Recently it has been brought to my attention that more people would join in discussion if they could be anonymous. When I brought up people can comment on this website and is can be anonymous, I was told that the name field was required. This is true. BUT...you don't have to put your real name. You could put "A Concerned Veteran" if you felt like it. I say this because there was an incident recently where someone put their real name on a post and after posting it, he realized what he had written could potentially get back to family. He asked me to delete it and I expeditiously obliged.
In this day and age, social media and online connectivity provides us with the unique opportunity to reach out for help and reach out to give it. A desire for privacy is the one part of the equation that is missing in this country. A little while back I learned about a website in Britain called the Big White Wall. I encourage you to look over this site. It provides true anonymity to those who are looking for support online. This is what we need more of in this country. I am hopeful that the new initiative being taken by the VA and Volunteers of America will have a positive impact, but they specialize in real world services. The real challenge is creating an online presence that veterans with PTSD can trust to maintain their privacy. Facebook is definitely NOT it.
If you were to create an online service for veterans with PTSD, aside from anonymity, what other services would you offer? Feedback in this area is really important if we want to be able to really make a difference for those veterans who are reaching out online. I really encourage people to leave comments so we can discuss this.
Yours in Health,
As many of you may know, I attended a webinar today hosted by the VOA Director of Communications, David Burch. The purpose of the webinar was to present VOA's vision of the future and get grassroots feedback from the Veterans they hope to serve even better. To achieve this, they invited a group of independent bloggers and authors to discuss the big issues that are facing all veterans of every generation. Other than myself, two other invitees were able to attend today:
We were joined by Executive Vice President of Veterans Affairs for the VOA, John Sherin, who presented the history of the VOA and their vision of where they would like the VOA to head moving forward. Right now, the VOA is very focused on providing housing for the homeless. That being said, they have identified a substantial need to expand veterans services to include mental health care, drug counseling, job training and employment, women's veteran issues, etc. They have partnered up with the VA and plan on supplementing/augmenting the services that are already provided by the VA.
The VOA has a great system set up: They set strategic goals at the national level but they work through affiliate organizations at the local level. What does this mean? It means that the money and resources that are getting sent out to different communities around the country are being utilized efficiently and effectively because the local affiliates are plugged into the needs of the local population. The biggest problem they appear to be facing: Organizing this same type of affiliate program for veterans services. Their biggest concern is that implementing this plan incorrectly will only confuse and alienate more veterans. With this concern in mind, John Sherin expressed a desire for the VOA to act as a gateway to local services, ensuring that the funds and resources are being utilized by those local organizations that can do the most good.
I expressed the concern that there are a lot of great federal programs for veterans that aren't utilized by veterans because there is no local outreach. The VOA acknowledged this concern and said it was on their radar. I also stated that there needs to be a shift in perspective - that these services are not being offered by the government. Many veterans, especially older ones, have been ill-treated by the existing government social welfare programs set up for their benefit.
Lastly, I espoused the use of social media as the vehicle to achieve maximum reach with veterans. Many veterans want help, but can't force themselves to leave their home to find help. With the advent of social media and the security/anonymity it can provide, many more veterans are reaching out for help and taking a step to connect with other veterans that wasn't possible before. We cannot squander this opportunity.
OK, I think that's pretty much everything. I just wanted to reiterate, it is not too late to be heard. Sound off and express concerns and opinions in the comment section of this post. Find your voice and make a difference for those who can't.
Yours in Health,
I was approached a few days ago by David Burch, Director of Communcations for Volunteers of America. In his email he invited me to participate in a webinar that will help dictate the tone and agenda for a panel coming up in early May. Click here to see info on the Panel. It's called, "After the Uniform - Serving the Veterans Who Served Us".
Needless to say, I am extremely honored to be part of this - getting in on the ground floor. When I asked Mr. Burch for more details, he said this:
"Volunteers of America is already one of the largest and oldest providers of services to homeless veterans in the U.S. In 2010, we helped more than 7,700 veterans in 33 cities and 19 states with housing, counseling, job training and medical assistance. The organization is also a leading partner with the Veterans’ Administration on its current initiative to end homelessness among veterans.
While our work with veterans has traditionally focused on homelessness, we’ve seen a growing need for more services related to mental health, PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and we’re working to expand our services in these areas. The 'three-year conversation' will be a series of panels we have planned as part of our advocacy and awareness efforts to draw more attention to these invisible wounds of war. Next year, we’re planning to focus specifically on PTSD, TBI, etc., and the third year, we’ll focus on women veterans and their unique, unmet needs. All of this, of course, coincides with the return of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan and the growing demand we anticipate as a social assistance provider for these services. In addition to these advocacy efforts, many of our affiliates are also in the process of establishing new programs specifically geared toward TBI and mental health treatment for veterans."
