Caregiver Profile: Danielle
What Was Hiding in Her Husband’s Closet? The Marine Corps
When Danielle started talking with Steve through the online dating site OkCupid in the spring of 2012, the biggest red flag was that he was outside of her preferred age range… but only by a few months. And Steve was persistent, so she was willing to give him a chance.
Steve’s military background hadn’t come up, at least not initially. “I think I knew that he had been in the Marine Corps,” Danielle says, but “it wasn’t even part of his identity that he told me about… He just didn’t want being a Marine to be who he was.”
But within a few months, it was obvious to Danielle. They had moved in together very quickly after they started dating, and Danielle soon observed some unusual behaviors. He often had what she calls “active dreams,” where Steve would seem sort of half-asleep but suffer from nightmares. He sometimes would dream that he was suffocating, or he would claw scratches into their hardwood headboard. One night, Danielle found him on the floor of the closet, convinced he could only have two sips of water because there wasn’t enough water to drink any more than that. She wondered if he could be reliving his military experiences.
Finding Community and Answers Online
“It just was crazy to me, so I started doing a lot of research and I found Family Of a Vet [a website started by the wife of a veteran],” Danielle explains. “And I started reaching out to other caregivers across the country… and then the more I connected with people in that community, the stories are the same.”
Danielle suspected that Steve’s time in the military had more of an impact on him than he recognized. She knew she had to help him seek help, but he was not enthusiastic. Steve had left the Marine Corps in 1999 after 9 years of service, including a deployment to Kuwait. When he left the service, he never really looked back. He was given a 10 percent disability rating at time of discharge from the Marine Corps, for damage to his neck and vertebrae. And although his pain had increased over time, he had never been to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
For so many years, Steve suffered through pain caused by military injuries and ignored symptoms of posttraumatic stress. He had stifled any acknowledgement of his physical and emotional injuries. But it took just three months for Danielle to coax him out from under the covers, to begin to face the battles he was waging within himself. On June 6, 2012, Steve and Danielle went to the VA Medical Center. As he began addressing his needs, his disability was reassessed, rising from 10 to 70 percent, and he finally began to get the help he needed.
At the same time, Danielle was discovering what Steve’s “new normal” meant for the rest of her family. In 2013, after just a year together, they got married. And at the same time Steve took a leave of absence from his job to focus on his treatment at the VA, Danielle became pregnant. Their son would be Steve’s second child, Danielle’s third, and their first together. She saw how the children were affected by what Steve was going through. “My 12-year-old has always had anxiety-type issues since she was little,” Danielle recalls. “But she did tell me one day, ‘Mom, my friends have no idea what I come home to everyday, no idea.’ I said, ‘You’re right. You have no idea what they go home to either. We all have our challenges.’”
Finding Help for Herself
Still, it was important to Danielle to model self-care for all of the children. “I’m a helper,” she says. “I’ve always helped everybody; I had no idea how to help myself.”
One of the first things she did was research Operation Family Caregiver (OFC), a program for caregivers that some of her Facebook friends had gone through. Danielle liked that OFC was not a single day or multi-day retreat but a 4- to 6-month-long program that helps military caregivers plan for the long term. Initially disheartened when she found the program was not active in Oregon, she sent an email anyway and was surprised to hear from Meredith, a caregiver coach based in Washington state at the Easterseals Washington OFC site.
“I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even imagine that this would help me enough to make the time commitment to it [but my coach] kept checking in with me, so I felt like she actually cared about me doing this and was supportive of the fact that it was overwhelming to me.”
Even though she was motivated, Danielle couldn’t find the energy to follow through and meet with Meredith. “I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even imagine that this would help me enough to make the time commitment to it,” Danielle says. But eventually, something shifted. “She kept checking in with me, so I felt like she actually cared about me doing this and was supportive of the fact that it was overwhelming to me.”
Danielle likes the practical, step-by-step approach of OFC. The worksheets Meredith walks her through remove emotion from the equation and help Danielle think more rationally about how to make more time for herself and take care of her own health. It’s a lesson Danielle knows she needs to take to heart, and she can’t do it alone. Between Meredith and the community Danielle has established online, her network is strong. But more importantly, Danielle is getting stronger. This helper, who has always helped others, has finally found a way to help herself.