It's amazing how quickly medical problems can add up to turn coping with PTSD into trying to walk through a minefield. I'm struggling to understand why all of these random health problems seem to keep happening to me, but it's getting old and particularly challenging to deal with. While I am not out of the woods yet, I am starting to feel a little better. That being said, the stress of this past week has taken an incredible toll on my wife and I. I am physically exhausted as my body continues its struggle to heal. My wife is beyond emotionally exhausted after having to resume the role of full-time caregiver of our daughter (and me). What makes that even worse is that these were physical issues on my part that were not (as far as we know) related to my PTSD.
Here's the synopsis:
As you can see, it's been a long week. While I am proud that I have been able to keep a lid on the anger (barely), it has been substantially more difficult to keep the catastrophic thinking and anxiety at bay over the course of this week - especially when I thought about my job security. At some point a company is going to decide they've had enough and I live in an at-will employment state. I kept on thinking, with how unreliable I have been because of health issues over the past year, they would be justified in letting me go. While that outcome is improbable, the catastrophic thinking was pushing to convince me that I was going to lose my job.
Sooo,,,Now that I have turned the corner with my health issues and finally feel like I am on the road to recovery, I now have to contend with the emotional/PTSD fallout from everything I went through this past week. The anxiety and adrenalin are still going strong and it is hard to keep a lid on them and not freak out. But I am still here, somehow.
I can't even imagine how hard this past week has been on my wife, She just can't seem to catch a break and enjoy a little bit of stability, what with the PTSD and the random health issues. It makes me feel incredibly guilty. While I know that the physical issues are completely out of my control, it doesn't change how guilty I feel that she had to experience that emotional distress, take care of me and our two year old, and work to bring in money to keep us financially stable. Seeing her that distraught and still fighting made my heart clench in my chest. She just never gives up. She fights until she literally can't stand up anymore. It's disturbing to think of where I might be right now if it wasn't for the amazing fortitude of my wife and the strength of her love for me. It's why I will always be dedicated to her, working as hard as I can to see her happy and fulfilled, despite my problems.
Tomorrow is Superbowl Sunday. All I keep thinking about is how we need tomorrow to be uneventful and restful, for both our sakes. So, here's to hoping.
Well, I made a stupid mistake at work. I sliced my finger really deeply and ended up in the ER getting stitches. Two hours and six stitches later, the tip of my finger looked like a finger again...and not like a hot dog that someone had sliced down the middle. I was really calm through the whole thing, but was exhausted from the adrenalin when I got home at the end of the day. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't have any major issues.
Then the adrenalin started wearing off and my finger was on fire. I struggled to get comfortable. The pain was extreme and all I was allowed to take was Tylenol or Ibuprofen. I didn't bother. When I laid down to try to get to sleep, I fell deeply into nightmares. Dead bodies, broken and torn. The smell of blood, the screams of the injured and dying...It was hell. I woke up gagging and choking on my own bile. I ran to the bathroom and spent the next half hour vomiting and dry-heaving.
The cherry on top of it all: It scared the living shit out of my daughter. Not only do I have 'big boo boo finger', I now have 'boo boo tummy'. It was devastating to see my daughter come up to me acting brave and say, 'Dada cry. It's OK, Dada'. I felt myself shrivel up inside. My instincts were screaming at me to pull away and withdraw. I couldn't let go. I love her too much.
How can so many things go so horribly wrong when everything was going so well? I. Hate. This. What do I do? I spent all day in horrible pain because of my finger and my throat was raw and swollen from vomiting. Oh yeah, my ear was still swollen and sore from the infection, too. I really need this crap to stop, but I will never give up. It does make it more difficult to control my anger, though, and that is something I really need to be wary of.
Well, the day's almost over. For the first time in a long time, I am wary of going to sleep. I gotta try, though. Despite everything that's happened this week, I have to be at work tomorrow morning and 'acting normal'. It's amazing the faces we have to put on just to get by and hold down a job, huh?
This past Wednesday I was sitting in group and I was pretty angry. I whole lot more angry than I felt I should have been. We were discussing why I felt so strongly about respect and the equal and fair treatment of others. We took a little trip back to high school memories.
Not a place I enjoy going. We discussed how I was bullied in high school because I was an intellectual with independently formed opinions and a strong moral compass that didn't endear me to the acting out that most kids do in high school. I was physically bullied. A lot. When I got to my senior year, I had enough and finally started fighting back. When I wasn't an easy target anymore, the cowards stopped bullying me.
