When we started to plan this journey, we had just found out that Ryan was going to be medically retired from the military. He had been in the military for 17 years at that point, and had been diagnosed with PTS and a TBI. This diagnosis came after over a year of treatment. Ryan tried to return to duty, feeling strong enough to do so, but after an honest attempt it was obvious that it was not in his best interest or the units for him to continue to serve on active duty.
While Ryan was in treatment, we were simultaneously fighting for our marriage and our family. As his wife, I learned everything that I could about the various ways that PTS manifests itself. I learned so much about how a traumatic brain injury has impacted Ryan, and consequently how it has impacted our marriage. Understanding became the solid platform from which we could launch into the next chapter of our life.
When it was clear that Ryan was going to be retired, we started thinking about what we were going to do next. We decided to head out on the trail. Here we are two months later… 550+ miles behind us, many many more ahead of us. We aren’t much closer to knowing what we are going to do next, but some things are much clearer than they were when we started up the trail on March 12.
Earl Shaffer hiked the trail to “walk off the war”. What I know for certain is that one cannot simply walk it off. It is not the walking that helps one to deal with the trauma of war, but the trail provides a natural boundary from outside influences and stimuli that sometimes hinder the healing process. When we are on the trail, I see such peace in everyone’s eyes. When we get into town, there is an initial excitement for showers and clean laundry, a little snack and sometimes even a real bed, but that excitement tends to last no more than about 24 hours. Past that time, the excitement turns to anxiety and an itch to get back out to the trail.
The past couple of weeks have not gone as planned. With an injury, Trail Days and a meeting in NY, we have spent more time in town than we are used to, and it is during these times that I have been able to truly see how far we have come, and how far we have to go. There is no set destination, but there are definitely things we need to address and work to overcome.
It is so hard for people to understand the complexities of PTS. Many times things look totally normal to the outsider, but with anxiety of being in crowds, conversations that are initiated by well meaning people about the war and our governments position on foreign policy, and the like cause an emotional distancing amongst us. Though Ryan is the one diagnosed with PTS, there is a very real presence of secondary PTS within each of us… To varying degrees. I’ve never really had issues with crowds, but now crowds cause me anxiety as I prepare for the way that Ryan reacts to them.
As we prepare to head back to the trail, these are issues that will be at the forefront of our conversations. With each trip to town, we will focus on growing in these areas. Each of us have to face how things that are out of our control effect us, this includes how we react to how each of us react.
We have met many people along the way that have left the trail because they have found what they were looking for. We may not know much, but we do know that we are not ready to go home yet. Yet. One day we will be there, but it is not right now.