Just when you think all of the doctor visits are coming to an end...I went for an allergist mandated consultation with an ENT. The doctor deemed it medically necessary to fix my deviated septum and improve airflow in my nose. As a result, I will be going in for outpatient surgery in two weeks, with two weeks of recovery after. I am really hoping that this is the final piece of the equation.
It is hard not to think that my body is betraying me, a day at a time. I feel like everything is breaking down. I know that's the catastrophic thinking at work, but it doesn't make everything that I have gone through any less scary. I find that I am a whole lot more anxious on a daily basis about my health than I have ever been. I think about how debilitating the PTSD and anxiety have been for me over the past few weeks and I feel guilty. I made it home. What right do I have to complain? I think about the guys I knew who didn't make it back and I feel like the world's biggest failure.
Alright. Enough of the pity party. This is not who I am. I am better than this and tougher than this. Focus on what it going right. Focus on the local advocacy efforts that are coming together very rapidly. Focus on your family and your amazing daughter who is days away from telling you all about her days in English. Focus on the beautiful weather. Anything.
I guess we'll see how things turn out. It is what it is. I am done pushing back against the things I cannot change. Time to accept what life throws at me as best I can.
I received a question right before Memorial Day. Because of the very serious nature of the questions, I wanted to take the time to think deeply about it, consult some friends, and answer the questions as fully as possible. Here's what she said:
I have a question I am a spouse of a OEF/OIF veteran, he is still active duty we are currently separated and we have endured a living hell my family and I the last four years. i am baffled does mild tbi have anything to do with adultery my husband did not have affairs or act violent towards me up until two years ago he gradually got worse?
TBI and Changes in Personality:
There is so much that isn't known about the long-term effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries. We are only now starting to feel the repercussions for NFL players, let alone for our service members. What does seems to hold true is that the more severe the brain injury, the more likely it becomes for moderate to severe personality traits to manifest over the years following. Additionally, there seems to be some compounding factor. If a person has multiple m-TBIs, the effects appear to be cumulative over time. I am not an expert on TBI and am not a doctor, so aside from relating to you the little I know, I will refer you to the experts on these types of injuries.
PTSD, Adultery, and Abuse:
This is a very complex issue as well and one that you don't directly mention. Regardless, I feel compelled to address the possibility of PTSD being a major contributing factor. Having TBI makes a person more susceptible to behavioral disorders such as PTSD. When someone is suffering from PTSD, a person can feel an inability to connect with loved ones. As a result, some turn to adultery as a way to deal with this. From the guys I have talked to about this, they all say the same thing: They don't want to be intimate with their spouses because they don't feel like they can connect with them. Also, many have stated that it is safer to be intimate with a stranger who they don't care about because they CAN open up and if it scares the other person, they could care less. At least they are not hurting their loved ones.
I know that rationale is convoluted. I know it doesn't make any sense, but based on my experience and my conversations, it's classic avoidance of confronting their trauma and their PTSD. I can't speak for your spouse. There are so many individual factors that make this equation more true or less true for each person. Only your spouse knows the truth of this.
As for the abuse, I can't speak for the TBI side of the equation. That may play a factor. As it stands with me, abuse demonstrates an conscious choice to hurt others, a conscious choice to let anger get the better of you and to visit your trauma on someone else. If there is a medical reason for the personality change and loss of impulse control, that's one thing. Regardless, I find the act of abuse, repulsive and reprehensible. First and foremost, look out for your welfare and your family. You can't effectively confront abuse if you are still subjected to it.
I hope that this has given you some insight. I need to repeat, I am not a doctor or health professional. I can only share with you the knowledge I have gained from personal experiences dealing with my own PTSD. I wish you the best of luck in confronting these issues in your own life. If there are any follow-up questions you may have for me, please let me know.
Yours in Health,
I was looking at a painting that belonged to my grandfather that is hanging on the wall in our living room and missing my grandfather terribly. He always knew the right thing to say to make a person feel like they were the most important person in the world. The best part: He didn't do it intentionally. That was just part of what made his personality so magnetic and compelling. I am his only grandson and he shared a lot about his wartime experiences with me. He never said much about how it made him feel, but I could tell there was a certain level of pain associated with a lot of his memories. Especially the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In honor of his memory, I wanted to share the interview he wrote out for me when I was in Seventh Grade:
*For some reason, the file refuses to orient itself correctly, no matter how many times I scan it. To view it upright, click on view and rotate it twice.*
My grandfather was truly an amazing man. He retired from the Navy and moved to St. Croix, USVI. He was everything I wanted to be. A good husband, a good father, and the best kind of military officer: the kind who won the loyalty of every enlisted man who ever served under him. I can still remember as a child that the dock on the Fredericksted side of the island was used by the navy subs when they came in for port call. Invariably, the senior officer staff would come by the house to pay their respects to 'the legend'. They always treated him with the utmost respect and a substantial amount of awe.
