to keep my family together and making the best out of the worst possible of situations. I get sick and down, the whole family tumbles down with me. Super Woman's biggest fear? Dying in my sleep or having an accident that is fatal. Morbid I know right? The fear is not of dying itself, but what would my husband do and my kids? I want to shed this stress, unmask and be myself just for a few worries, no cares, and just relax. It's not that I don't want to take care of myself...I just don't know how to do it. I know that in our situation, other wives are facing far more challenging aspects, but in all of us.....I think it's safe to say that none of us are capable of laying the cape aside and truly being free.

I did request some information on the Caregiver Retreat (tab up top). I called over a month and a half ago and finally got a call back.....right in the middle of a doctor's appointment. I returned the call but no one has called back yet. Not sure if I even qualify for it because my husband was not awarded a Purple Heart nor was he hospitalized. He was simply treated on site and pushed back into the war zone. I hope that someone calls me back though and I can see about attending such an event. This retreat I don't know much about, but I do know other caregivers attend and maybe that is what I need the most....just to be around other "Super Hero" Caregivers, let my cape down so to speak, and know that no matter what is said or unsaid......they completely understand. I will keep everyone updated on this retreat if I find out more information.

Woman Behind the Mask,


  1. God Bless you for all you do . You are to be commened , many women would of bailed out but not you. You are to be praised.

  2. Thank you comendations needed, just hoping that my writing can be somewhat of a voice for all us spouses who are taking it day by day! Thanks for reading....USM

  3. I cannot even begin to express my thanks to you on this post. My husband has been, and still is, deployed since last October. This is his third deployment, but our first with children. He has always been so strong and proud of his deployments that I got broadsided when he started calling me and constantly giving me an emotional beat down because I am "at home in my comfort zone." I can identify with you so much, it is a relief to know that there are others out there in my situation. My husband is a Vermont National Guardsman, even though we live in Colorado, our closest family is 5 hours away, I work full time, have two small children in child care, a small farm, pets, horses and who knows what else to take care of. I feel so overwhelmed as it is, and then I get daily calls from my husband telling me I am not supportive enough of him and don't have time for him. I know our battle has just begun and we will fight this battle for a very long time after he returns, but I am so thankful that I have a found a place to go and know that someone out there understands. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!

  4. My husband has severe, uncontrolled PTSD with MDD. I am a trauma nurse. Compassion Fatigue is much too gentle a term for the physical and emotional exhaustion just from dealing with the changes at home. After a lot of tears and prayers, I have decided to leave the ER and go to the OR. Thank you for showing that it's OK to take off my cape.


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