Hi, I'm Denise Weller, and I live in Ohio with my husband Don and our Therapy dog, Theo. Like many of you, I am a wife, mother, grandparent, friend, and just plain crazy about puppies.
I am also a type-A personality, workaholic, self-motivated and determined. Some might say to a fault.
What am I NOT? I am not a veteran, I am not a caregiver and I am not a military wife. But PTSD has profoundly changed my personal and professional life and sent me on a journey that would forever change how I view the world and my place within it.
My life and passion were theatre, dance, rehearsals, and the stage
Professionally, my background is in the performing arts, working in the fields of dance and theatre as a teacher, dancer, author, and choreographer. In 1992, I founded Ohio Dance Theatre, a professional ballet-based contemporary dance company, and served as the company's Artistic Director for 25 years.
Who I am
And then there were the unseen consequences of war
I have told you that I am not from a military family, and before my daughter Megan’s marriage to Jeremy, I knew little to nothing of what it meant to live with someone in the service. In 2005, my son-in-law deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion 25th Marines. While in Iraq, he received multiple injuries, including PTSD, TBI, along with several less severe injuries that resulted from 3 IED explosions.
… and the Spectre of PTSD
Over the next ten years, Megan and Jeremy’s marriage expanded to include something that had followed him home from Iraq; the demons trapped inside his head. Their home became a battleground playing out on the home front. Megan was at the end of her rope and wondered how she could go on. Finally, through her own research and investigation, She began to understand that what was happening to her, to Jeremy, and their family had nothing to do with their marriage. It wasn’t her fault or Jeremy’s fault. She began to educate herself on how to live with PTSD and TBI and to find a “new normal.” Watching the positive change that took place in the family, I became angry.
So, I was angry
I was angry because I realized, had Jeremy’s diagnosis made ten years earlier included information, education, resources, and some type of support for Megan, the damage to the family might have been avoided. I knew Megan had spent those ten years isolated, confused, and alone, struggling to get through each day, fighting anxiety and depression, desperately holding herself together. I realized that with education and support, she and her family could have been spared the heartbreak and hopelessness of those years.
Only after extensive research and finally connecting with other veterans' families did Megan begin to understand that her husband's PTSD and TBI were responsible for the changes in their relationship. Their life has hope because Megan was able to learn the vital role she plays in helping her family live with PTSD and TBI. We have created Hearts of Patriots in hopes that other military families don’t spend months or years before realizing how the invisible wounds of PTSD and TBI are slowly destroying them.
Why I do this
Even when the path seems clear, you just never know where the journey will take you
I realized how little many of us know or understand the challenges faced by our combat veterans, their spouses, and families. Particularly families whose veterans suffer from invisible wounds of war. Frustrated and not knowing how to fix the problem, I created a theatrical performance to tell their story. The result was “Blood Stripe: a Spouse's Story,” which premiered at Cleveland Public Theatre in the spring of 2017. The response from the audience was enlightening, and I quickly learned how widespread the problem was. My daughter and son-in-law were far from the only couple living in this darkness, not knowing what to do.
I decided that I would create a documentary to help educate the public. Still, I quickly realized I needed to do more, and In 2017, Hearts of Patriots was founded so that others would not have to endure similar struggles alone.