“Mental health. Mental illness. This is extremely hard to write but I want to reach others and will continue to be fully transparent. My life has been an open book, except I’ve been hiding our family’s ‘secret’ for the past few years. I have been silent about something that impacts our daily life: my husband has severe and debilitating PTSD. Masking our smiles. Faking ok. A complete nightmare. I am so sick of living in fear. Ty is a combat vet and has been a police officer of 10+ years. We have been best friends since high school and I was so excited to marry him and start our lives together. We knew I was going to stay at home to raise our family and we added our beautiful girls one by one. He was working as a cop while we were dating and after we got married he landed his dream position at work, which was being on the SWAT team. He was SO determined to make it on the entry team and they swooped him up quickly because he is extremely knowledgeable with tactics. He has firsthand experience from Iraq and this man knows his sh*t. He is brilliant and good at what he does.
After being on call 24/7 I began to notice a dramatic shift in him. He was becoming irritable and on edge. He was having night terrors. He was having panic attacks just thinking about getting a call out. He would throw up at our house before he left, dry heaving on his way out of the door. He would be physically shaking and was completely withdrawn from us. He would be sweating saying his chest was tight and that he couldn’t breathe. He would text me so I could reassure him he wasn’t dying during these call outs.
The trauma he was being exposed to reignited the dormant symptoms of PTSD that were lingering from combat from more than a decade ago. We scrambled to think of how to get him removed from the team while still keeping his job secure. We had no options. Then a final call out came, a police officer was murdered on duty and Ty was gone for days looking for his killers. It turned out the officer had actually committed suicide and faked his own murder. It was devastating to our community. This brought out things in Ty I had never seen before. We put our heads together and decided we needed to make a choice to save our family: he had to come off of the team in order for him to stay alive and to protect both the public and his team members, because he wasn’t able to be fully present during his calls. We couldn’t tell anyone what was going on because of the stigma. Our livelihood depended on it.
Why we don’t treat mental illness as we would any other physical injury or disease is beyond me. He is our family’s only income. We have 5 of us depending on him. We knew he would lose his job if he disclosed to them why he really couldn’t be on the SWAT team that they had spent $20k training him for. We told his boss that MY postpartum depression was so bad he needed to be home with his family. I honestly didn’t give a crap what they thought about me because I knew it would help save him. I truly thought this was the answer to our problems he was experiencing at work. Getting him back to being on the streets and removing him from the triggers that SWAT was exposing him to should fix this, right? God was I wrong. Slowly but surely these symptoms transferred over to seeing any type of trauma on duty. He took sick days constantly – he was having such bad anxiety attacks just even thinking about going to work that he physically could not bring himself to the PD. When his doctors went to put him on medication he couldn’t take it in fear of dying from an allergic reaction due to seeing overdoses at work.
I felt completely helpless. My heart is literally crushed watching my best friend crumble over the last 3 years. My days and nights were filled with not only taking care of our babies but responding to hours of texts and phone calls trying to convince him that he was ok while on duty. That he wasn’t trapped or dying. That his heart wasn’t exploding. That he was going to be ok and I was doing everything in my power to try and find a way out for him.
I have watched his friends die from this.
I have watched them take their own lives.
I have watched them overdose and die.
I have watched other first responders lose the battle.
I have watched him struggling to hold on to the last bit of hope so he didn’t take his own life or have another nervous breakdown. Yes another.
Our family has been in nonstop crisis. We lose our heroes because they silently struggle. It is time to break the stigma. One person losing their lives to PTSD, depression, and anxiety is one too many. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell people that we need help, yet here we were, absolutely terrified because we knew. He knew they would look at him like he was crazy and we knew exactly what was at stake. He didn’t want his coworkers to think he was weak or less than. He was ashamed and embarrassed and no matter how many ways I tried to put it to him that he absolutely didn’t need to be, he didn’t believe me. We knew our family would be screwed. We knew they would try to mess with him. That they would work hard to save a dime instead of making sure to take care of a man who has sacrificed his entire adult life serving our country and then his community. This was his passion. He mustered through it every. Single. Day. He had a severe panic attack at work last summer and told them it was from the heat. They put him in an ambulance for heat exhaustion and he slipped down a terrifying slope, which led to another nervous breakdown.
