OK, so rather than waiting to post all of this as one big entry, I decided to break it up into parts:
Part 1: The Backstory
About year ago I had this wonderful idea to create an outlet for myself and start a webpage. I was successful and I decided to begin plugging it on Facebook. The more I got into learning about Search Engine Optimization and the effect of Facebook on website visibility, something amazing occurred: A support group was born on Facebook that grew into a community of hundreds in a few short months. I spent more and more time online, monitoring my Facebook Page, blogging, and responding to comments on my website. What had started off as an outlet soon absorbed my whole existence, eclipsing my passion for my family and my passion for my job. I was obsessed every second of every day. What I didn't realize was that I had created an environment where I was dependent upon virtual interaction for validation and succor. Addicted wouldn't be too strong a word. As with all obsessive PTSD behavior, it couldn't last. By July, I was exhausted mentally and physically. I had taken on being the personal support for anyone who asked - their gratitude was my heroin. As with any addict, there comes a point where it isn't possible to satisfy the hunger. I soon became frustrated with the 'slow' growth of my page and website (ummm, that should tell you right there how obsessed I was. By any measure, the success I had experienced since the website's inception should have made anyone happy). My frustration and irrational anger soon led to impatience with the people on my page. Rather than lash out at them, I disappeared. I stopped blogging and stopped going on Facebook at all. What was most reprehensible and tragic: I deleted the Facebook Page, violated the fragile trust of the people who had come to depend on the support, and sent myself into a very, very slow spiral into my worst nightmare.
I started feeling more and more depressed and less and less in touch with my emotions, my life, and my family. I work in retail and I hit rock bottom as soon as the holidays were over. I could barely contain disastrous anger at work. My obsession with my online existence bled over into my desire to better provide for my family. My current salary and position at work weren't satisfactory. I wasn't getting promoted fast enough. On the home front I had to 'work' at playing the part of loving husband and devoted father. I alienated almost everyone in my life. Things stayed like this until the middle of February when my wife gave me a wake-up call.
Coming Soon: The Danger of Obsessive Behavior, Pt. 2
I woke up dangerously angry today. I don't know why. I don't know who I'm angry at or if I am angry with a situation. I can feel it boiling right beneath the surface and it won't go away. The is the angriest I have been in over two years. It's really disconcerting. I can't seem to focus on much. I am doing my best to avoid snapping at everyone and it is getting exhausting holding it back. I've examined what is going on at work and what is going on at home and there is nothing in either environment that I can tell is setting me off. One of my least favorite aspects of PTSD: Being angry for no reason at all.
So what do you do when you have to go to work and you have a family life and you are this angry? I remember one veteran in a support group saying that the anger was the biggest reason he 'self-medicated' with alcohol. I wouldn't ever consider that an option, even if I was single. I have a few more things I can try. I tried venting by playing Gears of War 3. That didn't work. I am going to sit down and watch Netflix with my wife and see if I can distract my mind long enough to let go of the anger. If that doesn't work, I'm going to lay down in bed and listen to music and try to fall asleep. Maybe tomorrow will introduce me to the 'right side' of the bed.
Well, I found out that my jaw is perfectly healthy. The jaw issues I have been having are muscular, from clenching too much when I get stressed or angry. The doc put me on a regimen of liquid diet for two weeks and muscle relaxers to give my jaw a break. It's worked wonders. Needless to say, the prospect of having to trust someone to put me under anesthetic let alone cut my jaw open was daunting. I didn't realize how amped up I was until after I got home and adrenalin dumped. It's not easy giving trust to someone you don't know. I think that's part of the reason that I haven't been to get a yearly check up since I got home. I think it's time to change that.
I recently had a veteran write me asking how other people cope with PTSD, TBI, and memory loss. I can tell you all how a work to cope with PTSD and memory loss:
PTSD: I keep aware of my emotional state at all times. I have a log of what behavior and environments exacerbate my PTSD. I try to always have an outlet to vent anger and frustration (i.e. - exercise and video gaming). I have created a very strong support network. I know a lot of vets don't have a strong support network. It is really important to surround yourself with people you trust who can support you and validate your feelings.
Memory Loss: My memory loss is short-term. I have a dry-erase board on the fridge. I have a to-do list on my phone. I am constantly asking myself if there is anything I have to get done. It helps with memory retention.
Those are the basics of how I cope. If anyone else has anything they would like to add, I would love for you to share it here!
Ok, so I am a little more stressed than I let on to family. I have been having a lot of problems with my jaw due to my bite. I consult with surgeons today to find out whether I need to have surgery to fix my bite today. Catastrophic thinking really got a hold on me last night and I had difficulty sleeping. What if the surgery is needed and I am out of work for too long and have to go on short-term disability? Will I be able to meet my financial obligations? What happens to us if I can't? And so on and so forth. It was not the most fun night I have had in a while and I didn't realize that I needed to take an extra dose of anxiety medication to help my brain shut down. Hopefully, if the surgery is necessary, the doctors will be able to put my mind at ease about it. Stay Tuned.