To me, he was just grandpa. I didn't understand the respect and awe he commanded until I was flying home in dress uniform in the spring of 2001. A navy master chief looked at me like he had seen a ghost. He walked straight up to me and I snapped to parade rest, sure I had done something egregious. He asked me if I was related to Commodore Ray Harris. I told him that he was my grandfather. The master chief snapped to attention and saluted me, a Private First Class. He then shook my hand and asked if I had time to hear a story. I said I had time. We sat down and he related to me a story of a young seaman stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who had decided it would be a good idea to sneak off base for a night out on Havana. He was apprehended on his attempt to sneak back on base and brought before the Commodore of Fleet Training, Capt. Raymond M. Harris. I got goosebumps. The master chief went on to say that the 'talk' that my grandfather had with him was the defining moment in the master chief's Navy career. He asked me to pay my respects to my family and departed for his flight while I sat there stunned.
My grandfather not only left an indelible mark on US Navy history, but he personally touched the lives of so many. I never got to greet him in uniform. He passed away before I had the opportunity. I think about the look in his eyes when he would tell me a story about his time in the war. There was an immense amount of pain there and something else I wouldn't recognize until I saw it later reflected back at me in the mirror: An intimate knowledge of death that no human being should ever have to know.
It's days like today that I miss him the most. I wish I could have talked to him about what I was going through after I got home. It hurts so much knowing that I will never get to hear his wisdom. He, like so many others of his generation, carried the invisible wounds of war. His experiences were fresh in his mind until the day he passed on, my father's hand in his. I never got to thank him for his service to our great nation. I always took that service for granted, coming from a military family. It my greatest regret, not being able to look upon his face with the knowledge of what he had dealt with his whole life - the sacrifices he made to ensure the safety and security of this amazing country - and say thank you. Not being able to tell him I love him and I understand. I wish for nothing more than to see him one last time so that I could hug him and find solace in his embrace.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa. No man I have ever known deserves it more.
Love and Respect Always,
As Dani and I started getting ready, I could feel the anxiety already starting to build. I went out to the kitchen and made sure that I had a few extra anxiety pills with me and took one to try to stop the anxiety before it got out of control. Soon after, we left for dinner.
Dinner was easy. It was close to home and in a family setting. As we got in the car to head to Mayfair, I started to get a little edgy. We go close to the park where it's held and there was nowhere to park. It was pretty packed. We ended up parking a few blocks away and walking in. When we got to the gate, I was in for a pleasant surprise - military admission was free all weekend. Well, holy shit. That was new. It instantly ratcheted down my anxiety a notch. It make me feel welcome in a place I was expecting none.
After that, things went fairly smoothly. I got progressively more anxious as the night wore on and had to stop to take my anxiety meds once while we were there. Towards the end of the night, I started to tune out: I pushed Caley's stroller a little faster than the rest of the group was walking and quietly disengaged myself from conversation. I had been ready to go for a while but I didn't want to ruin the night for Dani. She was having so much fun. Shortly thereafter, we all headed out.
Looking back, I couldn't tell you much of the conversations we had. I don't remember. I was too focused on the environment around me. I do remember making comments and smiling at the appropriate times. I guess it's a start. The important part is that the night didn't end up with me blowing up, freaking out, or ruining the night out for my wife.
We got back to the car, bade our friends a good night and left for home. When we got home, I went into lala land for a while, decompressing. I just keep on remembering that one thing: It didn't end in disaster.
Two days ago, I posted to my blog that I thought I was agoraphobic. Well thanks to my support network, I have been made to see the error in my thinking. What it comes down to is that I didn't catch what was really going on: My catastrophic thinking was hijacking my thoughts.
