Recently it has been brought to my attention that more people would join in discussion if they could be anonymous. When I brought up people can comment on this website and is can be anonymous, I was told that the name field was required. This is true. BUT...you don't have to put your real name. You could put "A Concerned Veteran" if you felt like it. I say this because there was an incident recently where someone put their real name on a post and after posting it, he realized what he had written could potentially get back to family. He asked me to delete it and I expeditiously obliged.
In this day and age, social media and online connectivity provides us with the unique opportunity to reach out for help and reach out to give it. A desire for privacy is the one part of the equation that is missing in this country. A little while back I learned about a website in Britain called the Big White Wall. I encourage you to look over this site. It provides true anonymity to those who are looking for support online. This is what we need more of in this country. I am hopeful that the new initiative being taken by the VA and Volunteers of America will have a positive impact, but they specialize in real world services. The real challenge is creating an online presence that veterans with PTSD can trust to maintain their privacy. Facebook is definitely NOT it.
If you were to create an online service for veterans with PTSD, aside from anonymity, what other services would you offer? Feedback in this area is really important if we want to be able to really make a difference for those veterans who are reaching out online. I really encourage people to leave comments so we can discuss this.
Yours in Health,
I woke up this morning and knew I was in a bad way. My nerve endings were on fire. I was super sensitive to touch. Even to the clothing I was wearing rubbing against my skin. My emotions felt completely out of control. If I was sad, I knew I'd be sobbing. If I was mad, fuming. If I was happy, laughing hysterically. I could just FEEL it. Then, as I was about to start writing this, my daughter woke up early. I clamped down so hard on my feelings. Really hard. I couldn't afford to have them out of control with my baby girl. I went in and got her out of her crib just as Mommy got home from the gym.
Mommy and I talked a little bit and I ended up over-reacting to everything she said. I never yelled, but I ended up in a depressed funk, laying on the bed. I finally fell asleep, oblivious to everything. My wife woke me up hours later because she needed help with our daughter. I had to fight so hard against the depression, but I was able to get my self moving. My emotional freak out was over, but my nerves were still on fire and my emotions were raw, like someone had rubbed them across a cheese grater. It was the first time in a long time that my emotional intensity had manifested as physical pain. Excruciating physical pain and I can't get it to stop. I knew that if there was one promise that I was going to keep to myself today, it would be to write my blog. Hopefully this helps, but I will not be on for the rest of the day - this is as far as I could go.
Deep Breaths, Max. Tomorrow's a new day.
Can you tell how much sleep I got last night? Not much. I'm making goofy references to The Shining...
On a serious note, I hadn't had the heartburn/reflux in a really long time. I thought that it was attributed more to stress. Maybe it's also due to lack of quality sleep over a long period of time. I can't stand it. The inability to lay down just makes you that much more tired and makes the heartburn that much worse. Last night was out of control...
I guess I need to take a look at what could possibly be contributing to all of this. I know that finding out I WAS exposed to burn pits ratcheted up the stress for a little bit. I also know that quitting smoking didn't exactly help my eating habits at all. I have gained a lot of the weight back that I had lost, but that's a temporary sacrifice I'm willing to take to get off the cancer sticks. A bad diet though...Shit. I am really going to have to find a way to buckle down and eat proper portions again. I can't afford to continue to lose even more sleep like I have been. Not to mention that lack of sleep exacerbates my PTSD symptoms, which makes the heartburn even worse. Yup that seals it. Gotta change the eating habits...again.
As many of you may know, I attended a webinar today hosted by the VOA Director of Communications, David Burch. The purpose of the webinar was to present VOA's vision of the future and get grassroots feedback from the Veterans they hope to serve even better. To achieve this, they invited a group of independent bloggers and authors to discuss the big issues that are facing all veterans of every generation. Other than myself, two other invitees were able to attend today:
We were joined by Executive Vice President of Veterans Affairs for the VOA, John Sherin, who presented the history of the VOA and their vision of where they would like the VOA to head moving forward. Right now, the VOA is very focused on providing housing for the homeless. That being said, they have identified a substantial need to expand veterans services to include mental health care, drug counseling, job training and employment, women's veteran issues, etc. They have partnered up with the VA and plan on supplementing/augmenting the services that are already provided by the VA.
