When I woke up on Veterans Day, I was really looking forward to it, as I always do. I was going out to enjoy a free breakfast at the local Friendly's with my dad (who is also a veteran). After that, I was going to a promising meeting for work and then the Netizen Crew (all veterans) were hitting Texas Roadhouse for a team lunch. Then, that afternoon, I had another really promising meeting for work.
I started off the day full of vim and vigor, ready to seize the day and enjoy the company of my fellow veterans.
To say that the day proceeded a little differently...well, that would be an understatement.
When I arrived at Friendly's, I met my dad and we went inside. The place was packed. There was one cook in the kitchen, one very stressed waitress, and ZERO management. I looked around the seating area and saw a lot of disgusted faces. To attract veterans (yes their food is free) and their families (their food is NOT free) with free food to honor their service and then not staff up was a complete failure on Friendly's part. It wasn't the fact that I wasn't going to get free food that really rankled me. What really angered me was that now, because of the absolute ineptitude (and apparent apathy) of Friendly's management, I no longer had time to find another place to eat breakfast with my father and was denied the opportunity to celebrate our service and spend quality time with my dad.
That was TRIGGER#1
I walked out into the parking lot a little edgy. I saw my dad off and as I was walking to my car, I witnessed a lady t-boning another lady in parking lot adjacent to Friendly's. I didn't think, I just reacted. I ran over to check on the two drivers. The lady who was t-boned was standing outside of her car next to the open driver-side door, visibly shaken and wobbly. I quickly instructed her to sit down, as I was afraid she was going to pass out. She complied and I asked her how she was feeling, whether she had any medical conditions and told her I was going to call 911. The lady said she had hypertension so I again reassured her that I was calling 911 and that everything was going to be ok. I called 911 and when the cop arrived, gave my statement. While we were waiting for the police, I helped the lady to call her husband so that he could come and pick her up - her car was totaled.
After my information was taken and I was released by the police, I went back to my car and was shaking from head to toe with adrenalin. I didn't need to remain calm anymore, as the welfare of the accident victims was now in the hands of the police. I had to consciously focus on slowing down my breathing. I was having intrusive recollections of the aftermath of an IED attack in which I was one of the first responders. I felt like I was a hot mess, so I swallowed my memories, bit my lip and drove to my first business meeting.
That was TRIGGER#2
I arrived at the first meeting feeling like I must appear outwardly to be a hot mess. Somehow, I got through the meeting without imploding. I even asked our CEO, who I was in the meeting with, if I looked visibly shaken or distracted. I felt like is had to be obvious to everyone that I was a hot mess. He reassured me that it didn't show and I started to relax a little bit.
After the meeting, we headed to lunch with the team. Texas Roadhouse was packed. I was still on edge, so I was really hoping that the staff was on point and that I would be able to sit with my back as close to the wall as possible.
Thankfully, the staff was amazing (Texas Roadhouse, you ROCK!) and I was able to sit where I could see most of the people coming and going. The lunch and the company was great. I was starting to relax and decompress as I was finally getting to celebrate the day and enjoy the company of my fellow veterans.
I headed home to check on a few things for work and to prep for my afternoon meeting when I got notification that an article that had been written about me and the nonprofit work I am doing had gone live. My stress level went up instantly. They hadn't afforded me the opportunity to fact check what they had written and had not notified me that it had been published. I quickly checked the article on their website and I almost put my fist through the wall. They had gotten every fact about my service wrong. They had the wrong suffix for the nonprofit's website. They screwed up the name of the entrepreneurship initiative I am working to roll out. They directly attributed quotes to me that were such poor grammar that they made me sound like an uneducated idiot.
To say I was furious would be an understatement. I immediately called their managing editor and chewed him a new one. He took down all of the fallacies that needed to be corrected and told me that he would correct the article online, but there was nothing he could do about the print version.
That was TRIGGER#3
Before anyone jumps the gun and comes to the conclusion that this is about my ego, let me clarify a few things:
After all of this went down, I had to get back in my car, again, and head to my last meeting for the day. The meeting went well, but it was exceedingly hard to keep the agitation and adrenalin in check. I was a hot mess.
I got out of the meeting and met my parents for dinner at Red Robin. I ate quickly and departed quickly. I just wanted to get home. I changed clothes and headed over to the Yoga Lab to take advantage of a free mat yoga class. I figured doing some yoga would help to work out the adrenalin and anger and allow me to focus on my breathing.
The class was intense and I struggled to maintain the motivation to finish the class, but I was able to purge a lot of the anger over the course of the class (Thank you, Yoga Lab!)
