I woke up this morning and realized that I woke up happy. It felt empty. Like a consolation prize. I don't know if I can adequately describe the feeling. I really am happy today. Truly happy. It just feels hollow, like the happiness is a veneer, a facade. Is it? I don't think so. I feel like just being happy isn't enough. I'm not satisfied with just happy. I need my life to have meaning and purpose. While I have found meaning and purpose blogging and administering to my website, I didn't realize how much I missed doing 'good works'.
I am going to do a lot of thinking on this. I had thought, before the PTSD, that I was going to lead a life of service to my country. I need to find a way to incorporate serving others back into my life. When I am living a life of service to others, I feel more than just happy, I feel...full. I desperately need to feel that way again. It's different that the amazing feelings I get when I look at my daughter. I think part of why I feel this way is I want to be my daughter's hero, for a reason other than I'm her daddy.
I think I am going to explore this. Maybe there is more that I can do around the community. Maybe there is a need that isn't being met that I can fill. I don't know. I need to talk to my wife about this and see what she thinks.
I wish everyone a Happy Easter. I hope everyone enjoys time with family. I know I will.
After this past year of letting the PTSD run my life, I have a really big problem: I can't figure out what is my PTSD and what is me. When I have a strong emotional response, is it me or the PTSD? When I have difficulty sleeping, is it me or the PTSD? So now, not only do I have to retrain my brain not to fear the PTSD, I also have to examine my feelings and whether I have habitualized this fear and let my PTSD take control of my emotions.
So what does this mean for me? It means every time I have a strong emotional reaction, I have to clamp down on it. I have to take a step back from myself and ask: Is this ME or the PTSD. More often than not, it's the PTSD and that scares the shit out of me. I had let the PTSD take so much control over what I felt that I had lost my identity to it.
When I realized this, I got really concerned. If I have grown accustomed to acting this way, being my PTSD, how do I know who I am anymore? Talk about the worst kind of identity crisis. So I decided today that I am going to reach out to one of my friends that I alienated: One of my friends that has a clear idea of who I used to be before all of this started. Maybe he can find it in his heart to help me get back to where I was and to rediscover who I was. If there is one thing I know for certain, this person knows who I am and would kick the PTSD in the nuts for fucking up our friendship.
Well, I guess we shall see. I have my work cut out for me. I need to learn how to be me again. Not an easy task. My doc said I am performing self-imposed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. OK. I guess I am. I am trying to be aware of how my PTSD interacts with the core of who I am so that I can separate them. That sounds more like Metaphysical Id Therapy to me...
It was one of those nights. I don't remember the nightmares, just feeling of nausea and the smell of blood. I woke up too many times to count so this was repetitive. Really repetitive. I was so exhausted I didn't hear my alarm and my wife was back from the gym before I was able to drag my ass out of bed. Needless to say, my wife was justifiably annoyed with me.
Here's the weird part. I'm in a good mood today. Despite the start to the day, I'm in a good mood. It's almost like my body and my mind are saying, "Screw you, PTSD!" While I wish this could be the case every day, it's not. It's not even frequent at this point. It starts to wear on the soul. When you look at the past week and all you see is sadness and anger broken up with small bright spots of happiness, it's hard to remain hopeful or optimistic.
That's what I wrote this morning before I went to the VA. I was sitting in the waiting room and realized that I was falling prey to the same cycle that I had been trapped in before. God Damn It All to HELL!!
I will not let my PTSD take over. Not again. Not ever. I looked back over the past week. Yeah, a lot of it was rough. It was not a great week. Much of this past year wasn't rosy. What I realized is that I am so physically exhausted all of the time that it's making me more vulnerable to the catastrophic thinking, the depression. That sleep study can't get here soon enough. If I can get just one good night sleep, without the use of medication to put me under, I may just cry. I feel that my inability to get a good night sleep is making it near impossible to have a healthy outlook on life. Is it May yet?
So here's my two cents for the day. VETERANS: If you find you are physically exhausted all of the time and you have a hard time staying asleep, ask for a sleep study. Find out it there is a clinical reason for your physical exhaustion. Don't write off what your body may be trying to tell you as a side effect of your medication or depression. Be your own advocate. Don't ever settle for the status quo.
I don't think this one is just me:
When I am suffering from issues with my PTSD, I ignore signs that I am having problems with my physical health. I just went to the doctor today and they are sending me for a sleep study - they are concerned that I have severe sleep apnea because of oversized tonsils and a deviated septum. So even when I am able to go to sleep regularly, I haven't been getting a 'good night sleep'. I asked the doc whether the lack of quality sleep could exacerbate PTSD. He said that not getting quality sleep would affect anyone - it would just affect someone with PTSD worse.
Being under a lot of stress weakens the immune system and makes allergic reactions worse. The docs need me to get a baseline allergy testing panel done. I may have to get allergy shots and carry a epipen. If this happens, then I won't have to worry about respiratory issues as much. That will put my body under a lot less stress.
