I am so frustrated, encouraged, worried, angry, disillusioned and exhausted all at the same time. This past week and a half has been ridiculous. Every time I would be ready to sit down after thinking through things that have transpired, something else would happen and I would delay the blog post and process the new insight. Well, I can't hold this in anymore, so I am going to break this down by associated emotion.
Frustrated: I just found out today that in the span of a year I went from perfect reading on my blood screenings to being pre-diabetic and borderline high cholesterol. I feel like no matter what I do to better take care of my physical health that the PTSD is slowly killing me and it frustrates the hell out of me. What do I have to do to get these train wreck of health problem after health problem under control? Live like a monk? Deny myself all pleasures? Develop workout anorexia? Starve? GAH! I want to throw things in frustration but the inanimate objects don't deserve that kind of abuse.
Worried, Exhausted: My daughter is seriously sick for the first time. Bronchitis and bronchiolitis. She woke up Friday night crying and coughing, post-nasal drip, and a fever. I didn't sleep from Friday night until Monday night when her fever finally broke. With already being on heightened alert after the bombings in Boston, I started thinking that something was seriously wrong with my daughter's health. I was the youngest and never was around sick kids so I had no idea that this kind of sick was normal. I never really got sick. I remember having the pukes once as a kid and mild fevers a few times, but that's it. I never got strep, maybe bronchitis once, chicken pox was only three or four spots and a fever. I had no idea it could be this bad and not be life-threatening. I was relieved Monday night and was looking forward to catching up on some sleep on Tuesday. The cough was resurgent Tuesday night. My daughter didn't pass out until after 5AM Wednesday morning and didn't sleep at school either. Needless to say, I'm worn a little thin right now.
Angry, Disillusioned: I went to group today, looking forward to talking with them about stuff. Very shortly into group, the new therapist told me I could not blog about what I learned in group anymore. I got very angry as blogging about what I learn is at the core of my ability to cope. I explained to her that I have never once violated anyone's privacy and only bring up things that I learn and have worked through as a result of going to group. I told her that I had received express consent from the group members before I blogged about it. My previous group doc had signed off on it and over the course of the past year, it has become an integral part of my therapeutic process. She still refused even after directly asking the members of the group who all said they were fine with it. When I stated if no-one has a problem with it...
She raised her hand straight above her head and said she had a problem with it. That behavior, in and of itself, was exceptionally unprofessional. I got really angry and told her that I would no longer be part of her group. She professed to not understanding why it had to be that black and white for me. New flash, moron. Everything is black and white with veterans with PTSD. The fact that she didn't know that, combined with her extremely confrontational attitude illustrated to me that the 'new hires' at the VA are 'warm bodies'. I continue to wonder if she got her degree out of a cracker jack box. It took me eight years to try group therapy again after my first horrible experience. What I have come to recognize is that aside from Doctor Casagrande, I have never had a client/doctor relationship at the VA that I felt was constructive. When I talked about it with my father tonight over dinner, he made an incredibly astute observation: "She doesn't care about the welfare or privacy of the veterans in the group. She doesn't want to see herself critiqued online." Wow. Boy did that hit home. Her refusal was all about her ego.
Encouraged: I got the money into my account from the crowdfunding and started the ball rolling. I also got all four of my first choice board members and they are a perfect fit to effectively govern the non-profit. I have started the process of incorporating and have gotten the landing pages for the websites up and running and am incredibly proud of the landing page for Support No Stigma. I still can't believe I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by such good people in my life. Honestly, I think that the love for my family and the good works I do on here and now in forming my non-profit are the only things that have kept me from institutionalization. Especially over this past week.
So there you have it. What a ride, huh? It's all about the timing. Individually, any one of these issues would have been manageable. The fact that timing crammed them all together in a seven day span almost put me under. All I know is I am relieved and grateful that I am still here. A year ago, things would have played out very differently.
Boy was I glad to have off Sunday. I talked in my previous post how the Boston Bombings had really triggered my PTSD. Well, I did what I said I was going to do and I turned off the news.
Too bad it made absolutely no difference whatsoever.
Every day I went to work, people wouldn't stop talking about the latest developments in the bombings. Yippee. Everyone knows I am a veteran and this situation was the first time I wished people didn't know. Everyone wanted my opinion on the situation. Everyone wanted to tell me about it and hear what I thought. People kept on telling me they were afraid it wasn't over - that something was going to happen again, and soon.
Not exactly the type of thing I needed to hear. So, work became trigger after trigger. The only thing that's kept me from hiding in my hole is my love for my family and my advocacy work. The gym has TVs suspended in front of every piece of cardio equipment. Any guesses as to what was on every one of those TVs?
