For many, the focus on learning to cope with PTSD is on the mind. I know I was guilty of this for a long time. It wasn't until recently, when I started training in MMA that I noticed how profound the effects were on my body and my state of mind. As a result, I cannot stress enough how taking good care of your body and your physical health and positively impact your ability to cope with PTSD. If you are not getting up and being active, here's some positive motivators that will change your mind (I hope).
More Restful Sleep:
No, I don't mean you will sleep through the night. If you are a fitful sleeper, you will still be a fitful sleeper. I know I am. What I mean is that when you are asleep, you will find that you wake up more refreshed the following day. Between random noises and my three year old daughter, undisturbed sleep is not something I'm accustomed to. What I can say is that I am sleeping the same number of hours as before but getting more out of it. I don't know the physiological reasons behind this - my assertion is observation based. All I can tell you for sure is that my mind is more rested the next day. I'm better able to cope with the triggers that I encounter on a daily basis. If you're like me, that's huge.
Less Time to Brood, Less Time to Procrastinate:
This one may seem odd, but it's important to me. When I don't have a full (not overloaded) daily schedule, I have a tendency to be much more sedentary and I think about things I shouldn't a whole lot more. There is a difference between setting aside time to reflect and spending time brooding because your day has no direction or purpose. If you're married, you'll even find that it improves your relationship with your wife because you are more active around the house and helping out more. Why? Because with a full schedule, you don't have time to put off doing the laundry or making dinner. It's done wonders for my wife and I. To boot, I'm not as withdrawn from what is going on around me because I don't have the time to brood. I cannot overstate how important this is.
Boosting Self-Esteem and Feeling Motivated:
I'm losing weight and I feel healthier. My psoriasis is under better control and I don't feel like a leper. I'm lighter on my feet and I feel stronger, more vital. For the first time in a long time, I don't feel negative when I look in the mirror. I may not like how I look, but I feel motivated because I look better than I did. It's even improved my posture and my outward confidence. This can also be a great thing for your relationship. I guarantee your partner will find it sexy that you are feeling confident in yourself again. I know that for me, and for a lot of us, everything that we've been through has really dinged our confidence and self-esteem. Exercising and taking better care of your body can have the most profound impact on your outlook. It has on mine.
So there you have it. As a result of committing to taking better care of my physical health, I'm better rested and able to cope with triggers, I'm less withdrawn and more active, I've improved my relationship with my wife because I am more active and helpful around the house, I feel better about myself and I'm regaining my confidence in who I am and what I want. All in all, I'd say that's one hell of a positive laundry list. If you are a veteran who is struggling to motivate yourself to take better care of your physical health, take it from me - It's more than worth it. Granted, everyone is different, but I think we can all agree that taking better care of ourselves physically can only have an upside. Don't just take my word for it. Get up and do something about it. When you've made that change and see the results, I'd love to hear from you. So enough reading - go out and DO something!
We are getting absolutely pounded with heavy snow right now. So, with nothing else going on, it seemed like a perfect time to catch you all up a bit on everything that's been going on. There has been some concern expressed by family, friends and readers that recent posts have expressed a lot of anger. Yep, they sure have. I'm less angry than I am frustrated, but that's just part of the story.
I'm 35 years old and I have had no luck starting a meaningful career since 2007 when I graduated (Magna Cum Laude, I might add) from college. I have continually been told that I'm 'overqualified'. Well, now I'm seen as too old and too experienced for entry level work, but I don't know the requisite computer applications that seems to be required for mid-level management (seriously? It's a computer application - I could learn a stupid computer program in a day or two). I've also come to the realization that I really don't play very well with others. I'm demanding and exacting and hold people to the standards I hold myself to and that seems to cause me a lot of problems in the workplace. It's made me realize that the education and skill set I currently have isn't doing me any favors. As a result, I'm exploring whether VA's Vocational Rehabilitation program could help me get the training I need to go into business for myself (or at least on a contract basis).
