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I See You, I Am You

Exhaustion . . . burnout . . . compassion fatigue. Whatever you call it, as the wife of a Canadian military Veteran living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I’ve felt it. Looking back on certain situations that happened in my chaotic life, when I was trying to be wife, mother, caregiver, and work full-time.

The truth is, I really don’t know how I did it. The only explanation I can come up with is that I was deep in survival mode. I would do anything and everything to keep my family afloat, even at the expense of myself.

Portrait of girl: Photographer: Antonio Infante
Photographer: Antonio Infante

There is a saying “If you know, you know.” You know what I am talking about, those days that the shit hits the fan. You still get the kids ready for school. You get ready for work. You get out the door. You meet the day with your last ounce of energy. And, no one has a clue what is going on in your life. We are very good at hiding our pain, sorrow, and the burdens that PTSD (theirs and our own) has given us.

This was my norm for several years. Not sure about you and your journey, but I did have one day where I decided to say “get me outta here” – the overwhelming feelings were too much. I thought there was no hope – I did it, I took the pills. And then had instant regret. This is around the time I realized how bad it was, and that the only person that could change my situation was me. No doctor, no medication, no quick fix for PTSD. The situation was not going to fix itself.

I wish I could say that once I made this realization, everything fell into place . . . no such luck. Unfortunately, I had acquired lots of unhealthy coping strategies along the way to keep myself going on autopilot. So, I had to learn new healthy strategies. The first of these was healthy boundaries, learning to say “no” – that was a hard one. The second one was learning what filled my cup, which was even harder. I had no idea – to tell you the truth I still struggle with this one at times. And, the third one was learning to communicate my needs and wants. Finally, I had to recognize I wasn’t an island, reaching out for help meant tapping into my community of family and friends.

Polly and Sean Maher
Polly and Sean Maher

None of these happened overnight, I am a constant work in progress. The gift I have given myself is the awareness to know what it looks like in my life when I am heading down that path of exhaustion and fatigue. Now I have a support system of my peers who let me know I am heading down that path and they encourage and walk along side me as I get back on my wellness path.

What it looks like for me might be very different than what it looks like for you, but you owe it to yourself and your family to figure it out. You matter to so many, and you cannot help your spouse or your kids if you are depleted. So, as they say “put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on others.”

I am here to tell you there is always hope, no matter how dim that hope may be. I see you, I am you. Reach out, there is a community waiting to help you navigate this PTSD world.


Polly Maher
Lived Experience Expertise Lead
Atlas Institute

Content Warning

This blog post makes reference to difficult feelings and an attempted suicide. This may bring up a range of emotions. We encourage you to care for your safety and well-being. Please contact the resources in the link below if you need support.

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