I couldn't escape it until Sunday, my day off. I took a break from things all morning and early afternoon and just spent time with my wife and daughter. We met my sister-in-law and her two Blue Tick Coon Hounds and we went for a walk in the local park. It was really nice just to get away and enjoy a cool spring day. I felt revitalized and came home and got to work on website design for the non-profit.
So what happens now? I need to rethink my strategy for coping with this and not getting triggered at work. I can't keep this up or I am going to exhaust myself. I guess I can talk about it in group therapy this week and see what we come up with.
I don't think I need to recount what happened yesterday. When I heard about it from my father when I got home from work, I had to (and I mean HAD TO) see what was going on.
The descriptions, the blood, first-hand accounts, everything, triggered my memories of stuff that I had seen and been through over in Iraq. The second I knew I was triggered, I slammed shut my computer and I walked away and tried to do stuff that would take my mind off of what had happened up in Boston. I succeeded pretty well and was able to go to bed at a fairly normal hour. Then the nightmares came. They weren't so bad that they woke me up, but it was an endless cycle of suffering and emotional pain. When my alarm went off at 0600, I didn't get out of bed. I barely made it to work and I knew that I was going to be anxious as all hell.
And I was. An hour in, I had to pop an extra anxiety med to keep my self going. Another hour later, another.
Wash, rinse, repeat for five straight hours. I didn't have any more with me and I knew that my anxiety was still getting worse. I gutted it out but told my boss that as soon as the evening shift came in at two, I had to leave. To his credit, he didn't question it. He thanked me for gutting it out today. I think he knew that something was really rattling my cage.
So, I came home and I unwound. I took another pill and ended up passing out in my recliner, only to be woken up when my wife and daughter got home. I still feel triggered, but I am hoping that is something that I can work through with my individual therapist and group therapy tomorrow. I guess we'll see,
This is where I want to do a little explaining. Why was work so hard for me?
Everybody, and I do mean EVERYBODY was talking about it. The customers, the employees, everybody. Everybody had a theory about who did it, why, how, everything. To make matters worse, I came into work and the flags were still at full mast. It just tweaked me that much more. I immediately went to the store manager and asked him if he knew why the flags weren't at half mast. He said he'd look into it. Thankfully, the next opportunity I had to check, they were or I think I might have lost it. All in all, it was one conversation between two customers that I overhead that almost made me blow a gasket:
CustA: You heard about that Boston Shit, right?
CustB: Yeah, that's what happens when you let those dirty Arabs into our country.
CustA: I know, man. They already got a Saudi in lock-up.
CustB: They should have just let that sand-N****R ass bleed.
Yup. This shit brings out the best in people, don't ya think? I almost didn't walk away. All I can say is this:
If you are a veteran who has been triggered by this bombing, don't watch the fucking news! Just leave well enough alone. If you don't trust yourself not to, ask your family or spouse for support in this. It makes things easier when I am not constantly re-triggering myself. It's not that I don't care, it's that I care to much and the feeling of helplessness, not being able to do anything to help kills me. I know you know what I mean.
So there it is. Avoid triggers and avoid people you know that are ignorant and hateful. Now I am calling it a day and I am going to spend time with my wife and daughter who I suddenly find even more precious than I did yesterday.
OK, so what's the deal? This week started off with me being a huge bundle of anger and anxiety. I was anxious about my psoriasis, work, my fundraiser. My anger was resurgent, causing me to have to use a lot of energy to keep it in check. My psoriasis was so bad that I had to be removed from handling food. My fundraiser was only half way to the minimum I needed and there were only seven days left.
Things were so off course that I couldn't remember to do even the little things that had become habit over the course of the previous months (washing dishes, drying the shower, folding my laundry). I caught myself thinking on Tuesday. If this is the reward I get for trying, why should I bother? I was as disheartened by my situation as I can remember being, compounded by the fact that I was seriously working to turn the corner.
Then I got REALLY angry. I mean blind rage, hatred filled, anger. Who was it directed at? Myself. It was like the part of me that has kept me going all this time had seen and heard enough. The thoughts that went through my head weren't pretty but they sure as hell snapped me out of it. I was able to channel that anger and regain my motivation, albeit with a little bit of a darker edge.
Then Wednesday came.
My fundraiser had a banner day and it now sits at $700 over the minimum I needed to start my non-profit. My psoriasis flare-up receded back to it's normal levels in the span of 12 hours, without explanation.
And Then Thursday:
The dermatologist decided to put me on Enbrel. I start this coming week. I initially expressed concern about how the injections would compromise my immune system but he told me that it suppresses the immune system in a targeted way that can leave people open to increased risk for infection, but if you don't have a history of chronic infections, it shouldn't be an issue. I thought about it and about all of the people I know who have seen dramatic results. Hey no harm no foul, right? Might as well and see what happens. If it doesn't work as advertised, I just cycle off of it, no harm done. The kicker: this ridiculously expensive regimen won't cost me a cent because my psoriasis didn't manifest until after starting military service and tearing up my knees and elbows in basic. Since it is service-connected, it's covered.