This is an amazing opportunity that I do not plan on passing up. I will lend my voice to the webinar this coming Tuesday, April 17th. I will keep you informed as the process continues and I will tweet from the panel live on May 8th in the National Press Club in D.C.
With all of that being said, I want to provide you, the readers, the opportunity to be heard as well. If there are pressing veterans' issues that you think should take the forefront, now is the time to sound off and be heard. Please comment on this post. Please spread this far and wide. Let veterans know they have a forum that will listen to them. The reason they chose me is because of the voice I have in the community - YOUR voice. Let's be heard together!!
There is a common fear among veterans with PTSD: People will know we have 'it' and whisper about us. When I see someone in public looking at me, they know...
For a long time, I was afraid of going out in public because of this. With crap like Bales being in the news and the defense lawyers blaming it on PTSD, many veterans with PTSD feel even less comfortable than we did before. It made me realize that no matter how much I type on here, it's not going to help educate the general public. So what can I do to change that? God, I don't know.
All I know is I hate that feeling. I have had people ask me, "So does that mean you are going to go crazy on us?" They say it like they're joking - like they are saying it in jest. The problem is that their voice goes up an octave when they laugh and their eyes are dead serious. They say it that way but really want to know - are we going to go John Rambo on their asses? All I know is I never think about getting violent with people until they say ignorant shit like that. BUT if that's what it takes to be able to educate someone and break the stereotype. Hmm. Maybe if I was out in public and announced to the world that I am a Combat Veteran with PTSD people would be forced to pay attention - their own fear of what I might do would take care of that. Definitely have to think about it. I'm going to go and follow this train of thought back to the station.
So, people have started finding out that I am out on disability. I got angry. Angry with myself for not realizing that it was going to bother me. I wasn't ready to confront that, fair or not, people are going to judge me because of this. They don't have to know anything about PTSD but they will still judge me.
So I got angry. And then I wasn't anymore. They can all kiss my ass. If they don't want to understand, then they are not worth my time or aggravation. The response of a real person, a caring person, would be asking my wife if I am doing alright. That's my feeling in my gut right now.
Unfortunately, I can't afford to act that way or think that way. People are, by nature, scared of what they don't know. And PTSD is a BIG, BIG unknown for many. So, I will continue to do what I have been - telling it like it is and hoping that more and more people notice.
To all those folks out there with PTSD: Stay strong and patient. If they are willing to listen, explain it to people. If they are not willing, walk away and be stronger for it. I know I am.
I just received this anonymous comment and asked that I address it in a blog post. He says:
"I am tired. Burntout. detached. I know what needs to happen but I am too tired to make it happen. Just be husband, father, protector, rock. It is so hard now. I have to psych myself up to get involved and interested in the garage or building something and bam. The kids are fighting. Back to mr. dad again. Some how it feels hollow. It takes so much effort to psych myself up and try to get on a roll. I take so much medicine to deal with the shit in my head but cannot even deal with it because of the shit right in front of me. If most guys have trouble being a stable father then where does that leave me? Everything is twice as hard now. I can’t let her know. I have put so much on her already. How unfair and selfish can I be? I will smile because I am supposed to. Laugh because it is expected. Somehow I have become the best actor in the world. The overachiever that went to Iraq is gone and I am here. And I am so damn tired."
First off, I have to ask it and then I will follow up with comments in the comment section. If 'So Damn Tired' means you are considering harming yourself. GET HELP: 1-800-273-TALK.
OK, I had to say that first. I am going to post this now, just in case and follow up in the comments. Anyone who wants to can jump in for support!!
If you recall, I posted this blog entry about a week ago: I also posted what I planned on doing to keep Mr. Hyde at bay. The Roll Call visual that I made for myself is really working. I put it on the side of the fridge. I see it every time I look toward the kitchen and it reminds me of the priorities I need to keep in the forefront of my mind.
Where Am I:
This may seem stupid, but it's not. It's asking are you at home, waking up after a night's sleep? OR Did you just wake up feeling like you are back in Iraq?
When Am I:
Yet another strange one, but necessary. One of the major issues that a lot of vets with PTSD suffer from is a loss of the sense of the passing of time. I ask myself this question a lot to make sure that time isn't getting away from me. Even if I am stable, my mind can get so involved with a line of thought or performing a task that I won't realize that one or two days have passed. Asking this question helps keep me grounded in the immediate present.
Who am I Living This Moment For:
If you answer, "for my family, my loved ones, the people I'll hurt, etc.", YOU ARE WRONG! You are living this moment for YOU. That is the only acceptable answer. Unless you can learn to live for yourself and getting yourself right, everything else that life sends your way becomes that much harder to cope with. I have found that focusing on me is making me healthy emotionally and giving me the energy I need to devote to everyone else. They see the difference. They know the difference.