So, that's the work side of life. Things on the personal side are settling down substantially. I go to train MMA as often as I am able to get out to the gym. I am learning to deal with my emotions better (anger and frustration still need a lot of work). I've been off the medication for about two months now and I feel a whole hell of a lot better. My psoriasis is much more manageable, I have stopped having constant stress headaches, and my asthma is almost non-existent. My instinct that the medication was having an adverse impact on my physical health definitely appears to be right on the money so far. I feel more energetic, motivated. I've still got a lot to work through and think through, but I feel like I'm finally headed in the right direction.
As for the non-profit, well...The backlog on 501(c)3 Tax Exempt status is so big, we won't gain our tax-exempt status until 2015 at the earliest. It has made getting the non-profit off the ground exceptionally time-consuming and frustrating. As a result, I've had to change the short-term focus and just get down to the basics. The crowdfunding rewards are finally done and in hand - sort of. The company that made affortable static window clings went under. The other companies charge more for a single window cling than I paid to purchase and print a t-shirt. Same goes for the 550 cord key chains. As a result, I've decided to send all supporters a silicone bracelet and a t-shirt. So keep an eye out for the email I'm sending out to confirm mailing addresses. The silicone bracelets I got for a song - the website I purchased them through gave me 200 free when I bought 100 debossed two-tone bracelets. At least I'll be able to make a little money for the non-profit by selling them and the extra t-shirts.
So there you have it. That's pretty much everything going on right now. I've been much better about recognizing my limitations and am finally making the lifestyle and professional changes I need to so that I can live a less stressful and better balanced life. I won't lie and say that things have been easy as I have worked on making this transition. It's been stressful as hell, but I finally feel like I'm thinking long-term and making the changes I need to provide for long-term stability. I'll keep you posted as things progress. Thanks to all of my readers for your continued support and readership!
For the longest time, I have struggled to consistently go to the gym. There was something unrewarding about going to the gym, working out by myself and not getting a workout high. Granted, some of the lethargy may have been attributable to the meds, but I just didn't enjoy it at all. I enjoy working out WITH people. Pushing myself to get better in comparison to the people I exercise with has always been a strong motivator for me. I think that's why I always worked out so hard in the military.
I finally got fed up with the lack of motivation. I started looking for other ways to get back into shape. I've always like the martial arts - Tae Kwon Do as a kid, and Nin Jutsu when I got older. There was also a crew of us who got together when I was in the military and sparred using various styles varying from Kung Fu to Muy Thai to Brazilian Ju Jutsu. I looked to see if there were any good Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) schools in the area. To my surprise, I found a top notch gym - Hammer Training and Fitness. I went out to tour the school and talked with the owner, Rodney Guignet. I was very impressed with the facilities and the school in general. I knew, right away, that I wanted to train there.
That was about a month ago. I have been training there every since and it has been a life-changing experience for me. With MMA, you only get out of it what you put in. I leave every class soaked in sweat and practically gasping for breath. My core strength has improved drastically and I feel stronger and healthier than I have in a long time. The best part: I leave the gym feeling calm and emotionally balanced. As I push myself, I am able to train for longer and longer stretches, but I won't lie - when I first started training, my body hated me with a passion. I didn't care. I continue to push through it and feel so much better for it. I have even met another veteran who trains there.
I can't say enough about Hammer Training and Fitness. They have been a pleasant surprise, providing me with a safe place to work out my emotions and PTSD angst. They are also very supportive of veterans. So far I know of one other veteran who trains seriously there and I am sure I will meet more. It's a safe environment for me to socialize as well. I didn't realize how much I needed a safe, judgement free place to exercise and make friends until I experienced it at Hammer.
I'll keep you posted as things progress. When I started there, I weighed 292 pounds. I'm currently at 284 and am carrying a lot more muscle on my frame than I was a month ago. I wonder where I'll be by my birthday in May!!
You are growing so fast and daddy is so proud of you. Every day you grow - every day you find ways to amaze me. I love you with all of my heart and now that you are getting old enough to understand, it's time daddy sat you down and talked to you about his companion: PTSD.
I've been thinking about this day for along time, what to tell you, how to say it. I want to start with this:
Come What May, Daddy Will Always Love You With Total Devotion.
There are times where Daddy, because of what he has gone through and what he is feeling, may not be able to show it. I may seem distant, aloof. Never, ever think it is because I love you less. Never think it is your fault. Because it never is and never will be.
