We celebrate this Memorial Day with the story of a military caregiver whose husband returned from active duty alive but mentally wounded. Jill Armijo’s husband, Joe, served in the Navy as a machinist and was deployed to a ship in the Persian Gulf just before Operation Desert Storm. A gentle, generous man, Joe returned from the Gulf War paranoid and with delusions of grandeur. For the past 20 years, his greatest battle has been schizophrenia. Although the medical community eventually recognized Joe’s condition as Gulf War Illness, Jill says the VA wasn’t much help when he came back from the Gulf and most doctors didn’t know what to do with him. Jill talks about the pressure of caring for Joe while holding down a job for her entire family, and how her sons saved the marriage and was patient with Joe while she often lost her cool. She provides vivid examples of Joe’s behavior, offers coping tools for other caregivers and tells us how she stopped trying to cure Joe and learned to love him just as he is. Jill is currently working on a book about her family’s journey called, “Home of the Unknown Soldier: How Coming Back Became the Other Ultimate Sacrifice.”
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JANA PANARITES (HOST) – Memorial Day: the unofficial start of summer and 3-day weekend featuring picnics and barbecues with family and friends. And lest we forget the reason for this holiday: to honor members of the military who died during service. Today, in tribute to those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, we’re going to hear from a military caregiver whose husband, Joe, returned from his service alive but wounded. Jill Armijo is a health and wellness coach whose husband served in the Navy as a machinist and was deployed on a repair ship in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Jill’s husband was exposed to sarin gas and — because his ship was in the middle of the Gulf — burning oil. Jill’s currently working on a book about her family’s journey with her husband, and she joins us from Cedar City, Utah to tell us more. Jill, welcome to The Agewyz Podcast.
JILL ARMIJO – Thanks, Jana. It’s such an honor to be here. I love your podcast.
JANA – Oh, thank you. So tell us a little bit about your life with your husband before he was deployed. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about how and where you met, and when he entered the service.
JILL – Well, I’m really glad that you asked that because that lends perspective to how he is now and what happened to him. I really only had a couple of short years with my husband before his deployment. But during those couple of short years, I saw so many things in him that, that I just loved and felt like we were the perfect pair for each other. And I know everybody feels like that before they get married, and then the honeymoon is over. And then you realize, Oh, you know, we all have faults and stuff. But truly he had some personality characteristics that flipped on their side.
JILL – When I met him, he had a deep love for his family and just longed to spend time with them. Even during our courtship before we were married, we made several trips to his home in New Mexico to visit with his many nieces and nephews and sisters and family. And he is just the most generous-hearted person. He would always give himself and never think of getting anything in return. We lived in San Diego at the time, and he would just hand $20 bills to people who needed money. He loved to go shopping, we would often go to the mall and I hate malls. But I would go with him just to watch his eyes as he watched people. And he especially loved going to the bookstore, and loved watching people in the bookstore. And all of that is so different now. Those things are just, you know, flipped on their heads. He hasn’t been able to communicate with his sisters or his family in years. It’s just really sad to see the differences, but that’s kind of the guy he was, and there are many qualities that he still has. Now he has a very strong spiritual nature. And he does love his children, and he loves me. And he is a great father and husband, even though socially, he’s completely inept in other ways.
JANA – So when did he enter the service?
JILL – In the fall of 1990. We were married in March of 1990, and he – when we were dating, I didn’t ever want to date a military person, because I wanted my husband to be with me, and I didn’t want to have to travel around and stuff like that. So I never dated military people. And I met him not realizing he was in the military. And on our first date, he told me, oh, I’m in the Navy. And I said, Oh, you know, I don’t think this is really going to work, at some point during our date. And he was Well – because he sensed what my problem was – and he said, Well, I’m just on this repair ship, The Acadia, that’s about to be decommissioned anyway. It’s in the dock at Port. It has been there for five years. It wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t going to be going anywhere.
