My new book Plenty of Time When We Get Home details how I met Brian McGough, the man who became my husband, and how he sustained a penetrating traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Iraq. I then chronicle how he spiralled down, suffering from the cognitive deficits related to the TBI as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of that trauma, while also abusing alcohol to try to numb the pain. I tried to be brutally honest about how bad the symptoms of those disorders can be, both for the person struggling with them and for loved ones. In the second half of the book, I explore how we survived and even came to thrive, by persistently seeking care, forging communities of our peers, and turning to advocacy in order to ease the transitions of veterans still coming home after us.
Please tell us about meeting Brian.
While I was deployed to Iraq as part of the US Army in 2003, I met a tall, handsome, charismatic, smart, sarcastic man named Brian. It was Iraq - not a romantic place, at least not while at war! So we couldn't go out on a date or anything like that. But we spent a lot of time talking and getting to know one another, including a lot of verbal sparring. One night I confessed to him that I wanted to get to know him better, and he said, "Don't worry, there's plenty of time for that when we get home." Just a few months later, he was grievously wounded by an IED (improvised explosive device), and it looked as if I might never get that chance.
How did you come to be an Arabic linguist in the US Army?
I enlisted in the Army in 2000, seeking a challenge, money for graduate school, and a way to serve my country. Although I chose to become a linguist, it was random chance that the Army assigned me Arabic instead of Korean or Chinese. On 9/11, it was immediately clear that my military career was going to be very different than it would have been otherwise.
You are also the author of Love My Rifle and More Than You, so what can you tell us about these books?
In my first book, I tell the story of how I came to enter the military and what it was like to be a woman soldier in the Iraq war. When I came home, there were very few stories by or about women in the military, and it was important for me to show a more nuanced and realistic vision of what women in the military experience today, both positive and negative.
What were your biggest highs and lows in your journey together?
The lowest point in our journey to healing was shortly after Brian was medically retired. His disability compensation hadn't yet begun, and we both ended up on unemployment. While I'd been counting on his eventual recovery when things were rough, one of his case managers had said, "The only improvements would've been in the first 18 months," which was devastating. During a particularly terrible fight, I became so hopeless that death seemed like the only escape, and I begged him to kill me; he put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Luckily it wasn't loaded.
The biggest highs have been - oh, this is so cliche! - having two wonderful children together. It's been wonderful to see Brian recover far beyond anyone's expectations, although it took longer than I thought it would (it wasn't until 6 years post-injury that he was able to read a book again), and once it was clear that he was stable and doing tremendously well, we adopted our son Duncan; 18 months later his sister Alayna was born. They've brought a tremendous amount of joy into our lives.
What prompted you to write your experience down?
I wanted to share a story of hope, healing, and inspiration with others - particularly wounded warriors and their families, but also all who have experienced trauma (which can come in many forms, from violence to car accidents to natural disasters) or their loved ones. I want people to know that with proper services and support, there can be a 'new normal' in which even those who have experienced great tragedy can lead fulfilling lives and contribute to their communities in new ways - both to encourage those struggling to recover to continue seeking care, and to remind society that we are obligated to provide proper services and support to the troops we sent to war once they come home and become veterans, as well as their families.
What is next for you?
Brian just started going back to college this semester, which is an exciting new stage in our lives. I continue to work at a think tank doing research and analysis on national security and veterans issues, and would love to devote more time to writing in the future if it becomes financially viable.