I went home and putzed around, desperately hoping that my body would allow me to actually lay down and get some sleep. I went to bed and closed my eyes, desperate to put this day behind me. I tossed and turned for hours and finally fell into a fitful sleep around 2 in the morning.
I woke up a few hours later when the alarm went off, feeling like I'd swallowed a cup of sand. My eyes were gritty and blood-shot, my tongue was swollen, and my lips were stuck to my teeth. The bed was soaked with sweat. I looked in the mirror and my lips were literally glued to my teeth in a grimace.
I didn't remember any nightmares, but they must have been intense.
My body ached from head to toe. I let my boss know that I was going to be working from home today and explained that I was a bit worn out from being triggered yesterday.
His response? "No sweat, take the time you need".
I've never been so grateful to be working for Netizen as I was this morning.
I'm feeling a bit more like myself, but it's going to take a few days to come down fully off of this. I hope I recover sooner, rather than later, though. Startup Weekend is this upcoming weekend and I'm one of the organizers.
As always, the timing couldn't be better...
So, Veterans Day is this coming Tuesday. I've asked around and spoken to a lot of different veterans over the past few weeks and have asked one question:
"What Are You Doing This Veterans Day?"
In every instance, the response I got was the same:
"I'm going to 'so and so restaurant' for free food."
When I followed up that leading question to find out if they were getting together with fellow veterans to enjoy a free meal with brothers and sisters in arms...Not a single one of them said they were planning on going with anyone.
I asked these same questions last year and the year before. Too many vets go out on Veterans Day just to enjoy the free food and don't have any desire to congregate with their fellow veterans.
As a result of this, I started thinking about what would make the day more meaningful and whether there were different activities to explore that would offer veterans a different way to celebrate their service.
On October 20th, the Yoga Lab opened up on Lehigh Street in Allentown, PA. Last week, the owner, Kristine, reached out to me with an offer: Free mat yoga for veterans on Veterans Day and discounts all month long, starting on the 10th of November. When I dug in a little bit, I discovered that yoga studios all over the country, independent of one another, are offering similar opportunities for veterans.
So, why yoga? Why now? I have heard that many veterans have found yoga to be extremely helpful in coping with PTSD. Then I read that one of the Yoga Lab instructors is an Iraq veteran with PTSD who has found yoga to be very therapeutic and wants to share its value (and the culture of healing that surrounds yoga as a whole).
When I read through her offer, I realized that this was a beautiful example of someone providing a venue for veterans to congregate in a meaningful manner, with a purpose. I have attached their flyer to this blog post. I will be attending mat yoga Veterans Day evening and am hopeful that I will be able to attend the Veterans Workshop on Saturday the 15th.
I encourage our veterans to extend themselves a little bit, especially those with PTSD, and take the Yoga Lab (and other yoga studios around the country) up on their generous offer.
I wish you all a great Veterans Day and hope you spend it in health and happiness!
The Top Five Reasons why Veterans Interested in Entrepreneurship Should Attend Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend.
For those of you who don't know, my passion for entrepreneurship was born at the inaugural Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend in 2012. It ignited a passion that still motivates me today. It motivated me to pursue social entrepreneurship and to found my nonprofit.
One of the things that I have noticed, though, is how few veterans I run into at these events - and that really confused me. According to the SBA, approximately 40% of returning veterans would prefer to start their own business or 'not work for anyone but themselves'. Veterans who start businesses are twice as likely to grow a successful business when compared to those who have never served.
So why do so few veterans participate in Startup Weekend? I have my theories, but they're not substantiated by any research and fact. Instead of focusing on why veterans don't attend, I thought I'd present my top five reasons why our local veterans SHOULD attend.
So Here Goes...
1. Startup Weekend is a Great Way to Test Entrepreneurship Waters
I know there are a lot of veterans who consider starting their own business or have great ideas but never test the waters because they are too risk averse or don't know if an idea is value-added and marketable. Startup Weekend is an opportunity to test ideas and test the waters, with no strings attached. You get to learn about the culture, the energy, and can discover whether entrepreneurship is something that kindles the creative fire inside you. At the end of the weekend, even if your team wins the competition, you can walk away if you find that the environment doesn't work for you. The only thing that is asked of you is that you focus and dedicate your time for one weekend. Where you take it from there is completely up to you. The worst that can happen is you find out, one way or the other, whether entrepreneurship is right for you.
