Day 30 Ami- A Wife’s Journey With TBI
Remember!! The 31 Day TBI Challenge for CHANGE during March, Brain Injury Awareness Month, consists of just two parts:
1.) Please learn something new about TBI every day. We will be posting an article daily on our Facebook and website pages to make it easy for you to learn. Today’s article is below.
2.) Help facilitate CHANGE by partnering with The Arms Forces by assisting us in continuing our efforts for invisibly wounded veterans by collecting your CHANGE daily and at the end of March donating the money to The Arms Forces. (contact information below) Create a jar and label it:
“The Arms Forces CHANGE for TBI” and put it out where you and others will see it. When someone asks you what it is all about, share with them a bit about what you have learned about TBI. Share stories of the people you will learn about through our posts on Facebook and how their lives have been forever changed by their injuries.
If collecting change every day is not your thing then be a part of the CHANGE by making a donation to The Arms Forces through our website www.thearmsforces.org or by mailing a check to the address below.
Day 30 Ami- A Wife’s Journey With TBI
TBI is a family affair. The parents, children and the spouses are all affected when TBI comes crashing into their lives. Family dynamics change. Sometimes temporarily, many times permanently. Though today’s article is just one page long, it is packed with emotions that spanned many years of anguish, pain and deep, unconditional love. Ami struggled to write this. We had several conversations and I never wanted her to feel she “had” to do put her emotions down on paper. But, she told me as difficult as it was for her, she was taking her time with the process and really wanted to express her emotions in this way. She was grateful to have the opportunity to release some of her emotions by writing. I am so grateful she did as you will see by reading this, we have looked into the heart and soul of a woman who was nearly broken by TBI, her husband’s injuries. Thank you, Ami, for bringing us into your life and for trusting The Arms Forces to honor your story.
I was so honored to have Pam reach out to me and ask for my point of view for an article to support her wonderful endeavors and crusade to help families and those affected by severe injuries resulting in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries. I must say it has been very difficult for me to put into words my thoughts and experiences over the years. I must say that while I have had difficulties at the heart of this journey has been the person most affected my wonderful husband Michael. This is my reflections and emotions written down and they are deeply personal to me and being that I am not very good at exposing my emotions and sharing them even at times with my husband. I have always struggled with the feelings that emotions and crying were signs of weakness and this article exposed quite a bit for me but in exploring the emotions I have gained much insight into the strength of love and sharing that my husband has taught me over the years more so in the past year.
My husband Michael is my best friend, my soul mate for lack of a better reference which I know is cliché but so very true and the strongest and most capable heroic man I have ever met. His kind loving soul is an inspiration to me and I was blessed over 22 years ago to have met him. At the time we met he was enlisted in the Army at Fort Benning, Georgia it was my 19th birthday and he was home on leave driving thru town with his friends as was I. We did what younger girls do we pulled over when a car of cute guys beckons you over, crazy I am sure today but it was the best thing I have ever done in my life and I have no regrets. It was a whirlwind relationship that has brought us here today where we are going to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary later this year.
My husband was severely injured in the last few weeks of his service to our country I remember the call I got from my sister in law who was in hysterics on the phone and said there had been an explosion and Mike was in the hospital and they did not know much more. I was devastated and confused and just needed to hear his voice but due to the injuries it was not till a few days later since he was mostly in an out of consciousness when we finally did get to speak and as he began to tell me more of what happened as far as injuries and what he could recall or even share my concern was more so focused on the injuries that were outside or something I could see, his most severe injury in my opinion was the fact that he had blown apart his hand and had to have surgery to reattach a good part that contained the thumb. In addition to that injury he suffered burns to his eyes and damage to his ear drum and a major concussion. Again my biggest concern was his hand when you think back 18 years or so there was really no focus and real research or groups or shows that provide a realistic view or information on these types of injuries such as there is today on PTSD and TBI for soldiers injured in combat much less those in explosions
My husband was finally released from the Army and came home and as I stated in the opening of this article my husband is the strongest man I know and he is proud and to a fault he does not ever like to seek help or express his fears or concerns. For most of our married life I think to my own fault I allowed that and I let him shut himself off from me and deal with his demons and many times I took it as rejection or him being secretive. I remember years ago about 2 years after he was medically discharged and he was having problems with his eyesight and his hand and we went to the VA hospital and he was disgusted with himself for going because as we waited and were among other patients many of them he felt were in much worse condition and that he did not belong there as if he did not deserve to be in the same halls waiting in the cold rooms where doctors came in and did there best but they did not treat the patients they just treated the injuries to the best of their abilities.