JILL – And this was before the Gulf War started. Long before it started. And so there was nothing on the horizon that should make me disbelieve that he was just going to be on this permanent place. And so I said, Okay, I’ll date you. And six months after we were married, the Gulf War broke out, and they immediately deployed him. So that was kind of rude.
JANA – Well, and for people, you know, for younger listeners, maybe and for people who just don’t know, we should say that the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, has sort of been overshadowed by the more recent Iraq War and, of course, the current crisis that we have with ISIS. But it involved nearly 700,000 US troops and almost 300 people lost their lives. It was very short. It was launched in January of 1991 under the first president Bush, after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait and refused to withdraw. And this was a coalition of the willing. So it was a war that the US engaged in with a lot of support. But just to say this goes back to 1991. So how did you feel about your husband being deployed to the Persian Gulf?
JILL – I felt really sorry for myself. I was just a pile of tears and loneliness. I was 27 when we got married, and I felt like I had waited a long time for just the right guy and then he left me. And I know it wasn’t his fault, but I was really pissed off. And I was in school at the time, and I just became antisocial myself, just because I was not good company to be around. And so I just kind of had a big huge pity party. It was pretty pathetic.
JANA – Well, it sounds like you’re being pretty hard on yourself. And you have three sons, now grown. How old were they when your husband deployed?
JILL – I didn’t have any sons yet.
JANA – You didn’t have kids, yet. Right. Okay.
JILL – No. No, I became pregnant with my oldest, just within a month of my husband’s return.
JANA – And how long was he deployed? Because it was a short war. It was just 43 days long. How long was he deployed, for?
JILL – He was deployed for six to eight months each, of three deployments.
JANA – I see. Three deployments. So do you remember when he came back after the Gulf War ended? And maybe you could describe those first days and weeks when he returned.
JILL – Yeah, we were we were just ecstatically happy to be together. He had told me on a call that he would be allowed, if we wanted, for him to fly back from – I believe he flew back from Singapore, his first deployment. And so we paid for him to fly back a month early. So we got home a month before his ship did. We were just ecstatically happy. And right away, I could see that he had changed.
JILL – But I just thought it was because war is crappy and you know he’s away from me and stuff. But we went to an amusement park right away after he got home in Southern California. And after we were finished at the park, we got on the tram to go back to our car. And we all piled on a four-seater, got on the tram, my husband got on first and helped me up. And then a lady, her husband helped her up, and then a guy got on after her. And when we got to where our cars were, the man got down, he helped his woman off, and then he helped me off. And he was juggling a whole bunch of teddy bears and things that they had won at the park, and had dropped several of them in the process. And he picked one up and said, We have so many of these. Would you like this one? – as we had gotten off the tram and he helped me down. And then my husband got down after me.
JILL – And we were driving home and I was holding this little bear that this guy had handed me. And he got really quiet. I didn’t even realize he was so quiet. But all of a sudden he said, aren’t you wondering why I’m so quiet? And I said, No, why are you so quiet? And he said, How do you know that man? Where did you meet that man? Was this all planned? And he just started asking me all of these questions. And I was so shocked. I had no idea where that had come from. And so that was the very first indication that I had, that something was really wrong, because he had never acted jealous or weird like that. So that was kind of one of our very first interactions after he got back.
JANA – Wow. Would that have been 1991?
JILL – Yeah, that was, I believe, in March… March or April of ’91.
JANA – Uh huh. You told me that the working title of your book in progress is, “Home of the Unknown Soldier: How Coming Back Became the Other Ultimate Sacrifice.” And you wrote that it begins with the story of one of your husband’s schizophrenic episodes that marked a turning point for you and your family. So tell us what happened, and why it marked a turning point.
JILL – Okay, the reason it was a turning point instead of the story I just told you is because I kind of passed off a lot of his weirdness as time went by, just you know, I was in denial. He actually is paranoid and delusional, but I was in a lot of denial for actually several years. But the day that the book opens up with, he came home from work early, and me and my son were in the kitchen having a snack and my husband made a noise at the door and I froze. I thought there was an intruder because it wasn’t typical for my husband to come home in the middle of the morning. And he did come in and he was very emotional. He picked up my son and hugged him and cried and said, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.