2. The Positive Environment Helps Transitioning Veterans Connect with Like-Minded Professionals
Startup Weekend has an amazing energy. A very talented pool of people get together for a weekend to generously offer up their talent to develop new applications, manufacture revolutionary new products, and more. It provides a natural feeling of camaraderie that will feel very familiar to veterans. This makes Startup Weekend an ideal environment for veterans transitioning out of the military. It's non-threatening and everyone appreciates what you can contribute, regardless of your level of experience. Not only that, participants break out into small teams of competent people to work on separate projects and depend heavily on each other to work autonomously on their portions of the work. Talk about an ideal setting to soften the cultural blow for veterans just transitioning back into civilian life. Additionally, veterans will meet like-minded people that they can relate to and share their passion with, making it that much easier to overcome the cultural divide between military and civilian life, allowing civilians and veterans to better understand the value inherent in their respective backgrounds.
3. Companies Are Starting to Recognize that Startup Weekend is a Treasure Trove of Hidden Talent
Very early on, organizers recognized that getting local companies and highly visible large enterprises (think Google and Coke, for example) had a vital role to play in supporting and sponsoring Startup Weekend. Successful local entrepreneurs were enlisted to be mentors and judges for the events. What those sponsors, mentors and judges discovered in short order was the inordinate amount of hidden and grossly underemployed talent attending these events. Over time, Startup Weekend has become not only an event celebrating the entrepreneur in all of us but a hotbed for hiring talent. I'll extend it a step further and tell my story. In early 2012, I attended a hackathon organized by a local teach group called LV Tech. It was there that I was first exposed to the generous and lively spirit common at other entrepreneurial events. While there, I started talking to a guy that I quickly found out was a fellow vet. He spoke very highly of hackathons and especially Startup Weekend. After the event, we kept in touch and that fall, I attended the inaugural Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend. It was an amazing experience and our team came in third. The team that won later became one of the most promising startups in the educational space, by the way. Well, over the course of that event, I'd proven myself to be adaptable, reliable and motivated. I made connections there that I still maintain to this day. Time passed and the guy who had introduced me to Startup Weekend back in 2012 reached out to me earlier this year. He had started a business. He had a need for someone with proven writing skills and the ability to learn quickly on the fly to help with technical writing. What started as a trial run for ten hours a week quickly morphed into a full-time transition. He brought me on as his first W-2 employee just a few months later and I am now the Capture Manager for the company. He saw my potential - a potential in the intangibles that never get seen when large companies are screening thousands of resumes. And it all started with an innocuous conversation and a Startup Weekend.
4. Veterans Provide Skills and Valuable Lessons Learned Stemming from Military Service
Veterans have a very valuable set of 'soft skills' that have been ingrained in them as a result of their military service. Among these skills are adaptability, autonomy, teamwork, professionalism, decision making, and laser-like focus on task and mission. These skills are a value added proposition for any team or company and especially valuable in the accelerated setting at Startup Weekend. I have yet to run into a team that hasn't found working with veterans extremely rewarding and productive. Many have come to realize this and have openly lamented the limited participation of veterans at these events.
5. Veterans in Attendance Help to Break the Stigma Surrounding PTSD
The stigma surrounding PTSD affects all returning veterans. About five years ago, there was a concerted effort to dramatically increase the awareness of the prevalence of PTSD in veterans returning home - approximately one in five veterans of the current conflicts is returning home with some degree of PTSD. This was done very irresponsibly. They succeeded in raising awareness but never followed up with educating people on how PTSD impacted our veteran community. As a result, the prevailing stereotypes about PTSD that dated back to the Vietnam War are what the uneducated ended up believing. The stigma has become so strong that they have actually given this PTSD-specific stigma a name - 'The Rambo Effect'. As a result of the increased awareness, this stigma now negatively impacts the lives of all returning veterans. Employers don't want to hire young veterans because they fear that they may be introducing a destabilizing element into their workforce. All of the positive qualities I spoke of in the previous point are either forgotten or summarily ignored as a result of this stigma. Veterans, with and without PTSD that attend these types of events, demonstrate the positive qualities that employers used to highly value. By just being themselves veterans can prove just how wrong the prevailing stereotypes are - without ever even mentioning PTSD.
So There You Have It...
Veterans have a lot to offer. I hope that the reasons I have listed above are motivation for more veterans in the Lehigh Valley to attend this year's event. Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend takes place this November 14th - 16th. As one on the organizers, and a fellow veteran, I'd love to see you out there. For more information please visit their website.
I'd love to hear feedback from anyone reading this. If anyone has any questions or comments, don't hesitate to reach out to me!
It's been a very long two months. I didn't trust myself to blog about what I was going through, so I haven't blogged about what has transpired. I know I've always been very open about what I am going through, but sometimes you just need to take the time for yourself.
