I recently asked on my Facebook Page if there were any issues that my readers would like me to discuss in my blog. My fellow advocate, Uncle Sam's Mistress, asked if I could discuss the following issue:
How do spouses and loved ones of service members with PTSD balance the celebrating events (like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) with the needs of the suffering service member to have alone time - a safe harbor in the storm?
This is an issue that my wife and I have struggled with greatly, especially when the PTSD started getting out of control a few years ago. I would want to go out to an event or social occasion and I would reach my threshold for being around people I didn't know WELL before the event was over. It ruined more than one night out for us. As we discussed these issues, we determined that the house (or at least, part of it) should be closed off from other people. Here's how we attacked this issue as a team.
More often than not, I will reach my energy threshold for being out in public way before my wife and will be ready to leave a function or social gathering. We found that taking two vehicles has really worked for us. If I was ready to leave, I didn't have to wait to head out. I would communicate to my wife that I was reaching critical mass and I would go home to relax. My wife could stay as long as she wanted. While she would love to be able to spend the whole evening or day out and about with me, it's just not possible most days.
There are times when events are held at home (children's birthdays is a great example). These events are the hardest for me to handle because people (yes, that includes family) are invading my safe space. If the I don't have a safe place to retreat to away from everyone, I get snippy and irritable with everyone. It can ruin the day. My wife and I decided to make our bedroom and bathroom completely off-limits in our apartment when other people are over. If I feel the need to retreat to safety, I can do so. Sometimes I am even able to return to the event in small doses.
Don't Talk Religion, Politics, or Any Emotionally Charged Issue:
This may seem like a no-brainer, but people like to talk about what they are most passionate about - often that can lead to a really nasty situation with a veteran suffering from PTSD. For many of us, our opinions have a tendency to be set in stone and sacrosanct when it comes to these types of issues. Anyone challenging their ideals can trigger the PTSD.
Veterans with PTSD do not take kindly to being surprised, especially in the place they retreat to to decompress. If you want to make a veteran retreat into himself faster than you can blink, surprise him at home with a birthday party. Not only can this lead to outbursts of anger, but it can also destroy the veteran's sense of security. This is crucial. If we don't have a place to go to unwind, it can cause us to regress substantially.
Sometimes We Need a Reminder:
More often than not, if I have a choice, I am staying at home on my couch watching a movie or playing a game or just kicking my feet up. Sometimes we need someone to remind us that socializing is necessary for us as much as we hate to admit it. Connecting with people gives us a sense of inclusion and belonging to society. We just need that interaction to be on our terms - not anyone else's.
I think that covers all of the major points that resonate for me. I urge you to discuss this with me and your loved ones. If you have any questions or need clarification, please ask!
This question was a serious gut check this past weekend. After my last blog post where I explained my struggle to stay motivated to get healthy, I talked with my mom about it. She said that one of the things she has always loved about me is my gentleness. I only become a fighter when absolutely necessary. While I don't entirely agree with her assessment, it did turn a different light on:
I can fight for a cause. I can fight for my loved ones. I will fight for ideals worth fighting for. But me? Am I worth fighting for?
Yeah...as is said, gut check. I realized immediately that survivor's guilt had a big role to play in this story. The guilt eroded my self-confidence and self-esteem. I have a very low opinion of my self-worth. On top of that, I have stumbled and fallen down a lot as I learn to effectively cope with my PTSD. I think that I am afraid to even try most of the time because I am afraid of failing again. My lack of confidence turn this fear into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So how do I get past this? How does a person learn how to value himself again? I should have a better opinion of myself. The PTSD has tried very hard to destroy my life and my family. Yet, I have persevered and held it all together. What I realized is that I thought THEY were worth fighting for despite my inability to fight for me.
What a mess. I literally hate the image I see when I look in the mirror and I wonder how much of that hatred stems from my guilt for having come home from Iraq when other I knew didn't. Am I punishing myself? Is that what's going on here? I don't know. I do intend to figure it out. This may take more hand-holding than I thought, though. The only way a person can truly improve their self-image is by having their worth validated regularly by those who love and care for him.
I don't want empty compliments and platitudes. I need the people that love me to demonstrate to me why I am a good person. Maybe I should talk to my parents, my sister, my wife, and others about having them write letters to me. The idea would be explaining to me why they love me. What they love about me. That way, on a down day, I could pull out the letters and remind myself of how my family views me each and every day. Hmm...
OK, so I think I figured out part of my problem. Biting off just enough that I never get to stop chewing. Here's a list of my current responsibilities:
So, as you can see, I am not doing much of anything right now. I wonder why I feel tired a lot and emotionally spent. While I am passionate about all of these things, I need to manage my time better and prioritize what I do on a daily and weekly basis. I really need to simplify my life.