The VOA has a great system set up: They set strategic goals at the national level but they work through affiliate organizations at the local level. What does this mean? It means that the money and resources that are getting sent out to different communities around the country are being utilized efficiently and effectively because the local affiliates are plugged into the needs of the local population. The biggest problem they appear to be facing: Organizing this same type of affiliate program for veterans services. Their biggest concern is that implementing this plan incorrectly will only confuse and alienate more veterans. With this concern in mind, John Sherin expressed a desire for the VOA to act as a gateway to local services, ensuring that the funds and resources are being utilized by those local organizations that can do the most good.
I expressed the concern that there are a lot of great federal programs for veterans that aren't utilized by veterans because there is no local outreach. The VOA acknowledged this concern and said it was on their radar. I also stated that there needs to be a shift in perspective - that these services are not being offered by the government. Many veterans, especially older ones, have been ill-treated by the existing government social welfare programs set up for their benefit.
Lastly, I espoused the use of social media as the vehicle to achieve maximum reach with veterans. Many veterans want help, but can't force themselves to leave their home to find help. With the advent of social media and the security/anonymity it can provide, many more veterans are reaching out for help and taking a step to connect with other veterans that wasn't possible before. We cannot squander this opportunity.
OK, I think that's pretty much everything. I just wanted to reiterate, it is not too late to be heard. Sound off and express concerns and opinions in the comment section of this post. Find your voice and make a difference for those who can't.
Yours in Health,
Yesterday I found out that the place that they had the largest burn pit in Iraq, LSA Anaconda, was also known at Balad Air Field when I was there. No one I was attached to ever called it LSA Anaconda. I think that may have been a convention that came later. Why does this matter? I was there for the last three weeks before I left Iraq. This really freaked me out yesterday. For those who may not know, I was hospitalized for pulmonary issues about a month ago. My issues: reactive airway disease, early stage COPD, suspected Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Diseases attributed to burn pits: hypersensitivity pneumonitis (very similar to reactive airway disease), COPD, and Obstructive Sleep Apnea...
I went into instant freak out mode. I looked at the list of cancers attributable to burn pit exposure and it instantly crossed my mind: What if I have one of those? I need to go to the doctor. I'm dying!!
I snapped myself out of the last sentiment, but I still can't shake this overwhelming feeling of dread. What if? What if? What if? Gah! Get out of my head! I was up until almost 0400, unable to close my eyes because I couldn't get my mind to shut this line of thought down.
I have that webinar focus group today. I hope I can get this anxiety under control. I feel like I am going to crawl out of my skin. It is so frustrating - every time I feel like I am making headway and getting the PTSD under control, something comes along and messes with me. See what I mean? Catastrophic thinking at it again. At least I recognize it for what it is. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.
Ever since I decided to regain control of my life, some interesting things have occurred and it makes me wonder if emotional connection, even on a fundamental level, with other people is what makes the difference in finding fulfillment or not. Let me lay it out for you:
I've always been a geek. Any new technology, especially with computing and gaming, excites me. Over the past few weeks, since I have won back some semblance of my identity from the PTSD, I have made new friends who are allowing me to explore this passion at a deeper level than every before. For the first time in a while, I have felt compelled to explore new friendships and learn new skills that are way outside my expertise. It's thrilling and safe, all at the same time. This group of people share a passion for technology and entrepreneurship. Everyone is welcome and no one gets turned away. It's a level of acceptance that I haven't experienced from non-veterans in quite a while. As a matter of fact, when I told one of the guys at the last meetup what I was working on (the website, the panel in DC, PTSD advocacy), he very vehemently told me that he would be more than happy to help me learn website building and coding. He said he had a special place in his heart for programs and projects that were intended to help others. It really caught me off guard - I mean REALLY. When was the last time any of you can remember being received with open arms by a group of people that don't really know you - especially AFTER they find out you are a Combat Vet with PTSD?