JILL – And we went into the bedroom and he sat down on the bed and just bawled and said, I can’t go back to work. Those guys are talking behind my back and the boss is planning to fire me. And he told me the story of how he thought that was all transpiring. And it was just really, like kind of the last straw. I had seen so much weirdness over several years. But that was when I realized that he was really paranoid, because the guys loved him at work. And he was so distraught that he was so sure. And later that day, within a couple of hours, one of the guys called and asked me, Why did Joe leave? Is he coming back? They had no clue that he was so upset, and begged him to come back to work. And he did and that lasted a few days, and then he thought they were talking behind his back and had to stop again.
JANA – What sort of work was he doing?
JILL – He was working in a machine shop at NAPA [Auto Parts].
JANA – Okay. So he went back into civilian work.
JILL – Yeah.
JANA – So after you hit that crisis point, how did you go about navigating healthcare services? Did you develop a treatment plan? What came next?
JILL – Well, what came next was a series of appointments with VA people to try to figure out what was going on. And the VA actually helped me fill out all their paperwork. We sent in a good, almost an inch of documentation. Some of my journaling, some of his. Well, it was a little bit later by the time we sent it all in, but he had actually been hospitalized because of a gastrointestinal bleed that just about killed him. And the VA denied us saying there wasn’t enough information, which is baloney. And I’m past that. I was really upset about it then, but they have documentation of the exact slew of symptoms that he has, but they wouldn’t take care of us. So we did start going to a lot of other civilian doctors.
JILL – And to the civilian doctors who don’t know about the Gulf War illness, his slew of symptoms don’t make any sense at all. So none of the doctors that we have ever seen has had a clue what to do with my husband. And so we figured it out on our own. He tried to go back to work three times at three different jobs. And then he couldn’t do that anymore. So he got retraining. He thought, I’ll be a truck driver, I’ll be all by myself. I’ll just drive trucks. So he got trained as a truck driver, and went on his week-long training with another driver. And just within the first day, he got off the truck and called me from LA and told me that the guy was trying to kill him, and he was going to just run away or go somewhere unless I wanted him back. He thought for sure I wouldn’t want him back and I said, Oh, just come home.
JILL – And he has delusions of grandeur all the time, and he wants to go back to work and I just won’t let him, ’cause it’s just not worth it. It’s really hard on him, and it makes him really sick. And so I just keep him at home. He has a lot of different problems. So. Anyway.
JANA – Was he put on medication for his delusions?
JILL – He’s not on any medications. I don’t know if it’s more psychosomatic or what, but every single medication he was put on had a really bad side effect. I won’t go into all of those, but he really, really struggled. The side effects were really nasty and could have killed him. So he doesn’t take anything. He won’t take anything, even over the counter medications except for a sleep aid, you know, that’s like a sinus thing, and then Tylenol, he’ll take Tylenol. And he can’t take Ibuprofen or anything because he bleeds.
JANA – And that’s it.
JILL – Yeah, he won’t take anything. He won’t take any prescription medication at all.
JANA – So when was the last time he had a civilian job?
JILL – Mmm… 1999.
JANA – Okay, and so since that time you’ve been managing and raising kids and working. Did you identify yourself as a caregiver at first?
JILL – Well, no, not at first because he was just my husband.
JANA – Right. Right. I’m just wondering how you reacted to this new role. So often you just get thrust into these situations and you don’t really identify yourself as a caregiver.
JILL – Yeah. So I had been trained as a Physical Therapist Assistant, and I had still been in school when he first deployed and so I graduated shortly after he came home. And I always worked part time, or PRN, which is as needed. So I would work for people that were on vacation or got sick. I would go and fill in at a facility that needed someone. And then I actually got a part-time job just to work mornings, or a couple of days a week. And I really enjoyed that because I could be home with my kids. And so then when he got sick, my current employer just agreed to hire me full-time. So I just bounced to full-time.