Over the years prior to my husband really taking charge of his deeper injuries and gaining more insight and knowledge from the wealth of information available today we struggled with many of the after effects of his injuries. I remember an evening shortly after we moved into our first home together and we had been married about a year, my husband whom I had never seen cry not even at a funeral woke up in a sweat and panic and was crying and upset, he was rambling about losing everything and life spinning out of control and he was a mess, I held him and I kissed him and rocked him back to sleep and was so perplexed at this incident, even more perplexing was the next morning he had absolutely no memories of the event, of the crying or the panic that he exhibited. He did not even recall having a bad dream.
Over the years I believe he had maybe one or two more night incidents similar to that but as time went by he began to have panic attacks in the mornings more and more and he never shared those experiences with me. It would start out with me hearing him struggling for lack of a better description and I would ask if he was okay he of course as always would say he was fine. Many times he would become very short and irritable for no reason just out of the blue he would snap I would give him an hour and he was back to normal more relaxed and the man I loved and wanted to spend all my time with the loving caring husband. Sometimes for lack of a better description it was literally like living at times with a Bi-Polar person. Worse would be when he would shut me out completely he has struggled over the years with terrible migraines some so severe they cause him to have blurred vision and dry heaves. These were many times hour long events where he would close himself off in the dark areas of our basement family room and just sleep for hours. Large crowds or unknown locations always put him on edge and worse was loud noises that would push him beyond the edge and sometimes send him down a path of frustration and anger.
Over the years he has still had struggles with his hand and the pain and lack of mobility it has really bothered him when he struggles to button things or when he loses his grip on an item and then curses himself as if it’s a fault of his that he struggles with his hand injury. I remember many times over the years his hand aching and he would finally break out of his comfort zone to ask if I would massage his hand and stretch it would help a little. I love this man so very much and it was hard not being able to help make the frustrations and struggles go away.
The fun really began about four years ago my husband began pursuing medical care again and reached out to specialists at the VA hospital he had met with some very wonderful people thru some Veterans organizations and they had sat him down and said listen you are deserving to be seeking any and all help you can get for your injuries and you need to pursue these avenues that’s what those services are there for. So we began a new journey of testing and analysis and obtaining old records and diagnosis. With all the new findings in the areas of Disabled Veterans and blasts or explosions there had been soldiers for years that had never been truly identified and treated for internal injuries such as TBI or PTSD. After one set of tests the doctors identified Mike as so high on the charts that they put him on a weekly monitoring call to check on him and his mental state. I was petrified and at the same time incredulous at some of the things he had to go through. They placed him on Topamak and again I was petrified since I had read a lot of negative things on this drug, they prescribed it to help with his migraines and his panic attacks and his issues with loss of balance and to help take the edge off and just when I thought it could not get any worse it did we were falling down a hole and I did not think we would make it out together. Over the course of the 4-6 months he was on these medicines I lost the man I loved he became angry all the time and worse was when we would go out or had friends over and alcohol was involved he lost all sense of reason and inhibition and would drink to oblivion. We argued constantly and it got to a point where we rarely even slept in the same room anymore he would sleep down in the dark basement and I would sleep in our bedroom.
Our marriage had its issues over the years but this was different we were so far apart from each other and neither of us was reaching out to the other. We still were together but we were not the happily married couple that we were for years we had lost us. Still I never ever looked at his injuries and really understood his struggles nor did I correlate some of these issues and causes together I am somewhat ashamed of that now as I have come to realize so much more over the past year and a half. Mike had received the diagnosis from the hospital that confirmed a lot of what he had been struggling with he did in fact have PTSD and suffered from a Traumatic Brain Injury. He did indeed suffer hearing loss, which for years he had struggled with and I did as well since I was sure if I said something to him he was ignoring me or to engrossed in the TV which was a little louder than I liked, and that contributed to his issues with balance and nausea. And a big issue that he had struggled with for years was his memory he always had holes that he could not fill or events he forgot. He would tell stories to me that I had heard a couple times but I just assumed he was reveling in his younger days but he truly did not remember sharing them with me. While his injury to his hand had always been what I considered to be his greatest injury in the explosion and it is indeed a serious injury he continues to struggle with since he has limited mobility and use and it does offer up quite a bit of pain for him still I did not see the other injuries I did not understand them yes he got the diagnosis but what does that mean to someone like me who just did not understand and was not connecting with her husband. He had done a lot of research on his own and had really started to delve into his options but we never sat down and discussed them or learned together. He discontinued the Topamak after he started hearing from not just me but from friends and family that knew him that he had changed and it was not good. We still were not working on our marriage and we were slipping away from each other but he was coming to understand his symptoms and was actively pursuing remedies. Now I must say by no means were his injuries and the resulting side effects the main reason our marriage was crumbling it certainly was not helping that we were not talking we were not working together on our marriage or his struggles with his injuries.