Two nights ago I had horrible nightmares, complete with nausea and hand washing. It was an exhausting night. What followed was even less fun: Total Apathy. My wife would ask me a question and I would say 'whatever'. I didn't care about anything, couldn't. I was completely empty of any emotion. For a bit, not even my beautiful daughter could evoke an emotional response.
Caley was the one who eventually broke through. She kept on wanting Daddy Cuddles and she looked so miserable that I wasn't paying attention to her that I finally broke down and put her on my lap. We cuddled and I started feeling a sense of well-being again. Her love is so unconditional. I am still feeling emotionally distant today, but I'm getting there. I have today off and will sit down and reflect on this past weekend. Hopefully, that helps.
OK, I'm back and blogging. And my topic today hit with a wallop. Someone I knew died yesterday. He was in his early 20's. I had gotten used to seeing his face every day. Now I never will again. For obvious reasons, it brought right back to the forefront all of my least favorite memories and all of the trauma I experienced over in Iraq. Here's the killer, I had to pretend that everything was normal and that everything was OK. I was at work all day. I made it through most of the day before the anxiety caught up with me. My hands were shaking so badly that I couldn't write, couldn't type. I didn't have my anxiety medication with me either. It was a great feeling. I felt like an eight hundred pound gorilla was kneeling on my chest. It past quickly, but all I could do was stand there like a post and hope no one noticed (which, thankfully, they didn't). My wife had taken our daughter to visit her grandparents and didn't return home until later in the evening. That was a blessing. I was so scared that Caley would be able to sense there was something wrong. She it so aware of the emotional state of the loved ones around her, my intense emotional state would have scared her. So now I am sitting here up late in front of the computer when I have to manage the department in the morning. Woo.
As I said in the last post, I have been struggling to find a way to deal with the loss of my PTSD 'Fallout Shelter'. It has not been easy. I have tried a lot of different things and discussed different options with Dani and we have yet to come up with a solution that works. Here's what we've tried:
It has been an interesting struggle. I still want to get back into the gym, but life always seems to conspire against that happening. I get frustrated that I can't and I get frustrated that I am not losing weight and it causes my PTSD to flare up even worse. Overall, being aware of what is happening to me has been helpful, but it has not been easy. Nor have I been successful all of the time. I will go from loving daddy to apathetic bump on the couch with little to no warning - it tears my heart out sometimes that I don't have the emotional energy to show my daughter every minute of every day that I love her. I am going to continue to plug away at this and see where it goes. Hopefully we will come up with something soon.
OK, so we moved at the end of May. The new apartments is light years better than the old place, it's less expensive, etc. I thought it would make everything settle down and put my PTSD back in its usual holding pattern...Boy Was I Wrong. Here's what ended up happening:
On the surface, everything was better about the move. We didn't have to worry about leaking foundations, clogged and ancient plumbing, mold and mildew problems, lack of A/C, in absentia landlords, etc. All of those stressors were gone. It should have meant smoother sailing. I wracked my brain trying to find out what environmental factor was different that could possibly mean more stress than all of the now absent stressors of the old place. Was it a perceived lack of privacy because we are sharing walls again? No. Our neighbors are great and everyone respects everyone else's space. Was it the gun club next door? No. I know the sound of a shotgun being fired and it is part of the background noise here. It doesn't stress me out. It sounds nothing like rifles firing. Was I bringing stress home from work? No. I was loving my job and looked forward to the challenges I faced there every day. And then it hit me.
I was dealing with sensory overload. The one factor that had changed from the old place to the new was the elimination of a physical location for my PTSD 'Fallout Shelter'. I no longer had a man-cave. I didn't realize how significant the effects of losing it would be until I thought about what I gained from it. Whenever I needed to get away from sensory overload, I went down into the basement and simplified things. I would use gaming as my focal point for cutting out all of the chatter. Now, as much as I love the new place, I don't have that. The place I try to get away from everything is right in the middle of the apartment. It doesn't allow me to get away from anything for even a millisecond. THAT's what was causing all of this stress. Finally recognizing this is a good thing, but now I need to find a way to shut out all of the chatter without having a physical location to do so. I will talk to Dani about this issue and see what we can come up with.
Catastrophic Thinking is usually something that usually doesn't affect me too badly because I recognize it for what it is and adjust how I am thinking about a problem. I think that my coping skill were a little compromised after the long few weeks we had and I got caught off guard.
Something minor happened at work and my mind blows the whole 'molehill' out of proportion. Next thing I know, I am stressing about potentially losing my job and what the loss of stability would do to our family. The stress doesn't let up until I have the opportunity to talk to my manager and he assures me that I have nothing to worry about.
I am so relieved that the physical manifestation of my stress is alleviated so quickly I get a migraine and they have to send me home from work. I was not in any shape to drive and Dani was out of town visiting her parents. I had to call my folks and ask them to come get me.
Long story short, I blew it. I should have known that I was overreacting but I didn't catch on in time and the obsessiveness that it Catastrophic Thinking took hold and made my life hell for almost five days. So everything was calming down and something minor and simple at work creates this kind of havoc. Go figure. I keep on fooling myself into thinking that I can let my guard down for a minute. Invariably, that's when something will slip past my defenses and trigger a bad PTSD reaction.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.