So here's the short of it: My wife and I are getting divorced. I know we said in earlier posts that neither one of us would take that precipitous step until we had been separated for six months, but things were just not working.
We didn't come to this decision lightly. We committed to everything that we said we were going to commit to. We have been giving every consideration to the impact this has on our daughter, went to marriage counseling, everything.
We attended multiple counseling sessions, together and individually. What became very evident to both of us is that too much water had passed under the bridge. I can't be to her what she needs and she can't be to me what I need. Our life paths had diverged too much and there was no foundation of trust or communication for coming back from the precipice.
So...we talked. A lot. About a month ago, we mutually agreed to move forward with divorce. It happened on a Thursday. That Friday, Saturday and Sunday that followed were the most emotionally intense days I have gone through since returning home from Iraq. I completely imploded that weekend. Emotions overwhelmed me. The grief was intense. I talked about it with a friend who has gone through divorce and when I told her that it felt like I was grieving for a death in the family, she told me something that I'll never forget.
To me divorce was more emotionally intense than losing a loved one. When a loved one dies, there's closure - it's final. With divorce, you don't get that luxury. You don't get closure ever - especially if you still deeply love your partner. Especially when there's a child involved.
Well, how about that. It definitely put what I was feeling into perspective. While it helped, I still had to confront what was happening to me and I had to do it quickly. I didn't have a lot of time and I had to be functional for work. Somehow I managed to pick myself up and dust myself off by the end of the weekend.
And then something amazing happened.
I found hope in a blunt assessment of my recovery from that weekend: That was the most intense emotional episode I have gone through since I came home from Iraq and I'm still standing...I didn't disappear down the rabbit hole again. I didn't let the depression consume me.
Don't get me wrong, I feel the depression and anxiety 'banging on the windows' trying to get in but I have held onto everything that I have learned, and held on fiercely. I have now, at the core of me, a steely resolve - to do right by myself, my family, and my daughter. The inner fire is burning bright.
Just for clarification, no I don't like that I'm getting divorced. It's had quite the impact on my self-confidence and my focus. I think about my soon-to-be ex every day. I worry about the long-term impact this is going to have on my daughter, despite our collective best efforts to soften the blow. It's impacted my ability to focus on work and has caused me to question my ability to perform the tasks I have to do at work every day.
I continue to struggle every day with this whole mess, but every day is another day I prove to myself that I have the strength to endure this and come out the other side, still capable of loving and laughing.
So, what now? Where do I go from here? That's the trick. I don't know. But I'm looking forward to the journey. I want to turn the page and start a new chapter in my life, but I really have no idea where to start. One thing I know for certain is that I will be sharing that journey with all of you.
Yes, my PTSD has taken its toll on my life but life didn't end when we decided on divorce. All I know for certain is that I don't want to take this journey alone. I just need to figure out what the hell that means for me and what I want to do about it.
It's been a long month. I have had to get used to things I never wanted to have to get used to again. The house is empty for at least half the week. I never realized how much it scares me to be alone and the nights when I don't have my daughter have been the hardest. I can count on one hand how many times I have seen my wife since she moved out and every time I see her, I feel like I have lead in my stomach. It hurts my heart to see her so distant, and closed off from me. Yes, we're on the same page when it comes to parenting, but I fear that the hurt I caused her when I was depressed is too much to overcome.
I wish that there was something that I could do to help her see that I love her beyond words and that I have stayed strong through all of this. I haven't disappeared back down the rabbit hole. I'm still working out and still going to MMA. Work continues to be a revelation.
So, what to do? Where do I go from here? The only thing I can think to do is just stay steady and continue to do what I have been doing - Living my life as best I can for me so that I can find fulfillment. So I'm going to keep on making the most of my workouts, MMA, and work. The biggest thing is keeping busy, especially as the major holidays approach. There's always the temptation to stay in and not go out at all. I swore that I would never go down that road again. It's the first time in my life where I have been thankful for hypervigilance. I've been able to repurpose it to help me keep from going down that road ever again.
I have been afraid to sit down at the computer to write any of this because is makes it real...Does that make sense? Acknowledging my new reality is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. It's one of the reasons that I haven't been blogging that past few weeks. I had to come to terms with how things are and fight my fear and the anger.
It took a while...
But I'm getting there. Bit. By. Bit.
And I'll keep on fighting to make the most of my life for as long as it takes and as long as I live. I never really thought that Post Traumatic Growth was really a thing. When I was in the throes of my PTSD, it seemed unattainable. I don't think that it's the bright, shiny future that they make it out to be in the press, but I do believe it's real. So, no matter how things turn out, I'm going to learn to be happy - with someone or by myself.
