I wish somebody would have told me that it is okay to not be okay.
What was one of the first major challenges you faced as a military caregiver?
I had to face everything on my own and the reality of it is that it’s not easy to get used to the new normal. I was used to seeing my husband as a strong figure, as a leader, a grower and a doer and I was placed in a position where I had to force him to get up to shave, shower or eat. Getting used to that was the hardest.
How did you address that challenge?
I became like a machine. I started working nights so I could be there during the day. I just went until it came to a point where my body shut down and I got sick. For years, that’s all I did. One of the things that I did do that made a big difference was going back to school to be a mental health counselor. I felt that I needed to understand what was going on. My husband was suffering from PTSD and social anxiety and I had to know how to deal with it. Once I was able to understand his illness, I was able to help him and slowly get him out of the house. That was one of the best things I did for my family – it was worth the time.
What advice do you wish you had when you first became a military caregiver?
I wish somebody would have told me that it is okay to not be okay. It’s ok to not always have it together. I wish someone would have told me that you don’t have to be strong 24/7 and that I should take time to take care of myself.
I met my husband, Daniel Dumas, while serving in the US Navy. Daniel was discharged in 2003 due to TBI and severe hearing loss, and afterwards we moved to New York. That move brought two realities: we were separated from our social support, and Daniel’s scars were far deeper than we had thought. Feelings of guilt and despair at the news of friends hurt or departed compounded Daniel’s symptoms of PTSD, social anxiety and depression. I pushed forward with a Master’s degree in counseling to better understand my husband and learn how to help him.
As a Dole Fellow, I empower other veterans and their families in Puerto Rico through health and wellness activities and peer support groups.