I know, a shocker, right? Well, the last 24 Hours taught me a thing or two. In the middle of the afternoon yesterday, I started having some chest congestion. I didn't think anything of it. My allergies had given me post nasal drip the day before. It was only logical that some of that would be working its way out. By dinner, I could barely breathe - every breath was labored. I thought, 'just an anxiety attack - it'll pass'. Next thing I know, I'm delirious and on my to the emergency room. The immediate assessment - Reactive Airway Disease...A generalized term that covers all respiratory maladies from bronchitis to COPD. I am sitting here typing this on the hospital bed, thinking about the fact that the doctors are steering away from making a prognosis - that is never a good sign.
When you get a potentially life-threatening physical malady like whatever the hell I have, it makes you take stock of the things that have happened recently in your life: What I realized is that I had been living my life 'in spite of' my PTSD. My life decisions were always made around how my PTSD would handle it - putting the PTSD squarely in my central focus. The outcome: stressing myself out about everything, striving to keep my PTSD under control. The stress levels got so high that I started shutting out my family from how I was feeling. Now you pile all of this stress and worry on top of all that and what do you have? Epiphany.
Epiphany. The realization that stressing out how I was going to react to any given situation based on my past experiences was like creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of my worst nightmares with my PTSD were coming true because I walked on eggshells around my PTSD. NO MORE!
-My PTSD no longer controls my strings: If my PTSD has caused me issue in that situation before, it will be duly noted but my fear of my PTSD will not stop me from putting myself out there.
-If life has more unwelcome surprises in store for me I will not spend my precious family time wrapped up in an acronym.
-This health scare has galvanized my will to fight - to be the man I know I am. I will openly recognize my limitations, communicate these limitations to my VA docs, and move forward, confident that the choices I make are the best for my long-term well-being.
I have the energy and emotional fortitude to get one thing right in all of this: ME. If I can figure me out, well...That's all I need to do to be the husband my wife deserves and the father my daughter needs.
Aftermath and Lessons Learned:
Emotionally spent, my wife and I sat down and talked about all that had happened. How I made myself emotionally inaccessible to her and our daughter, the obsessive behavior, the anger coming to a slow boil, everything. We decided I needed to make a list of things to watch out for and a list of reminders to stay in the here and now. I thought about it for a day and then typed it up on the computer. It sits next to the TV in the bedroom and I read it every day. I use it to remind myself of what my real priorities in life really are: My wife and my daughter. One of the things I discovered when I was thinking this all over was that I started really deteriorating at an accelerated pace when I stopped blogging. So, here I am - blogging my heart out.
This next part I hope fosters a lot of comments and discussion, especially in the PTSD community:
One of the major observations that my wife made during all of this was that she had to 'emotionally re-traumatize' me to get through to me. That may sound worse than it is, so let me explain. Dani said she thinks that the emotional trauma I experienced over in Iraq rewired my brain to only take notice of extreme emotions and emotional hurt. She had learned through this experience that the only way she can get through to me when I am submerged in my PTSD is to say something extreme or hurtful to snap me back to the here and now. She hates this more than anything. She can't stand that she has to hurt me to help me and is frustrated that she can't find another way to get through to me. I know we can't be alone in this. If you haven't thought about this before, think it over. Discuss it with your loved ones. Discuss it with each other. Discuss it with your doctors. There has to be some precedent that this has been addressed by someone somewhere. Let's work together to find a better solution to this - for us and our loved ones.
The Wake-Up Call:
When I woke up one day in early February, my wife noticed I was in a bad mood. I proceeded to have a falling out with a close friend over text message and spun into a hot mess. I spent the rest of the day asleep or near catatonic. Dani couldn't get through to me. I slept until the late evening hours. Dani fed Caley and put her to bed. She then woke me up and asked me to come help with the dishes. We finished the dishes in silence. When the kitchen was cleaned up, Dani asked me to come out on the porch. She sat me down with a mug of coffee and asked me if I remembered what we had talked about doing if I ever decided to go sprinting down the rabbit hole again.
