I wasn't ready for my new role of constant protector. No one assigned the role to me. It was something that just inherently happens, I think, as the spouse of someone who has gone through a traumatic event. I couldn't protect him in those moments so now I was going to protect him as much as possible, in any way I could.
He was safe at home. So some might wonder what this instinctual need was all about. It was about protecting him from EVERYTHING. The news, social media, a scene in a movie, a wrong question, an uncomfortable situation. When I said "everything"...I meant it. They tell you that hyper-vigilance can be a result of a traumatic event but I don't think you are really prepared for how that can manifest.
Now...I realize that it's unrealistic to protect someone with PTSD from every possible trigger, but in those moments, you'll do whatever it takes. That can often include pushing yourself to the back of the line. You'll allow yourself the lack of sleep. You ignore the emotions your mind is trying to make you feel. You sacrifice the self-care. Not because anyone has made you feel like you need to do anything of that; because YOU feel like you need to do all of that.
The other type of protection if feel this consuming need to provide is the protection of public perception; people (who I'm sure 99.5% of had genuine concern) constantly asking "How's he doing?". And as honest and good-natured as their inquiries probably were, I don't think anyone really wanted the real answers. Or who knows - maybe they did want the real answers. Maybe it was me who didn't want to give them out. Vulnerability can be a scary thing. And who I was to make John more vulnerable that he had already been. So I would smile, do that head tilt thing that people seem to do when they are avoiding real engagement, and say "He's doing well. One day at a time.".
Sometimes that was the truth. There were good days. And now, a year and a half later, the good days definitely outnumber the bad days. But it's funny, after a certain amount of time passes (and I don't know really remember the exact amount of time), they stop asking. And you feel this relief because you don't have to lie anymore.
And as I reflect on that protection mode, I now realize that I was also protecting myself from having to answer questions about...myself. I didn't want people to know that I was struggling. I didn't want to seem like anything less than the strong, supportive, got-it-all-together spouse that people kept telling me I was. But you know what? That is just too much pressure for anyone.
So if you are a spouse of a first responder, this is me giving you permission to not have it all together. This is your permission to accept the feelings that you might not know how to be strong and supportive.
No one knows what it feels like unless they know. I'm here to tell you that I know, and that you aren't alone.