Living with PTSD: A Wife’s Perspective

Grand Junction Free Press

July 18, 2008 – Carol and Chuck Chapman thought they’d start their lives all over again once he retired from the Marine Corps after nearly 30 years of service.

They moved to Mesa County and bought a spread on Reeder Mesa for their quarter horses. There were lots of good times.

But when he retired, his post-traumatic stress disorder came to life.

As a Marine, he started out as a machine gunner and experienced the tense Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. After he re-enlisted, he moved into jet mechanics, maintaining the flight line on aircraft carriers. He witnessed horrific sights, but Carol never heard the details.

“He saw a lot of trauma in his life, but when he would come home, he never carried that home with him. He was stuffing that inside,” Carol said. “When he retired, that’s when it started to come out.”

Her husband became withdrawn, isolated, tense, quiet and depressed. He avoided large groups of people. Even at church, every door that opened and closed, he looked.

“He would have panic attacks and bursts of anger,” Carol recalled. “He never physically abused me, but verbally … it came out of the blue.”

The Chapmans’ learning curve of PTSD began as Chuck started being treated for depression at the Grand Junction U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital. Meanwhile, Carol was doing her best to cope.

When Chuck was active military, Carol’s support had been other military wives. But with retirement, that went away.

“You walk on eggshells. The stress involved in trying to be there for him, care and help him … I went overboard,” she said. “They need to be independent. That was very difficult for me because he was my life.

“I thought I had failed because I couldn’t help him.”

“I didn’t want to get close to my wife or my kids … because if something happened to them …” Chuck said.

Gerry Mitchell, a VA counselor, helped both learn to cope with his PTSD.

“He’s helped us thorough so much,” Carol said. “Do you know how difficult it is to communicate?

“Our relationship and what it was based on had to be totally rebuilt,” she said. They had to “reach bottom” first then begin again.

“Love is respecting one another and caring for one another,” she said. She had to ask herself: “Do I love you enough to stay with you through this?”

“We did a lot of suffering through that time. It really tests your love,” she said.

So they relied heavily on their faith and kept going to counseling at the VA Hospital.

“My faith is very important to me, and Chuck too,” she said. The couple will celebrate 50 years of marriage on Christmas Day.

The Chapmans attended the weekly presentations on PTSD held Wednesday nights at the VA hospital. This week’s emphasis was on the effects of PTSD on family members.

Carol would like to start a support group for wives of veterans with PTSD. They will be at Wednesday’s presentation at the VA Hospital; veterans who have experienced PTSD will give a panel discussion. The gathering starts at 5:30 p.m. in Building 6. Anyone with questions can call 242-0731, ext. 2407.

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