The next morning I had to go to Sadie and Cora’s birthday party all alone, 7 months pregnant with P because he couldn’t bear to be around a crowd or be seen. Our friends and family could see the sheer terror and exhaustion on my face and they rallied around us. He couldn’t drive. He had lost 30 lbs. Those who knew took care of us over the next few weeks. His uncle dropped everything and came in from out of state to stay with him. Cops from other towns who knew brought us food so I could focus on making his appointments and getting him treatment. Family sent us gift cards to eat. My girlfriends took care of our house. His best friend cleaned his truck. My mom stayed with him when I had to go to leave because he couldn’t be left alone. Our neighbors watched the kids. His 2/4 brothers stepped up. His sister paid for a cleaning service to come to our house. Our cousins constantly checked in. I looked into inpatient facilities and reached out to every last resource I could find and told him to just stay with me.
I have never felt as lonely as I have been the past few years in my entire life. This has brought our family to our knees. Over and over and over again. He began exposure therapy at the VA to try and quiet his mind which only made it worse. We finally found a therapy that had worked, and that was working with the horses and mustangs at Bravehearts. Call after call, day after day, month after month, year after year I’ve begged him to hold on. Appointment after appointment, doctor after doctor, therapy after therapy. And he did. This is what my days have looked like over the past year: my husband leaves to go to equine therapy every day before work to try and make it through another shift there. Then he heads directly to work where he was again exposed to his triggers, putting him back at square one. Rinse. Repeat. On top of that, me alone trying to juggle it all because I needed him to be ok. I needed to be the calm and steady for our girls.
Then he got the final call that pushed him over the edge he’s been teetering on for so long. I woke up to my phone blowing up and it was him telling me there was an emergency: he was on an overdose call where a kid that he had known for years just died. He was seeing his friends faces who had died in Iraq. He was terrified that he had inhaled something on the scene and he would die too. He couldn’t breathe. He could not take it anymore. He got home and said he was done as he physically and mentally couldn’t deal with this exposure anymore and I told him, ‘You will never go back on the streets again.’ And I meant it. I had no clue how we were going to make this work, but knew we had to because no job or amount of money is worth his life. He walked into his police department- where his salary is topped out pay wise, our entire family is fully covered under his health insurance with benefits, and he finally told them he was experiencing very serious depression and PTSD from the exposure at work. Smells, sights, sounds. All of it too much. That he was having intrusive thoughts. He broke down and finally told his chief. He revealed that he could not do this job anymore. That he needed help. This was the hardest decision our family has ever had to make and I pray to God they do right by him. He has spent his career advocating for others and it is our turn to advocate for him.
And now, we wait. There isn’t a new job waiting for him. There is nothing lined up. Nothing. He never went to college: he went straight from high school graduation into the Marine Corps followed by his two tours in Iraq. I never finished school because we didn’t see this coming in a million years. Ever. If someone told me we would be dealing with the monster of PTSD now, I would have told them they were high. He had already been through terrible things and was fine. He had his moments but was genuinely ok. While he was deployed he had already had to kill people, he had to see his brothers die, he saw the horror of war and he was still able to be my rock. That’s not the case anymore. But guess what? I finally have a glimmer of hope that we will get there again someday and for our family that’s huge. For now, his one and only job is to heal. No one understands me. No one understands us. No one understands our family. The isolation is unbearable. We have to do better. No one should be ashamed of something they can’t control.
The truth is, I am the proud wife to a disabled combat vet and a prior law enforcement officer. He is a fighter and a warrior. He is the strongest person I know. He is an amazing father and husband. Our girls love the sh*t out of him. He is resilient and together we will continue to travel this road. I will fight to help other men and women who are both veterans and first responders who are suffering in silence because I’ll be DAMNED if I have to watch another family suffer the way we have in order to protect their image and employment status. If you are reading this and it resonates with you, please keep holding on. You don’t need to be ashamed and you have options. Send me a private message if you need to. You are not broken, my husband is not broken, and there is help waiting. I am asking this community to rally behind our family and help support us as we move forward. I’m spent. I’m scared. I am physically and emotionally drained of energy and of what I have to give and I feel extremely vulnerable right now. My needs for self care are slowly coming into focus because for the longest time self care has simply meant keeping everyone here alive.
To everyone who has stuck with us during this nightmare over the past few years while maintaining our privacy, you mean more to us than you will EVER know. I will pay it back and forward as soon as I’m in the position to do so. I will do better by our communities that desperately need it the most. I will use our firsthand experiences to help others. You are worth it. He is worth it. We are ready to strengthen our family and see what our future looks like moving forward. We are ready to use all of the resources available to us while he goes to treatment and continues with therapy. We are ready to live life the way it was meant to be: happy, healthy, full of love and unapologetic. This is our truth. We are ready to break the silence.
I am ready to share this next chapter in our lives, however it may look. I love you ALL. Thank you for reaching out and please keep the good vibes, prayers, juju rolling in. We can most definitely use it. Please share our story so that we can help reach others who are also struggling.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sydney W of Strollin With My Homies. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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