But that's a subject for another post...and one I'm working on writing as we speak.
Well, it's been one week since we started the separation. I won't lie and say that it hasn't been very hard, but I'm going to stay focused on laying out the ground rules for separation that my wife and I agreed to. When we sat down to hash out the ground rules, we had a few major considerations:
Our Daughter, Caley:
First and foremost, our daughter's health and well-being takes precedence in all of this. My wife and I both agree that it is important that our separation should have as little emotional impact on our daughter as humanly possible. We have and continue to make sure that she knows that mommy and daddy love her with all of our hearts and that we still love each other. No matter how this turns out, Caley will never be put in the middle. We have seen to many couples use their child(ren) as a tool to hold over the other parent. We have also seen parents badmouth each other in front of their child and that's not only hurtful, but incredibly confusing for a kid. Part of the children will feel that they need to share those feelings for the other parent out of loyalty to the one who is doing the badmouthing and it never ends well for the child.
We've worked it out so that the days during the week alternate between my wife and I - it's easy since she's in pre-school and one parent can drop her off and the other picks her up. Every other week, one of us gets Caley for a four day weekend. So far it seems to be working out well, but if we find that there's issues that come from this setup, I will be sure to pass along what we learn along the way.
Duration and Basic Conditions:
We laid out some ground rules for initial duration of the separation and also the minimum duration should my wife desire to come back before the full length of separation expires. Here's what we agreed upon:
One major consideration in all of this is our finances. We were finally financially stable enough to do more than just make ends meet and were starting to aggressively pay down our debt. I told my wife that I will continue to make minimum payments on our last item of debt, but without her income being added into the mix, I'm not going to have the funds to help financially support her during this separation. We agreed that if she couldn't find a place that was safe and appropriate for my wife and Caley to live, then this whole separation is off. There's no getting around it - this separation is going to strain our finances to the limit (just like they were when I was working my old job). I also explained that there were some expenses I was not willing to give up - my MMA and gym memberships, in particular. I have finally started to get myself back in shape and am making friends for the first time in what feels like a decade. I need those things in my life and I explained to my wife just how important they were to my mental health and well-being. Thankfully, she understands and never considered asking me to give those up.
Out of everything, this is the one condition that for me is a deal-breaker. We absolutely needed to find a marriage counselor and get professional help. I told my wife that even though I don't want her to leave, if she needed to leave then we absolutely and unequivocally had to have the ball in motion for getting counseling. Part of the reason we are where we are is because of failures in communication. Also, it helps to have an intermediary there to help keep emotions from destroying progress. We both agreed that this was necessary and we are currently looking for a counselor who will help us work through this and decide if staying married is something that both parties really want.
So there you have it in a nutshell. I think that explains everything fully. If there are any aspects of this that I may have forgotten please don't hesitate to ask. Also, I know that there may be some readers out there that have gone through something similar. If there are any lessons you can share that can help us avoid common pitfalls, we're all ears.
So, I disappeared off the radar, again - this time for good reason. All of my spare time has been dedicated to contending with family issues at home. The end result: My wife and I are entering into a trial separation, as of today. Before anyone overreacts to this, I need to make this clear - it was a mutual decision. We have taken this step BECAUSE we love each other and want to save our marriage.
Seems counter-intuitive, right?
It really isn't and I'm going to explain why so that maybe the lessons we've learned from all of this will help other couples in distress for the same reasons. I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to write about this, but I felt I needed to articulate in writing our thought process - that and blogging always helps me process through my emotions, so...Here we go.
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I've been struggling with PTSD and depression for years now. Back on November 8th, 2010, my amazing and wonderful daughter, Caley, was born. When I held her for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the profundity of my love for her. It was at that moment that I had the insidious and destructive thought: "If anything ever happened to her..."
My PTSD headed very quickly into a downward spiral and the depression followed, gleefully riding the coattails of my PTSD on the way down. I withdrew completely from my wife and from my daughter over the course of the next year, leaving my wife to contend with caring for two kids on her own: Our beautiful newborn, and me.
I hit rock bottom in early 2012 when my wife confronted me with my withdrawal and gave me the ultimatum: Get help or we are leaving. This sounds really blunt but my wife had tried every other way of getting my attention and nothing had worked. I was so deeply in the throes of my own despair that I needed the emotional slap in the face to be able to see through the fog of my depression. When I did, I was horrified. I had emotionally abandoned my family. The guilt I felt was crushing - so crushing that I seriously considered committing suicide so that I wouldn't be able to hurt them anymore. That's how insidious depression can be. I couldn't see the forest for the trees and almost deprived my daughter of a father and my wife of a husband - Not because I wanted to selfishly end it all, but because I couldn't see any way of preventing my family from getting hurt again.
