Before I actually get into what this piece is all about, I ask that you take the time to go back and read the following blog posts: (they set the stage and tell a story when read together)
Messing with My Safe Place
Waking Up Snippy
A Much Needed Down Day
Finding Ways to Recreate My Space
OK. Those set the stage. The last one you see there was the final blog post I wrote for over six months. Things went downhill faster and faster after that. Over the course of the coming six months, I alienated all but a few friends, became more and more emotionally distant from my wife and daughter (I cannot begin to tell you how many tears I have cried over this. How much I have hurt my family). The part that made each slide downward even more painful was that I knew I was sliding and I felt powerless to stop what I saw happening. It took me the better part of the past month to process through all of this.
I think that's enough to absorb for one day. Please think about where you see the warning signs. Where I could have done things differently.
I will discuss all that I have learned from this past year in the second installment:
Powerless - A Look Back, Pt.2
If you recall, I posted this blog entry about a week ago: I also posted what I planned on doing to keep Mr. Hyde at bay. The Roll Call visual that I made for myself is really working. I put it on the side of the fridge. I see it every time I look toward the kitchen and it reminds me of the priorities I need to keep in the forefront of my mind.
Where Am I:
This may seem stupid, but it's not. It's asking are you at home, waking up after a night's sleep? OR Did you just wake up feeling like you are back in Iraq?
When Am I:
Yet another strange one, but necessary. One of the major issues that a lot of vets with PTSD suffer from is a loss of the sense of the passing of time. I ask myself this question a lot to make sure that time isn't getting away from me. Even if I am stable, my mind can get so involved with a line of thought or performing a task that I won't realize that one or two days have passed. Asking this question helps keep me grounded in the immediate present.
Who am I Living This Moment For:
If you answer, "for my family, my loved ones, the people I'll hurt, etc.", YOU ARE WRONG! You are living this moment for YOU. That is the only acceptable answer. Unless you can learn to live for yourself and getting yourself right, everything else that life sends your way becomes that much harder to cope with. I have found that focusing on me is making me healthy emotionally and giving me the energy I need to devote to everyone else. They see the difference. They know the difference.
When Was the Last Time I Did Something For Me:
Take time out every day for yourself, uninterrupted. I mean UNINTERRUPTED. No distractions. To do something you find enjoyable and lets you clear your head. It doesn't have to be for long, but take a little time for yourself!
What Are You Grateful For Today:
I am now into the habit of looking for what I am grateful to have in my life. I get up and look around and think about my life. I list off three things that I am grateful for. Today: My Family, Blogging, My Health
It may seem a little silly to do all of this on the surface, but retraining our minds to look at life in a positive light can only be done if we constantly remind ourselves - Every Day is a New Day!!
If you want to print out the Roll Call for yourself:
In this day and age, news is instant. The fat guy picking his nose on the corner could tweet the next big story. With this being the case, I don't understand why the major media outlets continue the archaic practice of needing to break a story first. With how fast word spreads, does it really matter if you were the ones who started the broadcast a half second before your competitor? The major media outlets used to stand by the veracity of what they were reporting whereas the smut and trash recanted on stories or changed the information mid stream. Now that's par for the course. When did this become OK?
Well, Mass Media, SHAME ON YOU. Thanks to your irresponsible reporting of the Afghani Murder Spree by an American soldier, we service members with PTSD have to start over. For the past eight to ten years, PTSD advocacy had been making great strides in breaking a stereotype. A stereotype that soldiers with PTSD were dangerous to others. We are, in fact, not going to go 'First Blood' on anyone. The numbers and statistics show that if we are at risk of killing anyone, it's not other people. So when you negative press whores smell the idea that SSG. Bales may have PTSD, what's the headline? "Afghanistan Shooting Suspect: Rampage May Have Been Caused By PTSD" Now that headline may not be literally what any of you said, but the implication was there and all of the advocacy groups are scrambling to recover from this gut blow.
So here's what I propose: An apology to the thousands of service members with PTSD (like me) for setting back pubic awareness and PTSD education a decade. I want to see a return to responsible journalism where getting the story right was more important than getting to the story first. I want to see stories on every station about how PTSD has been overcome by folks like me.
I know that there is a huge scandal right now with the large percentage of folks that got their PTSD assessments overturned on the base that SSG. Bales hails from. What hasn't been made is a connection between the two. What would have been responsible journalism is as follows:
"It appears that a large percentage of service members had PTSD assessments were overturned at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. While SSG. Bales was stationed at this base before his deployment, this investigation into PTSD assessments does not appear to have any connection to or bearing on SSG. Bales' state of mind at the time of the incident."
