caregiver profile: krista

Living Life to Serve a Purpose

For Krista, graduating from high school was truly a commencement. She had a great job as a secretary in an office full of people she liked. She moved into her own apartment in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. This was her moment, and she began building a life.

But Krista’s high school sweetheart Nick had trouble finding the same sense of purpose. After spending a year trying to decide what to do, he ended up enlisting in the Marines and left for San Diego. The military turned out to be a good fit. After boot camp, Nick managed equipment for the C-130 at Miramar, made famous by the movie Top Gun. But like many Marines, what he really wanted to do was deploy, so he volunteered with another unit that was leaving for Iraq.

Deploying with a different unit, Nick came on late and had less time to bond with his crew. But Krista understood his decision; she could see that Nick had found what he had been seeking for so long. Despite her family and friends saying they were too young, they got married at the courthouse in San Diego just before he shipped out. Ever practical, Krista stayed at her job in Columbus while he was in Iraq so they could save money.

euphoria at nick's homecoming

When Nick returned from his deployment, Krista flew out once more to San Diego. “I wish I would have videotaped it to be able to watch it over and over again,” she remembers. “There is nothing that compares to that feeling when you see them and first get to hug them once they get home… Nothing compares to it. It’s just awesome… It’s euphoria.”

But as quickly as that euphoria arose, it dissipated. About six months after Nick returned from Iraq, Krista, now living in San Diego, noticed a change. Nick’s joy in being a Marine had faltered. The unit he had deployed with shared a common experience—full of adventure and anguish—but he came home to his original command, which still had not deployed and could not relate to what he had been through.

Then Krista found out she was pregnant, and his reaction surprised her. “I still have letters from boot camp and him being in Iraq, and he was so excited to start a family.” But when she told him, Krista says, “it was definitely different. I think he was scared. He said he felt like he was getting his freedom taken away. He wasn’t able to cope with it, which was not like him.”

At around the same time, Krista noticed Nick was drinking more, and once he started, he often went too far. His unhappiness and drinking, along with the stress of pregnancy—and then a newborn—was taking a toll on their marriage. So when Nick decided to leave the Marines after his term was up and they planned to move home to Ohio, Krista got her old job back, and she and their son headed back a few months earlier.

But when Nick followed, he and Krista continued to struggle. He had not bonded with their son, and he had a hard time sticking to a routine. It was a difficult job market, and Nick couldn’t find work, but Krista felt he wasn’t holding his weight at home either. “I felt like he wasn’t trying, like he had just given up,” Krista says of that time. “I was working full-time. I still had to grocery shop, I still had to come home and make dinner, and then bath, and then bed... It was like, you’re here but you’re not helping, you’re not doing anything, you’re just in the way at this point.”

After a year in Columbus, Nick decided to reenlist in the Marine Corps, and Krista uprooted again, this time to a Naval base in Lemoore, California, 15 minutes from the closest town. There was just one unit of about 15 Marines on the base, and because all of the families lived there, the group was tight-knit, almost like a giant family itself. Both Krista and Nick found a haven in Lemoore, particularly Krista who bonded deeply with the spouses. “Some of them had the same issues with their husbands. We could both have an outlet … even if the issues were different.” Krista and Nick had a second child; it finally felt like their life was turning around.

westward bound, again

But after about three years, Nick received orders to move again, this time to San Antonio, Texas. San Antonio couldn’t have been more different from Lemoore. Most of the Marines had family nearby, so there was little sense of community on the base. No one socialized outside of work. Krista wasn’t working and money was tight. Nick had joined the Marine Force Reconnaissance hoping to see action, but after six months there was no deployment in sight.

“I don’t know if it just slowly led up to it and I just didn’t see it… One day it clicked with me that everything was totally different.”

“That’s when the depression just kicked in,” Krista says. “I don’t know if it just slowly led up to it and I just didn’t see it… One day it clicked with me that everything was totally different. And he would go to work, he would come home, be in a bad mood, go to his computer, be on his computer all night until I told him dinner was ready, he would eat dinner—and sometimes he would eat dinner at his computer—and then go back right to his computer.” He effectively removed himself from the family.

On base, Nick’s officers also had noticed something was awry, and they encouraged him to talk to someone. When he did, he mentioned that he had had suicidal thoughts, sending everyone into high alert. His command called Krista, who suddenly saw the past few years in a whole new light. The drinking she had blamed on genetics; the depression she had blamed on herself; the disengagement she chalked up to Nick not wanting to be a part of the family; Nick’s hypervigilance when they went out. It turned out Nick had been concealing debilitating posttraumatic stress.

“I didn’t know enough about PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) to see this coming,” Krista says. “I feel like had I known that earlier on, or had I had a class talk to me about what to look for, I feel like I would have been able to notice something and get him help a lot faster than we did.”

krista's caregiver story begins

It turned out that Nick’s first deployment to Iraq—his only deployment—had affected him far more than Krista knew, and it had lingering effects. While he wasn’t supposed to see combat, the truth was he had seen enough to ripple through his psyche. Nick began treatment right away, and Krista began a crash course in caregiving. She became an expert at managing Nick’s multiple medications, his anxiety, his mood swings. She learned what she could do to help and what made it worse. Both of them felt overwhelmed, and as Nick began to get help, Krista realized she needed help as well. She started looking for outlets for herself and came across Blue Star Families.

Blue Star Families is a network of military families across the country, and in San Antonio it operates a program called Operation Family Caregiver (OFC). OFC was founded by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving to support military spouses like Krista. The program coaches military caregivers to help them adapt to the “new normal” after their loved ones return home from war. For Krista, the program was a lifeline. First, she joined other women just like herself to talk over coffee, and then she began working with a coach, Brandi, who could help her see her problems from a different perspective.

Brandi answered any questions Krista had. She had resources at her fingertips for both Krista and Nick. “I felt like I was drowning… and Blue Star Families was the hand that pulled me out of the water,” Krista says.

Today, Krista has found a new purpose. In March, she was certified as an OFC coach. Taking care of Nick is a priority, but she also feels a strong desire to help other women who feel as lost as she did to find their own way out.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

CAREGIVER STORIES

Meet Gina: For years she has taken care of her husband and her family. Now she's finally taking care of herself.

Meet Nikki: She found the strength to support her husband and her family.

Meet Ashley: How an Army wife balances caring for her husband, who struggles with PTSD, and a daughter with special needs.

Meet Kristin: She had just a glimpse of the man Matt used to be, and they fell in love. Now, she struggles as his caregiver.

Meet Breanna: She is a strong woman who fell in love with a Marine. After his injury, she became a caregiver to her husband.

Meet Amber: She married her childhood crush and had no idea he would be a stranger she had known forever.

Meet Violet: A wife, mother, and sister who finds strength in her faith and brings strength to her family.