Navy Chief Fights PTSD With Family's Help
As the nightmares took control of him, the sailor's wife wrapped her arms around him and told him he was safe, comforting him until he calmed down and went back to sleep.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Averill Malone, a logistics specialist, has been married to his wife, Ida, for eight years, and he said the support he receives from his wife as a spouse and caregiver helps him with his post-traumatic stress symptoms.
"She tells me I'm safe, especially on those nights when I'm waking up screaming and jumping from nightmares," he said. "When I get depressed or the anxiety starts kicking in, she says, 'Baby, you're safe.' I love her for loving me through this."
Malone joined the Navy right out of high school and loved being in logistics during his 22 years of service, making sure equipment and mail got to and from the ships.
While he was deployed to Camp Victory in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, he was on a night patrol when he heard bombs, rockets and mortars land all around him.
"I was really scared for my life," Malone said. "I thought to myself, 'If it's my time, it's my time.' I just walked and prayed and sang songs."
When he came home, he said, he felt depressed and emotional, was anxious around loud noises and had trouble sleeping, but he didn't realize he had post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I took care of my sailors and just pushed on," Malone said.
He said that looking back, there was a decline in his work performance, but he didn't know how to ask for help and kept internalizing his feelings.
At home, he had rules for the children: Don't slam the doors, no loud music or television, and leave Dad alone and let him take naps.
The breaking point came in 2013, when his son Alonzo slammed a door. Malone and his son fought until his other son pulled him away. Through the help of his friends, he acknowledged something was wrong and checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
"At first my plan was I was just going to keep driving and run into something to kill myself but I called a battle buddy, James, he's been deployed several times," Malone said.
"It was 2 in the morning, and he said, 'I don't know what to do but go to Bethesda, and I'll meet you there.' I didn't know how to explain it and how to talk to people about it, but they finally got me a therapist, and that was the beginning," he said.
Ida Malone, who served as a Navy corpsman for eight years, said she was angry and hurt initially, because her husband hadn't told her he was hurting. They are both ministers, and she said she was also angry with God.
"I told God, 'You took him over there, and you broke him,'" she said, her voice breaking. "I told Averill, 'You lied to me. You shut me out."
She said when she went to visit him at Bethesda on the third day, she saw the shell of the man she knew and kept telling him, "I'm sorry. Whatever you need me to do, I'll do it. I just need you better."
She said getting counseling, going to counseling sessions together and meeting other caregivers and spouses of wounded warriors have helped her better understand post-traumatic stress and the role caregivers portray in wounded warriors' lives.
And now they also have Ruby, a 2-year-old service dog.
"Ruby's part of the family," Ida Malone said of the terrier. The dog has learned that when the family is cooking dinner it is time for Averill to take his medicine and will nudge him.
"Ruby has really helped me, because I didn't socialize," Averill Malone said. "Meeting new people and talking was hard. I hid it pretty well."
Ruby helped him heal, he said.
"She chose me; I didn't choose her. She just wanted love me and fix me, so it's a win-win situation. She calms me down when I get anxious and depressed and reminds me to take my meds. She's become an integral part of my treatment team."
Ida Malone said having a caregiver who is related to the wounded warrior can be beneficial. "We know them," she said. "We know their ins and outs. We know what triggers them. We know what they can and can't handle."
Navy Trials, DoD Warrior Games
Adaptive sports events give caregivers a chance to meet and share information, Ida Malone said. She said it also gives her a better appreciation for her situation.
"Every day is a struggle for everybody, be it the warrior, be it the caregiver, be it the provider," she said.
Last year, during his first time competing in archery in the Warrior Games, Averill Malone said the crowd and proximity of his fellow competitors made him nervous and anxious. He hadn't realized he was in the medal round, he said, and started shooting poorly.
Ida, always the one to say, "Suck it up," and "We've got this, Team Malone," said she got out of the stands and went over to him.
"She said, 'I want this medal. I want two 10s,'" Averill Malone said. "I said, 'Roger that.' And I went out and shot two 10s, and we got the bronze medal. It was like a movie, because I was shooting all over the place, and she just made me buckle down and focus. I was scared and nervous because I had never competed before and then I was like, 'OK, it's Team Malone. We can do this.'"
Teammates Become Family
When Averill Malone first tried archery last year, his wife wasn't with him at the camp. He said he wasn't doing very well, got depressed and had a few suicidal thoughts. But, he said, his coach and teammates built up his confidence and are now part of his treatment team.
"Every shot I took, they were like, 'Great job. You're doing well. Good shot. Hey, let's shoot for sodas. You're a chief, you can afford a soda,'" he said, wiping away a tear. "They helped me over a hump and seeing these guys again at the camp this year, it's been an amazing journey. I'm thankful."
Ida Malone said she is grateful for adaptive sports and her husband's teammates.
"Averill smiles more and opened up more," she said. "They are like his extended family. ... This is better than any counseling session or doctor's appointment, because they're amongst one another. They look out for each other more than any care provider or any doctor."
Averill also competes in cycling and enjoys fishing and painting. He said competing has given him confidence.
"I was looking at my shadow today, and I was like, 'Wow, that's the shadow of an athlete. That's the shadow of a warrior,'" he said.
2015 Warrior Games
Ida, their daughters, Dominique and Iyanna, their son, Joshua, and Averill's brother plan to attend the 2015 DoD Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, scheduled for June 19 to June 28.
"I want Averill to know he's supported. ... I just want him to have that satisfaction that his family and friends are in his corner cheering for him," Ida Malone said.
Ida and Averill
The couple met on a blind date in 2006, and Averill said he didn't know what love really was until he really trusted Ida with his internal struggles.
"When we got married, I knew I loved her, but I didn't know if there were limits to that love," he said. "She could've left me. She could've said, 'I didn't sign up for this.' I didn't know that love could carry us through like this, especially when I went into the hospital. To have her love in my corner and her say, 'Baby, you can do this' during those days when I was having a bad day and didn't want to put the uniform on, I'm really thankful for that type of love."
He said having his dog, Ruby, and his children were just added love.
"I love her for loving me through this and for loving me back to health," he said.
Averill Malone said he plans to retire from the Navy in August, and his wife is helping him with his transition into a civilian career. Ida Malone is pursuing her bachelor's degree in nursing.