JILL – And the transition that way wasn’t really shocking, I just realized that my husband wasn’t going to be able to provide for us right now. So I’ll just do it. And it was kind of hard for me because we had agreed before we got married, that we both wanted me to be able to stay home with our boys, but that I wanted to keep current with my skills that I had acquired. And I was really glad that I had. I felt very grateful that for eight years before he finally crashed, I was able to, you know, keep my skills current and be able to just be full time and that transition was really easy. I just felt sorry for myself. I did a lot of feeling sorry for myself over the years.
JANA – Did you seek out support? Did you join a support group? Or who did you talk to?
JILL – Every time anybody asked me what was going on with my husband or became aware of the situation in our family, they would tell me about support groups. And I went once or twice, to evening support groups. They didn’t have Facebook support groups back then, or at least not that I knew of. In fact, it’s only been fairly recently that I even learned about Facebook support groups. But I went once or twice to a couple of things. And then I just, I was gone all day at work. And then I would come home. And the last thing I wanted to do is go hang out with a bunch of adults. I wanted to be home with my kids and my husband. So I just stopped going to support groups.
JILL – I didn’t feel like that was where I wanted to be. And I don’t know whether I regret that or not, I just really cherish the time that I was with my family because I actually had to work two jobs most of the time to make ends meet, because PTAs don’t make that much money. So…
JANA – Physical Therapy Assistants, we should define, for listeners.
JILL – Right. Yeah. I did Home Health on the side, and Home Health paid better. And so I would go straight after work or during my lunch hours or sometimes before work. I would go and do Home Health.
JANA – What is doing Home Health? What is that? You mean Home Health Care?
JILL – Yes, Home Health Care. So, yeah, I was pretty busy. And so when I was at home, the last thing I wanted to do is to go – even if they could have helped me – I just wanted to be with my kids.
JANA – Sure. I don’t blame you. So you have three sons. How did they react to your husband’s mood changes?
JILL – They are my little heroes. They are so amazing. Like, I don’t know how they can be so strong. They love my husband so much. And I tried to divorce him a couple of times. And I threatened to leave him many times. And I did actually leave once for three months. It was so hard and I spent so much of my time trying to talk him out of delusions, or trying to help him see logic. And when you’re in a blind panic, which he is much of the time. Almost every day he gets in a panic about something. We went to Walmart this morning and he panicked about something. It’s just ridiculous. But I spent so much of my time trying to make him normal. And my kids just accepted him for who he is. And they would talk to him about what he was delusional about.
JILL – They would say, Oh, you know, how does it feel? Or what are you really thinking? Or, Mom’s just thinking this. And they would be the little peacemakers. They would try to help me see how he was feeling, and they just would maybe distract him or just entertain one or the other of us, or try to make us happy because they hated us yelling.
JANA – Even when they were young they were doing that?
JILL – Especially when they were young, like.
JANA – Wow, that’s amazing.
JILL – Yeah, my oldest son was kind of the ringleader of this peacemaking kind of thing. Like if either one of us was upset, he would do something silly. Like he learned how to juggle and then would hum to us, you know, to make like a circus atmosphere and he would just try to make us laugh. And he would try to make his brothers laugh if there was tension in the house and one of the other little ones was may be crying or confused or whatever. My oldest son was always trying to get us to communicate better or to laugh.
JANA – Did you consider, or did your husband consider counseling?
JILL – We did have a lot of counseling. Not continuously, because each time we met with a counselor for more than three or four times, he started to feel like they were conspiring against him or they hated him or they, whatever. So we’d always stop. And then when everything blew up again, I’d insist that we go back and see somebody. I had to threaten divorce a couple of times for us to go back and see a counselor because I couldn’t do it anymore without some guidance. And I always thought with counseling that I was going to go there and tell the counselor, all the things that were wrong with my husband, and they were going to somehow fix things or fix him. And that’s never how it was. The counselors were always so amazing at helping me to see things in a better light, and to see what I could do to help the situation. For instance, just the simplest thing: I just felt, again, like a martyr, like I’m doing all this work and my husband’s sitting there watching TV, and why is this my life?
