I explained in the previous post that I was getting really amped up and didn't know how to shut it off. Well, as the day and night unfolded yesterday, the reasons for this became abundantly clear. My body was preparing me for action - action that had the potential to go on for a long time. There was no saying how bad this storm was going to be in our area. I didn't know if I was going to be taking my family on a flight to safety, if I was going to have to deal with potential looting, if my friends were going to need my help, etc.
What I realized is that I was amped up, not anxious or nervous. I was just ready. When I say ready, I mean READY. My body saw the potential threat in the coming storm and started priming the system for action days in advance. If something would have happened yesterday, I would have acted immediately to resolve the situation, no hesitation, no fear.
This effect on my body was predominantly primal, physiological. The docs at the VA and elsewhere have been talking about the 'battle brain' or 'fight or flight' and how that part of the brain taking over is what causes some of the issues we have with PTSD. While I understood the argument intellectually, I didn't fully understand the depth of what that meant until my body started amping me up in preparation for this storm.
Many of us can turn this on, short term, when the need arises, but there is still a lag before the clarity of purpose sets in. Getting amped up days in advance for what could happen reduced the lag created by needing to 'flip the switch' down to near zero. Hence the pre-storm build-up. I would have been ready for anything - running for cover, protecting my family from the elements, protecting my family from people, killing if the need arose to protect me and mine. Morality and gray areas be damned. Yet through it all, I knew what was happening this time. I knew the necessity of it and I knew that it could scare people to see the side of me that allowed me to survive outside the wire in a hostile environment with just three other guys to watch my back.
It was surreal. I was just along for the ride yesterday. I could freak out in my head all I wanted to and still trust that instinct would direct my body to make the best choices to ensure my survival and those I choose to protect.
Today, the threat ended. My body turned it all off and I crashed. I slept almost 10 hours during the day AFTER I woke up to start the day. The adrenalin dump was so extreme that my kidneys hurt and I felt like a junkie coming down off a high.
Then came the fear and anxiety, the anger at myself. How could I lost control like that? The thoughts of what I could have done yesterday (and the things I did have to do in Iraq) haunt me. This one is going to take some time to work out. I am just glad that it's over and I can start to work through the new wrinkles that this experience has introduced to the party.
I know a lot of my readers were in the path of this storm. I hope this finds you all well and in good health.
Well, this was an interesting session. I had just gotten out of individual treatment just a little bit before I headed out for CPT group. When I got to group, I was agitated and emotionally raw, the anger oozing out of every pore. It was obvious to everyone in group.
I talked with them all about my anger coming out a lot more since I have begun confronting the PTSD and they all understood. The anger coming back out to the forefront is apparently part of the healing process. Wish I would have known that in advance. So is it any wonder that as my anger becomes less and less easy to control that my anxiety has ratcheted up proportionately? Uh.....No?
The doc explained that phenomenon to all of us in group. When the anger isn't tightly controlled, we become unsure of what is going to happen next - but whatever is going to happen next, it won't be good...
What also came out is that anger manifests more strongly as I feel less in control at work. Thus my cycle of quitting jobs every 6 to 8 months. Well, it appears that cycle has taken longer to come to a head with my current employer, but I am there. It's frustrating knowing that the cycle had continued over the past three years. So what is my biggest priority right now?
Breaking the Cycle
I will not walk away from stability and employment, despite how draining my workdays can be. I gotta break the cycle. If I want to ensure stability and safety for my family, I can't give in to the urges to walk away from what distresses me.
Let's see how things go...
So today was the first individual therapy session with the clinician from Soldiers Project. It laid the groundwork for what I am hopeful will be a very productive long-term therapy relationship. It has been a long road and the past few years have been particularly tough to cope with. That being said, I have written often about knowing a lot of the underlying issues I needed to work through - I just didn't know how or where to start.
Well, I found out today that I am going to have a very long road ahead of me as well. All things being equal, my blog eventually circles back around to the fact that I am angry. Not just angry...ANGRY. When I feel that anger, I can feel the impulse control starting to slip away from me. That lack of control causes me to clamp down on my anger so hard that I box it up and put it away. Not a healthy way to deal with anger at all.
