March 31, 2013

I Have a Partner Not a Caregiver: I Would Be Lost Without Her But I Don't Want Her to Become My Nurse

This is the QB armband I wear to help me remember chores.
The last thing I would ever want to be guilty of is calling for a ubiquitous model for the household division of labor, but the breadwinner family model doesn't always match my values. When I left the Army I never cited PTSD, but I did cite the inflexibility of the Army's career track for officers. Specifically the common process of moving every three years made it impossible for me to support my spouse's career ambitions. Despite the fact that my first wife left me while I was hospitalized for PTSD and mTBI, I am still grateful that this decision has ultimately let me support my wife's career.

Despite my best ambitions I am terrible at doing my share of the household chores. I think that this is common amongst veterans. Terms like caregivers have arrived primarily because some injuries are so severe that they do require full time support, but also because PTSD makes it hard value non life threatening phenomenon. Let's face it, after war most of our brain power is used to analyze perceived threats. Doing the laundry on time is hard when we constantly feel threatened.

But we have learned to never to make excuses and this was the very reason I left the Army. I have always wanted to support my partner's career as much as my own. A breadwinner model family may work for most veteran caregiver relationships, but this does not always recognize how our country's values have changed to provide equal career opportunities for each sex. More importantly, I prioritize values and this is an area in which I am falling short of my own expectations.

Like many mTBI sufferers I often find myself in a room with no idea why I am there or on the trail alone with no idea how long I have been there. I have come to realize that my memory is only reliable when I consistently pattern my behavior and have constant reminders. Specifically, I have had the most success by replicating the way I inspected equipment prior to combat. My mind's focus on threats still recognized this need and the behaviors I designed after suffering from mTBI work well. I have tried cell phone alarms, an iPad calendar, chalk boards, a PDA etc., but none worked in long term. I think it is because my battlefield mind doesn't focus on those that I never used in combat.

Recently, I have gained a better awareness of my memory lapses. My watch broke and I temporarily borrowed my wife's. While it had the date, it did not have the day of the week on it. Sometimes I used my phone, but more often I would simply forget what day it was. I missed numerous appointments until I got a new watch. I was still forgetting household duties because I had a written schedule that wasn't readily available. Keeping my syllabi open on my desktop prevented schedule mistakes with my course, but this did little to help outside of the classroom.

My ROTC Cheat sheets helped me with memory.

Like the difficulties I have grasping my own identity and my forearm tattoos, I realized that I always kept important tasks and grids on my non-firing forearm with my watch. Any graduate of Ranger school knows how to constantly check their watch, no matter the stressor, so they can get off the objective before artillery is called on your position. I began to realize that I constantly lose track of tasks because I am startled, but no matter what I checked my watch. If I used the same quarterback style armband that I did on raids (I actually rested my map there most often), then I might do a better job keeping up with my chores.

I don't know how this going to work, and I was reluctant to embrace method because it would visible to everyone. However, I have done more permanent things to my body to fight for other aspects of my identity. Being a supportive husband is also a vital aspect of my identity, and I have begun to realize that I need to do whatever it takes. For me it is more important to have a partnership with my wife than have someone who cares for all of my needs. I may not be able to keep up with her all the time, but it is important to me that I do all I can. If I can write this blog and display my life bare before this audience, then I can wear something on my wrist that might be a little embarrassing.  If I want to be great partnership, then I have to employ the same strategies, with the same vigor, that I do to define who I am or use to support my comrades in arms.

The home cannot be a front we leave closed simply because it is harder to care about washing the dishes when you've held human viscera in your hands. Our partners can be so important to our well being and we should not concede this ground even when they are rushing forward to care for our needs and support us however they can. Most importantly, we can't let our spouse become our nurse at the expense of intimacy, romance and spontaneity. I personally value the deeper connections that are made in a partnership more than I could benefit from any treatment regime, and I am hesitant to ever yield the title of wife/partner. Some veterans will never be able to contribute to their household chores and I am lucky to contribute: it is a privilege I should appreciate rather than abandon just because it has become difficult to make it a priority. Growth doesn't make a lot of highlight reels or montages in action movies, but the way we manage our homes is vital to our relationships. It is not the stuff of movies, but is the substance of a healthy relationship. In a pragmatic sense, my relationship with my wife is what kept me going when things started getting dark, and all I could think about was suicide. Though it requires work and daily effort to support her, the payoff is significant for both of us. More importantly, making my wife happy makes me feel good and real achievement is measured in how you treat your family, not medals, scare badges, plaques, number of combat missions, etc. Mission focus can never make us forget that we have no greater mission than supporting our loved ones whatever family model reflects our values.


  1. It has been hard to give a damn about washing the dishes since I was 6, much less even now

  2. Yeah some of its culture, but I hope my conception of marriage will help isolate those aspect of your life that you treasure and refuse to abandon. We have skills to manage these problems and they are imbedded in our nine line cards, precombat checks and maintenance procedures. They only make it into Black Hawk Down when you don't do them and they cause problems. I just hope the tools I use can help you employ similar skills to help you with your family. No one enjoys doing the dishes, but who doesn't enjoy making their spouse or other loved ones happy. Its just harder now to value those little things that support the ones we love and make them a priority. I probably suck at this more than anyone and it is source of most of the conflict with my wife and I. PTSD should not become MY go to excuse for mediocrity, but I must confess that in a lot of ways it has become that, especially at home.


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