JILL – And we went to counseling and the counselor said, Why don’t you sit and watch TV with him? Well, the dishes need to be done. Do they? Why can’t you leave the dishes… and you know, it was such a revelation, that it was okay to leave the dishes in the sink overnight and go watch TV with my husband. And so just little things like that, that the counselors would teach me just made so much difference in my life.
JANA – And how did you find the counseling?
JILL – Our first one, our very first one was referred to us by his diagnosing psychiatrist when we finally had him diagnosed with his mental stuff, long after his original hospitalization because of the bleeding. And that psychiatrist had a go- to counselor that was amazing. She had a father and a brother who were schizophrenic. And she understood my husband and me so well, and she was the very best of the best. So we worked with her for a while and she – because our psychiatrist said, I would never leave the children home alone with your husband if I were you
JILL – And I thought, really? Cuz my kids were better at handling him than I was. We shouldn’t leave ME home with my husband, if anybody should stay home alone with my husband.
JANA – What was the concern that the psychiatrist expressed for that scenario?
JILL – Well, like I said, he was delusional, and he would get so upset about just things that weren’t real.
JANA – But he wasn’t violent toward the kids, right?
JILL – No. No, never. Or me. And I told the psychiatrist that and he said, Well, you never know, it could escalate. But our counselor that he referred us to, she interviewed my kids, each individually, and told me that she felt certain that my children were safe with my husband. And that was such a relief because I took them back out of the daycare that they were going to after school, and it was just so nice.
JANA – And did you initiate the suggestion of a counselor with the psychiatrist? Or did he offer it? Sometimes the medical professional that you see doesn’t even offer, you know, a name for counselor. Did you ask for that?
JILL – Right. I wanted the psychiatrist to tell me what to do, because we were there, and he was giving me the diagnosis. And he was saying all these things. And I’m like, Well, what can I do? What should I expect of him? When can I expect him to do this? And when can I expect him to do that? And the psychiatrist said, You can’t ever expect him to do anything. And I thought, well, what am I supposed to do, then? He’s my husband. You know, he’s the father of my children. He’s in my house all the time. And so I was expecting him to come up with some answers. And so that’s when he referred me to her.
JANA – I see. So how have your coping methods changed over time? I mean, obviously, you’re handling a lot, over – we’re talking 20 years now, since he stopped working. How have your coping methods changed over time?
JILL – Well, like I said, the counselors each would give me little tips here and there, that would help me a lot. And the reason I decided to write the book, finally… lots of people over the years have told me, you’ve gotta write a book about this. And I just put it off because I was so busy. You know, I didn’t want to take the time out to write a book and take care of my own kids and stuff. But my attitudes have changed incrementally until last year, when I decided to write my book, I got some life coaching, partly because I had started a business because my thumbs and fingers are shot and I can’t really do physical therapy very easily anymore. And so I decided to start a business as a health coach because I had put myself through health coach school when my joints started giving me problems. But then I got life coaching to help me with my business. And this life coach that I work with has been just amazing and helping me see things from a totally different light. Like I used to think I can be happy in spite of the situation. It kind of reminded me of an interview you did several weeks ago with John Leland. And I remembered the name of it: “Happiness is a Choice You Make.” And he talked about people being happy in spite of things and stuff like that, but I learned that I can be happy because of our situation.
JILL – And it’s really a concept that has just given us so much joy, both me and my husband, and he’s kind of been involved in some of the life coaching that I have. And we have realized that we have a wonderful life. I know it sounds horrible how I’ve described it so far, but our kids are amazing. We have so much love in our family. My husband, he has a great sense of humor. He’s a blast to be around. He has, like I said, a really strong spiritual nature. And so he’s really sensitive and understanding and he loves to just get to the bottom of things. That used to drive me absolutely nuts because he just wanted to communicate everything to death, and beat a dead horse.
