5 signs your firefighter spouse has PTSD
Ever read an article on PTSD and wonder, “Does my spouse have this?”
By Kate Gillie, Uniform Stories Contributor
Here are 5 signs that do not necessarily mean your spouse has PTSD, but that there are problems that shouldn’t be ignored:
1. Vortex of Numb
Does your spouse come home from work and sit in the “vortex chair”? Every time the chair is approached you will hear the same phrase muttered—“what a day!” or “I’m fried”—followed by the switching on of the TV, iPad or computer. At this point, your spouse is checked out.
To figure out how bad things are, walk slowly towards the vortex chair and start up a conversation, ignoring nonsense responses like “sure, babe” or “sounds good,” etc.
Continue with your questions or statements while you step between the vortex chair and the electronic device. If your spouse sees you, touches you, even moves you out of the way, things aren’t too bad. If your dearest beloved simply leans to one side without saying a word, pull the ripcord. It’s bad.
2. Glass Test
Imagine stress as water and our ability to handle stress as an empty glass. Normal folks without PTSD start each day with an empty glass, and as the day goes on, that glass slowly fills. Someone with PTSD starts out their day with their glass already three-quarters full.
Watch your spouse on a normal off duty day with regular life stresses: How quickly does the glass overflow, and were those stresses “normal”? If they were, and the threshold of being overwhelmed was noticeably low (being overwhelmed will appear as tantrums, loss of temper, storming out, tears, etc.), bang the big red button on the dash.
3. Whatever Wasteland
Do you find yourself with an adult child in the house? One that no longer makes decisions or takes responsibility unless told to? “Surprise me” is not an answer, it’s a suicide note written to your once great love affair. Keep a diary for a week: How many times did your off duty spouse take the lead at home, make decisions and do anything without being asked (100 times)?
If your lover has morphed into a non-verbal teenager, it’s time to make an appointment with the head doctor before you can’t remember why you ever fell in love.
4. I Usta Syndrome (“I used to”)
How many “ustas” does your spouse have? Count them. Examples of I Usta Syndrome: I usta hunt; I usta fish; I usta work out; I usta read to my kids… Get on top of this situation pronto if you see a pattern before it becomes “I usta be married.”
5. Sexual Switch-up
With PTSD comes hypervigilance and highs like no other. At work, that is. Off duty? Not so much. Co-workers become uber attractive when viewed through the PTSD lens. You, on the other hand, viewed through the PTSD lens, are grey, drab, and dull.
If you’ve noticed a change in the bedroom—either there’s no interest, or the demand is constant and unrelenting—grab your coat and your spouse by the scruff of the neck. It’s time to check in with a psychologist.
This is not a complete list of the many ways that PTSD manifests itself, but it’s a good place to start.
Sleep deprivation, black/white thinking, doomsday predictions, a sense of injustice and betrayal, the need to exact vengeance, reliving an event, bad dreams, loss of short-term memory and sexual dysfunction are but a few of the symptoms and all are treatable.
The most important rule of all when seeking treatment for your spouse? Include yourself. The majority of those being treated for PTSD admit to lying to their mental health team; you are the one that knows what is really going on, even if you don’t know why so insist on being part of the team.
Don’t underestimate the impact of PTSD on you and your family. It is a treatable injury, not a life sentence. There is no need to live a life of quiet desperation or find yourself divorced from the love of your life.
Resource: “Emotional survival for law enforcement: A guide for officers and their families” by Kevin M. Gilmartin, PhD