I was at work two days ago and one of the younger employees in my department asked me, "Have you ever shot at anyone?". I didn't respond right away. My instinct was to yell at him and say, "Are you a F**KING Idiot? Why the F**K would you ask a veteran that?!?!?" I took a few deep breaths and pulled him aside and talked to him. I told him that we have been at war for 10 years. The one thing you never, EVER ask a veteran is that question. I told him that he is very lucky that it was me that he asked that question because a lot of veterans with PTSD would have answered with their fists. He apologized and said that he doesn't know what possessed him to ask that question. He knows that I play shooter video games and, in his head, it was probably a logical progression to ask what he did. I never answered his question directly. I don't like to talk about it and I won't talk about it. The nightmares are reminder enough of all that I have been through.
When I got home, the news came out that "Been Cowering Like a Bitch" had been killed by troops on the ground and I was fiercely happy and proud at first. I was glad that I had off yesterday. It was not an easy thing to deal with - getting some measure of closure for all of the troops that have died for this cause...The survivor's guilt kicked in big time. I mind went back to the question my young co-worker had asked me and have never been so grateful that I started up my website, blog, and Facebook Page. I don't even want to think about how much I would have disappeared into my head if I didn't have this outlet and other veterans to commiserate with. Thank you, everyone, for being part of this community.
First off, I wanted to thank Kenna for asking the question that motivated me to write this: Kenna asked me to clarify what I meant by 'get away' in my last blog post and I visited her blog to learn more about what she was actually struggling with so that I could address her question appropriately. From what her blog says, loving someone with PTSD is very new to her and she is struggling to learn how to deal with it. Kenna, you are not alone in this and thank you for having the courage to learn how to support someone with PTSD. Here's what I can tell you about my experience with this feeling and what I know causes me to need to 'get away'.
When I am feeling the effects of my PTSD the emotions I feel are anger, guilt, depressed, afraid, confused. I am angry that people died. I am guilty that I survived and they didn't . I am depressed because I can't deal with the intensity of either emotion. I am afraid that I won't come out of the funk I am in. I am confused because I have NO IDEA what caused the episode this time.
A caregiver's innate response to a loved one being in distress is to want to comfort by hugging, touching, talking and, in general, 'being there' (being in close proximity) for the one in distress. In most cases, this is actually the worst reaction a loved one can have.
When I am episodal, the I am feeling all of these intense negative emotions. If my wife was to try to 'comfort' me, I wouldn't be able to handle it. Here's why: The emotions I am feeling are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to the ones she feels for me. I can't handle both sets of intense emotional input at the same time. Because I don't have any choice but to feel the emotions I am feeling, my response is to get rid of the source of the other emotions that I am not ready to deal with - i.e. I feel an overwhelming need to 'get away' from my wife and all other external input that might make it harder for me to deal with my PTSD.
What My Wife and I Have Learned:
Lesson One: Communication is Everything.
We keep the lines of communication open at all times. I let her know what kind of mood I am in and how my PTSD is currently affecting me. Depending on the answer that she gets will dictate how much she interacts with me at that given time. If I am episodal, she doesn't even need to talk to me. She has learned to recognize the signs and leaves me alone to work through it. She knows that when I am ready, I will come to her and talk to her about what I have been dealing with.
Lesson Two: Create a space in your house/apartment that is their 'PTSD Fallout Shelter'.
It is important that the person who has PTSD has a safe place IN THE HOME that they can retreat to when the need arises. I cannot stress how important this is. If the person suffering from PTSD feels the need to 'get away' and only has to go downstairs and play video games in his man-cave to get away, he never has to leave the house. This is critical. So many horrible things happen when the person with PTSD is forced to leave the safety of their home to find this space.
Lesson Three: Be Patient.
As a caregiver, it can be incredibly hard to resist the need to 'smother' their significant other with love and support. You have to have the patience to wait until they are ready to receive what you have to offer them. Do not take it personally if it takes a while and DO NOT EVER THINK IT'S YOUR FAULT!!!
OK, I think that's all of the important topics. Thank you, Kenna, for asking this question. If you need any further clarification or if this has brought up new questions that you would like answered, please let me know!
Ok, so the past few days were rough on me. I needed a few days off from everything and it really helped me gain some much needed perspective. My daughter was the one that really brought me around. She seemed to know that I was very upset and was adamant that every waking moment she had be spent smiling and giggling at daddy. Not only that, but she gave me my first REAL hug and my heart melted. All of my problems went away for a little bit. She is as compassionate as her mother and has eyes only for me. I love every moment of it can't think of anything else I would rather end the day with: A kiss from my loving wife and a smile from my daughter. The best medicine in the world.