So where do I go from here? Well, some good news. Aside from final editing, the next part of my serial novel is complete and will be published in a few days. So that will be one item off the list for a while. The guest speaking engagement is going to be scheduled for sometime this fall, so that's not really a worry. The website is due for some updating and revamping as HTML5 tools are more readily available now. That's not urgent, though. The website layout is clean and easy to navigate, so I can put that on the back burner. LVMAC and the entrepreneurship program go together for the most part. That whole project is on pause until we finish the current round of communication. We are not sure we have all of the players on the board yet, so we are taking our time to make sure we develop this program carefully.
As for the last few items on the list, well...They should be the easiest and they are the hardest. Being a good husband and good father are all I really want to be. The rest is just icing on the cake, so maybe I need to remember that before I commit to any more meetings, programs, memberships, book writings. I can manage a department in a grocery store like a well-oiled machine. Here's to hoping I can manage myself and my personal life with the same level of grace in the future.
Wow, what a whirlwind day and a half. My meeting last night was an amazing success. I met with Todd Watkins (Director of the Baker Institute), Anthony Durante (Allentown Economic Development Corporation and Founder of Lehigh Valley Tech), and Rich Hudzinski (Chairman, Veteran Affairs Committee, Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council). We discussed my idea of creating a veteran entrepreneurship program in the Lehigh Valley, PA.
Last night's meeting generated the impetus to get the ball moving and we are now exploring how we could possibly make this happen. This is going to be a long road and I do not want to take away from what I normally write about in this blog, which is my every day struggles with PTSD. As a result, I have created a subdomain for what I am now naming the 'Lehigh Valley Veteran Entrepreneurship Initiative' (LVVEI for short). Any further information about this will be covered there. I am still working on creating it, but it should be live in the next few days. I will let you all know as soon as it is.
No worries, I have not and will not stop advocating for PTSD. I am as passionate as ever about it and am looking forward to continuing the conversation as I share my day to day struggles. My biggest fear is that I am doing too much, but my family, despite my anxiety about this issue, remains the focus and motivation for getting out of bed every morning. Thank you all for your support. I hope you continue to find what you need here!
For some folks, this one is going to seem out there, but it is something I have discovered I need. The desire to create something original is incredibly cathartic for me. It started off with rug hooking (think latch hooking, but smaller knots). I have been working on the same rug for close to six years. I don't care that it's not even close to being finished. The simple act of creating order from chaos is incredibly relaxing for me.
Then came the blogging and designing the website. I think we all know how well that had turned out for me. I am grateful that I have the ability to give back and create something that is meaningful to so many. I find blogging incredibly rewarding and, believe it or not, it allows me to explore my writing style more fully with no repercussions. With non-fiction you don't need to convince anyone of the veracity of your comments. It is the perfect venue for trying out writing styles and prose and looking at how well they are received by the readers. I love it and I often find that describing something that happened to me in real life is easier to explain in figurative terms.
Then comes the last piece of the puzzle - writing fiction. I have had ideas bouncing around in my head for years and just this year decided it would be a good idea to start writing a serial novel. I just published the prologue on Amazon. It feels amazing. A little surreal. I was able to draw on my life experiences to create a fictional story line. If you are a Amazon Prime member, may you could check it out and borrow it. I want you all to know that I have found the process of writing incredibly enjoyable. The reason I share it here is because I want you all to know that this desire to create something is in many of you as well. Tap into this greatness and reap the benefits. I am going to go recover more from my surgery yesterday, but I wanted to share this passion with you all.
If you are interested in learning more about Part One of my book, here's the link.
As I said in the previous post, the second outlet is a whole lot harder to articulate in a way that makes sense and doesn't make me sound like a complete control freak. What I have discovered is that I need an outlet where the only limiting factors to success are the limitations I put on myself. If there are barriers or external constraints on what I am trying to accomplish, my efforts can be frustrated and my drive turns inward rather quickly. But that's not it either - I am not saying that any little bump in the road causes me to implode and become frustrated. I am talking about arbitrary constraints that have nothing to do with achieving the goal. As you can tell, I am still having a little trouble articulating exactly what I mean. I need to know I am the one in charge of my my own destiny.
Easier said than done. I need this but I don't know how to find it. If anyone has any ideas, I'm open to suggestions. Work isn't that outlet. Too many arbitrary constraints. Maybe I can put this drive into getting myself back in shape after all of my medical issues. I will have to think about this a lot more before this is all said and done. The last outlet, which I will discuss tomorrow is the need for an artistic outlet - the need to create something beautiful.