JILL – But that’s actually proved to be such a blessing because if there’s any bad tension or anything between him and one of the boys, or he senses that there might be, he calls them and says, I hope you didn’t take offense to blah, blah, blah that I said. They’re like, No, of course, I didn’t take any offense. But he just loves to always clear the air. And our life is really good. And our kids are amazing. They have really happy, productive lives.
JANA – How old are they now?
JILL – They’re really good people. My oldest is 27. And he’s getting a Master’s degree in engineering and married to the most amazing girl I have ever met in my life. And she’s pregnant with our first granddaughter that’s going to be born in July. So, of course, I’m over the moon about that. And my middle son, in spite of all of my best advice over the years, joined the military. And he’s in the Army and he has done amazing things. He made it to the national level of the Best Warrior Competition in the National Guard.
JANA – The best what competition?
JILL – The Best Warrior Competition. It’s a competition of brute strength and intelligence. Like, they have to write a paper and they have to appear before five superiors and do an oral interview. And it’s really hard and physically, it’s just completely demolishing, it’s really hard. And he won four different levels to make it to the national level. And all of the people at the national level were just amazing. It was a wonderful experience for him and he has the sweetest, most amazing girlfriend. And she’s getting her PhD in Biochemical Engineering. And then my youngest son, he’s on a mission for our church and he is having a wonderful time.
JANA – And how old is he?
JILL – He’s 19.
JANA – Okay. They’re all grown now. And you’ve all been through a lot.
JILL – That’s why they’re so amazing. Like, they had some things really rough, but they had a lot of love. And they love their dad so much. And they are amazing people like, each of my kids befriended kids at school that were like the downtrodden, like, the kids that were teased because they had a lisp or they couldn’t do athletics or whatever. My kids all really smart and really athletic and talented in music and, like, a lady called me and said, Thank you so much, your son made a difference for my daughter in her life. So I think because of how they grew up, they have understanding for the plights that other people are in, and they’re really sensitive and kind.
JANA – Jill, what does self-care look like for you?
JILL – I’m glad you asked that question because self-care for me is mostly all mental. A lot of people when you talk to somebody and say what is self-care? Well, I get my nails done and I eat right, and those are all really good and important things. But unless you realize that you can be happy if you choose to – and it’s totally okay to be sad. Like, when your friend gets in a car accident and they’re in the hospital, that’s a time to be sad and maybe worried and to ask if there’s anything you can do. That’s all part of your mental health.
JILL – Mental health doesn’t mean just trying to be happy all the time and putting on a happy face in the midst of trials. But it just means realizing that you can be happy because of your trials, not in spite of them, and that all of the emotions are good to have. It’s good to be frustrated once in a while, because then you have the perspective of when you’re not frustrated. And it’s good to get all bent out of shape, and then get to the bottom of it and communicate. So self-care for me just means emotional stability, feeling all the emotions and not feeling any guilt about it.
JILL – For quite a while, I would feel really guilty about how distraught I was, or I would get depressed. I tried to commit suicide once and my son actually saved me. And it was because I was piling on a bunch of negative emotions and then having guilt because I would try to count all my blessings. I would list all my blessings, like the gurus say to do, they say, Oh, you have to be grateful. So I would try to be all grateful. And then I would just feel guilty because I had all these blessings and I still felt rotten. And so I was just piling on a lot of shame and guilt and things like that. And that wasn’t useful at all. And so I think for me self-care is just being able to feel the emotions and not having any regret.
JANA – And not having any judgment, it sounds like.
JILL – Right. Yes. Lots of compassion for myself.
JANA – If I could just go back for a minute to what you said earlier about leaving your husband for three months. If you don’t mind talking about what precipitated that… was there a specific event? And what gave you the strength to come back?
JILL – Well, it’s kind of a little bit PG-rated, but my husband has a very healthy sex drive, and was incessant at that point about me, you know, servicing him. And that’s what it’s become, because I lost interest long ago, and I – like if he leaves me alone for a few days at a time then I get interested again, but he really has a hard time leaving me alone for a few days at a time. And so he was being really just incessant. And I just had had enough. And I said, I just can’t do this anymore. And I left for three months. And our boys ganged up on us and made us go to counseling. I was ready to be done.