To this day, I still don't know what, exactly, pulled me back from the ledge but I'm grateful that I found a way. Just thinking about how close I came still horrifies me and always will. Over the course of the next few days, I started to gain a bit of clarity and was able to make a compact with myself - that I would never, EVER, let things get this bad ever again. I knew that the road ahead of me was going to be long and painful, but I needed desperately to be the Father and Husband I know I can be when the PTSD and the depression haven't taken me hostage.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, I have put in the work. I've gone to therapy, learned how to effectively cope with my PTSD and depression, learned how to watch for warning signs that I may be headed in the wrong direction and also learned that I needed to remove as much unnecessary stress from my life as I possible could.
The end result:
Up until a few months ago, I thought that the whole concept of Post Traumatic Growth was a load of crap. I found myself, all of a sudden, full of drive and energy and motivation to live life and live up to the ideals I had always striven for. I finally felt I was WORTH fighting for.
What happened next completely blindsided both my wife and I. It sucks and it hurts, but I think you will see clearly how we got to this point.
I Need Some Time Apart to Clear My Head
Over the course of the past few months, I noticed that my wife was getting angrier and angrier with me over the smallest of transgressions. I started talking to her about it and expressed a desire to get help and get therapy, for both of us, if necessary. Nothing ever came of it and I thought, after some very serious heart to hearts, that we were moving past the anger and emotional distance (things have deteriorated so far for my wife that she's completely emotionally closed off and unable to show affection or appreciation - we've been living like roommates for the better part of the past year).
Over the course of the past few weeks, things had gotten progressively worse between us and it seemed like the hurt feelings and emotional distance were gaining momentum, regardless of how I tried to reconcile with my wife. The end result: I told my wife that I couldn't live like this anymore - that I felt like I was walking on eggshells because the was angry all of the time and was either unable or unwilling to be intimate or reciprocate my affection.
That's when she said those fateful words: "I think I need some time apart to clear my head". I felt the bottom fall out from under me and I clung desperately to the edge of my sanity.
Over the course of the past week and a half, I've climbed out and things have settled down. Yes, my wife and I are separating but it's a mutual decision and I'm going to take the time to explain why this doesn't mean the end of our marriage.
The Five Stages of Grief
It was only after I had finally accepted what needed to happen that I just gone through the five stages of grief for the state of our relationship. It's analogous to the stages of grief that a person would go through when the doctor had told them that their loved one being kept alive by life support was going to be taken off of it according to wishes presented in their living will - the machines would be turned off and the person would either breathe on their own or they'd die. For our marriage, things were very much the same. My wife needed to get the space she needed (turning off the machines) so that she could process through the intensity of her emotions and figure out whether she was able to move past them and recommit to trusting me and loving me the way she knows I need (finding out whether our marriage will breathe on its own). Here's how the five stages of grief play into this:
However, rather than a means to an end, separation can be a helpful tool to stay together. This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is troubled and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge together more, get as close as we can, and do more to "make the marriage work".
After reading that excerpt, things started to make a whole lot more sense. Our lives were financially stable, our work was stable, and most importantly, I wasn't only stable, I was ME again - the guy with the inner fire and the sense of purpose. It was finally safe for my wife to not be in survival mode anymore and when she let down the walls she had put up to survive, she was completely overwhelmed with how angry she was. She fully recognizes that I never meant to hurt her, but the end result was the same: She felt like she had been betrayed and abandoned by me for the better part of the past almost four years, since our daughter was born. As anyone will tell you, the more deeply you love someone, the more deeply you hurt when you feel abandoned and betrayed by him.
All of a sudden, I understood completely why she needed separation. The emotions she was feeling were so intense that any time she saw me, it triggered her emotions and none of them were particularly happy ones. The only way she could possibly start to work through all of this is by removing the source of the pain: Me. So, a few nights ago, I explained to my wife that I accepted her need for separation and why. Believe it or not, it was a huge relief for both of us. Up until that point, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find a way to accept her need for space and that the marriage would end before we even had a chance to work on it - not because we wanted it to, but because of irreconcilable differences.