Fast forward to a little over a year ago I was lost and just saw that he was shut away and withdrawn and secretive and just was not talking. We had lost each other along this journey and neither of us had even realized it we just fought then would kiss and make up but fall back in the same rituals. I had been letting him slip away and we were basically roommates, not best friends, not husband and wife and most certainly not soul mates. Our marriage was crumbling before me. Many times when Mike was struggling over the years and I was not working with him I would tell him just divorce me and find someone that makes you happy. I just never felt I made him happy no matter what I did he was still in these moods of despair and happy to close me out. At least that’s how I always saw it again these were not our only issues but in relation to this article I feel it’s important to share them. Well this time he said it he was ready to walk he was not happy and he was ready to end our life together.
I experienced my first panic attack one day later, I would experience several more over the next few weeks. I had dry heaves for about two weeks, I could not eat and I basically locked myself away in a dark room. I was experiencing first hand a small amount of what he had struggled with for years. I could not bear to live this way and somewhere inside of me I struggled to see how anyone could ever deal with these types of symptoms how they could function every day when it started with a panic attack or dry heaves. When I had cried for more than I believe anyone can ever cry I had a headache that lasted for four days and I could not even eat or deal with lights or noises. These were all things my husband had struggled with for over 20 years.
The hard part was that I never knew what he experienced I always assumed that yes he was not feeling well but I never knew how he was truly feeling because he never fully shared any of this with me. His memory lapses over the years were things I blamed on him not caring enough yet they are things that he really can’t control, there are many spaces he is missing that he will never get back since his injury. But now that I have really started to learn more I can come to some understanding of the causes. Mike and I really started to talk to try to retrace our steps that we lost and to try to find our way back to each other. He shared with me more in the first few months about his struggles and on so many levels I could relate. I know by no means did I suffer injuries as severe as he has but the panic attacks and physical illness I suffered when we were at the point of no return I would never wish on anyone. I read everything he suggests I research what I can find on mostly blogs and articles from people who are dealing with the day to day and the aftermath of these types of injuries while I believe doctors do the best they can to patch up the soldier and help them with the physical pain there are many areas that they can’t help and I believe I have learned the most from people who have lived through these types of injuries and the families that stand by them. I love my husband with all my heart and we are so much stronger now that we are both working on these things together. Now when he feels irritable or wants to just shut down he will share that with me as he starts to feel himself struggle. And I acknowledge that and give him the space knowing that its not that he does not love me or wants to be away from me but because he loves me and does not want to hurt me or say something he will regret. When he is having a panic attack he has been reaching out to me and talking about how he felt and I do my best to reassure him and let him know I have got him when he needs me to catch him. This is the man I will spend the rest of my life with and we will work together on this every step of the way. It was hard getting here but I have no regrets. For better or for worse in sickness and in health till death do we part.
I am so thankful for the wonderful groups and organizations that are focusing on our servicemen and women. And I truly am hoping that my story will provide insight and hope to the spouses of those men and women. These men and women display such bravery and courage and they ask nothing in return. That may be the hardest thing they ever do is reach out there hand and say I need you and I need help, my answer is to say to all of the spouses before you throw in the towel and walk away reach out your hand to them and say I need you and I want to help, I love you and we are in this together. And finally don’t be afraid to cry and show your emotions and feelings back to them for years I did that and I have learned my husband is there to catch me when I am wavering in spirit and heart. He is my best friend and he is my soul mate.
Ami H. VanHooser
With open arms,
Founder/President and severe TBI survivor
The Arms Forces
PO Box 981
Maumee, OH 43537