I didn't realize how much of this played affected my response to things I witnessed in Iraq. I was in Diyallah Province for most of my time over there. For the uninitiated, that's where the Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish controlled lands met. Three sects that hated each other in a situation made more volatile by the inherent vacuum of power created by the downfall of the Hussein Regime. The strong in each sect bullied the weak in the others. People were killed in retaliation for 25 year old conflicts between clans and tribes. Kurds killed Arabs suspected of supporting Saddam's regime. Kurds filled with hatred over the Hussein Regime's abuse of their ethnic group took out their pent up anger on Arabic children, hanging them while their parents were forced to watch. In essence, the most extreme and heartless manifestations of bullying imaginable.
And for a year, I was powerless to do anything to prevent it. All I could do was pursue the perpetrators after the fact, if and only if it was in line with the political alliances we had made in the region.
That's the reality of war and 'peacekeeping'. It tore me to pieces knowing I had the ability to put a stop to it but was powerless to use that ability to ensure any kind of true stability. I knew the cultures. I knew the what and how of making it stop and wasn't allowed to act on it because it was out of my purview as a linguist. I could recommend courses of action until I was blue in the face but no one would listen to the word of a sergeant. Not when politics were involved. They all firmly believed that politicking would create the stability they sought. They were wrong and still are.
Because of the civilian on civilian atrocities I witnessed directly or in passing every day in the markets and towns, my soul was destroyed. It was a death of a thousand cuts.
OK, so what does any of this have to do with my ability to cope now that I am home? Whenever my ideas are dismissed out of hand, I have to choke on my anger, my bile. Whenever I see someone abuse a position of power or bully another, I see red. I didn't realize how much empowering myself to stop the bullying in high school would lead to the extreme depths of despair I experienced when I wasn't able to stop it over in Iraq.
Now I do. The only problem I still have is that it doesn't change the way I feel about how people treat one another. It just validates my anger and that's dang
A friend of mine contacted me recently and he was in distress. During a heated discussion with his ex, he got so angry that he swung at her shoulder. Unfortunately, she turned into it and the punch glanced off her shoulder and he clocked her in the face. When I read what he wrote me, I was shocked and initially stunned. I didn't know what to think. After carefully considering his act of domestic violence, I decided to withhold judgement of his actions until I finished reading what he had written me.
After reading his note in entirely, I was angered that he was put in the situation and frustrated that it happened at all. I need to make this clear: I do not condone his behavior in this matter - violence is unacceptable. That being said, there was more than enough blame to go around. He explained to me that part of the reason that his ex was his ex was because of her cruel enjoyment of pushing his buttons - buttons she knew would get the desired reaction from him. He allowed her back into his life out of a desire to repair damaged relationships and his generosity of spirit. His reward was being pushed to violence.
Enter the Concept of Toxic People:
The basic idea behind this concept is that we, as veterans with PTSD, need to identify these toxic personalities present in our lives and excise them like they are a metastatic cancer. For every veteran, this personality is different. It could be someone in your family, it could be a 'friend'. It could be lazy people who don't give a shit about others. It could be people who try to shove their religion down your throat. It could be anything. The hard part is knowing what to do about it. If you know that someone can get you to redline, find a way to avoid this situation at all costs. Spouses and loved ones, you are also needed in this process. You can sometimes recognize when someone is goading your loved one with their behavior. If you see this happening, play interference or extricate your veteran from that situation.
My friend wanted me to out him in this post. He felt so badly about what happened that he was willing to take the heat when I dropped his name on here. I told him I would never do that, even if he begged. His right to privacy and all of yours hangs in the balance. You need to be able to trust that I would keep your privacy in mind when I write these posts.
I hope this makes you all think about this issue, veterans and spouses. What happens when you stick a sleeping bear with a red-hot poker? You get mauled. If you know someone is wielding a poker and is trying to wake the 'bear', remove them from your life. As I have heard many times in my life: 'People Teach You How To Treat Them'. Act accordingly.
This past week, I have done a lot of thinking about why my anger is getting harder and harder to control. After a lot of deep thought and talking to my individual therapist, I have examined my life at home and at work to try to narrow down where the increasing stress is coming from. This past Monday, I got pulled aside at work and was talked to by the management trainee in our department. While I don't recall exactly what it was that I did (which is problematic as well), it suddenly became crystal clear that the vast majority of my stress stemmed from stressors at work. I realized that the more stressed I became, the more forgetful I became, the more distracted I was, and I was substantially easier to anger.
With this in mind, I evaluated what about my job was making me so stressed, so miserable and I realized it was all of the management tasks. I was stressing about finding the time to write reviews, talk to employees, train and develop subordinates, improve merchandizing, writing accurate orders, maintaining maximum product freshness, product rotation issues, etc. The list went on and on and the more I thought about those tasks, the more worked up I got.