Did you catch the nuance? Did you? The way it's hypothetically reported above, discounts PTSD as a cause for the crimes committed and shoots down the idea that folks with PTSD are dangerous. So what happens if it becomes evident that he had an active duty PTSD assessment overturned by suits looking to fill deployment numbers? Then he becomes a victim of a system that didn't protect him or the others around him. If you send someone with PTSD back into the environment that caused the PTSD in the first place, a person could go off the deep end, true. But if that person was known to have PTSD and if put in this situation could become a danger to himself and others, the folks who overturned his PTSD assessment should be the ones on trial for mass murder, for not protecting a service member with a disability.
OK, I've said my piece. What's done is done. I can't change that people are going to look at me and check for a weapon if I say the word PTSD. What I can do is shout loud and clear to all of my brothers and sisters out there who have to suffer this stigma, Stay Strong! We are all proud of you and we know and understand the truth. Never back away of who you are: A PTSD SURVIVOR!
I checked my website mail on the 18th and found a very heartfelt cry for help from a kind and generous young woman who was asking my advice. Here's what she said:
I have dated a veteran with PTSD for 3 months now and over the past month he has slowly closed himself off from the world and now from me. I have tried to reach out to him in numerous ways only to get an awful "silence" in return. He has told me that he cares for me very much and wants to see things work out between us, but his behavior says anything but that. At one point he was extremely depressed and would not answer my texts or calls when I was checking in to see if he was alright, I feared he might hurt himself because he has cut himself of from family, friends, and then me. Is this typical of PTSD, to shut out the people who love you the most????? He knew he was hurting me with his silence yet he let it continue.
My struggle is this: do I just continue to pray for his healing from a distance and send him love with my thoughts in hopes that things will get better because I so want to be there for him, or do I let it go and try to move on........... Any insight into PTSD and intimate relationships, about what to expect, how to handle when your loved one goes "AWOL", and thought processes of vets when this is happening to them would be greatly appreciated. It is also extremely painful to sit back and watch someone you love dearly suffer and not be able to help!!!!!!
Sorry this is so long....so much to say. Thank you for your service, your dedication to helping others through your journey, and for listening to people like me who want to help our loved ones pain stop! You are a true blessing.
For obvious reasons, I would really love to hear back from women who have suffered through this uncertainty. I can't give insight into how to best cope with this, but I can do my best to give insight into how a veteran may be feeling in his shoes.
Starting off with some PTSD and Depression 101: Emotional Detachment is the BIGGEST ENEMY in a new relationship with a veteran. I know, from my experience, the intensity of the emotions a had for my wife scared me. I wanted to close myself off, but I couldn't. I tried, and she saw right through it. The major difference was that I was not depressed at the time. When someone is experiencing strong emotions and is depressed at the same time, it's like overloading a circuit. The breaker trips and the connection is severed.Since I first met my wife, there have been times where my depression and PTSD caused me to become emotionally inaccessible. Those are the hardest times a loved one has to live through. Knowing how much it hurt my wife, it is also some of the deepest guilt I have ever felt.This is where it starts to get a little dicey: Emotional Detachment, caused by the PTSD and Depression can be serious cause for concern. Alienating friends and pushing loved ones away is standard, par for the course depressive behavior. Here's the tricky part. Before I started getting serious treatment, my mother had gotten some amazing things as gifts for me if I wanted them. I told her I didn't and proceeded to sort through all of the stuff that meant anything to me and prioritize who would get what. I was having serious suicidal thoughts. I am not saying this to scare you, just to make sure you are aware of the warning signs of suicidal behavior. IfTHIS sounds like your man, get him help!!