I'm New At This, Too.
I've never been a father before and I am learning as I go. I know I will make mistakes - every parent does. What I do know is that I will talk to you about my PTSD and how I am feeling every step of the way. I don't ever want you to feel lost or confused. I promise I will do everything I can to make sure you don't lose your way because of me.
Mommy And Daddy Are A Team.
Caley, I know you already know this, but Mommy and Daddy are a team. Daddy isn't going through this alone. Mommy and Daddy will talk about what to tell you and how. We will shelter you from harm and ensure that you grow up knowing, unequivocally, that we love you above all else. It may not always seem like it, but we believe strongly in consequences, good and bad, for every action you take.
I Strive To Be The Best Father And Role Model I Can.
More than anything, Caley, I want to be your Daddy, the man you look to act as a role model - to teach you what is important in life. As much as I want this, I also want you to know that sometimes the way Daddy has to do things isn't always the best way. Because of everything I have been through, I have a code I have to follow - a set of rules the guide me, keep me focused and steadfast. This code is rigid and unforgiving, both to others and to me, but I know no other way. I need you to know the difference between striving for ideals and hurting yourself by standing by them. I wish I knew how to be more flexible, but I don't. There will be times where you will not understand why Daddy can't be flexible, can't find common ground. When you see this remember what I have told you here and talk to me about it.
It Is MY PTSD - Mommy And Daddy Will Do Anything To Protect You From It.
The only way I know how to do this, especially now that you are getting older and starting to understand things better, is to communicate openly with you about this every step of the way, in the most age-appropriate manner I can think of and devise with Mommy. If there's one thing I know, with absolute certainty, is that I would never forgive myself for hurting you emotionally or physically. Caley, you have been empathetic and kind-hearted from the moment you were born. I know I have scared you on occasion - Thanksgiving, 2012 still haunts me. It scares me too. But that fear won't hold me back from showing you and telling you every day that I love you.
I say this now and with full intent, Caley. Here is my promise to you:
I wish I knew how to say this in perfect prose, perfectly worded to show you what you mean to me. I could pore over what I have written here and know that there is always something I could say differently. I chose to speak plainly because that is what forms a foundation of trust and compassion. Everything else is just noise.
I love you, Caley, and will live every day filled with my love for you.
Yours Unreservedly and Forever,
Talk about passionate responses from the Previous Post.
Some of the points that were made I wanted to draw attention to because the points they made were incredibly important.
He talks about being accused of not being a team player. We talked about how when he was in the Army he could trust his team with his life but the "teams" here he can't even trust with his cigarettes. Those are days he has his anxiety/panic attacks. Thankfully those are decreasing since we have started dating (together about 4 months now). I know it sounds cliche but it is reassuring for him that I support his decisions and understand that with the training he has had, the situations he has been in, and his own personality he is going to react to things differently than other people. That doesn't mean I use kid gloves, it means that when either of us feel we are in the right and are following our hearts we will stand up for what we want/feel is right.
Anji, I couldn't say this any better. If you have PTSD or are in a relationship, you need to sit down and talk about this. I would bet money on the fact that the way a person with PTSD in a relationship responds in many situations puts a lot of strain on things. I would also be willing to bet that is disturbs the loved ones of a PTSD survivor that they are so black and white. Recently my wife and I have talked about this extensively and one major concern that has come to light is how my black and white view of the world could negatively impact out daughter. I have since explained to my wife that I understand that the rest of the world works in shades of grey. Part of raising a child as a parent with PTSD is to make sure you educate your child about the realities of PTSD. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.
Yet, the question remains: what kind of life can I, being so black and white about everything, expect to have if I can't operate in shades of grey? If I knew for certain, I would say - but I don't. All I know is that I am not going to apologize for being true to my code. It does mean that I need to find a different line of work, though. It has become abundantly clear that I can't operate in a corporate or service setting without it slowly causing the deterioration of my physical and mental health. With that in mind, I am currently evaluating my options for future career options - careers in settings/industries that accommodate my needs.
Amen, Max. The lack of honor in today's world is crushingly depressing to me, and I haven't gone through your experiences. You might want to read the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius -- what do we have left but our honor and the quiet knowledge we are doing what is right.