Over the past few days, we've spent a lot of time getting on the same page and laying out the groundwork for separation and what it means for us and for our daughter. By loving my wife and supporting her in her need for space, we have already started down the right road. It may sound weird, but working together to coordinate the separation has been the closest my wife and I have been in years - because we are working together to save our marriage and working together hasn't been in the cards for a while now. In the next blog post, I will detail our Separation Contract, what it entails, and why. I could continue on and make this all one massive blog post, but this seems like a logical place to split it up. I know that there are readers out there that are probably in the same position we are in and can't seem to find a way forward. I hope that the struggle that I've gone through, both with the PTSD and Depression and with coming to terms with my wife's need for separation can help those of you out there that find yourselves facing a similar scenario.
Thank you all for your constant support and continued readership.
It's June 30th, the last day of National PTSD Awareness Month. It's also exactly one month out from the trauma anniversary that has, historically, been very challenging for me to cope with. It's with this in mind that I'm writing this blog post. I wanted to bring a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor to a serious subject and help to inform loved ones of how pending anniversaries can impact the daily lives of our veterans. I also wanted to present how I cope with my PTSD anniversary in a way that would be immediately familiar and identifiable to anyone who has served in a combat zone. So, here goes...
Pre-Deployment Processing (PDP):
When soldiers are getting ready to deploy, they go through an exhaustive review of their readiness from physical fitness to ensuring all shots and vaccinations are updated to drawing weapons and equipment to updating their life-insurance beneficiaries and their wills. It is a focused and direct approach that ensures that each soldier is fully-equipped to confront the challenges they will face when deployed. When I am preparing for the emotional and physical buildup that stems from a pending anniversary, I take stock in much the same way - to ensure that I know the status of my resources and to shore up any weaknesses in my coping mechanism. I take stock of how well I've been sleeping. If I haven't been sleeping well recently, I make a point to go to bed earlier to try to compensate for this. If I haven't been active and exercising, I make a point of increasing my activity levels - it helps you sleep better and it has been proven that exercise improves your mood. I start paying particular attention to events that could potentially trigger my PTSD (the Fourth of July, for example) during the month leading up to and immediately following the anniversary. I do what I can to prepare my family for what could be a bumpy ride. Marshalling and evaluating the readiness of your resources is key to a 'successful deployment', whether into a combat zone or in preparation to confront and cope with your PTSD triggers. In the past, I have tried convincing myself that I don't have to do this and that believing that the anniversary won't impact me would see me through - Epic Fail. Don't fall victim to the Five P's (Piss Poor Proper Prior Planning).
Battle Damage Assessment (BDA):
After a battle, a unit goes through what is called a Battle Damage Assessment to evaluate the readiness of their troops and equipment. This is a critical process - after the BDA is complete, it allows the unit commander to redeploy his resources in the most effective way possible, given the readiness and condition of his assets. It is much the same after something has triggered your PTSD. It is vital that you evaluate how much of your emotional reserve has been depleted by coping with the trigger and fighting to regain control. It is also very important that you evaluate your physical condition. There is almost always a strong adrenalin response when I am triggered and it can disrupt my sleep and my physical energy reserves can become dangerously depleted. After I have re-stabilized, post-trigger, I perform a BDA so that I can redeploy my coping resources more effectively. Sometimes that means taking naps to catch up on lost sleep. Sometimes that means making sure I have time to decompress built into my day. Sometimes it just means staying in for a day to recover. I do whatever I have to do to ensure that my resources last as long as possible.
Make no mistake: Effectively coping with anniversaries is like fighting a campaign with each trigger event being an individual battle. Winning or losing an individual battle may not win or lose you the campaign, but without proper planning and resource allocation, you will lose out to attrition and loss of morale. Don't try to ignore the warning signs - you'll get blindsided. It would be like a convoy not sending out scout vehicles and being surprised when they get decimated by a near ambush with intersecting fields of fire...
Calling in Reinforcements:
Sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where you know you're about to be overrun. In the past, I have let my pride get in the way of asking for help and have paid dearly for it. Reinforcements are not unlimited so it is imperative that you know what reinforcements you have access to and how often.
After-Action Review (AAR):
After every campaign, commanding officers get their officers and their NCO cadres together to evaluate the performance of the unit over the course of the campaign, to better identify recurring weaknesses in strategy or to identify resources that were more rapidly depleted than planned and accounted for. This is a high level review that allows commander to respond and react to lessons learned and properly account for them in future deployments. It's important to do the same with PTSD after the anniversary has passed. Once things have returned to the status-quo, it's important to take a look at what you did right and where there's adjustments that need to be made. It's important to talk to your friends and family and get feedback, should it be necessary. If you don't incorporate lessons learned in preparation of the next anniversary, you're not doing yourself any favors. As a commander, if you knew that deploying your troops differently in response to a threat would save lives, you'd want to know it. Treat coping with your anniversary the same way.
