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.
There's been a lot going on with Veterans and the VA in the news recently. The revelation that administrators all over the country have been cooking the books to hide criminally long wait times may have rocked the political and civilian landscape but comes to no surprise to those veterans that have been going to the VA for care for years. None of this is new territory. Over the past few weeks, representatives of the major VSOs have been called before Congress to testify. Among those that testified is a fellow Veteran I served with in Iraq and Deputy Legislative Director of the VFW, Ryan Gallucci. What you may not know is that he is also a member of Support No Stigma's Board of Directors. Gallucci has dedicated his entire professional life advocating for our veterans, at the VFW and at AMVETS before that. There is no one I know who has more integrity. After what happened late this past week, I felt compelled to respond to to Senator Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina. Here is what the Senator wrote in an open letter: (Click Here for Official Release)
To the Nation’s Veterans,
This sparked immediate outrage and response from the leadership at the VFW, PVA and the DAV. Before I say my piece, I want you to read their responses: (Click Here for Official VFW response, Here for the PVA response, and Here for DAV response. The full transcripts are also readable below:
Well, that's a lot to absorb. I was furious earlier today. So angry I could spit. I wanted to throw a rant out on the blog to emasculate Senator Burr, but my better judgement and a cooler head prevailed. I thought a lot about what I would say to him if I had the chance and I decided I could also write an open letter. I choose to take a stand with the VFW, DAV, and PVA and I hope, after reading my letter, you will choose to do the same.
In Response to Senator Burr's Open Letter to Veterans:
I really should be thanking you right now. By publishing your letter, you have removed the scales from my eyes. I see clearly now. Your reprehensible choice of timing on the release of your letter, combined with your choice of targets truly show how small of a man you are. Your self-serving and politically motivated message to our nation's veteran community has not fallen on deaf ears. You've roused a giant from his slumber. Despite your service as the Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, you have unequivocally and demonstrably illustrated to veterans everywhere just how out of touch you are with our community.
I have been in the care of the VA since I returned home from Iraq in 2004. When I first received treatment, I was one of the first to return. I could see a therapist as often as needed for an hour at a time, my needs seen to immediately. My disability claim was submitted and decided upon in a few short months. Fast forward to 2014: I wait four to five months to see a therapist for twenty minutes at a time, at the mercy of an underfunded and overwhelmed staff at the local outpatient clinic. Veterans wait so long for decisions on their claims for disability compensation.
Why is this happening?
I hold you and the political establishment at large accountable. Over the past decade, our political process has been hamstrung by political partisanship. While Republicans and Democrats have held due political process hostage with a reprehensible disregard for doing what's right in the name of toeing the party line, they have also clamored to claim that their respective party is the only party that cares about veterans and our plight. What has become abundantly clear is that our veterans are viewed by many in Washington as nothing more than political tools to bolster political agendas, couched as actions being taken on our behalf. This cannot continue. From now on, I will be paying particular attention to the track records of incumbents and how well they have ACTED to care for the veteran community in reality. I know this concept may be lost on many in Washington, but actions do speak louder than words.
Senator, since you have such a skewed sense of reality and seem unable to grasp simple concepts, I am compelled to elucidate a few matters that have led to endless partisan bickering in recent weeks:
I hope this has made things a little clearer for you Senator. Considering your position, you should already know all of this. I shouldn't have to explain all of this, yet I am not surprised that I have to. Veterans are not tools to be used to further a political agenda. Supporting the veterans of this great country should be apolitical. If there's one thing elected officials claim to support, it's our community. We will no longer tolerate political posturing. You do what's right by veterans or you lose our support and our votes. Veterans, as a whole, pay attention to what is going on inside the Beltway. We also have a deeply ingrained sense of honor. Maybe next time you consider spewing vitriol at honorable men and women and the organizations they represent you will think twice. Don't worry, Senator. I'm not holding my breath.
Support No Stigma
My Soldier's Heart
During the American Civil War there was a condition called Soldier’s Heart. Say it out loud and listen to the sound of it. Soldier’s Heart. What a sad but beautiful name for how the horrors of war can affect the human soul. Of course naming it this wasn’t supposed to be poetic. The name came from the apparent heart murmurs many of the combat veterans shared. The medical professionals named it with indifference like they named Legionnaire’s Disease, the Black Lung, or Tennis Elbow, but looking at it now I don’t think there is a better description for what a soldier goes through after combat.
The army sent me home after I was blown up. It took a years or so before the gunshots and mortar impacts faded while sleeping. Every time I jumped up out of bed I stopped for a while and stared into the dark to let the fear drain away, like forgetting a dream. Even today I still check all the doors and windows to make sure they’re locked every time I wake up. It’s been ten years and I have almost complete range of motion, but all my scars and the places where the bones mended ache when it rains and this is a pain in the ass because I live in Portland, Oregon. But that’s okay. I love the rain.
