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...
I hate how I look when I see myself in the mirror. I want to lose weight, get back in shape, live a healthier lifestyle. I have wanted these things for a long time. I have accomplished none of these things. For a long time now, living healthy and motivation have been mutually exclusive concepts despite my best efforts to the contrary.
I so badly want to feel motivated to do this and intellectually and emotionally I AM. Every time I try to set something up, I sabotage myself. It's getting really old. My wife deserves a husband who enjoys the active lifestyle we both once cherished. So I am reaching out to all of you for advice, suggestions, anything. Maybe we can all learn something from this and grow together in learning to cope with PTSD.
Is there anyone out there that is interested in getting back into shape and living a healthier lifestyle? Maybe we can do it together. Maybe, just maybe, we can be the motivation for each other that we lack for ourselves.
I wanted to thank all of you for reading my blog. You have no idea how much it means to me to be able to reach out to you all and be heard. For almost two years now, I have been blogging about my struggles and getting these troubled thoughts out of my head. I truly hope that this endeavor has been as helpful for all of you as it has been for me. Let's keep on spreading the word and educating the masses on the struggles we all face every day, veterans and loved ones.
Last Wednesday, I was supposed to go to CPT group. I ended up stuck in the house with serious anxiety issues that made me marginally functional at best. Out of the blue, I felt anxious about everything and nothing all at the same time. The feeling was so intense that my adrenalin kicked in so violently I felt sick. I don't know why it happened, but I am starting to see a pattern in my behavior that worries me a lot. Before Iraq, I was in great physical health. Now, I have borderline high cholesterol, respiratory issues, severe allergies. It is like my body is attacking itself. The only common element I see that has been constant across all of these health issues has been my severe anxiety and the burst of adrenalin that goes with it. It can't be coincidental. I firmly believe that prolonged periods of anxiety and adrenalin induced hyper-vigilance is deleterious to your health. I am curious is any other veterans or caregivers of veterans have thought about this connection. I hope to hear from you all on this subject. I find it hard to believe that I am the only one who suffers these symptoms.
Where to begin...
My wife and I have seen our ups and downs as I have learned to rein in my PTSD symptoms and harness my drive to succeed, both personally and professionally. It has not been easy and we recently made some realizations about why our relationship has a tendency to get tense - even when it doesn't need to be.
What Relaxing Means to Me:
Sitting on my duff playing video games, blogging, writing the next installment of my serial novel, watching a movie, snuggling into the corner of the couch with a good book. You'll notice that my idea of relaxing involves taking a load off my feet. I would love to do this with my wife, cuddled up on the couch.
What Relaxing Means to My Wife:
Going outside for a walk, run, bike ride. Going to the mall and walking around with Caley. Going out somewhere and doing something...anything other than sitting on her duff. My wife loves to go for walks in the evening with our daughter and me.
Do you see where the problem is? I like to NOT do anything. My wife likes to DO anything. Sedentary relaxation versus endorphin release from exercise. I don't need to tell you which way is healthier in the long run. What we have been doing is this: My wife takes our daughter for a walk while I sit in my chair and read something, write something or watch something. We relax apart after a day apart working apart.
Not exactly ideal for our intimacy or our relationship. We never made time to spend together because neither one of us was willing to do what the other found relaxing - mostly because I hate going for walks and she hates sitting for long periods of time. So how do we meet in the middle. Do I recognize that always sitting on my duff after or before work isn't healthy and change my routine? Nope. If I did that I would be grumpy all the time. I can't be the only one to make concessions. So where is the happy medium? What do I do to meet my wife half-way?
I am going for a walk tonight with my wife to discuss this. We'll see what happens.
It's been a longer week than it should have been and way too long since I used this blog to get my thoughts out. I wanted to write about one aspect of Cognitive Processing Therapy that has been really good for me and difficult as all hell - both at the same time. The doc says accepting what happened is a major step in the therapy process that presents the biggest challenge for most guys. Doc continually talked to us about acceptance and it started to annoy me how much he talked about it. I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never be able to accept what had happened.
I have been thinking about this constantly for the past few weeks and I finally had a breakthrough two weeks ago that I never got to write about - I was unwilling to accept the wrong thing. I finally made the connection that acceptance isn't about accepting the horrific things that I saw. It's about accepting that there was nothing I could have done to change the outcome. It was completely out of my control. THAT was what the doc talked about when he talked about acceptance.
I was so relieved when I made that connection. I felt like I had reached a guidepost on my journey. And then, as the world always does, my world did everything in its power to challenge this new found clarity. While I won't go into specifics, work threw down the gauntlet and I lost my temper. I got very angry at work and caused a lot of people a lot of worry. I ended up going home that day just so that I could regain control of my emotions.
I recognized what was happening and felt powerless to stop it. It the past, this type of stumble would have sent me into a tailspin for weeks, if not months. That didn't happen this time. I was angry and agitated for the rest of the day but somehow found it within me to let go of the anger. What had happened at work to trigger my PTSD was outside of my control.
Then, I simply accepted that it had happened and felt all of the angst and raw jumble of emotions dissipate. I went to bed exhausted but relieved and woke up the next day feeling much better. So, the concept of acceptance has taken hold and helped me to rein in volatile emotions.