It couldn't be that simple, could it? I had promised almost a year ago that I would do everything in my power to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Could stepping down from the management team and assuming a role of less responsibility and accountability really be the answer? I talked to my wife about it and she agreed that the stress that work was causing me in my current position was not worth the bump in pay. So, I approached my boss and his boss and asked to sit down and talk. I let them know that I was stepping down and had a desire to be a plain old full-time employee with no management responsibilities.
Neither one was surprised and both were relieved. They told me that they had talked about offering to let me step down as an option. They noticed that I had become more and more distracted and much more irritable at work. They knew that with my current levels of stress, that I wan't happy. The were concerned about my welfare. They knew what I was capable of. They also knew what a toll my PTSD and events over the last two years have taken on me. They understood why I was stepping down and understood my reasons for doing so. They approved it and a great weight was instantly lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in a long time, I felt a moment of peace. While I took a pay cut, it is more than worth it to come home from work without the stress that had been weighing me down. I swore I would never put work before family ever again and I knew I was getting close to breaking that promise to fulfill duties at work.
So there you have it. I wanted to share that because it's food for thought. Many of us take on more than we can handle. The more stressed we are, the harder it is to cope with our PTSD. If things start getting away from you, try to identify why. It was one hell of a relief for me.
My wife and I were talking yesterday about how we both tended to respond to situations out of habits formed over the past two years. I didn't to do something, my wife gets frustrated and mad, I feel guilty and withdraw. For any other vets and spouses, does this sound familiar? I am sure we are not the only ones who have fallen victim to habit.
When I realized what was going on, my wife and I talked about it and we came to an agreement, a compromise that will hopefully help us from falling into those habits. Here's what we agreed on:
What's the reasoning? I have a tendency to fall asleep for a nap after work because work is very energy consuming. The end result: There are a list of tasks that I would normally do that didn't get done that, over the course of time, made my wife resent me for not doing. My wife and I talked about this and she agreed to afford me the opportunity to show her that I DO CARE. So after coming to this agreement, I thought a lot about the stress my wife was under. My wife did all of the work around the house. This was because she either didn't think I would remember to do my tasks or she thought that I didn't care. This led to an enormous amount of Caregiver Stress and eventually, Burnout.
So today we tried an experiment. I had a day off today. Last night I talked with my wife about going out somewhere and doing something. While she was gone I would do chores around the house and afford her the opportunity to decompress and unwind. She said, "Well, some of the folks from the gym are going out for breakfast tomorrow..."
So this morning we woke up, and my wife went out to breakfast with friends, leaving our daughter with me. After breakfast, she went out to the mall. While she was gone, I vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, mopped the floors, and folded my laundry - all while trying to keep my daughter entertained. When my wife came home in the early afternoon, she said she felt stoned. I jokingly told her, "This is what feeling relaxed feels like." Later in the afternoon, my wife got ready and left for work. I prepared dinner for Caley and me and then cleaned up the kitchen. My wife came home from work relaxed, happy, and grateful - three things I haven't allowed her to feel in way too long.
Now the evening is mine. I get the rest of the night to relax. So it works out well for everyone. It also helps me feel better because I don't feel like a burden rather than a husband.
I would really love to hear from Veterans and their spouses on this issue. It's too important to ignore.
I couldn't have asked for a better time to have all of the counseling that I have had in the past day and a half. Group CPT ended up being one on one because none of the other members of the group were able to make it. I individual therapy we discussed why the intensity of the anger, nightmares, and hypervigilance have been increasing recently.
When I got there and realized that no one else was coming, I almost left disappointed. I really needed to talk out what transpired over the past week. When the doc expressed a desire to talk with me relieved, I was really relieved. So I went over everything that happened. He grew very serious and we discussed two topics.
Needless to day, it was a productive session. It has helped me to put what happened into proper perspective and helped me identify an underlying issue that causes my PTSD to have such a deleterious effect on my health and life.
My therapist's major concern is the increasing intensity of my nightmares, my inability to fall asleep easily, and my hair-trigger temper at work. She asked me how much physical activity I am getting outside of work. I told her that I don't really get much. She said that I needed to find a way to work exercise into my week. She said that I didn't need to go all out every day of the week. She said to start small - one or two times per week. Her concern is that only talking and thinking about things doesn't help to drain off the energy I build up over the course of a day. When the physical doesn't have an adequate outlet, it can have a very detrimental effect on the mind. So I promised her that I would talk to my wife about making sure that I have the time to exercise at least twice a week without distractions.
