We never raised our right hand and vowed to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” but we may as well have. We simply said “I Do” and, Baby, as far as I’m concerned, we wives became veterans every bit as much as our husbands who suffer from GWI. Only we’re not in for four or eight years. We’re in for life. Because Gulf War Illness never quits.
Your man may’ve gone to Iraq or he may have simply have been in the military in the early 90’s. Call it what you want: “Gulf War Illness,” “Gulf War Syndrome” or “Non-deployed GWI”…it all sucks.
We watch his pain, and I mean tears rolling pain, every hour of every day. Chronic fatigue/malaise. Heart attacks in their thirties. Fibromyalgia. Joint Pain. Dizziness. Gastro-intestinal problems. Reproductive problems. Inflammation. Insomnia. The list goes on and on.
But we suffer too. We suffer silently and burnout gracefully. We have all of his symptoms, vicariously. When he can’t get to sleep because his legs are burning and it feels like bugs are crawling and biting his ankles, we sit up with him. When he finally gets drowsy and comes to bed at 5 a.m., we jerk awake with the automatic words, “No, I’ll get it.” When he wakes up an hour later at 6 a.m., we get up with him and make breakfast. When he can’t sleep, we stay up too so he has someone to talk to.
We dream up ways to make vegetables delicious and then shake our heads when he leaves 2/3 of our beautiful meals on his plate. The fridge is full of leftovers of his favorite foods, uneaten. Every meal gives him diarrhea for no particular reason.
We accompany him to appointment after appointment where “doctors” in white coats say, “You just have anxiety. You’re probably depressed. It’s all in your head. Here, I’ll write you a prescription for…” knowing he’ll be furious all the way home, refuse to accept that prescription…and you’ll never see that particular condescending, invalidating doctor ever again.
We hear the pain pill bottles rattle and know that the pain relief they provide will be gone hours before he can take the next pill. What then? What can you do? Hot rubs, Bengay and CBD oil can only do so much. They wear off. They’re like putting a Band-aid on a cough.
So we spend money we don’t have on the next “magical” herbs or superfood supplement. The poor man swallow capsules til he rattles but they don’t do much good. Pretty soon, there are boxes and boxes of supplements, tinctures, gummies, you-name-it sitting around, getting old.
When things get bad, we have to be both woman and man, doing both our stereotypical female household tasks and his stereotypical male roles. We mow the lawn. We snake out the pipes and clean black gunk out of traps. Check the oil. Air up the tires. We drive nails for our own pictures and curtain rods. We don’t ask for anything cause his distress is bad enough already. He tries to push through the pain and do everything he used to do…then we both suffer for it.
And all the time we know he sees everything we do that used to be his job and it’s eating away at his self-esteem as a man. Cause there’s nothing wrong upstairs. He knows exactly what’s going on. He just doesn’t know how to fix his body so he can be the man, the breadwinner and the husband he so badly wants to be for us. That’s why he gets irritable sometimes. So we sneak the household tasks in the odd moments he sleeps so he doesn’t see, so he doesn’t feel bad.
A lot of men turn to alcohol and you can hardly blame them but it only creates more problems. I got lucky. My man doesn’t drink, has a naturally happy temperament and is determined to be as happy as his body will allow. God knows if I had his pain level I’d be a frickin’ bitch, a rolling ball of irritability, crankiness and sarcasm.
Ladies, our man may technically be the only veteran in the house but I think we’re just as much a veteran. We may never have gone through Basic or carried a rifle, but in my book we’re every bit as tough as the fighting man on the battlefield. Every bit as patriotic. Every bit as semper fi.
We’re in it for the long haul. There’s no off ramp. Our enlistment will never be up. We’re in the trenches forever, and unless God, the govenment or John Hopkins finds the cure for GWI/GWS, it’s only going to get worse and we’re enlisted til the bitter end. The last pang, the last groan, the last labored breath.
We are the wives of men with Gulf War Illness. We love our country, our God and our man. We are veterans too.