I woke up this morning, unsure of how I felt. Then I heard that my daughter was awake. I went into her room and before I could say anything, she saw me and let loose with an amazing smile. Pure unconditional love. Happiness - she was ecstatic to see her daddy. I was all that mattered to her in that moment.
It felt amazing. I greeted her with a "Good Morning, Caley!!" and she almost jumped out of the crib in her excitement to be held by daddy. It was exactly what I needed to get the week started off on the right foot. It really made me think about how much I had accomplished since I came home from Iraq and how much I had that I never thought would. I never thought I would meet a woman who could love me. I never thought I would have a child of my own. I thought I was too damaged for either. The PTSD did a good job of convincing me of that.
But here I stand. Married for over five years, gainfully employed by an employer that is compassionate and willing to give me short-term disability, no questions asked, and father to an amazing little girl. I accomplished all of this. Despite my PTSD. And over the course of the past year, my PTSD caused me to forget all that I had accomplished. I am going to start a new routine - at the end of every day, I am going to look at everything that I accomplished during the day and be grateful for it. Once a week, I am going to reflect on the week and all that I was able to accomplish. I am going to continue my work that I started on changing the way I think. I still use the Roll Call every day (Don't know what the Roll Call is? Read this post). That's become habit, so it's time to take the next step in my journey in re-learning how to cope with my PTSD. Let's see how it goes!!
OK, Here goes!
I hope more people share what they are grateful for this week! Even if you don't I'm still going to do this every week. It starts my week off with a smile.
i woke up this morning and looked around feeling very dissatisfied. I look in the mirror and all I see is a tired, overweight, man with circles under his eyes in the mirror. I don't even recognize myself. I think about all of the things I am working to improve and I feel like I haven't made any progress at all. My memory is shot...again. I feel like a pall of malaise is settling all too comfortably on my shoulders. I have been living like a hermit except when my wife forces me to leave the apartment. I haven't left by choice in weeks. Yup, I'm depressed again. Woo.
What makes this such a pain to deal with is that I know I am depressed but I don't have the energy or motivation to do anything about it. I am going to do what I can to fight it off, though. I am going to freshly shave my head and trim my facial hair back into a goatee (I currently look like a mountain man). I am going to have about a billion pots of coffee if that's what it takes to fight off the lethargy.
I want so much for my family but this PTSD and depression keeps on getting in my way. I feel hamstrung. I derive so much satisfaction from being an advocate for veterans with PTSD. I'm on short-term disability right now from my current employer but I don't even know what is going on there because of all of the health issues I have that are still currently up in the air, PTSD being just one of them. I feel like my life is put on hold and I can't make a decision on how to live it until I get some guidance from the VA, from the sleep specialists, from the allergist, and from the pulmonary specialists. I haven't had a cigarette since I was hospitalized in early March, but I want one so badly. Not only am I feeling depressed, I am feeling anxious too. Too much uncertainty and not enough direction. I hate feeling this way. I wish there was a way I could alleviate this feeling without drinking or turning to drugs (neither of which I would EVER do). If there was a viable alternative, I would try it in a heartbeat. But there isn't. So I continue to fight and struggle and shuffle my feet, hoping I'm headed in the right direction.
First let me start off by saying the following: There are no perfect people, just perfect intentions. What do i mean by that? I have talked to people I know who watched Dr. Phil's show, 'From Heroes to Monsters'. Dr. Phil's intentions were pure. He wanted to show that guys who were seen as monsters were human. I get that. I respect that. The goal of his show was to help destigmatize PTSD. I wish more people would get on TV and do that.
It's not the content of the show that I have an issue with. It's the way that it was advertised on TV in the run-up to the show airing. Once again, the media whores who only care about ratings sensationalized the content of the show, thinking it would increase viewership - and I'm sure it did. Here's what they failed to consider and what Dr. Phil should have:
Those are the major points. I could go on a typing rant, but I think the message would get lost. Here it is in a nut shell: YOU SCREWED UP, DR. PHIL. You forgot one of the cardinal rules of being a doctor. As a highly trained psychologist, he should have been aware of the sensitivity and volatility of discussing this issue. With that in mind, you should have done more to protect those who are stigmatized by this stereotype. Your advertising 'specialists' should be fired. The advertisement doesn't accurately depict the content or intent of the show. What I find most disappointing is that I can't imagine this hit the air without you knowing about it, Dr. Phil. If you didn't know about it, you should have.
OK, I'm getting down off my soapbox now. I remind people again - there are no perfect people, just perfect intentions. While I detest how this turned out, I do recognize that his intentions were good. He has done so much to help people over the years that I am willing to forgive this - I just won't forget.
