What started as a fan page on Facebook for author and military wife Shawn Gourley's upcoming book "The War At Home: One Family's Fight Against PTSD," has turned into a support group for families nationwide that are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Veterans, spouses, family members, and friends are all evidently using the page to talk to others and ask questions about dealing with PTSD. It's gotten more than 1,400 members in just over a month's time. And several San Diego military families I spoke with today tell me that the page helps them understand what they are dealing with and helps them cope.
"It's definitely helped me, it's given me a support network that I really needed as well as important information," says Tanya Gustafson, whose husband, Staff Sgt Steven Gustafson, a nine-year Marine currently stationed at Camp Pendleton, suffers from PTSD.
Gustafson, who's based at Camp Pendleton, has served three tours - two in Iraq (including horrific battles in Falluja), and one in Afghanistan. When he came home in April from Afghanistan after his third tour, Tanya says, "He was just different. It was weird. He seemed OK after Falluja, believe it or not. But this time he was worse. And he spent most of the time this tour in the mountains of Afghanistan training the Afghan military, away from combat. This time when he came home, the littlest things would set him off, he would just start screaming and get so angry. I wanted him to get treatment, but you know, it was like, 'I'm a Marine, I don't need it.' I'm kind of that anti-military wife, I don't hang out with the other Marine wives too much. So this Facebook page has been helpful. It shows me that I'm not alone. And I have to say, things have gotten better. We're certainly not as bad off as some people."
Gourley says the popularity of the Facebook page isn't just because she's offering a free digital copy of her forthcoming book to anyone who wants it. "I think it struck a nerve," Gourley says. "There are a lot of people suffering out there. PTSD has a tremendous impact on the life of the individual with the diagnosis, but it can also have a very negative effect on the spouse and children and friends caring for that individual."
In Gourley's case, she says it took five years for the VA to recognize that her husband has PTSD. In those five years, his PTSD got so bad that it even led to their young daughter getting what is called secondary PTSD from the stress. "It was five years of hell. I considered leaving," says Gourley. "But we finally got the VA to help us. We've survived this as a family."
Coping with PTSD can be very difficult, and a lot of times veterans and family members don't even know what they're dealing with, Gourley notes. "I'm not a doctor and make that very clear, but on the Facebook page you can find answers to questions that you have just by talking to other people who are going through the same thing," says Gourley. "No one prepares the families of veterans for what they could possibly face when they return home. The VA is just not prepared for this. So we have taken it upon ourselves to help one another."
Again, the Facebook page can be found here. The book, "The War At Home: One Family's Fight Against PTSD," will be released for free digitally by the end of the month on the Facebook site.