I hadn't thought about Marcus Aurelius in a long time, but I always loved his teachings. I pointed to one of his teachings, one that has always been at the core of my beliefs and identity:
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this and some of his other less famous quotes that have resonated with me for a long time - so I thought I'd share them because I think that they are critically important - especially to people suffering from Survivor's Guilt.
"You have power over your own mind - not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength."
I learned about Marcus Aurelius from my grandpa. Grandpa Ray Harris was a man I still measure myself against to this day. He was a truly amazing man, husband, and father. He was the one who told me the measure of a man is determined by how he conducts himself when it matters. He also used to joke that if he wanted to know your opinion, he'd give one to you. As one of the most open-minded and tolerant people I ever knew, my grandfather taught me what it meant to aspire to a set of higher ideal - I still do. He was always so sure of himself. He knew, unequivocally, that his opinion, his judgement of a situation was always more trustworthy than the opinions and judgement of others. Somewhere along the line, I had lost confidence in myself was afraid to stand behind my assertions.
Not anymore. I am so glad that so many found that previous blog post so powerful - it validated my feelings and assertions.
These tenets will help me repair the foundation I built my identity on. Time to go think on this some more while taking care of my sick daughter.
Stay tuned for further updates and responses! Let's keep the conversation going!
Enough is Enough. I Say Who I Am. Screw Your Molds and Your Proprietary Behavior - A Much Needed Wake Up Call
You read that right. I'm done bowing down to social norms. I have been second-guessed and told that I need to be more 'respectful. more caring'. I need to learn how to work in a civilian workplace. I need to learn tact. And so on and so on and so on...Every turn I have taken in my professional life since I have gotten home, I have discovered that morality, ethics, and merit don't have any place here. I have been told I am too rigid, too uncompromising. I have been put down, knocked down, condescended, treated poorly in every situation I have tried to stand up and do what's right. I have been made to see myself as the weird/broken one who has my priorities skewed.
This is exactly what's wrong with this country. The people who fuck up, move up. The people who don't have the courage to stand up and do the right thing keep their job. What happened to honor? Integrity? Courage? Loyalty? Duty? Are these traits only instilled in the military nowadays? Every place I look all I see is people wondering how they can get over on others.
Let's recap: I stand up for what's right, for what I believe in and I get stomped all over. A prime example is when I was working in the Middle East as a contractor. One of the guys was I worked with was too lazy to clean the dirt from the equipment. In stead he showed me the 'easy' way and took black spray paint and painted over the dirt. When I reported this to my immediate supervisor, he did nothing. I was forced to report it to the boss back in the states. He did nothing. He said it was my word against the other employee's and never bothered to look into it. When nothing was done, I was put in an untenable situation. My PTSD flared up something fierce and I resigned my position. I felt I was powerless at the time to do anything about it. No one was willing to step forward and do the right thing. They were too concerned with covering their own asses that they refused to step forward and take responsibility.
In every job I have had since I got home from Iraq, I have ended up in a situation where I have been confronted by the disparity between my ethics and integrity and the lack thereof on the parts of the people or companies I have worked for. It has forced me to recognize that there is no place for me in Corruptorate America. I don't want to be someone else's manager. I won't modify who I am and what I stand for just to squeeze myself into someone else's mold for the 'perfect yesman'.
It's been ten years that I have tried to do things 'their' way. Now it's time that everyone learn to do things the right way, with honor and integrity. I served my country to protect an ideal that is obviously dead. Well, I may just be one man, but I will fight for its resurrection, come hell or or high water. People here take what we have for granted and I have had my reputation, identity, and confidence stripped from me at every turn. Even my family sees what I am going through now as just another disappointing turn for the worse. They can't bring themselves to trust my judgement and support my belief in what is right. They see my unwillingness to compromise my beliefs and my integrity as foolhardy - that I should be the one to learn to fit in.
It tears me apart to see even my family so broken. PPL Corporation rode my dad for over 25 years. He got merit pay raise after merit pay raise after merit pay raise. When the economy tanked in 2008, PPL looked for ways to save a buck. My father's reward for all of those years of exemplary performance at work was to be ignominiously shown the door just a few years from retirement because HE HAD FUCKING EARNED HIS HIGH SALARY THROUGH MERIT, DILIGENCE, AND HARD WORK.
