On May 8th, there is going to be a very important panel discussion on Veterans' Issues in DC. It's called After the Uniform. As a way of celebrating this initiative, I am going to be counting down the top seven issues facing combat veterans with PTSD according to my readers. I wanted to give people one more chance to be heard before I finalize the list and the topics for the coming days. Please take the time to learn about After the Uniform and its purpose. Think about what challenges are most challenging for us to face and write me about it. You can comment on this blog entry, fill out the comment form on the home page, comment on the Facebook Page, or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please take this very seriously, folks. This is an opportunity to have your voice be heard on the issues facing veterans and influence how initiatives are prioritized in the coming years. Let's work together to improve the prospects of veterans everywhere!
It's Monday again. You know what that means!
I am grateful for:
-The most amazing little girl ever!
-Supportive family. They're like gutter bumpers in the bowling lanes of life!
-Weather that's warming up again.
What are you grateful for?
OK, so busy week ahead. I have a psych screening appointment on the first that will dictate whether I get into a group CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Group at the VA. On the fourth I have early morning pulmonary function testing to see what condition my lungs are in. Then on the evening of the sixth, I go in for a sleep study to see what the docs are going to do about my sleep apnea. And then, on the seventh, I drive down to DC to stay with a friend the night before the big Veterans Issues Panel the morning of the eighth at the National Press Club. As I said, busy week. And I'm already getting irritable.
Issue One: The CBT Groups
I keep telling myself that there is absolutely no reason for the doc not to accept me into the CBT Groups. I pretty much do that on my own and I am focused on learning how to cope successfully with PTSD. Not to mention that I can share a lot of what i learn on my blog as I learn. Regardless, there is a nagging doubt in my mind that the doc won't see me as a good candidate - then where does that leave me? I will beg if I have to. I am not to proud. I need to find other like-minded veterans who are at the same place I am - willing to learn.
Issue Two: Pulmonary Function Testing
What happens if they tell me I have irreparable lung damage and that I will never be able to be active like I used to be? What will that do to me? I am asking myself the question now and I hate the prospect of living that way. Ever since I was in the hospital a month and a half ago, I have been a non-smoker. I just hope it wasn't too little too late.
Issue Three: Sleep Study
What if they tell me that I have to wear a mask for the rest of my life when I am sleeping? What if they want to do surgery to take out my tonsils and my adenoids? What if they want to do surgery to fix the deviated septum? I shudder at the thought of all three for different reasons. One of the above is going to be the outcome of the study.
The fear of the unknown is making me extremely anxious. All I can do it stay as positive as possible and communicate with my wife. I already told her I am getting irritable and why. We have a game plan. I am going to continue to work on deep breathing to help control the anxiety. The last thing I need is a panic attack on top of everything else that is going on.
As much as I am looking forward to the Forum in DC, I am really putting myself out there. I am nervous as hell that my questions and comments will not be well received. Time will tell. At least I will be facing that with a guy I served in Iraq with. I know he's got my back!
But, tomorrow's another day. Monday, in fact and I will be starting off the day with a little gratitude.
Remember yesterday when I said I didn't know where to place the next step? Well, I think I've figured it out and it's going to take a lot of work and constant awareness to make it happen and make it stick: Acceptance
I need to learn how to accept that it is OK to be afraid. I used to be OK with that, but since my daughter was born...Being afraid was not acceptable. I had to be the big, strong daddy. I ignored my fears and it led to a lot of what I went through over the past year and a half. I need to learn to accept my fears as valid and put them in proper perspective - it's the only way to remove the hold they have over me and get back to living a constructive life. Just one problem: How do you do that?
Once a week I am going to 'Face My Fear'. Here's what I plan on asking myself:
I am hopeful that using these questions will help me work through what I am most afraid of over time and help me learn to accept my fears. Here goes...
I thought a lot yesterday about what was causing the obsessive perfectionist behavior. What I realized is that it all stemmed from fear. Fear that I wouldn't be able to provide for my family. Fear that I wouldn't be a good father. Fear that the PTSD would ruin everything. Fear that I would scare my daughter. Fear that I would scare my wife. Fear that I would scare myself...