Is this typical of PTSD, to shut out the people who love you the most????? He knew he was hurting me with his silence yet he let it continue. Let me describe for you how it felt when I was suffering from a PTSD episode and depressed at the same time. Just imagine the situation:I get home from a long day at work. I sit down and my daughter, barely over a year old, wants my attention. I give her a hug and hand her off to mama. I sit down without saying a word and start playing Xbox360. My wife sits down in front of me (her cue for rub my shoulders, oh love of mine) and asks how my day went. My response was a non-committal grunt and that was it. She got up after a few more minutes. I never said hi, I never said anything. I never touched her to reassure her. She knew full well what was going on. Looking back the only way I can describe what I felt was like being in a sound proof glass room, my PTSD between me and my family. I banged loud and hard on that glass, wanting to touch my wife, tell her how much I love her. My PTSD had taken over. It took over because I was afraid. I was afraid that if I didn't have my PTSD under tight control, I could hurt my family even worse. Don't let anyone with PTSD buy into this line of self-deluding bullshit.Yes, I said that harshly - it's something I have to remind myself of every day. If you are afraid of your PTSD, it takes over your life. The fear of what will happen in ANY situation overwhelms a person. What could have been a safe place or event or past time all of a sudden becomes dangerous - what if the PTSD gets out of control? Yeah, WHAT IF?? I had a conscious choice to make: Confront my fear of my PTSD ruining every aspect of my life or not. I chose to keep my family in one piece and to start learning how to rethink my relationship with my PTSD. It's still a work in progress but I am making strides in the right direction. For your sake and his, I hope he chooses to love over living in fear.Two real-world pieces of advice: Find a vet center near you. They can get you into support groups and help educate you on what to expect. Lastly, after educating yourself and hearing from the spouses and caregivers that will definitely give you perspective, you need to be fair to yourself and your veteran: Is my love for this person strong enough to support this relationship? You NEED to ask yourself this question. If you don't think you have the ability to love a person in this way, it doesn't make you a bad person. Being in a relationship like this takes a very strong committment from day one. You have to answer that question if nothing else.OK, that's my input based on my personal experience. There are many other people that I would love to ask to share their experiences here. I know many will. Also, you are more than welcome to join the Facebook Page community and find outreach and understanding there as well. You can remain anonymous and just listen to what folks have to say.I hope to hear from a lot of you on this subject matter. Let's band together and help out a young woman in love!
I know, a shocker, right? Well, the last 24 Hours taught me a thing or two. In the middle of the afternoon yesterday, I started having some chest congestion. I didn't think anything of it. My allergies had given me post nasal drip the day before. It was only logical that some of that would be working its way out. By dinner, I could barely breathe - every breath was labored. I thought, 'just an anxiety attack - it'll pass'. Next thing I know, I'm delirious and on my to the emergency room. The immediate assessment - Reactive Airway Disease...A generalized term that covers all respiratory maladies from bronchitis to COPD. I am sitting here typing this on the hospital bed, thinking about the fact that the doctors are steering away from making a prognosis - that is never a good sign.
When you get a potentially life-threatening physical malady like whatever the hell I have, it makes you take stock of the things that have happened recently in your life: What I realized is that I had been living my life 'in spite of' my PTSD. My life decisions were always made around how my PTSD would handle it - putting the PTSD squarely in my central focus. The outcome: stressing myself out about everything, striving to keep my PTSD under control. The stress levels got so high that I started shutting out my family from how I was feeling. Now you pile all of this stress and worry on top of all that and what do you have? Epiphany.
Epiphany. The realization that stressing out how I was going to react to any given situation based on my past experiences was like creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of my worst nightmares with my PTSD were coming true because I walked on eggshells around my PTSD. NO MORE!
-My PTSD no longer controls my strings: If my PTSD has caused me issue in that situation before, it will be duly noted but my fear of my PTSD will not stop me from putting myself out there.
-If life has more unwelcome surprises in store for me I will not spend my precious family time wrapped up in an acronym.
-This health scare has galvanized my will to fight - to be the man I know I am. I will openly recognize my limitations, communicate these limitations to my VA docs, and move forward, confident that the choices I make are the best for my long-term well-being.
I have the energy and emotional fortitude to get one thing right in all of this: ME. If I can figure me out, well...That's all I need to do to be the husband my wife deserves and the father my daughter needs.
This is a subject I still struggle to get right. How do you know when is the best time to share your struggles with family and friends? How much do you share? Are you ready to share at all?
These questions can drive a person nuts when they are still recovering from an episode. It can slow down the recovery or even set it back a little. The way I see it is simple:
Don't share until you are stable if the person you are telling is emotionally invested in your well-being (i.e. - parents, spouses, etc.) This can cause them unnecessary worry and make them feel obliged to offer up unsolicited advice. Find someone you can share with who is outside of your real world support group. Having someone to talk to that will remain clear-headed is a must. So many folks are concerned about being transparent with their loved ones that they forget that this healing process is for them too! Take time out for yourself. Any other approaches to these questions, let me know!
Even without PTSD, every person has these days. You know which ones I mean - the ones where nothing can go right for you or anyone else around you. The kind of day that starts off toxic and ends toxic. It can cause a lot of hard feelings. This kind of day can damage already fragile relationships. That being said, let me tell you about my day yesterday...
For me, Thursday never ended. I was up all night because of sinus pain and an inability to lay down. This translated in to being delirious in the morning. I was useless. Needless to say, this really ticked my wife off. I ended up sleeping the vast majority of the day away once I was able to get my hands on some allergy medication that worked worth a damn. This left her to work, take care of our daughter - take care of everything. One thing leads to another and we are mad at each other over nothing. She's mad because she's afraid it's the PTSD making me useless. I'm mad because I have stated from the very first conversation I had with my wife that day that I feel like someone used me as a punching bag. I'm mad because her attitude toward me changed and it was because of something that was completely out of my control.
