‘She stuck around. Why? Why won’t she just leave? We are all miserable and it’s because of me. Doesn’t she see that?’: Man works to overcome his PTSD

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“My thoughts after experiencing depression. Be warned this is long as sh*t. I hope it isn’t too hard to follow.

As I wake up and lie in bed, a list of things I want to accomplish begins to build. Today is going to be the day I take control and get my life in order. I get excited. As my feet hit the ground, I start with my automatic programming: Piss, Shower, Brush my teeth. As I said, this is automatic and during this 30-minute process my mind is free to wander.

I think about how I have hurt those closest to me, how I have not lived up to the expectations of everyone because they believe that I am so ‘Smart’ and will definitely ‘Accomplish Great Things’. I feel like I haven’t done any of these things and what others consider big accomplishments, I consider stepping stones. The spiral begins.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not a big deal that I obtained two Associates, a bachelor’s with a minor, or a master’s degree over the 3-year coverage of my GI Bill. At a 62% initial pass rate, passing my Series 7 isn’t all that impressive. How does that stack up to my friends who gave their life for this country? As I sit there thinking of my accomplishments and how much more I could have done if I didn’t waste time playing games, watching tv, or ultimately just avoiding life due to my PTSD, I began drifting to a ‘why did I survive mentality’.

I unconsciously watch the water spiral down the drain while wondering how the individuals I failed to protect overseas would be spending their lives. Would they be doing these great things everyone expects me to accomplish? Would they be a less angry and a more loving/involved father and husband? Would they feel like they had to pretend to be ok just to make it through family events? I catch myself diving down this dark, cold, and lonely hole, so I immediately shut off the water and began drying myself.

What’s the point of trying to do the things I wanted to do 30 minutes ago? There is no way I will be able to accomplish all of that. Surely, someone throughout the day will piss me off and I will spend the next 30 minutes thinking of various ways to make that person suffer. Why set foot out of this house if I am just going to be disappointed and angry? I would then crawl back into bed and sleep.

My wife and son would come home and tip toe around me as my anger would rear its ugly head at any minute. ‘Feed my kid real f*cking food. F*ck this McDonalds Happy Meal!’ I would shout. Unbeknownst to me, my wife was scared to be out of the house for too long as that caused my anger to rise as well. ‘What the f*ck were you doing? You know I am f*cked up and can’t ‘babysit’ our son!’. Imagine a father who considers spending time with their own flesh and blood as babysitting. Disgusting. This angered me even more. I would scurry off to my game room to isolate myself. I knew what I was saying and doing were horrible, but I was a passenger and not the driver. I didn’t want to hurt my family anymore, and the best way to do that was to stay away from them.
I began thinking that my family would be better off without me, so I began pushing my wife away as harshly as I could, yet she stuck around. Why? Why won’t she just leave? We are all f*cking miserable and it’s because of me. Doesn’t she see that? I became a broken record player playing different, yet the same, variations of the above scenario.

What’s my issue?
How did I get like this?
How do I fix it?

This problem can be a redundant loop given the right circumstance and unfortunately for me, that was my situation. As I was being medically retired from the Marine Corps, my doctors had me on several medications. They ranged from pain killers to anti-depressants to numerous off label usage of other drugs. None of my doctors communicated with each other and or showed any sign of caring about my wellbeing. I had to keep taking these medications I knew were destroying me because if I didn’t, the Military would see me as non-compliant in my “recovery” process and administratively separate me (no retirement benefits). It wasn’t until I was temporarily retired that I could stop taking these horrible ‘medications’ and try to get real help. Five years later and several highly stressful events (some still ongoing), I woke up.

Yes, I am broken.
Yes, I am disabled.
Yes, I am in constant pain that few others comprehend.

But I have a son who wants to grow up to play video games and a wife who is scared to even talk to me. What the f*ck happened?

How can I take control of my life?
How can I repair my family?
What could have been done differently?

How can I take control of my life? Most people I am around (who are not my wife or son) think I am highly intelligent, have it all figured out, and am in complete control of my life. I would not describe my last 6 years as such. I hid my issues well but knew to take control, I needed to start with the easiest and most beneficial thing possible; a schedule.

How can I repair the damage I did to my family? We often overthink this and, more often than not, may unintentionally cause more damage or relapse into the deepest part of our depression. I have personally experienced this over this six-year period. After several trial and errors, I knew I had to fix myself before I could fix my marriage. I allocated four hours a day to ‘me’ time in order to do this. It’s the time I spend thinking about how my actions may have inadvertently impacted someone I care about and instead of dwelling on that issue, I work the associated anger out in the gym. This causes me a great deal of physical pain due to my injuries, but this is my penance. I go home and do things around the house I never did like cleaning up, making the bed, folding some laundry, or any other tasks that I use to defer as my wife’s ‘duties’. I began treating marriage as an equal partnership and not as a master/slave contract.

What could have been done differently? This is a hard question with no perfect answer. Depression encompasses such a wide range that any wrong action can cause exponential damage. In my case, I had groomed my wife to expect certain things from me, all negative responses. I believe she began expecting this behavior as my new ‘normal’ and changed herself to allow for it when I really needed someone to shake me awake. This wasn’t the case and I ended up dimming my wives light. She accepted my excuses and depression (not blaming her for it in any way) allowing my state of being to be consumed even more by this darkness. I would question everything with a purely negative perception ‘I graduated from college, who cares? I still don’t have a job.’ No one challenged me, no one gave me a chance to feel worthy of waking up. ‘If no one gives me an opportunity perhaps I AM as worthless as I feel. They all must see it’. My focus was on the wrong things.

You see, I feel that during depression it is the little things that build up to aiding our escape from its grasp. It’s the little wins that keep me from entering back into depression. Sure, I have degrees, complete projects around the house and backyard, but these tasks were completed when I was in the most mental pain of my life, and they still don’t compare to little wins. I view the following as little wins: Having my son come home and want to hang out with me over mom because he isn’t scared to anger me; Knowing the wife can come home in her time of tragedy (Grandma recently passed away) and not worry about as much housekeeping duties so she can grieve; Playing cards with my family and laughing about dumb things; Setting up the tent for my son and his cousins to have a slumber party in the backyard. As I become ok with myself and repair myself, I am able to enjoy events like these instead of despising and avoiding them. I want to go to my neighbor’s football party, I want to talk with my wife and son, I want to live.

There are a lot of things I am not mentioning as this is super long already. I am not perfect and fail at something every day, but that’s ok. Large accomplishments are usually proceeded by several failures and I will try my best not to fail at these things moving forward. It will take time to recover from the pain I caused but will try regardless of the difficulty.

Thank you to my wife, Stella Darnall, for being so strong, for doing what you thought was necessary to keep me alive and our family together. I am so sorry I put you through what I did and don’t have the ability to say this to your face, for that I feel like a coward. I love you and hope you can forgive me for my absence as your husband, as your partner.”

Man with depression stands smiling outside with wife and son
Courtesy Keith Darnall

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Keith Darnall, 34, of Phoenix, Arizona. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.

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