I could keep on going. I was afraid of everything. I was afraid to live my life and see what comes my way. At the same time, my fear motivated me to work like a mad man. My fears of scaring my wife and daughter contributed heavily to closing myself off emotionally from my family. I felt like I was damned if I did, damned if I didn't. The only way I saw out of the corner I had painted myself into was to be perfect. I figured if I could be perfect at one aspect of my life (being a provider), everything else would fall into place.
Boy was I wrong. I am continuing to think about how I can avoid falling into this trap again. I don't know if I have it figured out yet. I wish I did. I recognize that fear of my PTSD, fear of living my life, precipitated a lot of this. Acknowledging that fear was running my life is the first step. I just don't know where to place the next step...
I took some time off for family birthdays these past few days and I ended up discovering something about myself that was unexpected: I had really unrealistic expectations for myself as a father. I am not sure when the thinking started this way, but it caused me a lot of problems and made me feel helpless to do anything about it. It caused my PTSD to flare up and I needed to make sure that this never happened again.
After my daughter was born, I felt a lot of pressure to provide for my family. All of that pressure was put on me by...me. I was already providing well for my family, but I didn't feel it was good enough. I wanted to be a good father and a good provider, so I doubled my efforts at work, thought about how I could get better and learn faster. I became obsessed with the next promotion. I began neglecting the emotional needs of my family - not intentionally, but because I was obsessed with being the perfect provider and husband.
Boy did I have a serious disconnect. By striving to be perfect at work, I lost sight of what it really means to be a good father and provider. It means being a good husband and partner. It means being there for your child when she needs a hug. When I realized that I had become emotionally detached from my family, I thought it was because of my obsessive behavior at work - coming home with nothing left in the tank. I realized the past few days that this was not the case. You see, I have this little problem. If I think I don't have the ability to be 'perfect' (like I thought I had the ability at work), I avoided what would cause me not to be perfect. In this case, it was my family.
It all started with simple comments: "You are an amazing father. Your daughter loves you so much. Oh wow is she a daddy's girl! You are so calm! Are you sure you haven't done this before?"
I heard these questions and comments everywhere that I went with my daughter after she was born. Everyone seemed to think I was this perfect father and I kept on thinking one thing: What happens when they find out I am not? I need to be perfect for everyone. I need to be the perfect father for every one...I need to be perfect...I need to be...but I can't be a perfect father...I don't know how or what that means, but I need to be perfect...
This circular train of thought was latched onto in a very unhealthy way by my PTSD. I started having catastrophic thoughts about royally screwing up as a father. I thought through every possible scenario I could imagine and how I was bound to screw it up. I became so afraid of making a mistake as a father that I stopped trying to be one. I closed myself off emotionally and focused on the one thing I felt I had control over: work.
This is where PTSD can get ugly. The PTSD wouldn't let matters stand. There were other insecurities it could latch onto and boy did it. I started thinking about how I was screwing everything up at work. I became more and more agitated about trivial things as the year went by. I lost the ability to control my temper. It just kept on getting worse. And worse. And worse.
And then everything came to a head. My family was reaching its breaking point because of my drive/need to be perfect. When I realized this a few days ago, I swore to myself that this would never happen again. The problem was I had no idea what had caused the obsessive perfectionist behavior in the first place. I am still trying to figure that out. Maybe that will be tomorrow's post...
I woke up this morning, unsure of how I felt. Then I heard that my daughter was awake. I went into her room and before I could say anything, she saw me and let loose with an amazing smile. Pure unconditional love. Happiness - she was ecstatic to see her daddy. I was all that mattered to her in that moment.
It felt amazing. I greeted her with a "Good Morning, Caley!!" and she almost jumped out of the crib in her excitement to be held by daddy. It was exactly what I needed to get the week started off on the right foot. It really made me think about how much I had accomplished since I came home from Iraq and how much I had that I never thought would. I never thought I would meet a woman who could love me. I never thought I would have a child of my own. I thought I was too damaged for either. The PTSD did a good job of convincing me of that.