Well, we talked about this for a long time and what it comes down to is this:
Everything I Fell Stems From My Anger Issues
How about them apples? She saw right through a lot of barriers I have put up to protect myself and others from my anger and got to the heart of it...and fast. She asked if I thought that needing to clamp down on the anger all of the time is what was exhausting me and draining me of energy. *smacks forehead* How the hell did I miss that one? That makes perfect sense. It is also why going to work every day is so draining for me - shit at work always finds a way to trigger me, fair or not.
Ok, so underlying cause identified: Anger. Anger so profound it doesn't need a target. I wake up angry, am angry all day long, and go to bed angry. Angry at what? Nothing in particular. It's like having a pressure in the back of your head that won't go away. It's always there.
So what the hell do I do now? Not a clue. The clinician wants to make a safety plan in place to ensure everyone's well-being in case my ability to cope goes south. We're going to go over that next week.
All in all, a very draining session - but a good one. It's nice to feel like I am headed somewhere with this. Guess time will tell.
I recently asked on my Facebook Page if there were any issues that my readers would like me to discuss in my blog. My fellow advocate, Uncle Sam's Mistress, asked if I could discuss the following issue:
How do spouses and loved ones of service members with PTSD balance the celebrating events (like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) with the needs of the suffering service member to have alone time - a safe harbor in the storm?
This is an issue that my wife and I have struggled with greatly, especially when the PTSD started getting out of control a few years ago. I would want to go out to an event or social occasion and I would reach my threshold for being around people I didn't know WELL before the event was over. It ruined more than one night out for us. As we discussed these issues, we determined that the house (or at least, part of it) should be closed off from other people. Here's how we attacked this issue as a team.
More often than not, I will reach my energy threshold for being out in public way before my wife and will be ready to leave a function or social gathering. We found that taking two vehicles has really worked for us. If I was ready to leave, I didn't have to wait to head out. I would communicate to my wife that I was reaching critical mass and I would go home to relax. My wife could stay as long as she wanted. While she would love to be able to spend the whole evening or day out and about with me, it's just not possible most days.
There are times when events are held at home (children's birthdays is a great example). These events are the hardest for me to handle because people (yes, that includes family) are invading my safe space. If the I don't have a safe place to retreat to away from everyone, I get snippy and irritable with everyone. It can ruin the day. My wife and I decided to make our bedroom and bathroom completely off-limits in our apartment when other people are over. If I feel the need to retreat to safety, I can do so. Sometimes I am even able to return to the event in small doses.
Don't Talk Religion, Politics, or Any Emotionally Charged Issue:
This may seem like a no-brainer, but people like to talk about what they are most passionate about - often that can lead to a really nasty situation with a veteran suffering from PTSD. For many of us, our opinions have a tendency to be set in stone and sacrosanct when it comes to these types of issues. Anyone challenging their ideals can trigger the PTSD.
Veterans with PTSD do not take kindly to being surprised, especially in the place they retreat to to decompress. If you want to make a veteran retreat into himself faster than you can blink, surprise him at home with a birthday party. Not only can this lead to outbursts of anger, but it can also destroy the veteran's sense of security. This is crucial. If we don't have a place to go to unwind, it can cause us to regress substantially.
Sometimes We Need a Reminder:
More often than not, if I have a choice, I am staying at home on my couch watching a movie or playing a game or just kicking my feet up. Sometimes we need someone to remind us that socializing is necessary for us as much as we hate to admit it. Connecting with people gives us a sense of inclusion and belonging to society. We just need that interaction to be on our terms - not anyone else's.
I think that covers all of the major points that resonate for me. I urge you to discuss this with me and your loved ones. If you have any questions or need clarification, please ask!
I hate how I look when I see myself in the mirror. I want to lose weight, get back in shape, live a healthier lifestyle. I have wanted these things for a long time. I have accomplished none of these things. For a long time now, living healthy and motivation have been mutually exclusive concepts despite my best efforts to the contrary.
