"New Normal"

Have you heard the term “new normal” lately?  It’s been bouncing around for a few years and is used to describe the adjustments veterans and families go through when they return home from war.  

Have you ever wondered what it looks like?  My husband has a closed head injury (TBI), PTSD, and is legally blind.  Honestly, if you meet him all you will notice is the dark glasses and cane or guide dog.  He will most likely be pleasant and friendly.  He can carry on a conversation.  He will behave in a socially appropriate manner.  He will leave you wondering if there is really anything wrong with him.  

Before

After
Some things you will not know about him after meeting him:
  • rarely gets a full night sleep due to nightmares, night sweats, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and pain
  • never has a day without a headache (ranges from 2 or 3 on a “normal” day to 6-9 on bad days) and frequently gets migraines
  • never has a day without “undiagnosable” abdominal pain (doctors scratching heads)
  • has frequent flares of stabbing eye pain
  • does not see well in bright light or dark settings, sees better without his glasses at times
  • avoids crowds, but is able to “get though” when necessary
  • has been through blind rehab, TBI/vision rehab, and PTSD inpatient treatment for 10 weeks each 
  • has poor short-term memory–knows his Army regs and Fire Department protocols, but will stand for hours in the toothpaste aisle because he does not know which brand he buys and the number of choices are overwhelming
  • will likely forget part or all of the conversation he had with you
  • is considered a quiet man because when he gets confused he just stops talking and hopes no one notices
  • is quick to anger, quick to forget
  • never feels completely safe
  • has gone though periods of isolation where he hides in the basement and periods where we must always be in the same room
  • he gets extremely depressed, feels worthless
  • has considered suicide more than one time; homicide as well
Does this look “normal” to you?  Thirteen different medications to keep him stable and doing as well as he is, to enhance his quality of life.

I recently copied 365 pages of medical records (from the inpatient program this spring) and paid $19 to mail them to the Army so they would have a set for the new MEB (medical evaluation board).  Two and a half years after we testified about Seamless Transition and there is still no electronic record sharing in place nationwide between the VA and the DoD. We started the MEB over in May and have finally been assigned a temporary PEBLO (casemanager) six months later.  It’s been five years and we are starting over.  The man is legally blind, cannot fire a weapon, yet is attached to an ammunition unit and can’t get his MEB completed in a timely manner.  

Interestingly, I also had to copy these same records and deliver to the VA in Sioux Falls because they could not access all of his records within their own system.  That’s called progress, folks.

The worst of it?  Learning to deal with the silence when we are in the same room.  The lack of interaction, conversation, the isolation and detachment. The lingering loneliness.  

We have learned to say “new normal” like it’s some shiny banner proclaiming we are making the best of it and moving forward.  One step forward and two steps back.

He came home, but he didn’t come back. No war is ever over.

One response to “"New Normal"

  • Amy Cotta

    Melissa, I just happened to come across your blog. I'm a mother of a young Marine. This post made me cry like a baby. I've been volunteering for a non-for-profit that helps warriors with combat PTSD and your account really hits home. I'm one of the few lucky ones my son hasn't been deployed yet. And I've have not for one second taken that fact for granted. I started running in combat boots to help raise money and awareness for those like yourself and your husband. I can't even imagine what life must be like for the two of you. Please remember that neither of you are ever alone. God bless you and your husband.

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