So there you have it. I hope you find this helpful and humorous at the same time. If you have any questions or feedback, don't hesitate to comment on this!!
The Best TV Episode You've Probably Never Seen About Combat-Related PTSD, Suicide, and the Long Road Home.
Have you ever heard of the TV Show, 'Hack'? I hadn't either, but it was available in Netflix and its premise sounded interesting. I cop that made a mistake, lost his badge, and started over as a cabbie or hack in Philadelphia. The show starts Andre Braugher and David Morse so I figured I'd like it.
I'm glad I gave it a chance. The show ran for two seasons in 2003 and 2004. It has excellent lessons in morality and it's massive scale of grey, love, hope, and family. Then I started watching Season 2, Episode 14, named "Fog of War". The main character's godson came home from Iraq after being wounded and they depicted PTSD, raw and unfiltered. They showed how he tried to numb his mind with pain killers and alcohol. They showed how corrosive the effects of survivor's guilt can be on the soul. They illustrated the particular way in which our anger can flare - by raging against inanimate objects and scaring the crap out of our loved ones. It illustrates moral injury and the cost of war upon the human condition. What gave me chills was the manner in which the actor playing the soldier depicted intrusive recollections. The unconscious twitch of the body, the quasi-nauseous shudder and the thousand yard stare.
It also shows how quickly dependency and depression, combined with survivor's guilt, can lead to suicidal ideation.
One thought kept on popping into my head: "This Could've Been Me."
PTSD didn't really reach mainstream awareness and acceptance as the signature wound of this conflict until 2006 and 2007. What really gave me goosebumps was the date that this episode aired: Feburary 7, 2004. Just five days after I returned home from overseas - I was one of the vanguard. One of the first to return home from Iraq. They didn't even have support services in place for the conflict in Iraq. My support group was comprised of veterans of previous conflicts, predominantly Vietnam.
I watched the episode four times in a row, with tears in my eyes every time. Every time I watched it, the more poignant I realized it was - and just how aware the writing team was of the enduring costs of war. I would warn against watching this episode if you are still learning to cope with triggers, but if you are in the right frame of mind - take the time to watch this episode. It will be particularly educational for family members. The show demonstrates just how important fidelity, unconditional support and love are to our returning veterans.
The veteran depicted in the show had a father who was a hard-nosed cop. Old-school. The show no weakness type of man who thought his son should just forget what happened and 'just move on' in his life. The main character, who over the course of one and a half seasons has found his compassion and his own code of morality, lights the way to a positive solution to the show - not with his virtues but with acceptance of his flaws. It is masterfully done and in such a way as to give hope to those who watch it that their loved ones with PTSD can learn to cope and live with their experiences.
I really didn't see this episode coming at all. It even depicted the politics of the time from both sides of the aisle in a way that showed the validity of both standpoints without being argumentative.
Take the time to watch this show if you have Netflix. You won't regret it. It is truly an episode for the ages.
As you may be aware, things have been going really well for me in recent months - new job, balanced work/personal lives, personal fulfillment, and more. I went into Memorial Day weekend and I was as happy as I can remember being in years.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up on Sunday that weekend and I felt like weeping. I weight of my sadness and my guilt for feeling happy was oppressive. It was unbearable. I had resolved, before the weekend started, to honor the memories of those that gave their lives in service by spending quality time with my family.
How I felt on Sunday was a kick in the nuts. I couldn't even enjoy the company of my wife and my daughter I was so morose. The following few weeks have been hard. Despite the fact that my duties at work have been incredibly fulfilling, I have not been motivated to do much of anything else and have had a lot of trouble sleeping.
Talk about feeling exceedingly frustrated. Even when things were going right, what happened over in Iraq stole some of that happiness from me. Unbelievable. I've thought a lot about this over the past few days, trying to figure out why the guilt is persisting. It wasn't until earlier today that I finally made a breakthrough.
After recovering from the burnout that was working in retail, I had taken a break from blogging and from advancing the cause of my non-profit. What I discovered was disconcerting - I was fearful of burning myself out again and had been unintentionally shying away from responding to emails, communicating with my board of directors, and even from blogging.
I should have known better. Working to help veterans had become a central tenant of my ability to cope with my PTSD. I also now know that my new job will not overwork me or keep me from being able to administer my non-profit. So here goes. I am going to start blogging again at least twice per week and am going to start moving the non-profit forward again, despite the government tax-exempt status backlog.
So here's to another fresh start. I hope I can finally find the right balance and stay true to myself.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.