One Military Mom's Struggle with PTSD

More than 230,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. And though they were barred from direct combat, they did not escape trauma. A retired lieutenant colonel who says she “loved the first Gulf war” now struggles against a personal enemy so fierce, it makes her afraid to hug her own grandchildren.

By Louise Farr
Robin Milonas, Robin Milonas's War, PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder,
Meditation, prayer and talk therapy are some of the methods Milonas uses to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Photograph: Jodi Bieber

Last year she attended a VA-sponsored weekend retreat for women veterans at a ranch near Spokane, where they were offered horseback-riding lessons, art classes and trust-building exercises. “I went in with no expectations, thinking I would get nothing out of it,” Milonas says. But something shifted as the women sat around the bonfire talking about the experiences that still haunt them at night. “I came out of this retreat telling myself I was going to have more good days,” she says. Milonas now feels ready to join a women veterans’ therapy group and is working on her driving in the hope of attending evening sessions this fall.

Teaching is still a trial, however—so much so that Milonas is talking to her doctors about whether she should apply for 100 percent disability benefits, which would enable her to focus full time on her recovery. Absent that magical “pink pill,” she is still facing a long slog. For example, she is driving more, “but I’m numbing more” to get through each effort, she admits. “I’m afraid that if I let my emotions show, I won’t be able to control them.”

So she gathers what strength she can muster and pushes on. “I’m trying,” she says about her grandchildren. “Usually, I shut myself off and say, ‘Hi, bye, see you guys later.’ But now I try to be a little closer, and I try to hug ’em.” It’s still not easy, and it still doesn’t feel quite right. But she does it all the same. “I just look at it as one of the things I have to do in order to get better—until it takes hold and becomes a part of me again.”

She turns from her dolls and picks up a quilt she’s been working on. It’s not as intricate as the ones she and Elizabeth Burris used to make, but its colors are vibrant: sunrise shades of gold, yellow and blue. In the middle of each square is a silhouette of a dark-skinned woman, arms outstretched. Perhaps Lt. Col. (ret.) Robin Milonas will be able to link together enough pieces to create a new whole.

LOUISE FARR is the author of The Sunset Murders. She is based in the Los Angeles area.

Click here to read PTSD: Not Just for Soldiers.

Originally published in the June 2011 issue of MORE.

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First Published May 24, 2011

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Comments

Paula 05.28.2011

I have great respect for Robin Milonas. She is to be admired for her strength, leadership, and courage as a soldier who served in our US Military. I congratulate Milonas on her journey of perseverance and efforts toward overcoming PDST. Like Milonas, my father, a WWII US Marine Veteran, worked very hard to gain disability benefits for his tooth decay he acquired oversees from the food supply of sugar cane. Unlike Milonas, my father is still trying to gain the disability benefits for this. After much effort with Dr's letters, exams, etc. but to no avail. I am thoroughly proud of my father's US Military service, as well. As he is one of the first US Montford Point Marines (a Black American Unit who served in WWII in the Pacific). Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you ALL the Best in your continued journey!

05.27.2011

Sorry for your trauma and let downs.I'm a vet that has been there and it's hard to explain what you have witness to others that just don't know the hardships of war .We have seen the worse that humanity has to show us but we are suppose to let it go and live a nornal life.Yeah right.We have giving the best of our selves and then we are put out there in the wind.People in the world think that we are nornal but they don't know how wrong they are.We are in need of help to cope with the nightmares that we've see and have to live with from day to day sometimes every hour or every minute.

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