Many of you know Rod Deaton. He's a doc in the Indiana VA. When he read that post about agoraphobia, he got in contact with me right away. We talked it all through - the anxiety, all of the changes in my life I had to make, the health complications, everything. What became abundantly clear to me as we talked friend to friend is that my catastrophic thinking is what was out of control. I kept on obsessing about the worst possible scenarios when it came to my health. It reinforced rational fears of health complications and amplified them into debilitating and lifestyle changing obsessions. While making the realization that I was better equipped now than I have ever been to face allergies and irritants, I also got really frustrated with myself for letting it affect me this way and feed into depression.
What made it even more poignant was the note I got from my mother yesterday. She basically said that this guy who was moping around feeling sorry for himself was not the strong-willed and determined son she was used to seeing. She reiterated many of the points that Rod and I talked about. This really illustrates the important role of a strong support network and motivates me even more to make sure that every vet has the strong support he/she needs to survive and thrive.
Looking back at everything that happened, it's amazing how quickly one catastrophic thought sent me down the hill like I was on a slip 'n slide. So now comes the hard part: Getting out and doing something about it. It's one thing to recognize you are letting the PTSD win. It's another to know what exactly you should do to take back control. I guess I'll find out this weekend. I am not going to squander this opportunity to honor the fallen by moping around in my apartment.
I woke up this morning and found out a reader was concerned that she made the wrong decision in leaving her boyfriend. She writes:
I just ended a relationship with my then boyfriend who has Combat PTSD. He has done three tours in Afghanistan. He told me in the beginning of our relationship however being naive I thought it was just flashbacks (which i never saw). Anyways fast forward...we have been on a roller coaster relationship with him....when he pulls away again!
I have left him be this time, and doubt I there will be any reconciliation because I will not go through the heartache again unless I know he has been in therapy.
Is this the right thing to do? I am beginning to think I am going crazy.
OK, first things first. It sounds like you had no idea what you were getting yourself into, which is very common. It doesn't make you a bad person. A lot of people think they know or have heard others talk about PTSD and think the stereotypes are true. One of the major challenges Combat Veterans with PTSD face is a lack of education on the part of the general public. I don't say this to assign blame. It is what it is.As you all know, I try to stay away from offering advice or passing judgement on other people's actions. What I can do is draw off of personal experience to flesh out a given situation with the hope that added insight will allow a person to make an educated decision. So that being said, here goes:You want to know if you did the right thing or if you are going crazy? One thing I can tell you for certain, you are not going crazy. You are facing the dilemma that so many have faced before you:
Is It My Fault? Am I Causing Him to Pull Away?
In short No, and No. This is not your fault. Not even remotely. As for pulling away, it's a classic PTSD move. Traditional PTSD symptoms also happen to cohabit the same space as depression. Depression can cause people to withdraw emotionally from those who love them. I am guilty of this. I have done it on numerous occasions and it has been very difficult for my wife and I to manage. I go into this in a whole lot more detail in a previous post, It's Not Her Fault. I encourage you to read it. It is written to a veteran who recognizes that his wife blames herself for everything. It may be insightful for your ex to read as well.
Does Saying I Can't Handle the Heartache Make Me a Bad/Weak/Selfish Person?
Being with someone with PTSD, combat-related or not, is very difficult and heart-wrenching. Not everyone can do it. It takes a massive amount of intestinal fortitude. You are the only person who knows if you've reached your limit. It doesn't make you a bad person for looking after your own emotional needs. How can you care for someone else if you can't care for yourself? It sounds to me like you have a healthy sense of self-worth. Don't let that change.
Can His PTSD Get Better Without Therapy or Am I Just Second-Guessing Myself?
Possible? Yes. Probable? Not even remotely, from my experience. The human mind doesn't just flip a switch and everything is, all of a sudden, OK. It sounds to me like you have established that his refusal to get help is a deal-breaker for you. If this is the case, it sounds like a decision made rationally. From my experience, emotional withdrawal is a constant threat. Even for folks who have been in therapy and are fairly well equipped to cope with their PTSD. For the untreated, it's near unmanageable. I know it was for me until I got help and I still struggle with it every day.
I hope this helps answer your questions. If there are any points of clarification you need, please let me know. I also encourage the community to chime in on this post and offer support. As always, I wish you the best and hope you find the answers you are looking for!