When Was the Last Time I Did Something For Me:
Take time out every day for yourself, uninterrupted. I mean UNINTERRUPTED. No distractions. To do something you find enjoyable and lets you clear your head. It doesn't have to be for long, but take a little time for yourself!
What Are You Grateful For Today:
I am now into the habit of looking for what I am grateful to have in my life. I get up and look around and think about my life. I list off three things that I am grateful for. Today: My Family, Blogging, My Health
It may seem a little silly to do all of this on the surface, but retraining our minds to look at life in a positive light can only be done if we constantly remind ourselves - Every Day is a New Day!!
If you want to print out the Roll Call for yourself:
In this day and age, news is instant. The fat guy picking his nose on the corner could tweet the next big story. With this being the case, I don't understand why the major media outlets continue the archaic practice of needing to break a story first. With how fast word spreads, does it really matter if you were the ones who started the broadcast a half second before your competitor? The major media outlets used to stand by the veracity of what they were reporting whereas the smut and trash recanted on stories or changed the information mid stream. Now that's par for the course. When did this become OK?
Well, Mass Media, SHAME ON YOU. Thanks to your irresponsible reporting of the Afghani Murder Spree by an American soldier, we service members with PTSD have to start over. For the past eight to ten years, PTSD advocacy had been making great strides in breaking a stereotype. A stereotype that soldiers with PTSD were dangerous to others. We are, in fact, not going to go 'First Blood' on anyone. The numbers and statistics show that if we are at risk of killing anyone, it's not other people. So when you negative press whores smell the idea that SSG. Bales may have PTSD, what's the headline? "Afghanistan Shooting Suspect: Rampage May Have Been Caused By PTSD" Now that headline may not be literally what any of you said, but the implication was there and all of the advocacy groups are scrambling to recover from this gut blow.
So here's what I propose: An apology to the thousands of service members with PTSD (like me) for setting back pubic awareness and PTSD education a decade. I want to see a return to responsible journalism where getting the story right was more important than getting to the story first. I want to see stories on every station about how PTSD has been overcome by folks like me.
I know that there is a huge scandal right now with the large percentage of folks that got their PTSD assessments overturned on the base that SSG. Bales hails from. What hasn't been made is a connection between the two. What would have been responsible journalism is as follows:
"It appears that a large percentage of service members had PTSD assessments were overturned at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. While SSG. Bales was stationed at this base before his deployment, this investigation into PTSD assessments does not appear to have any connection to or bearing on SSG. Bales' state of mind at the time of the incident."
Did you catch the nuance? Did you? The way it's hypothetically reported above, discounts PTSD as a cause for the crimes committed and shoots down the idea that folks with PTSD are dangerous. So what happens if it becomes evident that he had an active duty PTSD assessment overturned by suits looking to fill deployment numbers? Then he becomes a victim of a system that didn't protect him or the others around him. If you send someone with PTSD back into the environment that caused the PTSD in the first place, a person could go off the deep end, true. But if that person was known to have PTSD and if put in this situation could become a danger to himself and others, the folks who overturned his PTSD assessment should be the ones on trial for mass murder, for not protecting a service member with a disability.
OK, I've said my piece. What's done is done. I can't change that people are going to look at me and check for a weapon if I say the word PTSD. What I can do is shout loud and clear to all of my brothers and sisters out there who have to suffer this stigma, Stay Strong! We are all proud of you and we know and understand the truth. Never back away of who you are: A PTSD SURVIVOR!
I checked my website mail on the 18th and found a very heartfelt cry for help from a kind and generous young woman who was asking my advice. Here's what she said:
I have dated a veteran with PTSD for 3 months now and over the past month he has slowly closed himself off from the world and now from me. I have tried to reach out to him in numerous ways only to get an awful "silence" in return. He has told me that he cares for me very much and wants to see things work out between us, but his behavior says anything but that. At one point he was extremely depressed and would not answer my texts or calls when I was checking in to see if he was alright, I feared he might hurt himself because he has cut himself of from family, friends, and then me. Is this typical of PTSD, to shut out the people who love you the most????? He knew he was hurting me with his silence yet he let it continue.
My struggle is this: do I just continue to pray for his healing from a distance and send him love with my thoughts in hopes that things will get better because I so want to be there for him, or do I let it go and try to move on........... Any insight into PTSD and intimate relationships, about what to expect, how to handle when your loved one goes "AWOL", and thought processes of vets when this is happening to them would be greatly appreciated. It is also extremely painful to sit back and watch someone you love dearly suffer and not be able to help!!!!!!
Sorry this is so long....so much to say. Thank you for your service, your dedication to helping others through your journey, and for listening to people like me who want to help our loved ones pain stop! You are a true blessing.
