OK, so here's the cut and dry of it. Even for a person without PTSD, moving is one of the most stressful events in life. So what do I do? I plan ours for mid-week, right before Memorial Day Weekend. I am such an idiot. I started getting snippy when our stuff was being packed into boxes. It only progressed from there. By the time move day came, Dani and I were 'grumpy'. We have moved beyond this fun little episode, but it was not an easy time for either of us. By the time we were half way through Wednesday, I was so emotionally drained that I couldn't function properly around anyone. I was exhausted and sore. My filter was in absentia.
Yet, we made it through that day and the next and our new place is already less of a stress impact on our lives. I didn't even realize it at the time, but the decision to move into this new place was the best move we could have made. There is something to be said for calming memories. I used to go down and visit my grandparents in St. Croix and one of the most relaxing things that I loved to do was lay on the bed and watch and listen to the ceiling fan, hanging from the vaulted cathedral ceilings. It is, strangely, one of my fondest memories of childhood and it had hidden itself away for a long time.
When we moved into the new apartment and slept on the bed for the first time in our new bedroom, I slept like I was in a coma. I woke up before the alarm clock went off and I was refreshed and relaxed. I tried to figure out what it was about the new place that was having such an immediate impact. That's when I relaxed back onto the bed to think about it and realized I was staring up at vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans in every room - just like my grandparents' house. I think this is going to be a really good thing for me. It will allow me to reflect on my day while reaching a state of relaxation much faster than before.
I don't remember much of the specifics of this past week. My PTSD was in full control and I had extreme tunnel vision. My short-term memory went out the window. I was distracted my first day back to work, but was able to make it through. I was still emotionally raw, but returning home to our new apartment was imminently more relaxing than the last place...
Then came Memorial Day. I was asked to be in charge of ensuring that the flags were put at half mast and back up to full later in the day. They even participated in a moment of silence in the store. I didn't think that today would be as rough on me as it was, but the memories came back today, stronger than they have in years. It was like I was watching HD video in a theater reserved for me. The intrusive recollections would not go away. I came home from work so exhausted that I passed out on the bed for over two hours and don't even remember laying down.
Why was today the worst day I have had in years? It's hard to articulate. I don't feel as emotionally unbalanced as on other occasions. I think what made it so bad is that I had already strained my coping system to the limit earlier in the week to move. The gas tank was already on 'E' before today. What made it even worse was I knew it and was aware that I was completely helpless to do anything about it. It was like having a dream where you are aware of what is going to happen but can't change what is coming because your mind has already scripted out the next act...
This has been a valuable learning experience for me. I am never moving myself again. I will not be leaving this place until it is absolutely necessary and will pay for someone else to do the honors. I can't afford to let my guard down or compromise my ability to cope. Never again.
When I assumed my new position at work, I was afraid that the changes would cause me certain types of stress that would exacerbate my PTSD. I wasn't wrong. I was very concerned that I would have issues with my PTSD and cause problems for myself at work and make my new manager question his choice for the position. I had thought about this for a long time before I started and thought through what I should do to ensure that this didn't happen. Here's what I came up with:
I know that I will never hide this from anyone again. I needed to know that my boss was on my side and would back me up and support me. Too often people underestimate the effect that a stable and supportive work environment can have on a person's ability to cope with PTSD. I know that everyone's situation is different, but it made me understand that an employer is much more willing to work with you and support you in your struggle if they are AWARE that you are struggling to cope with PTSD. If they don't know, they are inclined to think anger and other behavior is 'normal' behavior and view you as undesirable for continued employment.
I have been talking to a lot of vets lately and they seem to have one thing in common. They don't have employers that are sympathetic to their needs. As a result of this, I am asking anyone who is employed by Vet-Friendly employers to please comment on this blog entry and let me know what company they work for. I plan on adding a new part to this page which is a Vet Friendly Employer Recognition Page. When I find out more information about each of these companies, I will be contacting them to request contact information for veterans looking for work around the country and also a list of companies willing to work with Vocational Rehab members of our community. I am one of the lucky ones who has an employer who supports my struggle and provides me with a positive and constructive work environment. I know most veterans are not so lucky. Let's see where this goes. Hopefully, something good will come of this.
I woke up today and was snippy with everyone. It's dumb. I hate it. There was no reason for me to be snippy, but I still looked for every reason to take pot shots at people. The only person who wasn't the recipient of my wonderful attitude was my daughter. I can't figure this out and it's driving me nuts. It's not like we didn't accomplish a hell of a lot today. We officially signed the lease and all we have left to do is pack up for moving.