I so badly want to feel motivated to do this and intellectually and emotionally I AM. Every time I try to set something up, I sabotage myself. It's getting really old. My wife deserves a husband who enjoys the active lifestyle we both once cherished. So I am reaching out to all of you for advice, suggestions, anything. Maybe we can all learn something from this and grow together in learning to cope with PTSD.
Is there anyone out there that is interested in getting back into shape and living a healthier lifestyle? Maybe we can do it together. Maybe, just maybe, we can be the motivation for each other that we lack for ourselves.
I wanted to thank all of you for reading my blog. You have no idea how much it means to me to be able to reach out to you all and be heard. For almost two years now, I have been blogging about my struggles and getting these troubled thoughts out of my head. I truly hope that this endeavor has been as helpful for all of you as it has been for me. Let's keep on spreading the word and educating the masses on the struggles we all face every day, veterans and loved ones.
It's been a longer week than it should have been and way too long since I used this blog to get my thoughts out. I wanted to write about one aspect of Cognitive Processing Therapy that has been really good for me and difficult as all hell - both at the same time. The doc says accepting what happened is a major step in the therapy process that presents the biggest challenge for most guys. Doc continually talked to us about acceptance and it started to annoy me how much he talked about it. I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never be able to accept what had happened.
I have been thinking about this constantly for the past few weeks and I finally had a breakthrough two weeks ago that I never got to write about - I was unwilling to accept the wrong thing. I finally made the connection that acceptance isn't about accepting the horrific things that I saw. It's about accepting that there was nothing I could have done to change the outcome. It was completely out of my control. THAT was what the doc talked about when he talked about acceptance.
I was so relieved when I made that connection. I felt like I had reached a guidepost on my journey. And then, as the world always does, my world did everything in its power to challenge this new found clarity. While I won't go into specifics, work threw down the gauntlet and I lost my temper. I got very angry at work and caused a lot of people a lot of worry. I ended up going home that day just so that I could regain control of my emotions.
I recognized what was happening and felt powerless to stop it. It the past, this type of stumble would have sent me into a tailspin for weeks, if not months. That didn't happen this time. I was angry and agitated for the rest of the day but somehow found it within me to let go of the anger. What had happened at work to trigger my PTSD was outside of my control.
Then, I simply accepted that it had happened and felt all of the angst and raw jumble of emotions dissipate. I went to bed exhausted but relieved and woke up the next day feeling much better. So, the concept of acceptance has taken hold and helped me to rein in volatile emotions.
I felt so much better until I saw how worried and stressed my wife was. She was so afraid that I was going to regress. She was scared to death that I was losing the battle with PTSD, that the PTSD was winning and she was losing her husband to it again. I saw the fear in her eyes and I felt horrible, guilty, and responsible for her distress.
So over the past week I have worked diligently to impress upon her that I am not slipping back into the horrible funk I was in last year - that I am OK. I explained to how much my ability to cope had improved since I started CPT. While she understood what I was saying, it didn't lessen the fear for her.
And that's when it came out.
Because of turmoil and instability my PTSD can cause in our lives, she never feels safe and our life never feels stable. It was at this moment that I recognized how much my therapy could help her and other caregivers as well. I sat down and talked to her about my CPT and the concept of acceptance. While I was talking to her I remembered something that her mother used to always tell her. I reminded her of it and am going to leave it with you now, for there is much truth in the following words.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace
What a long week. I keep on trying to find the time to write this post and others, but life intervenes. What is frustrating is that I always feel better after I get out my thoughts in this blog, yet right now there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day. *sigh*
Anyways, this past CPT session was pretty stressful. One of the guys brought the kid of a friend to group. The kid was in his early to mid 20's (wow - I just called someone in their 20's a kid. Must be getting older...). He was shot in the shoulder over in Iraq by a sniper. He was ghost white from the pain and the pain meds. His PTSD was deep and very severe.
