A Partner’s Perspective – Part 2
Stu is a loving father and husband, he has a wicked sense of humour and is kind and compassionate (well most of the time – no one is that perfect all of the time, especially as he’s an outrageous flirt)… oh and he also has PTSD. Stu’s cPTSD meant he had to leave a job that he was devoted to and loved and he was medically retired 3 years ago.
Stu had done lots of research and there were numerous benefits of how dogs could support people with PTSD and so when someone told Stu about SDUK it didn’t take him long to put in an application, and the rest as they say is history. A positive life changing history.
Shortly after applying Stu had a visit from SDUK to talk about the possibilities of joining the programme. Stu sat there like an excitable child on Christmas Eve soaking up every word. I have to confess I wasn’t wholly convinced (is now a good time to mention I am (well was) more of a cat person – I love dogs and cats equally now). On the visit as Garry and Stu chatted about the programme and its benefits, I smiled and nodded semi committed and semi convinced, but willing to try anything that would help Stu with his PTSD.
For those of you who don’t know (and apologies to those who read the last blog for this small repetition) PTSD is permanent, the way I describe it is that it creates like a worm hole in the brain, rewiring it. When something happens it can cause a trigger and this sends the person through the worm hole, a journey that can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, months… a hard and dark journey for those suffering.
When Stu put in the application for an assistance dog the triggers were frequent, heart breaking and exhausting for Stu and us supporting him – we’d do anything to help him. So when asked do I support Stu with his application I replied absolutely (although I have to confess I wasn’t wholly convinced at this point).
Roll forward a few months Stu’s joined the programme and starts training. There are three of them in this group. Stu quickly falls for a beautiful, calm natured blonde Labrador called Milo. It takes a while for dogs to be allocated and it’s important that the match works for dog, veteran and family (we have a 2 and 8 year old, but each has there own individual needs that are important to consider).
I remember the day Stu got a phone call to say that he and Milo had been paired together and that one day he would come to live with us and leave his amazing foster carer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy.
The first few weeks were lovely helping Milo settle and it was exciting for us all, especially Stu, but for me the excitement started to wear thin. I feel selfish saying it but you can’t always help how you feel. I have two roles in our relationship, one as a Stu’s wife and the other as his carer. In the darkest times the balance shifts heavily towards carer and away from wife. In the day I usually worked or we were busy with family life and in the evenings Stu would cuddle Milo. He also let him sleep in the bedroom. One of the many symptoms of PTSD can be flashbacks and nightmares (and in Stu’s case sleep walking). Milo helped Stu sleep more soundly and peacefully. Stu deserved all the peace he could get but I felt envious and left out, I felt like I got the worst of Stu and with regards to the wife/ carer balance, it started to feel like wife didn’t exist. I understood it, but it didn’t feel fair. I realise how childish this sounds but you can’t always help how you feel. I felt guilty and selfish thinking this. I could see the positive change in Stu, see his confidence grow and feel the veil of the PTSD lift, it was truly wonderful. But I was angry and hurt as I also felt like I had lost a big part my husband and was scared that our marriage wouldn’t survive.
It was hard to admit how I felt but as we talked it through we started to understand each of our needs as a family of 5 (us, the two children and Milo). Whilst I felt silly and selfish, I wanted our marriage to survive and I wanted to find a way for us all to work together. Talking it through with Stu we slowly found our rhythm and flow (it wasn’t easy and there were ups and downs but more and more we started to laugh and joke about me being green eyed and Stu needing to share the love). Almost a year later we’ve found our family rhythm (there are ups and downs as in all families) and I now understand why on the initial visit they said Milo would help me too – he’s given us the gift of having a relationship more balanced to husband and wife than carer. In short having Milo (Stu’s assistant dog) support him and join our family has been life changing for the better. It’s been a journey to get there but one that has been worth taking.
You may wonder why I’ve shared this story, partly it’s to educate and highlight PTSD and mental health, partly it’s to show the incredible impact of charities like SDUK and partly it’s to share that for anyone on this journey or supporting someone on their journey that you’re not alone. If by sharing our story is helps in some small way then it’s worth it.