It's hard to believe it's been ten years since I crossed the border into Iraq. Harder still to fathom why it is still as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. I was initially concerned about how this anniversary would affect me, but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't really do much to affect my mood. Well, I guess it did. I spent the day with my daughter, Caley. We had a daddy and daughter day. We went to Applebee's and had lunch and spent the afternoon enjoying play time. I was on and off the computer checking on my fundraising campaign. The whole time, I reflected on how I have spent the past ten years - my victories and, especially, my stumbles.
Needless to say, I have a lot to be grateful for. My wife, my daughter, my family. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them and I know now, more than ever, that I am one of the lucky ones. Suicide rates are embarrassingly high, disability claim wait times are so long that some have been waiting for compensation longer than the length of their deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. PTSD is still a scary four letter 'word'.
Should I continue? We all know the score. Our struggles are the legacy cost of a decade of war. A decade that saw the burden of waging war fall on the shoulders of 1% of our population. The military community has become more and more isolated from the general public in spite of the best efforts of advocates everywhere. It makes me wonder: With all of the high-profile advocacy going on out there, why aren't there more 'boots on the ground'? What I see is tons of advocacy groups spending a lot of money and time marketing themselves and their image. I don't see advocates in the crowd wearing t-shirts, bracelets. I don't see fundraising efforts on TV like they used to have for Jerry's Kids. I see the same partisan gridlock in DC fouling up everything they touch (sequestration caused suspension of tuition assistance for our active duty service members).
Most importantly, I have seen too many veterans that are tired of the frustration of the VA, politics, PTSD stigma, and unemployment just give up and let themselves fall through the cracks.
You all know what I'm talking about. It hurts my heart to see it happen, day in and day out.
It just feeds my fire. I will not submit. I will not give in. Instead, I will give back.
All I need to make my dream of helping veterans a reality is $3165. That means I need less than 3% of my followers and supporters to make that commitment.
I have asked myself a thousand times why I made it back and others didn't. We all know that surviving war is like playing Russian Roulette. What they don't tell you is the guilt you will have to live with if you survive. It took me a long time to work up the courage to do this. It was in large part because of the guilt. I felt like I would be 'taking advantage' of those in need. Stupid Survivor's Guilt. I know now that my cause is just and noble. The only way I can do more is by having the resources to make an impact. Help me start small. On this day, of all days, help arm me to fight for those that suffer in silence. Let me advocate for those too hurt to fight for themselves.
Yours in Health,
I couldn't have asked for a better time to have all of the counseling that I have had in the past day and a half. Group CPT ended up being one on one because none of the other members of the group were able to make it. I individual therapy we discussed why the intensity of the anger, nightmares, and hypervigilance have been increasing recently.
When I got there and realized that no one else was coming, I almost left disappointed. I really needed to talk out what transpired over the past week. When the doc expressed a desire to talk with me relieved, I was really relieved. So I went over everything that happened. He grew very serious and we discussed two topics.
Needless to day, it was a productive session. It has helped me to put what happened into proper perspective and helped me identify an underlying issue that causes my PTSD to have such a deleterious effect on my health and life.
My therapist's major concern is the increasing intensity of my nightmares, my inability to fall asleep easily, and my hair-trigger temper at work. She asked me how much physical activity I am getting outside of work. I told her that I don't really get much. She said that I needed to find a way to work exercise into my week. She said that I didn't need to go all out every day of the week. She said to start small - one or two times per week. Her concern is that only talking and thinking about things doesn't help to drain off the energy I build up over the course of a day. When the physical doesn't have an adequate outlet, it can have a very detrimental effect on the mind. So I promised her that I would talk to my wife about making sure that I have the time to exercise at least twice a week without distractions.
So there you have it. I have a few new things to consider and act on. It gives me a sense of direction, of purpose. I don't feel like I am just reacting to my PTSD right now, which is a pleasant change. We'll see how it goes over the coming weeks and months as I work on these new tasks.
I experienced a new level of nightmare on the night before Thanksgiving. The smells and sounds were always there, but these new recollections/flashbacks now include the fear, anger, horror, and disbelief that I experienced in the moment. The end result: I fell asleep on the couch at the in-laws and had nightmares. My daughter was the one who startled me awake. I became aware of what I had done when I looked over and saw her kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room and the looks or horror on everyone's faces. My startle reflexes had caused me to scare the bejesus out of my daughter.
Needless to say, for my sanity and safety and that of my daughter's, my wife and daughter have been sleeping at her parents' house so that, God Forbid, I don't actually hurt her. She was scared by my startle response, but unhurt. She's over it but I can't forgive myself. It is my worst fear - hurting my daughter.