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,
I woke up this morning and knew I was in a bad way. My nerve endings were on fire. I was super sensitive to touch. Even to the clothing I was wearing rubbing against my skin. My emotions felt completely out of control. If I was sad, I knew I'd be sobbing. If I was mad, fuming. If I was happy, laughing hysterically. I could just FEEL it. Then, as I was about to start writing this, my daughter woke up early. I clamped down so hard on my feelings. Really hard. I couldn't afford to have them out of control with my baby girl. I went in and got her out of her crib just as Mommy got home from the gym.
Mommy and I talked a little bit and I ended up over-reacting to everything she said. I never yelled, but I ended up in a depressed funk, laying on the bed. I finally fell asleep, oblivious to everything. My wife woke me up hours later because she needed help with our daughter. I had to fight so hard against the depression, but I was able to get my self moving. My emotional freak out was over, but my nerves were still on fire and my emotions were raw, like someone had rubbed them across a cheese grater. It was the first time in a long time that my emotional intensity had manifested as physical pain. Excruciating physical pain and I can't get it to stop. I knew that if there was one promise that I was going to keep to myself today, it would be to write my blog. Hopefully this helps, but I will not be on for the rest of the day - this is as far as I could go.
Deep Breaths, Max. Tomorrow's a new day.
Can you tell how much sleep I got last night? Not much. I'm making goofy references to The Shining...
On a serious note, I hadn't had the heartburn/reflux in a really long time. I thought that it was attributed more to stress. Maybe it's also due to lack of quality sleep over a long period of time. I can't stand it. The inability to lay down just makes you that much more tired and makes the heartburn that much worse. Last night was out of control...
I guess I need to take a look at what could possibly be contributing to all of this. I know that finding out I WAS exposed to burn pits ratcheted up the stress for a little bit. I also know that quitting smoking didn't exactly help my eating habits at all. I have gained a lot of the weight back that I had lost, but that's a temporary sacrifice I'm willing to take to get off the cancer sticks. A bad diet though...Shit. I am really going to have to find a way to buckle down and eat proper portions again. I can't afford to continue to lose even more sleep like I have been. Not to mention that lack of sleep exacerbates my PTSD symptoms, which makes the heartburn even worse. Yup that seals it. Gotta change the eating habits...again.
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,
Yesterday I found out that the place that they had the largest burn pit in Iraq, LSA Anaconda, was also known at Balad Air Field when I was there. No one I was attached to ever called it LSA Anaconda. I think that may have been a convention that came later. Why does this matter? I was there for the last three weeks before I left Iraq. This really freaked me out yesterday. For those who may not know, I was hospitalized for pulmonary issues about a month ago. My issues: reactive airway disease, early stage COPD, suspected Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Diseases attributed to burn pits: hypersensitivity pneumonitis (very similar to reactive airway disease), COPD, and Obstructive Sleep Apnea...
I went into instant freak out mode. I looked at the list of cancers attributable to burn pit exposure and it instantly crossed my mind: What if I have one of those? I need to go to the doctor. I'm dying!!
I snapped myself out of the last sentiment, but I still can't shake this overwhelming feeling of dread. What if? What if? What if? Gah! Get out of my head! I was up until almost 0400, unable to close my eyes because I couldn't get my mind to shut this line of thought down.
I have that webinar focus group today. I hope I can get this anxiety under control. I feel like I am going to crawl out of my skin. It is so frustrating - every time I feel like I am making headway and getting the PTSD under control, something comes along and messes with me. See what I mean? Catastrophic thinking at it again. At least I recognize it for what it is. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.
Ever since I decided to regain control of my life, some interesting things have occurred and it makes me wonder if emotional connection, even on a fundamental level, with other people is what makes the difference in finding fulfillment or not. Let me lay it out for you:
I've always been a geek. Any new technology, especially with computing and gaming, excites me. Over the past few weeks, since I have won back some semblance of my identity from the PTSD, I have made new friends who are allowing me to explore this passion at a deeper level than every before. For the first time in a while, I have felt compelled to explore new friendships and learn new skills that are way outside my expertise. It's thrilling and safe, all at the same time. This group of people share a passion for technology and entrepreneurship. Everyone is welcome and no one gets turned away. It's a level of acceptance that I haven't experienced from non-veterans in quite a while. As a matter of fact, when I told one of the guys at the last meetup what I was working on (the website, the panel in DC, PTSD advocacy), he very vehemently told me that he would be more than happy to help me learn website building and coding. He said he had a special place in his heart for programs and projects that were intended to help others. It really caught me off guard - I mean REALLY. When was the last time any of you can remember being received with open arms by a group of people that don't really know you - especially AFTER they find out you are a Combat Vet with PTSD?
It's amazing what having time to decompress and get my head straight has done for me. I just hope that I continue to move in the right direction. The last thing I need or want is for my PTSD to get in the way of pursuing my passions ever again. It made me smirk when I thought about this when I woke up - So This Is What Connecting With Other People Feels Like? I could get used to this.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.