I'm 33 years old. I have a 17 month old daughter. I have a lot to live for. I also have a lot to figure out and work out to ensure that my health doesn't keep me from being the man I want to be. So do yourselves a favor. Get checked out my doctors on a regular basis. Don't blow it off. Keep an eye on your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc). Don't ignore the physical warning signs like I did. Stay healthy for your own piece of mind. It's one less thing to worry about, long term.
All of the developments with my health in the past few days have had a seriously bad unintended side effect. Rage. The docs say the sleep apnea is major contributing factor for why my PTSD was as bad as it was this past year. Wonderful. Great. Peachy. Splendid.
A suppressed immune system from lack of quality sleep causes allergic reactions to be worse. In some cases, severe allergies become life threatening. Wonderful. Great. Peachy. Splendid.
Every relationship, personal and professional has suffered because of all of this crap. Thus, the rage. It's the angriest I have felt in years, and that scares me. I know I won't act on it, but it feels like someone lit a fire in my gut and walked away leaving me with the unenviable duty of putting out the fire by myself. I am snippy and have been since the docs told me about sending me to a sleep study yesterday. No one has been spared, including my wife. Is it fear of the unknown or anger at the injustice of it all. I will keep at it and see what I can figure out, but it doesn't make the feeling any less toxic.
I feel like every time I regain a modicum of control over my life and my emotions, something comes along to sabotage all of the hard work I have put in. It gets really tiresome. When the hell do I get a break? I need a vacation from me...
I really have my work cut out for me. I made the realization that I have been living in fear of my PTSD for a lot longer than the past year. I have been living in fear of it for 8 years. Yeah. That blew my mind. I kept on asking myself, how the hell is that even possible? Well...
When I first got home from overseas, I had a lot of issues with my anger. One of the defining moments that spurred me to get help was almost beating my dad. I was freaking out about how the Army was trying to intimidate me back into the service. My Dad was presenting logical arguments why they would fail. His cold, hard logic set me off. I didn't want to hear logic. I wanted validation for my fear and anger. I took one step toward my father, realized what I was about to do and crumpled to the floor, paralyzed by my guilt and fear. This was a defining moment for me. It spurred me to get help. It is also when I started living in fear of my PTSD.
Because of that incident, I was deathly afraid that my PTSD would 'take control'. This feeling was only reinforced when I heard about a few veterans in our area who had been arrested for aggravated assault after returning home from deployments. One guy in support group was only allowed to leave house arrest to come for therapy and group sessions. All of this made me even more fearful that my PTSD was going to sabotage my life. What I didn't realize was that it already had because I was afraid to live my life because I was afraid of potential consequences. I wouldn't go to concerts, malls, public places, etc. Whenever someone invited me to an event, the first thought that would run through my head was always 'how is my PTSD going to affect me?' That's a good thought, but what followed that was pure catastrophic thinking. Going to a diner to meet friends would end in bloodshed because there would be a drunk idiot in the diner that would cause problems. Mmm. Does that sound particularly likely to anyone? No. Not really.
So Veterans, learn from my massive mistake. Don't get caught living in fear of your PTSD. Learn to live with it, not around it. The worst part is that my fear of my PTSD taught others how to view it. I did that damage myself. No I have to retrain everyone's thinking and my own. I have my work cut out for me, but for the first time in nearly a decade, I am pissed off AT my PTSD for getting in the way of me living my life. NEVER AGAIN.
I woke up tired and angry today. Yeah. Tired. AND angry. Even though I think I should avoid correspondence with people and just hide in a hole, I've tried that. It doesn't work. You end up just stewing in your own juices and getting even MORE angry. I don't want to go there again. I deserve better than that. My family deserves better than that. My readers deserve better than that. So today, I am trying something different:
I am going to live vicariously and see if it improves my mood. I hope it will help to improve your day. Yes readers, I am talking directly to you. I am going to tell you three things I am grateful for today:
I am grateful for having met Rod Deaton.
I am grateful for my family.
I am grateful to be alive.
OK, your turn! Write a comment and tell me what you are grateful for. This is only going to work if you participate. Spread the word. I don't care if a person is a regular reader or not, get people to come on here and say what they are grateful for. Mondays suck all around. I don't know anyone who wakes up on a Monday and says, "Gee, I love Mondays!!". Let's work together to make this day the ray of sunshine so many of us want and need.
I have a major problem. I have not been able to quiet my mind and get a quality night of sleep for weeks now. I have so many ideas and thoughts and issues I am trying to work through bouncing around my head it's giving me a chronic headache. I need to slow everything down. I am going to try to create a place at home for meditation and relaxation. The recommendation was made to me that I explore the idea of 'just being' for a little and not thinking. This presented an interesting challenge to me. I think this idea scares me more than I care to admit. To slow down my thoughts and to 'just be' would invite memories and destructive thoughts to visit.