It's amazing what having time to decompress and get my head straight has done for me. I just hope that I continue to move in the right direction. The last thing I need or want is for my PTSD to get in the way of pursuing my passions ever again. It made me smirk when I thought about this when I woke up - So This Is What Connecting With Other People Feels Like? I could get used to this.
I had really bad nightmares last night. I kept on getting stuck at the part of the memory where my hand was inside the wounded Iraqi detainee's chest and I could feel his heart beating against my hand. I felt the asphalt under my knees, the DCUs sticking to my shins from kneeling in his blood. I watched chips of bone and small chunks muscle swim slowly away from his mangled leg toward the dust at the edge of the road. I looked up from the blood at the sound of moaning and saw the local translator laying a little ways down the road. He was fingering a bullet wound right below his sternum. The smell of blood was everywhere. I woke up and was completely disoriented. I still smelled blood. What was really messing with my head was that metallic smell. I couldn't shake it. God, I need a fucking cig.
That's when I heard the rain. I walked over to the screen door and inhaled deeply. The amazing smell of damp earth and the rhythmic sound of the rain pattering off the roof reassured me that I was in the present. But I could still smell blood. That was new. Previously, whenever I became aware of 'when' I was, the smell of blood went away. This was freaking me out quite a bit. What was happening to me? How could I be aware and still smelling blood at the same time?
And then it hit me: I went and got tissues. I blew my nose. My nose had bled while I was sleeping - was still bleeding. The incredibly dry weather we had over the past month up in Pennsylvania had dried out my nose and sinuses. I can't get rid of the smell and it's driving me nuts. The only time I can't smell it very much is when I go smell the rain. It's surreal knowing that I am actually smelling blood. And it's my own. I have this horrible knot in my stomach and I have no appetite. I think I am going to go take a shower and try to get this blood out of my nose...If I can't today will be a wonderful day of nightmares and rain.
Yup, Three Mondays in a row in counting. Let's recount what we are grateful for!!
OK, your turn! Let's do this!
I woke up early today and recognized immediately that I just don't care. About much of anything. The apathy is so strong I had to mentally discipline myself to even write a blog post today. After the fallout that occurred from stopping blogging the last time, I swore to myself that I would never stop again. The apathy is so strong today that I almost said, "Ahh, screw it. What's one day?"
Famous last words...that's what started me down the wrong road last time and I won't go down that road again, ever. The apathy is probably the most insidious part of PTSD - it's the first step in closing yourself off emotionally and it's also the hardest feeling to fight. It's dangerous and destructive. I asked my parents to come over this morning so that I could go and work out or go for a walk or something. I never went. Yes, there was a lot of stuff I had to clean up from last night that was still in the kitchen. Yes, it was over a half hour later when I got done cleaning up. I still had a lot of time to go and exercise. I couldn't bring myself to do it.
When I realized that I didn't even care about blogging this morning (that followed shortly after I decided not to go and exercise), I caught myself. I recognized the apathy for what it was. I talked to my parents and asked them if they wanted to go to the park later today and go for a walk. I sat down and I started typing. A lot of times, I don't know what's bothering me until I sit down to type. Today, I knew...I just don't care.
I have had serious jitters recently and I am not sure why. It's almost like my body is pissed that I am sitting down. I could pace all night and still not wear through all of the nervous energy. It's played havoc on my sleep . I get the jitters so bad when I am trying to fall asleep that I have to sleep on the couch - it drives my wife nuts and I don't blame her. It's driving me nuts.
What makes it even worse: I can't get my brain to shut down after being jolted awake by my body. So I stay up for a good portion of the night after I wake up. Woo. I am so frickin' tired right now, it's ridiculous. I have doctors' appointments coming out of my ears for the next few weeks. When is this all going to end?
I feel like someone is at the wheel today and It's not a fun feeling. I hate feeling this way, but how do I stop it? I am hoping that the sleep testing actually has some effect and resolves some of these ridiculous sleep issues. Is this the way it's going to be? PTSD wearing my body down to the point that I get sick all the time and it starts to break down.
Of course, all of this uncertainty just makes the nerves and the jitters worse. I won't live like this. There has got to be some way of fixing this or at least mitigating the effects of all of this on my body. If anyone has any sage advice, I'm all ears!!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.