So here I sit. I talked to work and they said I was good to return to my old job and they recommended working with my area manager to create a contingency for future flare-ups. Again, going out of their way to accommodate my service-connected disabilities. And I'm still angry.
What. The. Hell.
Granted I recognize that my anger actually served a purpose this week and pushed me through a difficult spell, but I'm good now. Can it please go the fuck away? It is exhausting and I don't have time to be a zombified husband and father. If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears.
When the week started, I thought it was going to be a good week. Overall, it was. I went to the gym a few times and started getting myself used to the feeling, did cardio on the nice weather days toward the end of the week.
Wee little problem: The more active I became, the more my anger flared back to life.
Needless to say, this worries me greatly. I didn't read about that in the small print when I signed on to get myself back into shape and improve my overall health. It just doesn't make any sense. The harder I worked out, the stronger the anger became. I am wondering if that was one of the underlying reasons I was putting off getting back into shape. It really makes me curious if I knew, on some level, that the exercise and weight training was going to bring back certain things that I wanted to leave behind.
I guess it's time to work through it. I am going to the gym a little later today and I am going to push myself to physical exhaustion to see if I can find an end to the anger or if it just makes me tired. I am hoping that I finally feel like I can safely let the anger out now that I have a constructive outlet. The problem becomes containing the anger when I am not at the gym. I have to be able to maintain my stability at work and at home or this is not going to work. It's not going to be an easy balance to find, but they offer Tai Chi at the gym as well and I am hoping that I can use the forms and breathing to channel my energies more effectively and coherently, rather than wanting to lash out at whatever's closest.
Some of my downtime this past week, I have been reading the book I was asked to review and I found myself unable to really devote my attention to it. My mind kept on wandering back to all of the things that were making my anger flare up and what I could do to contain it:
It seems like I have more to work on than I thought. It feels a little overwhelming, honestly. So...
I'm starting with the gym and making sure I get the constructive outlet for my anger worked into my daily routine. I don't see much of any other options right now. So, off to the gym I go. Maybe I'll find some more answers in the peaceful emptiness of cardio.
OK, a few months back, I made a concerted effort to get into the gym for cardio and weight training as often as I could with my work schedule. Due to the limited hours at the gym I was attending, that happened to be once, maybe twice, per week I was able to get there. I had read a lot about how everyone was saying how much exercise improves your mood and can help to stabilize your mood.
Hmm. What I discovered was something very different. When you are only able to go to the gym once per week, your mood is a little better that day. The other six days, you feel worse. I don't think I was necessarily feeling more depressed. I think it was because I had gotten a taste of what a good mood feels like and my body was seriously pissed that I wasn't feeding the hunger. It made me very frustrated and exceptionally demoralized. I thought about the trade-off. Was one day of a better mood worth six days of 'meh'?
Um...No. It sure as hell wasn't and it made me feel trapped in a body I hated to see in the mirror. I didn't feel like there was anything I could do to make a real difference, what with my retail work hours and such. Well, early last month, I had finally had enough. I started looking for ways that I could work out consistently and maintain a better mood. It was not an easy thing to do. I felt myself getting more and more impatient and frustrated as the days passed and I wasn't able to find any kind of workable solution.
Then, over this past weekend, it finally hit me: I need a gym that's open 24/7. After a little bit of digging on the internet, I found a gym that fit the bill. I visited the gym on Saturday and loved it. I signed up the same day. I know I feel better about myself when I don't see a fat guy staring back at me in the mirror. I am dedicated to this. I have already been exercising and it has improved my mood a bit. It also helps that I can work my exercising in wherever it happens to fit into my schedule on any given day.
It's been incredibly empowering and I just started. I am having fun and, for the first time in a long time, I feel like there's still a chance to get thin and happy again. I just need to make sure that I send the warning out there to all my fellow community members - If you can't exercise on a regular basis, things could get worse, and quickly. Please make sure you've talked to your doc about this concern. If you are prone to severe depression, please think this through and make sure you are committed to improving your mood. After feeling my mood get progressively worse with sporadic training, I know from first hand experience how negatively it can affect you.
So here goes nothing. I hope this word of warning gets to the people that need to hear it the most. Get up, exercise and take very careful stock of of how you are feeling. If it is affecting you, don't let your motivation stagnate. Caregivers, talk to your vets about their mood and find out how they are doing. Communication is key. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but trust your instincts and your vet's gut. You know as well as I do how low our self-worth can be. Throw the listlessness of the medications we take and it can be very easy to convince ourselves it's not worth the effort. So...Support your veteran and do what you can to keep them motivated. I know it's not easy, but the rewards are worth the risk if you can help them get in shape.
Good luck out there and happy lifting!!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.