I thought long and hard again last night about the changes I need to make to provide my drive with an appropriate outlet. What I discovered is that I need more than one. In today's post, I will cover the first criteria:
In Service to Others: I need to be doing something that is in service to others. I need this because it provides the emotional context I must have to find fulfillment. Doing for others because I want to, not because I desire recognition is key. I think I am on the right track with this one. I have the website and the blog and am involved with national (and international) PTSD advocacy. That's a good start but I need to have something personal that I can measure the progress of in a more tangible sense. This is where the local advocacy comes in. I have potentially found a local initiative that will allow me to find the fulfillment I so strongly desire. As I have discussed my ideas with local organizations, they have all come back with one major question - why do I want to pursue this program? My response is always the same. Out disabled veterans and veterans in general deserve better chances to be successful in the business world. I am going to stay vague on that point until a few more pieces of the puzzle click into place, but I am very excited for what the future holds. Most importantly, it would allow me to do something life-changing in service to others.
That's the first outlet. Number two, not as easy to articulate, so I will take more time to think on it and get back to you tomorrow. Have a great day all.
So, I did a lot of thinking yesterday. Especially last night. I thought about this intensity that Rod mentions in his blog - this part of me that kept me alive in Iraq and is causing me so many problems now. For most of the evening yesterday, I was at a loss - what the hell do I do about this? How do I know what a healthy outlet is for me?
To do this, I needed to create a personal definition of my intensity, my drive. Ugh. Easier than it sounds. I have tried a billion things, using anything from meditation to rug hooking to video games to exercise. They all left me feeling dissatisfied, chomping at the bit to do more. All of these outlets just ended up delaying the inevitable implosion that invariably followed. It has been a vicious cycle for me and it's a cycle I really want to break.
I have thought about a related question: Doesn't being a good husband and a good father motivate you enough? Doesn't that give your drive a healthy outlet?
In short: No.
I need people to understand that I love being a father and a husband. Love it. They are my reason for living, for persevering. What they do not provide is an outlet for this intensity, even though they have experienced the fallout from that intensity when it turns inward. This intensity, this drive is something that is entirely and deeply personal and not something that I share with others to find fulfillment. The drive, when properly directed, provides me with a sense of fulfillment and peace.
If this is the case, when was the last time my drive was pointed in the right direction? This is what I thought long and hard about last night. I wanted to identify what I was doing that gave me that feeling and what was the criteria for feeling that way again. And then it hit me - having the freedom to direct my own destiny - when the only person I would have to blame for failure was me. The last time I was in that position was when I was in Iraq, leading a life of service, responsible for keeping our troops safe from insurgency.
That left me with even more to think about. I live in Pennsylvania. Is there a way to recreate that feeling here? That's the mission I have given myself - figuring out how to recreate that feeling. What are the fundamental underlying threads that I need to recreate? Is this activity something I have to do for myself or can I get my family invovled? That's where I am now. I think this may have been a major breakthrough, but time will tell. I will write on this more in the coming days as my purpose for 'being' becomes clear.
For those folks out there who can identify with my definition of intensity and Rod Deaton's description of drive, it's time for a gut check. Take the time to sit down and think about this. Talk to your families about this, your parents, your spouse, your siblings, your friends. This has the feeling of momentous change for me and I hope it does for you too. Time to go think for a while. Enjoy your Sunday and I will follow up tomorrow!
I was talking with Rod Deaton on Friday and we had a very constructive chat. He mentioned to me an idea he wanted me to consider. As he was telling me about it, I recalled that he had mentioned this very idea to me the last time we talked. For a second I grew frustrated and then it hit me - I had heard him last time, but it didn't register on a deeper level. This time around, as his words rolled over me, I felt light-headed. I had to sit down on the bed. What he asked me to consider was that my incredible intensity that had kept me alive was also a major part of the problem I was having right now. As he described what he meant, I felt his words resonate with me, down to the core. I felt like a bell that had been rung too hard. My nerves in my skin felt like they were crawling. Rod, in a few carefully chosen phrases and words, had gotten to the very heart of matters. I am still working through the things that we talked about but it explains a lot. I ask that you all read his latest blog entry and think about what he says very carefully. I am going to take the night to sit back and reflect. Who knows. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to flesh out the frame that Rod Deaton has so thoughtfully put down in words:
Rod Deaton's Blog Entry: Combat Vet Seeking Outlet, References Available upon Request
Recently, with Federal initiatives aiming at pushing for veteran employment, more and more attention is being given to the plight of the veterans of current conflicts. As the conflicts come to a close, the numbers are only going to go up. The programs that have been put in place look great on paper, but how much thought have they actually put into considering the needs of the transitioning service member and the veterans who have been out a while who are still looking for work? It's time to take a closer look at this situation:
I hope that this has put the issue in greater context. My greatest desire is that we all have the opportunity to pursue our wildest hopes and dreams. We are uniquely qualified to turn those dreams into reality if someone would just afford us the opportunity to make it happen.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.