I had really bad nightmares last night. I kept on getting stuck at the part of the memory where my hand was inside the wounded Iraqi detainee's chest and I could feel his heart beating against my hand. I felt the asphalt under my knees, the DCUs sticking to my shins from kneeling in his blood. I watched chips of bone and small chunks muscle swim slowly away from his mangled leg toward the dust at the edge of the road. I looked up from the blood at the sound of moaning and saw the local translator laying a little ways down the road. He was fingering a bullet wound right below his sternum. The smell of blood was everywhere. I woke up and was completely disoriented. I still smelled blood. What was really messing with my head was that metallic smell. I couldn't shake it. God, I need a fucking cig.
That's when I heard the rain. I walked over to the screen door and inhaled deeply. The amazing smell of damp earth and the rhythmic sound of the rain pattering off the roof reassured me that I was in the present. But I could still smell blood. That was new. Previously, whenever I became aware of 'when' I was, the smell of blood went away. This was freaking me out quite a bit. What was happening to me? How could I be aware and still smelling blood at the same time?
And then it hit me: I went and got tissues. I blew my nose. My nose had bled while I was sleeping - was still bleeding. The incredibly dry weather we had over the past month up in Pennsylvania had dried out my nose and sinuses. I can't get rid of the smell and it's driving me nuts. The only time I can't smell it very much is when I go smell the rain. It's surreal knowing that I am actually smelling blood. And it's my own. I have this horrible knot in my stomach and I have no appetite. I think I am going to go take a shower and try to get this blood out of my nose...If I can't today will be a wonderful day of nightmares and rain.
Yup, Three Mondays in a row in counting. Let's recount what we are grateful for!!
OK, your turn! Let's do this!
I woke up early today and recognized immediately that I just don't care. About much of anything. The apathy is so strong I had to mentally discipline myself to even write a blog post today. After the fallout that occurred from stopping blogging the last time, I swore to myself that I would never stop again. The apathy is so strong today that I almost said, "Ahh, screw it. What's one day?"
Famous last words...that's what started me down the wrong road last time and I won't go down that road again, ever. The apathy is probably the most insidious part of PTSD - it's the first step in closing yourself off emotionally and it's also the hardest feeling to fight. It's dangerous and destructive. I asked my parents to come over this morning so that I could go and work out or go for a walk or something. I never went. Yes, there was a lot of stuff I had to clean up from last night that was still in the kitchen. Yes, it was over a half hour later when I got done cleaning up. I still had a lot of time to go and exercise. I couldn't bring myself to do it.
When I realized that I didn't even care about blogging this morning (that followed shortly after I decided not to go and exercise), I caught myself. I recognized the apathy for what it was. I talked to my parents and asked them if they wanted to go to the park later today and go for a walk. I sat down and I started typing. A lot of times, I don't know what's bothering me until I sit down to type. Today, I knew...I just don't care.
I have had serious jitters recently and I am not sure why. It's almost like my body is pissed that I am sitting down. I could pace all night and still not wear through all of the nervous energy. It's played havoc on my sleep . I get the jitters so bad when I am trying to fall asleep that I have to sleep on the couch - it drives my wife nuts and I don't blame her. It's driving me nuts.
What makes it even worse: I can't get my brain to shut down after being jolted awake by my body. So I stay up for a good portion of the night after I wake up. Woo. I am so frickin' tired right now, it's ridiculous. I have doctors' appointments coming out of my ears for the next few weeks. When is this all going to end?
I feel like someone is at the wheel today and It's not a fun feeling. I hate feeling this way, but how do I stop it? I am hoping that the sleep testing actually has some effect and resolves some of these ridiculous sleep issues. Is this the way it's going to be? PTSD wearing my body down to the point that I get sick all the time and it starts to break down.
Of course, all of this uncertainty just makes the nerves and the jitters worse. I won't live like this. There has got to be some way of fixing this or at least mitigating the effects of all of this on my body. If anyone has any sage advice, I'm all ears!!
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!!