For obvious reasons, I would really love to hear back from women who have suffered through this uncertainty. I can't give insight into how to best cope with this, but I can do my best to give insight into how a veteran may be feeling in his shoes.
Starting off with some PTSD and Depression 101: Emotional Detachment is the BIGGEST ENEMY in a new relationship with a veteran. I know, from my experience, the intensity of the emotions a had for my wife scared me. I wanted to close myself off, but I couldn't. I tried, and she saw right through it. The major difference was that I was not depressed at the time. When someone is experiencing strong emotions and is depressed at the same time, it's like overloading a circuit. The breaker trips and the connection is severed.Since I first met my wife, there have been times where my depression and PTSD caused me to become emotionally inaccessible. Those are the hardest times a loved one has to live through. Knowing how much it hurt my wife, it is also some of the deepest guilt I have ever felt.This is where it starts to get a little dicey: Emotional Detachment, caused by the PTSD and Depression can be serious cause for concern. Alienating friends and pushing loved ones away is standard, par for the course depressive behavior. Here's the tricky part. Before I started getting serious treatment, my mother had gotten some amazing things as gifts for me if I wanted them. I told her I didn't and proceeded to sort through all of the stuff that meant anything to me and prioritize who would get what. I was having serious suicidal thoughts. I am not saying this to scare you, just to make sure you are aware of the warning signs of suicidal behavior. IfTHIS sounds like your man, get him help!!
Is this typical of PTSD, to shut out the people who love you the most????? He knew he was hurting me with his silence yet he let it continue. Let me describe for you how it felt when I was suffering from a PTSD episode and depressed at the same time. Just imagine the situation:I get home from a long day at work. I sit down and my daughter, barely over a year old, wants my attention. I give her a hug and hand her off to mama. I sit down without saying a word and start playing Xbox360. My wife sits down in front of me (her cue for rub my shoulders, oh love of mine) and asks how my day went. My response was a non-committal grunt and that was it. She got up after a few more minutes. I never said hi, I never said anything. I never touched her to reassure her. She knew full well what was going on. Looking back the only way I can describe what I felt was like being in a sound proof glass room, my PTSD between me and my family. I banged loud and hard on that glass, wanting to touch my wife, tell her how much I love her. My PTSD had taken over. It took over because I was afraid. I was afraid that if I didn't have my PTSD under tight control, I could hurt my family even worse. Don't let anyone with PTSD buy into this line of self-deluding bullshit.Yes, I said that harshly - it's something I have to remind myself of every day. If you are afraid of your PTSD, it takes over your life. The fear of what will happen in ANY situation overwhelms a person. What could have been a safe place or event or past time all of a sudden becomes dangerous - what if the PTSD gets out of control? Yeah, WHAT IF?? I had a conscious choice to make: Confront my fear of my PTSD ruining every aspect of my life or not. I chose to keep my family in one piece and to start learning how to rethink my relationship with my PTSD. It's still a work in progress but I am making strides in the right direction. For your sake and his, I hope he chooses to love over living in fear.Two real-world pieces of advice: Find a vet center near you. They can get you into support groups and help educate you on what to expect. Lastly, after educating yourself and hearing from the spouses and caregivers that will definitely give you perspective, you need to be fair to yourself and your veteran: Is my love for this person strong enough to support this relationship? You NEED to ask yourself this question. If you don't think you have the ability to love a person in this way, it doesn't make you a bad person. Being in a relationship like this takes a very strong committment from day one. You have to answer that question if nothing else.OK, that's my input based on my personal experience. There are many other people that I would love to ask to share their experiences here. I know many will. Also, you are more than welcome to join the Facebook Page community and find outreach and understanding there as well. You can remain anonymous and just listen to what folks have to say.I hope to hear from a lot of you on this subject matter. Let's band together and help out a young woman in love!
Today is one of those days where I feel like my PTSD is waiting in the wings like Mr. Hyde. I can visualize it rubbing its palms together in anticipation of me slipping up. It's one of the major reasons I decided to start a new little program for myself on the fridge:
Where am I?
When am I?
Who am I living in the moment for?
When was the last time I did something for me?
What are you grateful for today?
I am going to get into the habit of answering these questions every day to help keep me focused on the here and now and not on what could happen tomorrow. If I allow myself to go down that route, wondering about tomorrow, catastrophic thinking worms its way in and I start stressing out about stuff that hasn't even happened yet. I know that I, like most vets in this situation, need constant reminders to live in the moment. To put the past and future in proper perspective. I will keep you all posted on how this is going. If anyone else has anything that they do to help with this (a process or a mantra you say to yourself). I would love to hear about it!!
If you are interested in putting up what I am now calling my personal Roll Call, the document is embedded below!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.