That question got my attention. What we had agreed upon was this: If I ever got to the point that my PTSD could emotionally traumatize our daughter, I had to leave until I got my life back together. I asked her how bad it was and she laid it out for me. She said she lost me to my PTSD right after Caley was born. She said that it was about March 2011 that she started to worry that I was headed in the wrong direction. She apparently expressed this concern on multiple occasions but I didn't hear her. She couldn't get through the trauma to reach me. She said the breaking point came with the fallout after a very stressful holiday season. She said it seemed like I was so obsessed about being a good provider that lost sight of everything else, including her and Caley. She said it was heart-breaking watching me work at being a good husband and loving father. She said when I am stable, I am the most amazing father any child could ask for and a very attentive husband. She followed that up with, "That's not who I see standing in front of me now".
*OH SHIT!* The fog lifted and I saw clearly for the first time in months. I looked at the hurt and concern on my wife's face and knew it was worse than she was saying. A little bit of me withered and died inside. It was surreal. I couldn't believe this was happening again. How did I get here? I looked back on the past months and the things I remembered clearly were the angry moments. The only lasting memories I had that gave me daily healing were the memories I had with my daughter. I remembered every little detail. What scared the hell out of me, was the memories felt like I was looking through clear glass, shouting feelings I felt but couldn't express. Caley was trying her best to console her distraught father.
The tears streaked down my face and I sagged in guild and utter anguish. I looked at my wife and I told her that I loved her with all of my heart. The look I got back strangely surprised me. It was one of relief, as if expressing how glad she was to had finally gotten through to me.
Stay Tuned for The Danger of Obsessive Behavior, Pt. 3
OK, so rather than waiting to post all of this as one big entry, I decided to break it up into parts:
Part 1: The Backstory
About year ago I had this wonderful idea to create an outlet for myself and start a webpage. I was successful and I decided to begin plugging it on Facebook. The more I got into learning about Search Engine Optimization and the effect of Facebook on website visibility, something amazing occurred: A support group was born on Facebook that grew into a community of hundreds in a few short months. I spent more and more time online, monitoring my Facebook Page, blogging, and responding to comments on my website. What had started off as an outlet soon absorbed my whole existence, eclipsing my passion for my family and my passion for my job. I was obsessed every second of every day. What I didn't realize was that I had created an environment where I was dependent upon virtual interaction for validation and succor. Addicted wouldn't be too strong a word. As with all obsessive PTSD behavior, it couldn't last. By July, I was exhausted mentally and physically. I had taken on being the personal support for anyone who asked - their gratitude was my heroin. As with any addict, there comes a point where it isn't possible to satisfy the hunger. I soon became frustrated with the 'slow' growth of my page and website (ummm, that should tell you right there how obsessed I was. By any measure, the success I had experienced since the website's inception should have made anyone happy). My frustration and irrational anger soon led to impatience with the people on my page. Rather than lash out at them, I disappeared. I stopped blogging and stopped going on Facebook at all. What was most reprehensible and tragic: I deleted the Facebook Page, violated the fragile trust of the people who had come to depend on the support, and sent myself into a very, very slow spiral into my worst nightmare.
I started feeling more and more depressed and less and less in touch with my emotions, my life, and my family. I work in retail and I hit rock bottom as soon as the holidays were over. I could barely contain disastrous anger at work. My obsession with my online existence bled over into my desire to better provide for my family. My current salary and position at work weren't satisfactory. I wasn't getting promoted fast enough. On the home front I had to 'work' at playing the part of loving husband and devoted father. I alienated almost everyone in my life. Things stayed like this until the middle of February when my wife gave me a wake-up call.
Coming Soon: The Danger of Obsessive Behavior, Pt. 2
Ok, so I am a little more stressed than I let on to family. I have been having a lot of problems with my jaw due to my bite. I consult with surgeons today to find out whether I need to have surgery to fix my bite today. Catastrophic thinking really got a hold on me last night and I had difficulty sleeping. What if the surgery is needed and I am out of work for too long and have to go on short-term disability? Will I be able to meet my financial obligations? What happens to us if I can't? And so on and so forth. It was not the most fun night I have had in a while and I didn't realize that I needed to take an extra dose of anxiety medication to help my brain shut down. Hopefully, if the surgery is necessary, the doctors will be able to put my mind at ease about it. Stay Tuned.