So, if you go back to yesterday's post, you will see that I wanted my wife to push me to exit my comfort zone and confront my anxiety about being outside: Anxiety about my lungs and anxiety about other people being able to see right through me. So...My wife made me go for a walk with my her and my daughter. I didn't even realize that I was doing it, but I was procrastinating on getting my vacuuming done because I didn't want to go outside. When my wife saw through that, I checked the weather on my phone and freaked out when I saw the pollen warnings. My wife studiously ignored me and made me go for a walk. Dani pushed me, whenever I would start to get nervous about being out there, she would push me harder. I hated her for it every step of the way and was grateful she was there for me to hate. The anger took my mind off the anxiety and allowed me to get much needed exercise and sun.
Then this morning came. I woke up early with my wife and waited for my mother to arrive to watch Caley while I went to exercise. What did I do? I stayed home and tried Power 90. I got about 15 minutes into when the anxiety got the best of me. I had to sit on the floor and close my eyes and concentrate on deep measured breaths to keep from having an anxiety attack. I had to sit there for almost a half hour, trying to slow my heart rate and breathing down before I could even try to get up. I feel so pathetic right now. Where is the strong, vibrant, and virile man I used to be?
Well, back to my mantra: "Every Day is a New Day". I am sure my wife will want to go for a walk again this afternoon. Maybe I can go this time without trying to come up with excuses to stay in. Tomorrow morning, the goal is to go longer than I did today. I refuse to get discouraged. Not again.
OK, so I am starting to wonder how much of me staying home is me hiding in my cave. There's a difference between staying home and spending quality time with my daughter and being sedentary. When a person isn't being active, it doesn't exactly improve his mood. My wife pointed out to me yesterday that I didn't seem to be doing much activity. Even when I was playing with our daughter, it was always when I was sitting down or laying on the floor, etc.
She's right. I'm being sedentary. Inactivity is making it hard to get active. So what did I do? I asked my mom to come over and watch Caley so that I could go do something active - go to the clubhouse and use the gym, go for a walk, run, ride...
Guess what I did: Nothing. I couldn't get my tired ass out of bed. Again. What is so frustrating about this is I LOVE being active. I mean I really love it. I never used to be one of those guys who would sit on his duff all day and essentially do nothing. So I thought about this while I was feeding Caley and came to a realization. I am scared witless that I will go into respiratory distress again and end up back in the hospital. The doctors cleared me, but it made me scared for my life and I haven't felt that way since Iraq. So here I am, sitting. Wondering. Feeling guilty. Feeling scared. Feeling like a failure. How do I fix this. The thought of going outside to exercise scares me stupid. When my wife makes me go for a walk or I take my daughter for a walk, I don't last very long.
I refuse to let this beat me. I am going to talk to my wife about this try to come up with a plan to beat this. I want to beat this, but I need a drill sergeant to light a fire...
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.
I have made a lot of progress that past few weeks rediscovering me. It just doesn't seem like enough. I look at myself in the mirror and I don't recognize the person in the mirror. I look tired, haggard. I have huge circles under my eyes. I'm gaining weight again that I worked hard to shed. What the hell is going on? I know it's not in my nature to be satisfied with the progress I have made. I just don't know if the image of how I should look is accurate or realistic.
So, am I being too hard on myself? I don't know. It's hard to tell. I can't ask anyone who is emotionally invested in my success. I wouldn't trust that their answer isn't biased. I don't think it's fair to ask anyone else that question. I have to figure this out for myself. I know that this is something that a lot of us are guilty of - being our own worst critics. I could beat myself up all day for perceived failings and still not be satisfied that I was hard enough on myself. It's not a constructive trait but I am not sure how to change that way of thinking. I am not even sure that I would want to change that part of me. I feel that is part of who I am, not the PTSD. I just don't think it's the most helpful in coping with it. So where do I go from here?
I think I need to think on this for a while. The last thing I need to be doing right now is adding any additional pressure on myself to fix what's 'broken'. I need to make sure I am maintaining a healthy perspective. I guess time will tell. Let's see where this line of thought takes me over the coming days.
Hey folks! I said I was going to do this every week and so I am. What am I grateful for?
Ok, your turn. What are you grateful for? Let's start off the week with gratitude again!
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.