Now, for those of you who are seasoned readers of my blog, you will recognize that I normally have a more subtle way with words. Well, the time for subtlety is over. I will fight for what I deserve and for what I know is right. I will show every Doubting Thomas out there that doing the right thing is something worthy of respect, something worth looking up to.
Yes, this blog is about my struggles with PTSD. I am also going to use it to speak out against all of the things that make it difficult for veterans with PTSD to live in peace when they return home. Part of living in peace is being able to make a living. As long as corporate ethics and morality continue to be absent from the workplace, this is not possible. It's high time that people stand up and work together to put an end to a culture of corporate ethical and moral turpitude.
As I said, I'm done with all of this. If you get between me and my right to make a living, to support my family, to live in health in happiness, I will eviscerate you in this blog. The gloves are coming off.
I'm giving everyone notice. If you don't trust my judgement, if you don't believe in me, to Hell with you. I know who I am and what I stand for. Doing the right thing is never easy. It's also lonely. If that's the price I have to pay I'll gladly pay it.
At least I'll be able to look myself in the mirror again and like what I see there.
Well, I'm back. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to not have my thoughts locked up inside anymore. I have tried for weeks to sit down and blog about my recent challenges and every time I sat down, I couldn't type a single word. I just didn't know where to begin. My head was a jumble. To some degree it still is, but being able to finally get this out in my blog will go a long way. Once I'm done telling you where my head has been, I think you'll understand why it's been such a long few months.
I'd been feeling particularly toxic and had not been able to figure out why. Then, about a week ago, after months of not being able to figure it out, it hit me. I've lost myself. I don't recognize myself in the mirror. I don't recognize my behavior, my attitude. I've lost confidence in myself. I never used to care what anyone thought of me but that's all I've cared about in recent months. It was a nasty confluence of events. Here's what's been going on:
Out of control is an understatement. Even taking injections for the psoriasis wasn't keeping it fully in check. It spread all over my face and scalp. If I grew facial hair or let my hair on my head grow out, it got worse. If I shaved to often, it got worse AND looked really irritated and splotchy. People started looking at me with disgust, like I had dry flaky skin because I have poor hygiene. Ugh. The one thing I didn't take into consideration is how pent up stress exacerbates the psoriasis. As the toxins in my body build up, they look for a way out. What I couldn't fathom was why the toxins were building up so quickly and continually. After talking about this with my wife, we came to the understanding that my psoriasis was really bad because I'd been holding my emotions in - unintentionally. It was my medication.
The VA Medication Quick Fix:
When I went to the VA with PTSD, they immediately put me on mood stabilizers and a whole bunch of other meds for insomnia, anxiety, jitters. The problem is that all of the meds they prescribe keep people from being able to feel and express the full spectrum of their feelings. I have been frustrated as all hell with the continual cycle I have gone through for the last decade - the ups and downs and outs. I've never been afforded the opportunity to truly examine what I am feeling because I the drugs prevent and/or mask the truth of my emotional experience. When you can't fully express how you feel because medication prevents it from being externalized, where else does it have to go? It goes deeply internal and toxifies the whole body. As this toxicity progresses, these emotional problems start manifesting themselves as physical health issues. Let's see here: Exacerbated Psoriasis Sypmtoms. Check. Worsening Insomnia. Check. Compromised Immune System. Check. Lethargy. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.
You getting the idea?
I've been married for over seven years. My wife recently explained to me that the man she fell in love with has been MIA for quite a while. The fell in love with a man who was supremely confident in himself and his abilities. On top of that, he couldn't care less what others thought of him. My wife found this confidence and self-assurance extremely attractive. Then things started to go sideways. The economy tanked in 2007 and I couldn't find a job after graduating from college. The jobs I could find were crap service jobs making shit money with no room for true advancement. Things got really rough financially for my wife and I. And so on and so on. It was like one gut blow after another. I started to doubt myself. I started to wonder if I had been deluding myself all of those years. It just kept on getting worse and worse. Every new venture or idea I have had in recent years has been met with delay and disappointment. Even starting the non-profit has been a non-starter. The application process and wait time for tax exempt status is so long, I won't be able to raise funds until 2015 - IF - IF I'm lucky. Anything else?