Yours in Health,
So yesterday, we were about to head out to get Italian ice from Rita's when my wife asked me why I was dragging my feet. Until she said something, I didn't even realize I was. We sat down and talked about it after the little one was put down to sleep and we made a realization that should have been obvious:
I'm Agoraphobic (Irrational Fear of Going Outside). Ever since I had the issue with my lungs where I ended up in the hospital I have been afraid to put my lungs to work exercising. now that I have the allergist diagnosis that I am allergic to everything outside, I am deathly afraid of going outside. I am scared shitless that my lungs are going to seize up and that I am going to be back in the hospital. I narrowly avoided intubation and the ICU last time.
The problem is so severe that I haven't left the house in weeks unless it is something I felt was necessary to leave the house for (doctor's appointments, my sister's graduation in NY, the panel in DC) Even then, it has caused me an ever increasing amount of anxiety to leave. I looked up agoraphobia this morning and realized that I suffered from it and told my wife. She told me that I have been agoraphobic for as long as she has known me. Wonderful. Splendid.
I know it all stems back to the PTSD. I don't like crowds, I don't like unfamiliar places, I don't like loud environments, I don't like not knowing what is going to happen next. Most of all, I don't like not being in control of the situation and my environment. Add in a wee bit of social awkwardness because I don't feel like I have much in common with other people...
Until the hospitalization in March, the agoraphobia was proportionate to the degree in which my PTSD was affecting me. Now, I can barely leave the house and it's getting worse. It feels like I can see the bridge is out but I can't stop the train. My anxiety is ratcheting up just typing this.
When am I going to catch a damn break? I'm starting to get really pissed about a lot of this stuff. Right now I have a burning rage - a frustration with my situation so profound that I can't put it into words. I need to figure out a way to channel this rage and use it to motivate me to get out, to exercise.
All you're required to do is breathe. Calm down, think it through, and do something about it. Get up off your ass and do something about it.
Well, it looks like the worst of the catastrophic thinking from yesterday is behind me. A special shout out to Rod Deaton for letting me vent to him. There is nothing that I can do about the evaluation now except wait and see what happens. I have to keep on reminding myself that I have an amazing support network. Others aren't so lucky. Regardless of how stressed I may be, others have it much worse.
That being said, Memorial Day Weekend looms. I know it's going to be challenging this year. I am thankful that I came home in one piece but I know that the guilt will be there. Guilt that I made it home an others didn't. Guilt that I am thankful for being alive and that it wasn't MY mother that had someone knock on her door. This is a celebration of summer for so many and they grill food and drink and celebrate. How many remember the purpose of this weekend? How many honor the fallen, go to parades, even put out the flag? I would wager my readers do. If my apartment complex would allow it, I would. This coming weekend is a time for reflection. Maybe this year the guilt will let me remember and honor those that have fallen. I guess we will see.
I meet with a member of the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council this morning. I am going to talk with him about what I can do to assist with advocacy locally. Wish me luck.
I really don't ever want to have to go through that again. The doc called me in and we sat down and talked about how much I've messed up my life and how little control I actually have over my life. It was a wonderful feeling. So now I have to sit and wonder if I am even going to keep the disability compensation I have. It could be two to eight months before I hear anything. Two to eight months before I have any hope of hearing anything about my case. So now I have to go about making myself a royal pain in the ass.
So now I have some major thinking and decision-making ahead of me. Where do I go from here? What do I do about work? How do I balance work with personal life? I am already stressing out and it's only been a few hours.
No. NO! I will not go down this road. I will not let the PTSD take over. I don't know what to do yet, but I will figure it out. I will talk with my wife and my family. I need to discuss work, disability, life at home, everything. I am supposed to start Cognitive Processing Therapy in early June. Now, more than ever, I need to know that I can take this bull by the horns and learn to live with it. I refuse to put my wife through the wringer again.
So here's to tomorrow. I put myself through that mess today because I am stubbornly holding out hope that things will work out in the long run. One thing I know for certain: I will continue to blog, no matter what transpires. I need this to help keep my head clear. Last time when things got worse, I stopped. Never again. Tomorrow's a new day for us all. Let's see what it brings, shall we?
So out of the blue I look at the calendar notice on my phone and realize I have a really important appointment tomorrow. I put in to get re-evaluated for my PTSD with the VA. Needless to say, I am anxious as hell about this and freaking out a fair bit. I am trying my best not to be overly snippy with people but it is a challenge.
My Biggest Concerns:
Well, there it is. I have this momentous day ahead of me tomorrow and somehow I let it completely sneak up on me. I am a mess. Woo. I think I need to go and hide for a little until I get this little freak out moment under control.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.