When I met my husband, Eddie, he was a New York police officer, trained to take down a threat. Then he spent nine months recovering remains at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. His drinking started immediately—whiskey after his shift, to neutralize the taste of ash and death—and was followed by night sweats and panic attacks. Two years later, he was diagnosed with PTSD and panic disorder. (He had even had a panic attack while driving—he hadn’t told me they were happening—and almost crashed.)
He still deals with unrelenting panic attacks, sometimes several times a day. Hyper vigilant, Eddie always knows where the exits are and sizes up the other people in our space. He can’t drive or ride the subway anymore, cross a busy street, or, sometimes, even hear the beeping of a truck backing up without having an attack.
Sometimes it’s tiresome to always consider someone else before yourself. I’ve attended weddings alone and have bailed on girls’ nights so I can sit on the couch with him. I miss visiting our friends in Brooklyn and Queens (Eddie avoids bridges and tunnels).
But coping with PTSD has also uncovered parts of my husband I had no idea existed. All of his therapy work has helped him regulate his emotions and accept discomfort. My “tough guy” does yoga, meditates, and graduated from culinary school. He volunteers at a soup kitchen, helps old ladies with their grocery bags, spends hours on the phone doing tech support with his mom, without getting frustrated. When he has a bad day, he won’t sulk. He’s learned a lot about mindfulness, and he quit drinking. He’s also written plant-based recipes for a food blog and upcoming cookbook. His perseverance for even trying every day makes me swell with pride. That’s courage. The same courage it took to walk into a pile of rubble and search for bodies he didn’t want to find.
I don’t think of Eddie’s diagnosis as a burden; I love him as he is. When he jumps out of bed at 5 a.m., drenched in sweat, I squeeze his hand as a signal that I’m there and everything is going to be okay. In return, he’s given me the best gift—he does the same for me. I’ve got my own mental issues that wax and wane, and when I’m feeling overwhelmed and unlovable, he reminds me that we’re in this together.