I was at work yesterday and had a breakdown. I effectively hadn't slept since Friday night. My father took me to the VA and they are putting me back on Trazadone. The doc said that it would keep me from being physically able to act on any startle response.
I needed someone to talk to about what had happened that wasn't emotionally invested in a positive outcome. So, naturally, I talked to Rod Deaton. Rod may be a doctor at the VA and I may be a veteran with PTSD, but we are friends and do not share a doctor patient relationship. What is great about having someone so knowledgeable to turn to in situations like these is that he can stay calm and talk me down from my figurative ledge.
Talking to him last night definitely did that. He made me remember that I am a good and honorable man. That, in and of itself, would ensure that there wasn't a repeat of what happened on Thanksgiving. Additionally, he made me realize that my I was allowing me fears to blow what had happened out of proportion. I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. When I get into situations like this past week, I verbalize my irrational fears to those I love, causing them to worry excessively. I force them to think the worst.
It's form of self-flagellation. On some level I have been punishing myself continually since my daughter was born. I think about all of the worst-case outcomes to my behavior and believe myself capable of making those outcomes a reality. It's self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been hamstringing myself like this ever since my daughter was born. It all stems from irrational fears of losing my family, my daughter.
I won't go into all of the details but my conversation with Rod last night led me to make some incredibly substantial realizations about myself:
So what's the end-result of the mess of a week? Blessings dressed in wolf's clothing...
So it has been a traumatizing and productive week all at the same time. I am still exhausted and have to work at not being too hard on myself, but my wife and daughter deserve to enjoy the man I am - not the man I was afraid I could become.
Today, I woke up groggy and out of sorts. I had intense nightmares last night for the first time in a while. They were particularly intense and I am not sure as to why. I have had the nightmares about once a week pretty consistently for the past few months, but they haven't been very intense and they haven't had that HD replay reel feel or the scent memory of blood for a while. I have actually been looking forward to the holiday this year and what happens? Yeah, nightmares...
Regardless, I am not going to let that ruin my holiday. With that in mind, I want to recount all of the wonderful things I am thankful for this year:
Add all of this together and you have the mother of all support networks. My wish for everyone reading this is the grace and luck to find such amazing people to empower them. I firmly resolve that, despite my incredibly bad night, I will not let it take away from the gratitude I feel for the amazing people in my life. This post is for them - those I have mentioned and those I
I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Now stop reading and go enjoy some turkey and football!
I have written and erased this post more times than I can count in the past week. It was a tumultuous week for me. I was talking with my therapist about the timing of when I felt I started losing control over my anger and about the thought pattern - I don't know what's coming next, but whatever it is can't be good. After thinking about it, I started to lose control and emotionally withdraw right after my daughter was born. I said it so nonchalantly. We concluded our session and my therapist left.
About ten minutes after she left, it hit my like a ton of bricks. Holy shit, my daughter's birth is the root of all of this. As I thought about it more, I realized that this was the first time in my experience that intense POSITIVE EMOTION triggered my PTSD. That realization turned everything on it's head. So let's explore what I mean in more depth:
Finally realizing this has given me some element of power over it and control over my fears. It has been and exhausting journey, but I am hopeful that things will improve as I move forward. It's hard to cope with fears when you aren't aware of what they are. For the first time, I feel like I have a little better control over my anger again. Here's to hoping that things continue to get better.
To My Wonderful Daughter Caley: When you are older and you discover this blog, I want you to know I love you more than words could ever hope to express. Don't ever, even for a second, think that this was your fault. Know that it is the intensity of my feelings for you that make this healing possible. I love you widget, don't ever forget it.
A good friend of mine asked me to address this question. He recently made the realization that he may have crossed over from acceptance to giving up on himself and having a good life. As a result of this, I wanted to very carefully address this (unfortunately) all too common occurrence.
One of the most important steps we, as veterans with PTSD, have to make is accepting that what happened was not something we could have prevented or changed the outcome of. As Rod Deaton says, we veterans are 'intensely intense'. Most, if not all of us, feel that accepting what happened means that we stop fighting the guilt that it is our fault. Here's the hard part:
The instinct to fight is what also keeps us motivated to continue fighting for a better life.
Many of us (myself included) have tried to accept what happened. What we were really doing was feeling guilty that what happened was out of our control. We end up surrendering to the guilt. It can feel a lot like acceptance, but it is not. It's insidious. What has really happened is that by surrendering to the guilt, we have given up fighting and we convince ourselves that giving up on having a good life - it's just something else we have to 'accept'.
When I made this realization about myself, I felt even worse about myself, knowing that the last thing that I wanted was to give up on myself. It was back to square one with the idea of acceptance. In short, I hadn't actually accepted anything. I just gave in. That's what made me feel worse about myself.
So there you have it. I hope this makes sense.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.