As I wrote before, it’s been a long month, now few months. What started out as a potential potassium deficiency turned out to be a mental health crisis manifesting through unspecified chest pain (which you can read his account of here). Countless testing and cardiac episodes were actually somatic symptoms of a much larger issue slowly brewing beneath the surface until bubbling over and spilling onto everything in our lives. In hindsight, I can see so clearly the symptoms, masked in strength and stoicism; and yet when it was right in front of me I missed it.
At times, we even joked about it. It’s been a running joke in my family that my husband doesn’t show emotion, that we weren’t even sure if he had tear ducts. Whether excited or sad, he has never been one to show these emotions much. Over the 16 years we have been together, he has never been a man of many words. He has never been overly expressive; until recently. Until the walls came tumbling down, and humbling each of us in our own unique way. We are now learning that everything he buried from his past, from his upbringing, from his time in military service, everything he buried away, can’t stay buried forever.
It started as not sleeping well. From what I can recall it started about a year ago. It was around this time last year that his sleep became erratic, only a few hours here or there, never more than four hours a night. At times, he would wake up at three or four in the morning and just start his day because he couldn’t sleep. We joked that his body couldn’t get out of military mode, but didn’t take it seriously. By December I found myself googling “sleep hygiene” and researching ways to help him sleep better. We bought supplements, and blue blocker glasses, even a ChiliPad to help him regulate his body temperature while he slept. I even wrote an entire post about techniques to help create better sleep, (here). Yet not once can I recall asking why he wasn’t sleeping.
He stopped participating in activities that he once enjoyed. “I’m too busy,” “there’s not enough time in the day,” is what he would tell me. By the time his symptoms started manifesting physically, he had stopped exercising and was running on quad-shots of espresso with very little sleep and very little time spent decompressing. He is one of the most hard-working, ambitious people I have ever met; one of the qualities I most admire about him. However, as evidenced by the two heat strokes he had in the Army, I should have known that he doesn’t know how to stop driving himself. He will literally end up in the ICU before he quits a ruck march; And he will work himself into the ER before he feels like he let someone down or that he wasn’t giving something his everything.
These were all signs, and there were others, that as a trained mental health professional I should have seen; and perhaps because I was so close to the situation I couldn’t see clearly. I tried to put a band-aide over these, to find a solution, but not really get to the root of the issue or address the problem. This has been one of the hardest (of many) aspects of this entire situation. I have a Masters in Mental Health Counseling, I am a Nationally Board Certified Counselor, and I didn’t see it. I didn’t see the pain, and the struggle. I didn’t see something I should have, and the guilt has been one of the hardest aspects to process. I didn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together that were right in front of me. It got to the point where we were in the ER 5 times, before I asked for a behavioral health consult. It got to the point where I had to look my husband, my best friend, in the face and ask him if he felt like he was going to hurt himself if I took him home. It took me, a trained professional, that long.
Now my eyes are open; Hindsight is 20/20, and now I’m trying my best to see our present just as clearly as I can now see the past. As we process this time, and how to move forward in a healthy way, all I think about is what I missed, and try to make sure that never happens again. I’m probably over-vigilant in my research and constant questioning of how he is doing throughout the day. But perhaps, our struggles can help others. I can help others understand the facts and symptoms to recognize of chronic anxiety and depression; I can share information about PTSD so it reaches maybe on person who is reading this, and they recognize these symptoms in a loved one, or internally. Maybe, we can use this entire, horrible situation to make a positive change in our life and in someone else’s.