Needless to say, realizing all of this over the past few months has been more than just a little distressing for me. That's some pretty profound stuff to digest. So, that's where I'll leave it for today. I'll explain what I plan on doing to rediscover myself in the coming blog posts.
Again, I am so sorry for the hiatus. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season!
I know I haven't blogged in a while. I haven't kept up on a lot of the things that I need to be. I have been feeling really burned out and have been struggling in a lot of ways that have not been easy on me or my family. This is really raw and emotional for me, so bear with me...
I have been working in a high tempo, high stress, retail environment for four years now. When I first started working there, I was a rising star. It took two years for me to implode and end up on short-term disability. When my daughter had been born a few months before I went out on disability, it sent me into a tailspin. I obsessed about being a supernatural provider and withdrew emotionally at home, cutting off my wife and daughter from love and companionship. Thus, I went out on disability.
When I returned to work after fighting through my PTSD and learning to cope, I swore that I would always be prescient at home from now on. My goal was come home from work with the energy and emotional awareness to be a good father and attentive husband. What ended up happening is that my reliability at work and my availability suffered greatly. It was made clear by my employer that they needed a level of reliability that I have not been providing over the past few months.
This raised my stress level at work, making work a 'non-permissive' environment - a place where I was at risk of losing my job or benefits or both if I couldn't sort this out. It made me realize, regress my performance to a mean over time and it is readily apparent that retail work is grinding me down and taking a long-term cumulative toll on my performance at work. That toll has sped up since I swore to always put my family first.
So now I have some hard decisions to make. The only work I find fulfilling is being of service to others. I have to balance what is best for me long-term with the welfare of my family. It's not a fun place to be, but one I am confident I will work through.
I know I haven't been active recently in the community I created. I know I haven't blogged as much. For that I am sorry. I needed to set myself in motion and resolve this issue with employment. Now that I have the short-term leeway to figure it out while ensuring the welfare of my family is giving me the time and space I need to figure all of this out.
I want to thank all of those people who have reached out to me via email to express concern over not hearing from me and from my readers who reached out to ask how I was doing. I truly value your compassion and understanding!
I seriously need to get out of retail. I used to love the holiday season. Getting together with family, good food, football, food comas...What's not to like? That has slowly changed over the last few years. Now I just want the holiday season to be over.
You wonder why? Let me break it down for you:
That's what I have to face every year. I fight really hard to keep an even keel and to be there for my family and this is what I have to look forward to.
I need a vacation.
I was talking with my wife about my inability to get to sleep at a decent hour on a regular basis, even though work has been very accommodating with my scheduling. She was confused why I couldn't seem to get into bed and fall asleep until after midnight when I have to be up by 5:30 most morning.
As we talked more about it, I discussed with her the regularity of my nightmares. The thing that she didn't understand was that I don't always remember having the nightmares. What I do know is that I wake up sore and stiff on the mornings following the nightmares I don't remember. It's like I tense up head to toe during the nightmares. What's worse, I am exponentially more susceptible to intrusive recollections and flashbacks on the days following the nightmares I don't remember.
Add this to the nightmare 'memories' I DO remember and I think you get the picture. I don't get many undisturbed nights. It makes me afraid of going to sleep. What I didn't realize is that when it gets close to bedtime, the adrenalin kicks in and I become hypervigilant. I am only able to lay down and go to sleep once I have gotten to the point where I am so tired that my physical exhaustion outweighs my fear of sleeping and the hypervigilance.
For those of you that understand the impact of adrenalin on the body, it takes an extreme sleep deficit to become exhausted to the point you can overcome the adrenalin and fall asleep anyways.
This is my world right now. Granted, I am coping with my PTSD very well right now. I am closer with my wife and daughter than I ever have been. Yes I have to take my anxiety medication for emergency anxiety control on a more regular basis than I ever had to in the past, but this fear of sleeping has become the focus of my frustration in recent weeks.
I discussed this with my individual therapist and she it looking into ways to work around this. Stay tuned...
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.