JANA – Where did you go when you left for three months?
JILL – I just went and lived with my parents for three months… because I didn’t know what to do yet at that point. My youngest was 14, my two older kids had left the house, but they were pretty young, and they definitely ganged up on us and would not let me divorce him until I went to some counseling. So it was the first time I had been forced to go to counseling instead of me forcing my husband to go to counseling. Because I was completely done, I felt. I just didn’t even want to go to counseling. I had no desire to make the relationship work anymore. And so the counselor worked on my behavior and taught me how to say no, and I love you. Instead of No, and I’m mad at you, and I hate you. And this is horrible and my life is crap.
JILL – I learned from him and also from my life coach right now that there’s a whole different way you can deal with it. You can say, No, we’re not going to, and I still love you. And everything’s okay. And it’s so – I mean, Jana, it sounds so simple. But it hadn’t ever dawned on me that I could act like that.
JANA – It sounds simple, but if you’ve never heard it before it doesn’t even occur to you that it’s an option, right?
JILL – No. Exactly.
JANA – So what are some of the other things that have helped you, in terms of just enjoying your life and enjoying each other and accepting where you guys are?
JILL – Just noticing everything that is good about our life. And I, of course, notice the bad things. Our brains are totally wired to notice danger and to notice the bad, and it’s just so important to – don’t judge yourself when you notice the bad, but just say, you know what? But I can just notice this other thing too, and this is really good. And even in the early days when things are really hard, and I was totally messed up and I didn’t know where to go or what to do, I just got so much joy from watching my husband read to the kids. He would take on voices and he will be so silly. He’d have my kids just roaring with laughter on the couch as he read to them. And so I really enjoyed that.
JILL – But most recently, I realized there’s something for military people or anybody, even if they’re not military, there’s PTSD. And then there’s SPTSD. SPTSD is Secondary PTSD, and it’s what caregivers or family members do when their loved one has PTSD and their caregiver kind of tiptoes around and looks for danger to make sure that their loved one doesn’t encounter it themselves. Or they try to create a good environment for their loved one. Or they try to keep things calm, or look out for, you know, that helicopter that might go over that might send their loved one under the table.
JILL – And I think there’s a secondary schizophrenia that I adopted. I often told people, I’m just always walking on eggshells. And my kids don’t deserve this. And all kinds of dumb things I would say to myself that just were not useful. And it dawned on me that I don’t have to walk on eggshells for my husband. I can let him walk on a;; the eggshells he wants. He’s schizophrenic, that’s his job. My job is to just be happy and to just take care of all of us. So I don’t walk on eggshells anymore.
JILL – One thing that really, really changed about him when he got sick was his sense of scarcity with money issues. He is terrified that we’re going to lose the house, or he’s terrified that we’re not going to have the money for this or for that. So when it came time to shop for anything, whether it was groceries or a gift for someone, he was always really wanting to have a lot of control over that. And that used to be a big source of my frustration, was his controlling stuff about money. And so I would literally sign the kids up for sports or I would go buy a shower gift for my friend, or whatever, without telling him and then I just take the heat for it later. Because if I brought it up before, he wouldn’t let me, or we would have a big fight or something.
JILL – But just recently, when we found out that my daughter-in-law was going to have a baby shower for her baby, I told my husband, I’m going to go to Walmart and get some baby gifts. And he said, can I go? And so this was a walking on eggshells kind of thing that I used to do, I would think, oh, you can’t go because then you’ll tell me what I can and can’t spend or whatever. And so I said, Yeah, you can go. And I just decided to be happy and just deal with it. So we got to the store. We got a couple of little baby board gifts that were board books, and I thought he was gonna say that’s enough. But I said I’m going to go over here and look at some little outfits.
