My husband is a civil engineer who works on contracts rebuilding Afghanistan. He works 3 months overseas and then comes back for a month off. He has been doing this for a couple of years now and the money is really very good.
He has been back now for a little over a couple of weeks this time and I hardly recognize the man. In the past, there has sometimes been a day or two of readjustment, as we all get used to one another again after an absence, but this time it feels like he is a completely changed person and not for the better.
He is usually a pretty good natured guy but now he is tense and jumpy and irritable all the time. He seems to have nightmares and doesn’t sleep well, which is also very out of character. I think that it is pretty obvious that he is having trouble dealing with something that he went through over there, but when I ask him what’s wrong and what happened he just shuts me out. He won’t admit that anything unusual happened and he won’t admit that he has changed. I think he has PTSD but I cannot be sure.
I really don’t know what to do. And he is scheduled to leave again in just over a week. I am worried that he is no shape to go back into a warzone right now but he gets so angry when I say anything about it. I could talk to his managers here about what I am seeing and I am pretty sure that if I go on record with them with my concerns they will postpone or even cancel his trip overseas. But If I do that and I am wrong about it all then I may cost him a very good opportunity and our family a needed paycheck. If he does have PTSD, how serious is it for him to be heading back over to Afghanistan without dealing with it before hand?
Ed Schmookler Says ...
Well, the scenario you are describing is the scenario familiar to me from the Vietnam war and from this one. War is full of horror, and it can have very detrimental effects on people, including the development of PTSD.
Of course, I cannot diagnose your husband without seeing him or talking to him. But the way you describe his state is consistent with PTSD. It could be other things he doesn't want to share with you, but, given the circumstances, PTSD is a reasonable guess as a starting point.
I am not an expert on warfare, and so I don't know whether he would be in more danger as a result of PTSD or not. PTSD can result in a high level of vigilance, so that can even help. But with nightmares and with emotional shutdown, it is possible he would be tired and insufficiently responsive. I don't know.
But his managers would know a lot better than you or I would.
Your husband's refusal to acknowledge the change in him may be denial, it may be something else, but anger and denial are familiar in this situation.
Perhaps you could talk frankly to him about your fears and let him know that unless he is willing to either see a therapist or to be more open with you, you will feel compelled to let his managers know about your concerns. This gives him an opportunity to deal with this before involving his managers.
If you do confront him like this, you will probably have to deal with more anger. But his safety is paramount, and you may be more aware of what is going on with him than he is.
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