Well, today I am facing that fear. My wife is taking our daughter down to her parents for a while and I plan on using some of that time to 'just be'. I don't know if I know how to clear my head of thought, but I am going to try. I think that the greatest lessons in life are the ones taught to us when we aren't paying attention. Introspection or 'soul searching' have always played a key role in informing me about my PTSD and how it impacts my life.
I think a good portion of the emotional detachment that my wife experiences from me is attributable to not being able to get my mind to shut up long enough for my day to day life to register in a meaningful way. I plan on talking to my wife about making time once a week for me to focus my mind. Before I was in the military I had the uncanny ability to focus on a single problem or idea and explore it meaningfully from all angles. It made me VERY good at chemistry and drafting. Maybe I just need to find something that will appeal to my affinity for spatial relations. Building models. Wow. Where did that thought come from. Time to search online for local hobby shops. I think that's what I am going to do to focus my mind and clear it of all the other junk. Time to build a model.
I had someone ask me through the website whether what I had been through had made me lose my faith or become angry at God. They asked me this because ever since they returned from Iraq, they have felt like a stranger in church on Sundays. The short answer: Yes. I had a serious loss of faith.
I think it's human nature to question your faith when you experience something horrific. I thought, "God can't exist. If God was up there, he wouldn't let this shit happen." That's the crisis of faith. Questioning. If God's up there how could he let such horrific things happen? I didn't realize it at the time, but when I was asking that question, I was asking God for an answer. When I didn't get one, I got angry. Angry at God. I thought, "God, if you are listening, Fuck You, you bastard. How could you let this shit happen. Benevolent, my ass. You are spiteful. I hate you." Yeah. Some pretty angry sentiment there. And I don't know a single vet with PTSD who hasn't gone down this road at some point. It doesn't matter if the soldier is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. The crisis of faith followed by anger always seems to happen.
Let me lay out a series of events for you:
1996 - First Year in College. I meet a guy named Rami Hassouneh. We become fast friends. We go to a coffee shop and he orders in another language. I ask him what he is speaking and he says, "Arabic". I tell him I could never learn that language.
1999 - Joining the Army. I score a 99 on the ASVAB. They ask me if I am interested in languages. I take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) and score a 144 out of 150. They give me a choice of languages: Arabic or Arabic.
2000 - I graduate with honors from the Defense Language Institute.
2001 - After another year of training, I get to my first duty assignment in Wiesbaden, Germany.
2002 - I go on a Liaison Mission to Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense. One of my fellow linguists jokingly calls me 'Harris of Arabia'.
2003 - I get deployed as part of a Mobile Interrogation Team to Kuwait in preparation for the invasion into Iraq. We cross the berm on March 19th and I begin the deployment that changes me forever.
2004 - I am sent home with an active duty diagnosis of PTSD. I decide to return to college.
2006 - I meet my wife on March 24. We get married on September 27th.
2007 - I graduate Magna Cum Laude with a Degree in International Business. I struggle and struggle to find work. The economy has started to circle the drain.
2010 - My daughter is born on November 8th.
2011 - I decide to start blogging as an outlet for my PTSD. Within a month, Combat Veterans with PTSD is born.
In Short: If things wouldn't have turned out the way they did in Iraq, I wouldn't have my degree. I wouldn't have my wife. I wouldn't have my amazing and beautiful daughter. Combat Veterans with PTSD would never have been born.
I don't know whether I believe in God the way many do. I wouldn't even call it faith - I would call it spirituality. I can't attribute what I went through to some grand design. Or can I? I still don't know. That's over a decade of 'coincidence' that I can't explain. I know I am still angry. For me to realize my purpose, I had to go through all of THAT? Yup, still angry.
My wife made it very clear to me yesterday that I have obsessive compulsive tendencies that have been manifesting more and more over the past few months. This scares the crap out of me. I am going to talk to the docs and the social worker about it as soon as possible. That's a relatively new wrinkle that I need to get ironed out. I start doing something that I am passionate about and I lose sight of everything else. I can't get my mind to focus on other things. I think the obsessive aspect of my PTSD that has manifested over the course of the past year had played a major role in making me seem emotionally inaccessible. Is being my kind of intelligent a curse or a blessing? I can disappear into a thought or idea for days and not realize the passing of time. Before the PTSD, I had ideas and thoughts like this, but I was always grounded by the passing of time. I have lost that sense. How do I regain it? I don't know. I wish I did, but I don't.
So now I have to be even more careful: I can't afford to start obsessing about whether or not I am obsessing. That sounds confusing right? I almost laughed when I wrote it. It's true, though. Looking at this another way, catastrophic thinking is, in my mind, a form of obsessive compulsive behavior. Is it that much of a stretch to think that the obsessive behavior could manifest in other ways? I don't think so.
I ask that you, my readers, think deeply on this. I am asking for your input. I hope everyone has a great weekend. I will continue to think on this as well. Maybe together we can find a workable solution for coping with this.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.