I hate the term PTSD and try to never use it. I hated the term PTSD since first getting home even though my roommate would introduce me at parties as the dead guy, the guy who was blown up in Iraq. People would automatically assume I had it. This would usually get some good-looking girl in her early twenties over to me to hear about the war and pop her gum while staring at me with sympathy in her big eyes. Many times these girls would tell me something like they have a friend with a family member in the war, maybe I knew him. I’d lie and say the name sounded familiar. I let her have what she wanted and I’d talk about the bad stuff in the war. This would last ten minutes or so before she’d cut it short by saying something like all soldiers are heroes, she’d say it’s a shame what we go through when we get back.
She doesn’t know me, or the jerk who stole my one comfortable pair of boots from my trailer while I was out on patrol, or the creep who served in my unit who was arrested in a sting a few months ago in a Taco Bell parking lot for trying to meet underage girls. Is he a hero? Would she still think I was a hero if she knew I was staring at her cleavage every time she looked away during our entire conversation? Would she think I’m a victim if she knew the government paid for most my college and my healthcare? Fighting in the war doesn’t give someone permanent hero status and it doesn’t make us all victims.
Many of the harder soldiers I know don’t believe in PTSD, at least they say they don’t. It doesn’t matter if they have the same symptoms as the guys who do. Some of these hard guys say the people who claim to have PTSD are the ones who are abusing the system and scamming disability money by faking it. Unfortunately they’re not all wrong, this happens. It really does, but that doesn’t mean combat doesn’t affect the soldiers who fought. There’s fraud and abuse in every system, but frustration doesn’t make blanket statements true. I don’t like the term PTSD, but it’s a fact that combat veterans sometimes have difficulty coming back home. It’s been documented since Soldier’s Heart. Greek plays had hoplites throwing their shields in bushes, weary of war.
Okay, so it exists, now here are my problems with the term PTSD. First off, this condition about how the human soul, or whatever it is that makes us who we are, is changed by intense and horrible events, has been reduced to a cold and mechanical acronym. The humanity has been bleached from the condition. We need to deal with human not the disorder.
Secondly, the term is used for everything. If a soldier has nightmares from the dead he or she had seen they have PTSD. Anger issues – PTSD. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, numbness in their fingers, drinking problems, can’t feel safe, wants to go back, all of this equals PTSD. Placing all these problems under one disorder can lead people to believe there is one solution. Not only that but society says PTSD so often it’s lost its meaning. PTSD has now become a blanket some combat veterans can get comfortable in, an excuse not to make the effort to transition back.
The term PTSD has all these problems, but it definitely exists. I had difficulties when I got back, and I still have them today. Part of my solution is to help other veterans. I meet with combat veterans all the time from different deployments and different wars who have either gone through what I went through or they’re going through it: anxiety in public places, difficulty with processing experiences, emotional issues, and so much more.
A few days ago I met with a marine at a pub called Saravesa in NE Portland. We’d never met before except as combat veterans on Facebook. He and his wife recently moved to Portland and he was looking for a sense of community so he reached out and found me. Within minutes we were telling each other about our service, the combat we went through, and the problems we’ve had since coming back. We were digging deep and dealing with some incredibly emotional events in our lives and healing by speaking about it with someone who truly understands, but when the bartender came to ask us if we wanted another round, from her perspective it looked like two big lugs crying their eyes out on a Tuesday afternoon for no apparent reason. She backed away slowly and didn’t return for a while. In fact, I remember a different bartender served us for the rest of the night.
I met another friend at one of my readings a year back who joined the Israeli Defense Force after graduating from high school. He experienced some pretty horrifying events in the Gaza Strip and he told me he isolated himself after getting back. I told him about the week or so I was hole up in my bedroom pissing in gallon jugs, only leaving for more alcohol. This time in my life is embarrassing to bring up, but he understood. Bringing up these uncomfortable and embarrassing moments with other veterans let’s us all know we’re not alone. I talk about how bad it was for me in hopes to show others they can get through it, to show that their problems are just part of a difficult transition and not a permanent state, to show their symptoms are manageable.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has all the passion and meaning the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV can muster, which is to say none. I don’t have a disorder. I have completely understandable issues from experiencing some horrific combat; this is soldier’s heart. Two manly men who fought and bled for our country, who chewed barbwire and pissed napalm, an infantryman and a marine crying over their half-filled pints of good local beer; this is the soldier’s heart. Having an intense longing for doing something incredibly dangerous, for being someone who was undeniably a part of history, this is soldier’s heart. What I’ve gone through and the difficulty I see other combat veterans going through are real. They’re there and documented. They have been at least since the American Civil War. To say these problems don’t exist or to say that they’re only for the weak is just a form of denial, but to lump them all together with an impersonal acronym is just as bad. Leaving the acronym behind and understanding there are multiple difficulties, will put the human back into this equation and give us all a more accurate description of this complicated issue. Say it one more time: Soldier’s Heart.