So there you have it. I have a few new things to consider and act on. It gives me a sense of direction, of purpose. I don't feel like I am just reacting to my PTSD right now, which is a pleasant change. We'll see how it goes over the coming weeks and months as I work on these new tasks.
I experienced a new level of nightmare on the night before Thanksgiving. The smells and sounds were always there, but these new recollections/flashbacks now include the fear, anger, horror, and disbelief that I experienced in the moment. The end result: I fell asleep on the couch at the in-laws and had nightmares. My daughter was the one who startled me awake. I became aware of what I had done when I looked over and saw her kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room and the looks or horror on everyone's faces. My startle reflexes had caused me to scare the bejesus out of my daughter.
Needless to say, for my sanity and safety and that of my daughter's, my wife and daughter have been sleeping at her parents' house so that, God Forbid, I don't actually hurt her. She was scared by my startle response, but unhurt. She's over it but I can't forgive myself. It is my worst fear - hurting my daughter.
I was at work yesterday and had a breakdown. I effectively hadn't slept since Friday night. My father took me to the VA and they are putting me back on Trazadone. The doc said that it would keep me from being physically able to act on any startle response.
I needed someone to talk to about what had happened that wasn't emotionally invested in a positive outcome. So, naturally, I talked to Rod Deaton. Rod may be a doctor at the VA and I may be a veteran with PTSD, but we are friends and do not share a doctor patient relationship. What is great about having someone so knowledgeable to turn to in situations like these is that he can stay calm and talk me down from my figurative ledge.
Talking to him last night definitely did that. He made me remember that I am a good and honorable man. That, in and of itself, would ensure that there wasn't a repeat of what happened on Thanksgiving. Additionally, he made me realize that my I was allowing me fears to blow what had happened out of proportion. I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. When I get into situations like this past week, I verbalize my irrational fears to those I love, causing them to worry excessively. I force them to think the worst.
It's form of self-flagellation. On some level I have been punishing myself continually since my daughter was born. I think about all of the worst-case outcomes to my behavior and believe myself capable of making those outcomes a reality. It's self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been hamstringing myself like this ever since my daughter was born. It all stems from irrational fears of losing my family, my daughter.
I won't go into all of the details but my conversation with Rod last night led me to make some incredibly substantial realizations about myself:
So what's the end-result of the mess of a week? Blessings dressed in wolf's clothing...
So it has been a traumatizing and productive week all at the same time. I am still exhausted and have to work at not being too hard on myself, but my wife and daughter deserve to enjoy the man I am - not the man I was afraid I could become.
Today, I woke up groggy and out of sorts. I had intense nightmares last night for the first time in a while. They were particularly intense and I am not sure as to why. I have had the nightmares about once a week pretty consistently for the past few months, but they haven't been very intense and they haven't had that HD replay reel feel or the scent memory of blood for a while. I have actually been looking forward to the holiday this year and what happens? Yeah, nightmares...
Regardless, I am not going to let that ruin my holiday. With that in mind, I want to recount all of the wonderful things I am thankful for this year:
Add all of this together and you have the mother of all support networks. My wish for everyone reading this is the grace and luck to find such amazing people to empower them. I firmly resolve that, despite my incredibly bad night, I will not let it take away from the gratitude I feel for the amazing people in my life. This post is for them - those I have mentioned and those I
I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Now stop reading and go enjoy some turkey and football!
I have written and erased this post more times than I can count in the past week. It was a tumultuous week for me. I was talking with my therapist about the timing of when I felt I started losing control over my anger and about the thought pattern - I don't know what's coming next, but whatever it is can't be good. After thinking about it, I started to lose control and emotionally withdraw right after my daughter was born. I said it so nonchalantly. We concluded our session and my therapist left.
About ten minutes after she left, it hit my like a ton of bricks. Holy shit, my daughter's birth is the root of all of this. As I thought about it more, I realized that this was the first time in my experience that intense POSITIVE EMOTION triggered my PTSD. That realization turned everything on it's head. So let's explore what I mean in more depth:
Finally realizing this has given me some element of power over it and control over my fears. It has been and exhausting journey, but I am hopeful that things will improve as I move forward. It's hard to cope with fears when you aren't aware of what they are. For the first time, I feel like I have a little better control over my anger again. Here's to hoping that things continue to get better.
To My Wonderful Daughter Caley: When you are older and you discover this blog, I want you to know I love you more than words could ever hope to express. Don't ever, even for a second, think that this was your fault. Know that it is the intensity of my feelings for you that make this healing possible. I love you widget, don't ever forget it.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.