When Rebecca met the man of her dreams she had no idea he was homeless. But she soon discovered this was the least of his problems. He also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And the reason why shocked her to the core.
All I ever wanted in a man was kindness and a sense of humour and the is exactly what I found in Dave. He and I worked together helping the long term unemployed by day and feeding the homeless by night. He would have people in stitches and get them to do things they never thought possible. He is able to look into your soul, know exactly what you need and share a laugh and a cry.
We fell in love. I'd never loved someone so much. Dave soon confessed he was homeless. I didn't care. All I cared about was being with Dave.
We set up our lives together. We got married, bought a house and had two beautiful children. But how long can someone keep on being who they are meant to be, when their unimaginable nightmares start to come back and haunt them and completely turn our brief happiness as a couple into a nightmare with the main character an unrecognisable and scary monster one day and a timid shadow the next?
Dave has complex Post Traumatic Disorder courtesy of being the victim of child sexual abuse and military institutional abuse. So gradually over time I made the transition from wife to carer. Dave is a full time job. Lucky for him I love my job.
To understand why I am with Dave, you have to put yourself in his shoes.
Imaging waking up numb, not because you are in shock or something terrible has happened, but to protect yourself from what could happen so you know you will be able to mobilise the troops when you inevitably need to respond to the next disaster; like your drunk husband falling in the middle of your busy road as your children cross the street; or when you get a phone call while working interstate in an ambulance from a complete stranger to say your husband is incoherent, is on his way to hospital with broken bones; or when your seven year old says “quick get home from work mummy, daddy has fallen into the pool, don’t worry it is ok, I have it under control!” Every episode is followed by a stint in a psychiatric hospital where visible but only temporary improvements were ever made, so we were filled with hope that Dave had genuinely improved and would find ways to manage his condition. These periods of sanity would last for weeks even months until the next unexpected episode.
I always know when another episode is on it's way. I've been through it too many times before. It's his paranoia. His accusations that I am twisting his words and how he blames me for everything that is going wrong in his life. I am a psychologist by trade. He demands I stop using the 'psych talk' on him.
We almost didn't make it. Caring for Dave is something I feel born to do but at one stage I uncovered a series of lies that spanned several years that rock the very legitimacy of our relationship Emptied bank accounts, text messages on his phone from other women to which I politely replied, 'Hello, I am Dave’s wife, he is undergoing bowel surgery right now and his two young children are hoping he pulls through. You might want to think about what you are doing to them'.
I found myself with two young children who adored their dad and all they pray for is for Daddy to get better and for our family to be happy. Walking away would have been the easier option and many would say the right one but I love him. I love our family. And Dave's behaviour isn't his fault.
During this time I felt like robot. I felt like I had to watch what I did and said (even though I had been badly betrayed) just in case he slipped into depression, dissociated himself or harmed himself o inadvertently others.
The passion I had for him quickly dissolved. Sex became a chore. All I really wanted from him was for him to be honest about how he was feeling and what was triggering him so I could help. I desperately needed him to be there for me. Sharing the burden with others felt disloyal to him.
My break from this nightmare was found through ensuring the children got to school and their several extra-circular activities. I found comfort in work. When I was being a mum or working I felt I could be the best person possible without being defined by what was going on at home.
My family and friends didn't understand. After all I'd done for him, for him to betray me so badly, they didn't understand. They showed sympathy for me and the children and disapproved of my loyalty to him and expressed regret that they weren’t there more often, but they weren’t.
I did my best to repair our relationship but it was an uphill battle. Then he'd say things like, "You don’t seem interested in me anymore. There must be someone else”. This sent me into verbal rage. He was trying to accuse me and push me away to excuse his behaviour. He said he was worthless and no one really loved him. It was hard to keep up.
It was when he yelled at our children for telling me about their many trips to the local Dan Murphy's that I started to crack. Did I mention he was an alcoholic?
What’s worse is that I am a psychologist and for years Dave fooled me about his wellness. The shame and the guilt I feel when I didn’t trust my gut is only eased slightly by the many mental health professionals who were also fooled for the last ten years by his apparent “compliance” with therapy and his “improvement”.
I have only recently started to heal, by acknowledging that the drama that has unfolded is not a reality TV show but my own life. I decide to encourage him to write his story and take on the role of editor and publisher arranging everything, hoping that this will help him, and us turn a corner. This is the same hope I experienced after every setback our family has endured. I realise as I retrace our steps while editing his story that I am an exceptionally strong person who has steadfast values and commitment and despite everything have been the best wife, mother and professional I could have been.
I now know what I am and what I am not, and choose the journey along-side Dave who is often loving, kind, funny and generous and much less often unwell. I don’t slip into carer mode very often anymore and have learned to put the onus onto his Health Care provider to do that and Dave to do that. I have learned not to compromise on my expectations of his behaviour and don’t take on the blame anymore. What advice can I give – I would feel like a hypocrite to even suggest what other people should do to manage their relationship.
What helped me was shining in the spheres of my life that I could shine in and not putting up with anymore rubbish. Much easier said than done and I thank God that I chose to stay with Dave who I love and keep our family together.
Just Dave is the remarkable true journey of an ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life. It's a self-effacing and moving story of survival. The book challenges our misunderstanding of people who suffer mental illness and provides insight and hope. Purchase your copy here.