The day started off great. We went down to her parents' house and I guess, after church, the exertion from the past few days caught up with me and I passed out on the bed with my sleeping daughter. I woke up having partially aspirated bile that came up the back of my throat while I was reliving me most horrendous experiences as nightmares. Needless to say, that set the tone for the rest of my day. Gagging and almost vomiting in the bathroom because of aspirating a little bit of bile didn't help and I felt like I had to puke for the next few hours. I was afraid to draw a full breath because it made me want to gag and vomit all over again. It's the first time in a long time that something like this has happened outside the safety of my home and it really shook me. I also have to deal with feeling guilty because I partially ruined my wife's birthday. How do you explain to your in-laws that you just had a traumatic event and need to get the hell away from everyone and everything? I know that my behavior at their home probably left them feeling clueless and, I wouldn't doubt, insulted and a little concerned. I would be if I was in their shoes.
But, hey. I am home, my wife and my daughter are safe and I am back to some semblance of calm. I now have to worry about what caused this to come out of left field the way it did. Did something trigger this? I am completely lost on this one and it's going to take some time to figure out.
One thing I know I don't handle well: disrespect. I don't even know why this person is disrespectful to me. Either it's a character flaw on their part or they don't like me. Either way, I don't tolerate that kind of crap in my AOR. It's easy for my anger to get the better of me in a situation like this, but I am not going to let it take control and ruin any chance I have of fixing this in a constructive way. I had to catch myself today to keep the anger from coming out and I think it flashed across my face for just one second. I didn't respond to the disrespectful behavior in words, but I think that my facial expression for that split second paired with my change in body language got the message across that I am not someone to be trifled with. I just don't want people to be scared of me. I have a large, intimidating frame to begin with and it's hard enough to break down the barriers of wariness that I get from others on a regular basis. I do eventually succeed, but many people's initial reaction to my presence when they meet me is fear. They hide it well, but their body language tells a different story. I hate it, but I can't change that aspect of who I am. I just have to learn how to disarm people better.
Yesterday went really well. We've established that. Here's what ended up happening to end the day. The problem was twofold:
1) I didn't want the day to end, because it had gone so well.
2) I hunkered down in my 'PTSD Fallout Shelter' and played Xbox 360 and waited...
The end result is that I didn't go to bed until much later than I normally do and now I am exhausted. My wife was relatively annoyed with me last night because I was in a good mood and didn't want to have much to do with her or our daughter. How do you explain to someone that you are afraid that the other shoe's going to drop and you don't want them to see it when it happens?
OK, so maybe yesterday wasn't as good of a day as I thought. Everything was going well and then I started to catastrophically think about what was going to happen and it spun me up and made it hard for me to be around my family. Wonderful. It's never been quite like that before. Yet another facet to my PTSD I could have done without...
I had one of those elusive good days. I got up refreshed from a good night's sleep (really, it's true) and went to work and had a blast at work. I came home and the washer was finally fixed. My baby-girl was so excited to see me when I got home and I got to spend to giggle time with her. It was a relaxing evening and nothing went wrong. Yet in the back of my head, the question lingered: Is this what 'normal' feels like or am I manic? It still makes me worried about tomorrow, because I know that this feeling will not last and I will have to contend with the PTSD tomorrow. yay...
Why is it that people just know how to push my buttons without even meaning to? I got really angry today and had to check myself before I said something I would regret later. I find it reprehensible that other people can't be more considerate. I know I have a short fuse because of the PTSD, but getting this angry all the time is getting frustrating. I managed to keep my cool (externally, anyway) and dealt with the situation, but it was way too close. I am definitely going to spend some quality face time with my xbox 360 tonight to relieve some of this...
I had a bad moment at work yesterday and the night was followed up with repetitive dreams of the soldier that died...go figure. I never would have seen that one coming. The end result: I slept in really late, screwing up my sleep schedule and I have been grumpy all day. What a way to spend a day off. The worst part is, I know it's the PTSD making me feel this way and I STILL can't stop it from making me feel out of sorts and grumpy. The only two solaces I have had today are the wonderful antics of my wife and daughter. They at least distract me for a little while.
I was at work and I saw someone who looked a lot like a soldier I knew from Iraq that didn't make it home. I don't know how I didn't lose it right then and there. I was hyper vigilant for the rest of my shift, checking my corners and evaluating everyone that came through my area for threat level. It was ridiculous. I work in a freaking grocery store! I don't know how my co-workers didn't notice my change in demeanor. Well, maybe it did and it scared them. I guess time will tell. It's hard for me to ascertain for myself how my PTSD affects others in a situation like that. When I got home, I took an extra dose of my anti-anxiety medication. I was so amped up I couldn't sit down for the first 30 minutes I was home. I did eventually calm down, but thinking you're seeing a ghost doesn't help your mental stability. But hey...I made it through and tomorrow's a new day, right?
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.