Well, that seals it. I'm an idiot. Tearing apart what remains of my home might just stress me out a little bit. I somehow managed to put off packing for another day and I wonder why I am getting snippy? I hate waiting until the last minute but I can't bring myself to pack because I find it stressful and unsettling...What's most unsettling is that I seem to be conveniently forgetting things that I already know - about myself and my PTSD. As much as I am looking forward to moving into this new place, I have a sense of foreboding that I know is completely unwarranted. I feel like moving means starting over...with everything. I am scared as all hell that I am going to do a backward slide after a good long year of relative stability. There's no way I can know what's going to happen and I think that's stressing me out more than anything.
My next day off is Friday. That means working my ass off to make sure that we actually get something accomplished in getting ready for this move. I know I am not going to like it, but I think the best approach is talking to Dani and having her make a list of small tasks that seem manageable - on little task at a time and I think I can handle this. I guess we will just have to see how it goes.
Today was one of those elusive good days that I wish I had more of. I was completely stress free and it felt wonderful. I have heard a lot of people say that they wish they could figure out what made good days just that - good days. If we could all figure out this little conundrum, we might just be able to beat the PTSD and go back to leading 'normal' lives.
I realized a long time ago that this kind of thinking, while it may seem constructive, is very counterproductive and usually leads to longer downswings, anger, frustration, and inevitable failure to figure out what triggered the good day. Think about it for a second and you will understand why:
Wash, rinse, repeat.
It doesn't seem so constructive now, does it? What I realized a few years ago is that graciously accepting that you are having a good day and not trying to duplicate it is the best approach. The real reason why this whole line of thought can be so destructive is this: You haven't accepted that you will never 'recover' from your PTSD. Remember the expression, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth"? Take it to heart and just revel in the good moments. Write the memories you create on those days in your mind. It will make surviving to the next good day easier.
So there you have it. I hope this gives insight into why the name of this blog is 'Every Day is a New Day'. Any other way of looking at it doesn't serve my best interests.
Dani and I have been working on packing and finalizing all of the details for our move in less than two weeks. I have been in a funk for almost the whole time we have been doing this and it took me until now to realize why:
When we start disrupting the equilibrium we have established in our home in any way (i.e. packing to move), it very quickly destroys the sense of peace and security I have found. It stops feeling like a home and I no longer feel safe. That's what has been nagging at me the past few weeks. I have come home from work and have had no true way to unwind. I can't unwind because I need to feel secure in my surroundings in order to put my guard down enough to cope with what I experienced that day. When I don't have this, everything builds up and it becomes a sort of sensory overload. I don't flip out, I don't get angry. I become distracted and distant.
So now I have to deal with the anger directed at myself for not knowing this was going to happen. It isn't like this is the first time we have moved. I realized this at work and the littlest things angered me. It took so much effort to remain calm that I came home and slumped onto the bed in a fit of exhaustion. Dani was sick with worry because she thought I was sick or injured. She hadn't really seen me like that before. I think it was more visceral this time around because we have experienced stability for a good while now and we had both become comfortable with it. I wouldn't say we had become complacent, but it felt like it when I first realized what was going on.
Needless to say, figuring this out has been a great relief (or will be when I calm the hell down). I know that tomorrow will be new day and Dani and I have started planning the layout of the new apartment to keep my mind focused on creating a new home and haven for our family. I wouldn't say she's trying to distract my mind from my current environment, but she recognizes that I need something to latch onto that will make me optimistic that I will experience the sense of security we just lost. Soon.
I was unaware of this Presidential Decree until a few days ago. Thank you, President Obama. This day of appreciation is long overdue. I can't even begin to explain all of the ways my wife has been there for me over the last four and a half years. What I do know is this: I wouldn't be happy and successful if it wasn't for her. I love you, Dani, with all of my heart. Thank you for being my hero!
Ok, so what does this mean for everyone else? So much attention is put on the war-fighters that often the general public forgets that this war is fought at home by military spouses as well. If a service-member is worried about what is going on at home, they aren't focused on their mission - distraction leads to devastation. So many spouses out there fight the war by assuming the stress and responsibility of every aspect of home life that they normally share with their partner. They are, in many cases, incredibly stressed out. When they talk to their loved ones, though...Everything is going GREAT!
For most, there is a huge sigh of relief when the spouse returns home and adjusts. They pick up where they left off, work at getting to know each other again and carry on. For some, there is no relief. Their loved ones return home, broken in mind, body and spirit. The spouse is left to pick up the pieces of a shattered memory of their loved one and get to acquaint themselves with a whole new person. PTSD has left an indelible mark on our society that will not be forgotten or ignored. It can't be. After a decade of sustained conflict, thousands of spouses have been shouldering the burden of caring for a service-member. Up until last year, the recognition warranted for their heroic efforts have been largely ignored by our society. THIS MUST END.