I felt so much better until I saw how worried and stressed my wife was. She was so afraid that I was going to regress. She was scared to death that I was losing the battle with PTSD, that the PTSD was winning and she was losing her husband to it again. I saw the fear in her eyes and I felt horrible, guilty, and responsible for her distress.
So over the past week I have worked diligently to impress upon her that I am not slipping back into the horrible funk I was in last year - that I am OK. I explained to how much my ability to cope had improved since I started CPT. While she understood what I was saying, it didn't lessen the fear for her.
And that's when it came out.
Because of turmoil and instability my PTSD can cause in our lives, she never feels safe and our life never feels stable. It was at this moment that I recognized how much my therapy could help her and other caregivers as well. I sat down and talked to her about my CPT and the concept of acceptance. While I was talking to her I remembered something that her mother used to always tell her. I reminded her of it and am going to leave it with you now, for there is much truth in the following words.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace
What a long week. I keep on trying to find the time to write this post and others, but life intervenes. What is frustrating is that I always feel better after I get out my thoughts in this blog, yet right now there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day. *sigh*
Anyways, this past CPT session was pretty stressful. One of the guys brought the kid of a friend to group. The kid was in his early to mid 20's (wow - I just called someone in their 20's a kid. Must be getting older...). He was shot in the shoulder over in Iraq by a sniper. He was ghost white from the pain and the pain meds. His PTSD was deep and very severe.
And it felt like I was looking at a shadow of myself before I got help, when I first got home from overseas. His life was in shambles and he was pushing everyone in his life that cared about him away but you could tell he was desperate for the loving touch of the ones who loved him. He was a ball of jitters, anger, depression, catastrophic thinking, paranoia and guilt. It was hard to look at, hard to watch. I wanted to reach out to him and let him know that he was going to be OK. The state he was in, he wouldn't have believed a word I said, even if I said the sky was blue. He had insomnia, partially from the pain of his injury and partially from his wounded soul.
I didn't have the physical injury, but the rest...well, I don't like to think about the shriveled husk of a man that I was before I got help for my PTSD.
Here's the good part, the part that gives me hope: Every guy in group, no matter how bad their situation was, reached out to that young man with compassion and knowing love and support. We all told him he had a place with us if he needed it. The common bond of traumatic experience brought us all closer in that one moment. I think is was a benchmark moment for all of us in group. I don't know why, but something about that moment changed the dynamic in group and changed it for the better.
A lot more happened in group in addition to this. It was an eventful session. But that is a tale for another post. Off to hug my daughter now.
Sometimes I wonder how I get through the weeks in one piece. This past week I interviewed for a new position at work that would limit my exposure to mold so that I could have a healthier working environment. My employer has been incredibly supportive through this whole process.
The part that has been hardest for me is how it affects me at home and my past ability to contribute there. I have really thought long and hard about what my wife needs from me. The biggest thing that she needs from me is help around the house and with our daughter. While I recognize that I do sometimes need time to be alone and decompress...
As a husband and a father, sometimes I just need to suck it up for a little until my daughter is asleep and the chores around the house are done. As I said, I thought about this for a long time and I have wanted to commit to being that man again - the man she fell in love with. I had PTSD when I met her, so I know I am capable of being that man again, in spite of everything. I have wanted to do this for a while, but I wanted to make sure that I was emotionally stable when I verbally made that commitment to her. The last thing I wanted was to set myself up for failure and hurt and disappoint my wife. She deserves so much more than I have been giving her.
Yesterday at work, I suddenly realized I was ready to commit. I called my wife on lunch and told her not to make plans for the evening. I made reservations at our favorite restaurant and I talked to Dani about my thoughts and renewed my commitment to her.
Last night was good for us both. My parents were watching Caley so that Dani and I could get an adult night out. It was wonderful and we talked about all of the obstacles we had overcome in the past year. When everything was said and done, Dani recognized that there was something different about the way I was committing this time. I think we both felt it. Like we were finally closing the door on everything that has happened the past few years.
So no all that is left is to follow through. And I am. I will. If I have a bad day, I wait until everything is taken care of for the day and then I can take my 'leave me the fuck alone to decompress' time. Being there for my daughter and my wife make this all worthwhile.
*NOTE* I know I have a lot of people to write back to via email. I apologize for the delay and will write responses as soon as I am able.
I have another big week ahead. I am applying for another position at work that will significantly reduce my daily exposure to mold. You'd think I would be excited about the prospect. Instead, I am stressed that I won't be the best candidate. I am afraid that they won't pick me. I am pissed that I have to do this in the first place. I have the best, most supportive manager in the world and I feel like I am letting him down because my body won't behave.
Here's the weird thing. I have begun to realize that I have, in the past, wallowed in these emotions, draining all of my energy before I even get home from work. Stress, fear, and anger have been my on-again, off-again companion ever since I got home from overseas. There's a pattern of behavior in all of this that I don't know how to articulate and it is annoying me to no end.
Simplifying does seem to be helping to reduce the effects of these three, but not fast enough. Getting stressed about this coming week is making me more stressed. Snowball effect sucks. I am glad that I have CPT group this week. Bouncing my thoughts and frustrations off the guys in group does seem to help, even if only a little.
Breathe, Crazy! You have off tomorrow. Sit down, read, play with your daughter and forget you have a week of upheaval ahead.
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.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.