But here I stand. Married for over five years, gainfully employed by an employer that is compassionate and willing to give me short-term disability, no questions asked, and father to an amazing little girl. I accomplished all of this. Despite my PTSD. And over the course of the past year, my PTSD caused me to forget all that I had accomplished. I am going to start a new routine - at the end of every day, I am going to look at everything that I accomplished during the day and be grateful for it. Once a week, I am going to reflect on the week and all that I was able to accomplish. I am going to continue my work that I started on changing the way I think. I still use the Roll Call every day (Don't know what the Roll Call is? Read this post). That's become habit, so it's time to take the next step in my journey in re-learning how to cope with my PTSD. Let's see how it goes!!
OK, Here goes!
I hope more people share what they are grateful for this week! Even if you don't I'm still going to do this every week. It starts my week off with a smile.
i woke up this morning and looked around feeling very dissatisfied. I look in the mirror and all I see is a tired, overweight, man with circles under his eyes in the mirror. I don't even recognize myself. I think about all of the things I am working to improve and I feel like I haven't made any progress at all. My memory is shot...again. I feel like a pall of malaise is settling all too comfortably on my shoulders. I have been living like a hermit except when my wife forces me to leave the apartment. I haven't left by choice in weeks. Yup, I'm depressed again. Woo.
What makes this such a pain to deal with is that I know I am depressed but I don't have the energy or motivation to do anything about it. I am going to do what I can to fight it off, though. I am going to freshly shave my head and trim my facial hair back into a goatee (I currently look like a mountain man). I am going to have about a billion pots of coffee if that's what it takes to fight off the lethargy.
I want so much for my family but this PTSD and depression keeps on getting in my way. I feel hamstrung. I derive so much satisfaction from being an advocate for veterans with PTSD. I'm on short-term disability right now from my current employer but I don't even know what is going on there because of all of the health issues I have that are still currently up in the air, PTSD being just one of them. I feel like my life is put on hold and I can't make a decision on how to live it until I get some guidance from the VA, from the sleep specialists, from the allergist, and from the pulmonary specialists. I haven't had a cigarette since I was hospitalized in early March, but I want one so badly. Not only am I feeling depressed, I am feeling anxious too. Too much uncertainty and not enough direction. I hate feeling this way. I wish there was a way I could alleviate this feeling without drinking or turning to drugs (neither of which I would EVER do). If there was a viable alternative, I would try it in a heartbeat. But there isn't. So I continue to fight and struggle and shuffle my feet, hoping I'm headed in the right direction.
First let me start off by saying the following: There are no perfect people, just perfect intentions. What do i mean by that? I have talked to people I know who watched Dr. Phil's show, 'From Heroes to Monsters'. Dr. Phil's intentions were pure. He wanted to show that guys who were seen as monsters were human. I get that. I respect that. The goal of his show was to help destigmatize PTSD. I wish more people would get on TV and do that.
It's not the content of the show that I have an issue with. It's the way that it was advertised on TV in the run-up to the show airing. Once again, the media whores who only care about ratings sensationalized the content of the show, thinking it would increase viewership - and I'm sure it did. Here's what they failed to consider and what Dr. Phil should have:
Those are the major points. I could go on a typing rant, but I think the message would get lost. Here it is in a nut shell: YOU SCREWED UP, DR. PHIL. You forgot one of the cardinal rules of being a doctor. As a highly trained psychologist, he should have been aware of the sensitivity and volatility of discussing this issue. With that in mind, you should have done more to protect those who are stigmatized by this stereotype. Your advertising 'specialists' should be fired. The advertisement doesn't accurately depict the content or intent of the show. What I find most disappointing is that I can't imagine this hit the air without you knowing about it, Dr. Phil. If you didn't know about it, you should have.
OK, I'm getting down off my soapbox now. I remind people again - there are no perfect people, just perfect intentions. While I detest how this turned out, I do recognize that his intentions were good. He has done so much to help people over the years that I am willing to forgive this - I just won't forget.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.