So what do you do when you have a day like this? I looked at the clock. 2130. I thought, "Screw it. Tomorrow's a New Day." Some people say that it isn't healthy to go to bed angry. I disagree. It's not healthy to go to bed angry at each other. In this instance, we were mad at the situation. Royally, fucking pissed at the situation. There's a major difference between the two. The first can be resolved through communication. When its the situation, not the people that are causing the problem, talking it out can just make things worse. Just chalk it up as a bad day and start fresh the next.
Today is one of those days where I feel like my PTSD is waiting in the wings like Mr. Hyde. I can visualize it rubbing its palms together in anticipation of me slipping up. It's one of the major reasons I decided to start a new little program for myself on the fridge:
Where am I?
When am I?
Who am I living in the moment for?
When was the last time I did something for me?
What are you grateful for today?
I am going to get into the habit of answering these questions every day to help keep me focused on the here and now and not on what could happen tomorrow. If I allow myself to go down that route, wondering about tomorrow, catastrophic thinking worms its way in and I start stressing out about stuff that hasn't even happened yet. I know that I, like most vets in this situation, need constant reminders to live in the moment. To put the past and future in proper perspective. I will keep you all posted on how this is going. If anyone else has anything that they do to help with this (a process or a mantra you say to yourself). I would love to hear about it!!
If you are interested in putting up what I am now calling my personal Roll Call, the document is embedded below!
Three times in the past day I have been asked how you reassure your wife that it's not her fault. Many combat vets with PTSD, when they are in a bad stretch, become emotionally detached. They become depressed, unresponsive to the loving administrations of their spouse. The bad news: There is no silver bullet to fix this.
The good news: There is a lot you can do to reinforce that your PTSD is not her fault.
The following is based on my personal experience:
I'm a Failure: many spouses feel like a failure if they can't snap you out of it. They feel that your emotional distance is because they have done something to make you love them less. We all know this is not the case. Logically, they know that it's not their fault, but their heart is telling them something different.
Recommendation: Even though you don't feel up to it, force yourself to reassure her. Touch her on the arm, give her hugs, back rubs, your undivided attention for just a second to look her in the eyes and tell her it's NOT HER FAULT. Make sure it registers. Say it as often as needed.
Feeling Isolated: Look into finding her a support group for spouses who are struggling. In many cases, just knowing she's not the only one going through this can validate her feelings and make it easier to accept that the PTSD is the problem - not her.
Recommendation: A really good resource for this can be found here if you prefer face-to-face support. There are a lot of online peer-to-peer support networks. Check out this website for more information. You need to help your spouse find the support she needs. It can be hard to focus on anything other than yourself - PTSD is inherently a selfish malady from my experience (selfish, as in you get wrapped up in yourself and have not time for anyone else).
Feeling Overwhelmed: Your spouse, when things get this bad, often has to do everything alone - tending the house, working, tending to children, paying bills, etc. Oh yeah, and tending to YOU.
Recommendation: Take all of that responsibility for a while. As exhausting as it will be for you to tend to everything for a day, tell your wife to go take a day for herself. You take care of everything at home. If you don't trust yourself to attend to the children and you have family nearby, tell them the situation and ask them to take the children off your hands to help your spouse stay sane. If you are feeling stable enough to reciprocate emotionally, take a day away for both of you. Your gentle and intimate touch can make all the difference in the world.
These are the big ones I can think of. There are other marital issues, but concerning reassuring your spouse that your PTSD is not her fault is pretty well covered by this list. If there is anything I didn't cover or any specific questions, please comment on this blog post. I would also love to hear from other people to hear what they do to battle this.
The other night I had a really strange nightmare. I was in a carriage stop talking to this old guy about a 19th century lithograph. He kept on talking to me and was saying how wonderful he thought the work was and that it meant a lot to him. It was 1889 (don't ask me how I know what year it was...) and this guy was really freaking me out. I recognized him from somewhere, but I couldn't place where. I woke up, shook it off and went back to sleep about 20 minutes later. The dream started right back up where it left off. I was lucid in the dream. I knew I was me and I knew that it was the wrong time period. I knew this old man shouldn't be there. Anywhere. I was getting progressively more scared because I couldn't wake up. I felt trapped in my dream. I woke up again and stayed awake until it was time to drag my exhausted butt to work. I remembered the dream, which is really uncommon for me and it stuck with me all day, distracting me and nagging at my mind. I realized the following day why the dream and the old man bothered me so much: The old man was the soldier I witnessed killed in the friendly-fire incident. My mind had imagined him as an old man. This was the first time that he had visited me in this way - normally I would relive the trauma. This really set me off kilter. Anyone else experience something like this?
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.