Our New Normal

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Kristen Muir, New York

Our journey began when Justin was a senior in high school, almost 20 years ago. He had me laughing at his jokes almost immediately. We were young and in love, as we jumped feet first into the world of the USMC. 2 Tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Hurricane Katrina evacuation, the evacuation of American citizens in Lebanon. We decided to re-enlist, thinking it was the best thing to do for our growing family. Thats actually where my caregiving story begins.

Justin had his first seizure 3 months after re-enlisting, when our second born was only 2 days old. We spent months wrestling with providers who couldnt give us a diagnosis. These seizures that Justin was having, once, 27 in four hours, were puzzling the doctors. He would drift into catatonic states, have episodes of staring, and memory loss. He did have a diagnosis of a mild TBI, but the tests weren’t showing anything extraordinarily abnormal.

No one ever exposed me to the raw, brazen reality of PTSD. Despite a degree in human services, I was naive to the detrimental journey we were about to go down. These seizures that were wrecking his life, our dreams, were from trauma. They were a neurobiological reaction to the trauma that he had seen during deployments and rescue operations. The USMC discharged him medically at rating of 100% for his PTSD.

A young couple with 3 young children, about to restart life with a major diagnosis of PTSD, chronic pain (often sleeping on the floor in the laundry room to have the darkness and white noise to get through
the pain)…

These invisible wounds were not easily seen by our community. He still presented with his jokes and smiles. But I could see how changed he was.. scars so apparent to me. Flashbacks, nightmares, dissociation, ambulances, police, migraines, pain medication, support groups, navigating the VA, anger, rage, tears, suicidal ideations, depression, new treatments, new therapies, new therapists… it goes on. And I grow weary.

Is this my new normal? Yes. But it isn’t just mine. Its all of ours. Whether we are caring for their physical or emotional needs, or both...we are carrying them, and its hard work. 

Caregivers, take advantage of the programs that are offered to you. Utilize the VA; we are blessed to have so many invested providers at our fingertips—the vet center, local legions and organizations. My husbands transition from suffering from PTSD, to living and thriving with PTSD only began once we tapped into the resources around us. 

With the support of the organizations, we have been rehabilitated. We are a work in progress, trying to recover each and every day. We are not 100%. Justin still goes to VA appointments, has incredible pain, cant work a full-time job—he relies on me for grounding him when his symptoms become too much, he still hands me his pain medication to track when the symptoms become unbearable. He needs reminders, often—and sometimes all I can do is laugh. Sometimes I cry. His service dog often needs to snuggle me—and thats ok. 

Through it all, I rely on my God, who put me on this earth to be Justin’s wife, and he to be my husband. We balance each other in an amazing way… I rely on our family and friends, and the support networks that want to see us succeed. 

Enjoy each other, rely on each other, rely on the networks available to you. Take breaks, expect the unexpected, keep advocating. God bless you and God bless our veterans. You are all so very important.