And it felt like I was looking at a shadow of myself before I got help, when I first got home from overseas. His life was in shambles and he was pushing everyone in his life that cared about him away but you could tell he was desperate for the loving touch of the ones who loved him. He was a ball of jitters, anger, depression, catastrophic thinking, paranoia and guilt. It was hard to look at, hard to watch. I wanted to reach out to him and let him know that he was going to be OK. The state he was in, he wouldn't have believed a word I said, even if I said the sky was blue. He had insomnia, partially from the pain of his injury and partially from his wounded soul.
I didn't have the physical injury, but the rest...well, I don't like to think about the shriveled husk of a man that I was before I got help for my PTSD.
Here's the good part, the part that gives me hope: Every guy in group, no matter how bad their situation was, reached out to that young man with compassion and knowing love and support. We all told him he had a place with us if he needed it. The common bond of traumatic experience brought us all closer in that one moment. I think is was a benchmark moment for all of us in group. I don't know why, but something about that moment changed the dynamic in group and changed it for the better.
A lot more happened in group in addition to this. It was an eventful session. But that is a tale for another post. Off to hug my daughter now.
I have another big week ahead. I am applying for another position at work that will significantly reduce my daily exposure to mold. You'd think I would be excited about the prospect. Instead, I am stressed that I won't be the best candidate. I am afraid that they won't pick me. I am pissed that I have to do this in the first place. I have the best, most supportive manager in the world and I feel like I am letting him down because my body won't behave.
Here's the weird thing. I have begun to realize that I have, in the past, wallowed in these emotions, draining all of my energy before I even get home from work. Stress, fear, and anger have been my on-again, off-again companion ever since I got home from overseas. There's a pattern of behavior in all of this that I don't know how to articulate and it is annoying me to no end.
Simplifying does seem to be helping to reduce the effects of these three, but not fast enough. Getting stressed about this coming week is making me more stressed. Snowball effect sucks. I am glad that I have CPT group this week. Bouncing my thoughts and frustrations off the guys in group does seem to help, even if only a little.
Breathe, Crazy! You have off tomorrow. Sit down, read, play with your daughter and forget you have a week of upheaval ahead.
I was at work this weekend and I ran into my therapist from CPT group. I talked to him about having gotten the increase in disability rating. It was strange. In that moment as I was talking to him a lot of things came clear to me.
I felt guilty. I felt like I didn't deserve the rating I received. When things got really bad over in Iraq, I had a ritual every morning. When I first woke up, I asked myself whether 'today was the day that I would die'. I had to confront that fear (and likely reality) every day and accept it . I had to accept it or I wouldn't have been able to make it through the day. That's what makes all of this so hard. Guys who never accepted that they could die, never accepted their fear are the ones who didn't make it back. They were the ones who had the fire and desire to live. I was the one who 'gave up', that deserved their fate.
Because of this, I have experienced many a sleepless night since I got the decision in the mail. What is strange is that my doc told me that most veterans with PTSD that he has worked with have shared these same sentiments. How about that. I guess we'll have a lot to talk about in group this Wednesday.
July 30th, 2003. The day the course of my life irrevocably changed. The day that I remember every year with trepidation, sorrow, guilt, anger, and gratitude. It made me question everything I believed. It shattered my psyche, shredded my soul.
Quite honestly, I am surprised I survived long enough to make it home. Every day after became harder and harder to bear. The horrific scene that haunted my mind, the smell and taste of blood...
Yet here I am, writing about how that experience and others that followed after changed me. I don't want to remember what I experienced, yet I am afraid to forget.
Change the date and any veteran could have shared this. The scary truth: Every veteran with PTSD I know has an anniversary. A day that makes them pause, unwillingly, and remember horrific experiences. A day they can't reconcile with physically, mentally or spiritually.
I have had many people ask me why I mark this date on the calendar. They don't understand why, when it is so horrific, that I am forced to remember. The answer I give them is always the same - Because I still am unable to accept what happened. That, to me, accepting it would feel like a betrayal of those that died. After almost a decade, I still feel this way. I feel this so strongly that you might call it conviction.
My answer leaves many people shaking their heads in incredulity. They ask me why I punish myself this way. The answer: I don't know. Is it self-imposed punishment for surviving to talk about it when others never had the chance?
I'll make you all a deal. When I figure it out, I will let you know.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.