JILL – So we went over to the clothing section and I found some cute little outfits, and he went over to where there were some cute onesies. And they said the cutest things on them, like, Take Me To Grandma’s and Let the Spoiling Begin, and My Dad Says I Can’t Date Till I’m 30, and just the cutest onesies, and we bought five or six of them. But he was over there in the onesies and picking them all out and he was crying. He was so excited for his granddaughter. And it was just a really fun experience of the shopping trip and the shower and everything – wrapping the presents – and he was involved, and we were happy, and it was fun. Because I decided to stop walking on eggshells a while ago. And this is how it’s working. And so that’s just been the best thing ever, to stop the schizophrenia. The secondary stuff. I just have to take care of me. And that takes care of us.
JANA – You sound like a warrior, yourself. So hats off.
JILL – Oh, thank you.
JANA – Well, it’s been almost 30 years since your husband came back from the Gulf War. You’ve talked a lot about some of your learnings and how you’ve changed. Is there anything that you want people to know about military caregivers that you think they might not know?
JILL – I listened to a song a while back, and it was online, and it listed a whole bunch of resources that people could go to whether they were the warrior or the veteran or the caregiver. Lots of resources you could go for support and help. And in the song, it talks about how so many people are living on the streets and so many people are getting divorces, and there’s so much suicide. And it’s just heartbreaking how so many people don’t have the tools to stay together. And I think I want people to know that it’s okay if they can’t stay married. I don’t want people to feel guilty if they can’t do it.
JILL – I don’t want people to feel like they failed. Because I’ve been there. I want people to know that it’s okay if you can’t be the caregiver. That there’s resources, and to just get online and just – there’s so many caregiver Facebook groups. And, granted, a lot of the caregiver Facebook groups, people just get on there and vent. And you can get on there and just be deluged with a lot of negativity. But there’s so many people that post in response to the people that vent, that have the best ideas and the best attitudes. And a lot of times they give concrete, like, look up this source or go to this agency or go to this place. Like, you can see who vented, but just ignore the vent and just go to the comments, because people really know where the answers are, and they can help you find the help that you need.
JANA – That sounds like a good place to end, unless you would like to add anything else before we close.
JILL – I’m good. I’m just bawling my eyes out, so I think I’m good with stopping. I do have a resource that I’d like to offer to people. It’s on my website, www.jillarmijo.com. And the resource is a thing that you can use when people say Is there anything I can do for you? It’s so hard for caregivers, when well-intending neighbors and friends and family want to help, but they don’t know what you need. Like, they don’t want to barge into your kitchen and just start doing your dishes. And it’s so hard for them to know what you need. And it’s so hard for you to know what they can or [are] willing to do for you. And I’ve made a nine-page document. Each page is a little category of, like, there’s personal care and child care, and all kinds of things like chores and technical and electronic, just different things that other people can look this document and circle something or X something or they can say, Oh, I can help you with this.
JILL – And so it’s user-friendly. You can make it according to what kinds of things you need. And then you can hand it to somebody that says, Is there anything I can do to help? And they can look at it and figure out what they can do that’s on the list, that they’d like. So that’s just a little thing that I wrote up for people. I think it’s an amazing help. And it’s just on my website.
JANA – And by the way, that is a way that we can say, Thank you for your service. You can look at this list and say, Okay, I’m going to do that. That’s how you can say Thank you.
JILL – Yeah. Yeah.
JANA – We’ve been speaking with Jill Armijo, who’s a caregiver for her husband Joe, a wounded warrior and father to three grown sons, who Jill says have become responsible, compassionate and talented young men. What else can you hope for as a parent, right? Jill’s a health and wellness coach who’s also been a Physical Therapist Assistant for 28 years, and she’s working on a book whose working title is, “Home of the Unknown Soldier: How Coming Back Became the Other Ultimate Sacrifice.” And we’ll have more information on that as it becomes available. Jill, thank you so much for being on the show and for being so candid, and for giving us your perspective. I really appreciate it.
JILL – Thank you, Jana.
UPDATE: Jill’s book, “Home of the Unknown Soldier: How Coming Back Became the Other Ultimate Sacrifice,” was published after this episode aired, and it is now available on Amazon.