It's been a long month and an even longer beginning of the year. Granted, the changes that have come fast and furious over the past few months have been positive changes. They were changes, nonetheless. You know what that means, right? Stress. Lots and lots of stress. I know I haven't written nearly as often as I had been in the past. I won't try to make excuses. There are so many things that I have wanted to write about and I just couldn't bring myself to sit down at the keyboard. Too much of everything was too raw. After I stopped taking the meds, it's like every day and every experience has been an open wound and it has taken me a bit of time to adjust. Quite honestly, I'm still adjusting, but at least now I know what I write stems from a position of sound mind and reason - not one held hostage by the anger and the fear that have come close to overwhelming me.
I really wasn't expecting it to be quite this intense, but it has. My new job and my routine are what have brought me back around. I just couldn't bring myself to focus on writing what I was feeling and experiencing when I wasn't even sure myself what my feelings meant. Well, with the passing of this period of upheaval comes respite. I now have the ability to make routines - routines that make time for myself, time for my family, time for coping and writing. I'm learning to cope with my PTSD in a whole new way - a way that not only teaches me about myself but in a manner that will sustain me and give me the strength I need to help others. So during my period of unintentional isolation and reflection, here's what has happened:
Yeah, I think this blog post has been a long time coming. I'm settling into a new lease on life and I am once again ready to share my struggles and my triumphs. So keep your eyes peeled and your inboxes open, 'cuz I'm back and I'm not afraid to 'use my words'...
It all happened about a month ago. February 28th, to be exact. Mike Hawkins, Founder and CEO of Netizen Corporation reached out to me by direct message over Twitter. I had met him a few years back at an event held by the local startup community. He had a problem that he thought I could help him with. It went like this:
Hi there - how have you been? I have a quick question for you: would you be interested in some on-the-side, as needed work helping me...in my new company with some technical proposal writing work? I'm going after a number of federal contracts and am deluged with writing work Figured you have a background in Intel and college degree(s) so you may be able to help me put these things together if interested. Thanks.
Well, we met at a local diner a few days later and he explained to me what he was looking for. He explained that even though I didn't have technical writing experience, he thought that my military background and my degree positioned me well for this kind of work. He also said that it was obvious from my blog (yep, he reads this blog) that I have a very solid command of the English language. He really wanted to give me the opportunity to try my hand at it. He offered me part-time contract work at a very competitive hourly rate with the strong potential for it to turn into full-time work with benefits.
Talk about a no-brainer. I took him up on his offer, incredibly grateful that someone, after seven years of holding a degree, saw my potential and was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. I recently asked Mike via email if he minded me writing about all of this in my blog and he said he had no problem with it at all.
MIKE: ...companies that aren't hiring veterans because of the stereotypes or a lack of understanding are missing out. There is massive untapped resource pool of highly disciplined, educated and motivated vets in this country and those companies which are willing to reach out and give them a chance are going to come out ahead by finding themselves some of the most loyal, dedicated people to work with. It isn't a charity thing, either - it's genuinely smart business to hire veterans who, many times, are unfortunately not able to find work befitting their potential because of the stereotypes of PTSD and military service.
Today was a special day for me. We submitted the first proposal that I effectively wrote. That's no small thing, either. These proposals are what garner contracts for the company. If Mike wouldn't have gone out of his way to provide me this opportunity...Well, I'd still be working full-time in retail, not using my degree and losing confidence in myself with every passing day.
Thanks, Mike, for taking that chance. You have my loyalty and dedication. I look forward to working with you to make what happened to me a common occurrence for veterans everywhere.
It's been a bit of a crazy few weeks. A lot has happened and, for once, some of what happened was actually good! That being said, some aspects of what happened these past few weeks were stressful and exhausting.
You all know that I have returned to work on a part-time basis. That has actually been really good for me. I have a relatively set routine and it has been particularly good for me. For a few weeks, I didn't have any issues - and then last week happened. I had been working an average of about 30 hours per week and that seemed to work out pretty well for me. Then I decided to pick up and extra shift, work six days out of seven and I paid the price. My anxiety shot through the roof. I started staying up later and later and getting less and less sleep. This past week, I had nightmares, serious nightmares, for the first time in weeks. Things were a little frayed around the edges and I truly felt at wit's end. Seriously? I try to work 40 hours and I start bugging out?
Well, before I started down the well-trodden path to depression and self-recrimination, I asked myself a question: Is It You or Is It the Work? That one stopped me dead in my tracks. Could it really be that simple? Could it really just be that Retail and I are like oil and water? We may have appeared to be mixed at first, but over a longer period of time, it becomes readily apparent that no matter how hard I try to make it work for the sake of financial stability and peace of mind for my family, Retail Work and I don't get along.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.