Six years ago, my husband experienced a sound concussion (after many other concussions while on active duty) that erased decades of memory and put me in the role of caregiver overnight. A very wise friend told me to not call myself his caregiver but simply his wife. Our lives revolved around attending medical appointments and fighting for his benefits. It took four years before our life stabilized to our new normal. My biggest reward is knowing we can face any challenge together.
Hello, my name is Jenn Shepherd, and here is my story. My husband and I have been married eight years and we have two sons, 19 and 21. I am a two-time breast cancer survivor and my husband’s full time caregiver. In 2011, my husband was deployed in Afghanistan when he was struck by an IED. The injuries he sustained were a spinal cord injury, neurogenic bladder, TBIs, and Severe PTSD. He has severe nerve damage in his lower extremities causing him to fall a lot and extreme pain every day. I help him with his daily living activities and management of all his medications and all appointments. He has had four back surgeries and now has failed surgery syndrome. Surgery will never be an option of treatment. I have spent many hours researching holistic and different treatment plans, medications and side effects and treatments to keep him off too many medications.
Being a full-time caregiver is a very difficult commitment especially when it’s your spouse you are taking care of. It’s a battle separating yourself as a spouse and caregiver. Putting on different hats, I struggle with my identity and worth. I struggle with the two different roles a lot. Trying to give him his freedom but also trying to remind him of his limits without nagging. In his mind, he’s frustrated at the limits he has; he wants to go back to how it used to be. That’s our biggest struggle for sure, learning to live this new way of life and navigating it together. Being a two-time cancer survivor it’s a struggle with my self-care and his care sometimes. Making the time to care for you and your needs are crucial. I struggle with it a lot and feel guilty sometimes. The mental load of it all can be the most draining. I have been in therapy to help me navigate through his needs and my own. I have difficulties with depression, secondary PTSD, high anxiety, and self-worth.
Caregiving is also very rewarding. I have experienced breakthroughs with my husband that has brought us closer together and having hope together is the most rewarding thing we share. We lean on each other in some ways and has made us stronger, especially in communication. We have had a lot of fun together in our dark times as well. We joke a lot about each other’s health issues and everything we go through. That has gotten us through so many challenges in our marriage. We have done different couple and family programs that help with finding balance between you, your spouse and children. Some programs geared around the caregiver and give me respite when needed. My husband is my best friend and wouldn’t share this life with anyone else. I believe we were brought together to help each other and love one another unconditionally. Through it all we remain blessed and hopeful that we can live our lives to the fullest and always remember the love we have for each other.