Granted, spouses have each other to turn to for support. They also have (thanks to the internet) incredible support forums to learn and share their experiences. We have Veterans' Day. They now have Military Spouse Appreciation Day. I don't care if no one in your family has ever served. You still understand the sacrifices that military families make, day in and day out. Take the time of your busy day and thank a military spouse. It's amazing how far a simple 'thank you' can go. And for all those service-members out there with a spouse either at home waiting for your return or supporting you as you adjust to civilian life, take the time out of your day to reflect on all that your spouse has done for you. I felt guilty for not having said the words sooner. My wife knows I appreciate everything that I do for her, but I still can't believe I have never said the words.
Thank You, Spouses, For Everything You Do! We Would Be Nothing Without You!!!
This one is directed to all of those families out there dealing with Combat Related PTSD that have children. Have you thought about what you would or should do if your spouse has a severe or prolonged episode? Dani and I have talked about this extensively and we have come up with a plan that works for us. Here's what we decided on.
I know it sounds extreme, but I would go to any lengths to ensure the safety and peace of mind of my daughter and wife. I am not recommending that every family set up a plan just like this one. I am asking that you talk about it with your spouse and come up with a plan that you feel comfortable with, if you feel it's even necessary. I don't think that it will ever be necessary, but I would rather have a contingency plan in place in the event that something drastic causes my world to come crashing down around me.
So many people are talking about the moral ambiguity of outright killing Bin Laden. I have a few questions in response to this:
1) When we send in a drone for a precision air strike to kill a terrorist, to we ask, "Hmmm. Is he resisting? Is he armed?"
2) Where were the questions of whether it was morally ambiguous to get us into these conflicts and send a decade of our youth into combat?
3) Has anyone thought about the ramifications of taking him alive? It would galvanize the will of every terrorist around the world and Americans all over the world would be taken hostage until Bin Laden was released.
I find all of the political posturing reprehensible. We have a Democrat in the White House and what do the Republicans do? They look for a way to divide the country even on THIS issue. And guess what? The Democrats pulled the same crap when a Republican president was in the White House. Has anyone else realized that our politicians can't even agree to disagree if they happen to be on the other side of the aisle? This divisiveness is driving our country into the ground and it is making it harder and harder for me NOT to lose my temper. When is an honest politician going to come along and pull a Lee Iacocca? (Worked for a dollar per year until Chrystler was profitable). What do this bunch of entitled millionaires know of the day to day struggle of the average American?
One last point. NEWS FLASH: I will have to deal with the moral consequences of my actions for the rest of my life. So will every other service member. The fallout of having to contend with our consciences is PTSD for many. Don't try to take away my feeling of closure. I needed to know that the sacrifices of so many served a purpose. I do not feel guilty for my joy over Bin Laden's death. I feel guilty having survived to witness the day when so many haven't. All I know is this: I choose to make him bleed for his cause so that less service members and innocents have to bleed for ours. Too many people have forgotten our pledge of allegiance - especially the end of it - With Liberty and JUSTICE For All. Wake up America, the only thing that happened here was Justice being served. End of Story. I Apologize now if this offends anyone, but I had to get this off my chest. It's been eating at me for two days.
I was at work two days ago and one of the younger employees in my department asked me, "Have you ever shot at anyone?". I didn't respond right away. My instinct was to yell at him and say, "Are you a F**KING Idiot? Why the F**K would you ask a veteran that?!?!?" I took a few deep breaths and pulled him aside and talked to him. I told him that we have been at war for 10 years. The one thing you never, EVER ask a veteran is that question. I told him that he is very lucky that it was me that he asked that question because a lot of veterans with PTSD would have answered with their fists. He apologized and said that he doesn't know what possessed him to ask that question. He knows that I play shooter video games and, in his head, it was probably a logical progression to ask what he did. I never answered his question directly. I don't like to talk about it and I won't talk about it. The nightmares are reminder enough of all that I have been through.
When I got home, the news came out that "Been Cowering Like a Bitch" had been killed by troops on the ground and I was fiercely happy and proud at first. I was glad that I had off yesterday. It was not an easy thing to deal with - getting some measure of closure for all of the troops that have died for this cause...The survivor's guilt kicked in big time. I mind went back to the question my young co-worker had asked me and have never been so grateful that I started up my website, blog, and Facebook Page. I don't even want to think about how much I would have disappeared into my head if I didn't have this outlet and other veterans to commiserate with. Thank you, everyone, for being part of this community.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.