This story is based on a recurring nightmare that my husband had a year or two ago. The characters are loosely based on me and my husband and the tension reflects past reality.
Living with someone who has PTSD is very challenging, as I’ve learned from my husband. There’s the fact that it’s hard to understand something you haven’t experienced and the feeling of helplessness that comes with watching a loved one suffer and not being able to do anything about it. I don’t know how to explain it, but no matter how much you might bicker with your partner of however many years, no matter how many issues have come up between the two of you, there’s something deep within the mind that sets off all kinds of alarms when you know that someone else has seriously hurt your partner.
My husband has struggled to cope with the anger and helplessness he has felt in the face of my continuous problematic symptoms. Young men often have this idea that they will come in and rescue a young woman, be her hero, and make a man of himself by protecting her from physical danger. My husband was no different. Even when he was courting me, I would warn him of how severe my symptoms were and that, no matter how many movies he has seen, mental illness doesn’t just go away when someone says “I’ll always love you”. Of course, he didn’t believe me and we wound up in a relationship despite my very serious concerns that it would be more than either of us could handle.
He quickly became discouraged when I didn’t find myself magically cured of all bad things in his presence. He was naive, but what do you expect in a culture that has never really understood medical conditions that they can’t see as manifestations on the outside of the body? He was discouraged and felt as though he had failed to live up to the weird “man code” that dictates that all young men become protectors and providers. He developed an understandable grudge against those who had physically abused me in the past to the point that it had even managed to hurt him too. But, those people were long gone. The damage had already been done and he wasn’t around then to save me from it. The suffering he saw on a daily basis was also out of his control. No matter what he did, it wouldn’t matter because someone else had already come and broken me and no one had been around to fix it.
It’s a mix of emotions: guilt that you can’t do anything, anger at the commission of the act you couldn’t stop, and fear that you’ll lose the person you love to phantoms of the past without ever being able to lay hands on any one of them. When his anger toward those who had hurt me couldn’t lead him in any direction to “avenge” me, his anger turned into resentment of me. As bizarre as it sounds, it’s sort of like, “I feel like a complete failure and I wouldn’t feel this way if you could just be fixed. You not being fixable is what makes me feel bad about myself.”
His fear was that these feelings would make it such that he wouldn’t be able to survive the grief of my death. It would drive him insane and thus, the natural human reaction is to withdraw as an attempt to protect your psyche from perceived danger. But it’s that exact act that sets a person up to not survive a major blow to their life. That is the core of the recurring nightmare he had.
Just like I have a very long road to recovery that I may never reach the end of, it’s an ongoing psychological journey that my husband has been on and will continue to be on. I don’t want to at all minimize what people like me had and will have to endure, but I think the family and friends who remain silent in their own suffering need to have a better way to cope with what they’re feeling instead of wishing for impossible things to happen, which is what the main character of The Lion Tamer does.