As I said in the last post, I have been struggling to find a way to deal with the loss of my PTSD 'Fallout Shelter'. It has not been easy. I have tried a lot of different things and discussed different options with Dani and we have yet to come up with a solution that works. Here's what we've tried:
It has been an interesting struggle. I still want to get back into the gym, but life always seems to conspire against that happening. I get frustrated that I can't and I get frustrated that I am not losing weight and it causes my PTSD to flare up even worse. Overall, being aware of what is happening to me has been helpful, but it has not been easy. Nor have I been successful all of the time. I will go from loving daddy to apathetic bump on the couch with little to no warning - it tears my heart out sometimes that I don't have the emotional energy to show my daughter every minute of every day that I love her. I am going to continue to plug away at this and see where it goes. Hopefully we will come up with something soon.
OK, so we moved at the end of May. The new apartments is light years better than the old place, it's less expensive, etc. I thought it would make everything settle down and put my PTSD back in its usual holding pattern...Boy Was I Wrong. Here's what ended up happening:
On the surface, everything was better about the move. We didn't have to worry about leaking foundations, clogged and ancient plumbing, mold and mildew problems, lack of A/C, in absentia landlords, etc. All of those stressors were gone. It should have meant smoother sailing. I wracked my brain trying to find out what environmental factor was different that could possibly mean more stress than all of the now absent stressors of the old place. Was it a perceived lack of privacy because we are sharing walls again? No. Our neighbors are great and everyone respects everyone else's space. Was it the gun club next door? No. I know the sound of a shotgun being fired and it is part of the background noise here. It doesn't stress me out. It sounds nothing like rifles firing. Was I bringing stress home from work? No. I was loving my job and looked forward to the challenges I faced there every day. And then it hit me.
I was dealing with sensory overload. The one factor that had changed from the old place to the new was the elimination of a physical location for my PTSD 'Fallout Shelter'. I no longer had a man-cave. I didn't realize how significant the effects of losing it would be until I thought about what I gained from it. Whenever I needed to get away from sensory overload, I went down into the basement and simplified things. I would use gaming as my focal point for cutting out all of the chatter. Now, as much as I love the new place, I don't have that. The place I try to get away from everything is right in the middle of the apartment. It doesn't allow me to get away from anything for even a millisecond. THAT's what was causing all of this stress. Finally recognizing this is a good thing, but now I need to find a way to shut out all of the chatter without having a physical location to do so. I will talk to Dani about this issue and see what we can come up with.
I woke up today and was snippy with everyone. It's dumb. I hate it. There was no reason for me to be snippy, but I still looked for every reason to take pot shots at people. The only person who wasn't the recipient of my wonderful attitude was my daughter. I can't figure this out and it's driving me nuts. It's not like we didn't accomplish a hell of a lot today. We officially signed the lease and all we have left to do is pack up for moving.
Well, that seals it. I'm an idiot. Tearing apart what remains of my home might just stress me out a little bit. I somehow managed to put off packing for another day and I wonder why I am getting snippy? I hate waiting until the last minute but I can't bring myself to pack because I find it stressful and unsettling...What's most unsettling is that I seem to be conveniently forgetting things that I already know - about myself and my PTSD. As much as I am looking forward to moving into this new place, I have a sense of foreboding that I know is completely unwarranted. I feel like moving means starting over...with everything. I am scared as all hell that I am going to do a backward slide after a good long year of relative stability. There's no way I can know what's going to happen and I think that's stressing me out more than anything.
My next day off is Friday. That means working my ass off to make sure that we actually get something accomplished in getting ready for this move. I know I am not going to like it, but I think the best approach is talking to Dani and having her make a list of small tasks that seem manageable - on little task at a time and I think I can handle this. I guess we will just have to see how it goes.
Dani and I have been working on packing and finalizing all of the details for our move in less than two weeks. I have been in a funk for almost the whole time we have been doing this and it took me until now to realize why:
When we start disrupting the equilibrium we have established in our home in any way (i.e. packing to move), it very quickly destroys the sense of peace and security I have found. It stops feeling like a home and I no longer feel safe. That's what has been nagging at me the past few weeks. I have come home from work and have had no true way to unwind. I can't unwind because I need to feel secure in my surroundings in order to put my guard down enough to cope with what I experienced that day. When I don't have this, everything builds up and it becomes a sort of sensory overload. I don't flip out, I don't get angry. I become distracted and distant.
So now I have to deal with the anger directed at myself for not knowing this was going to happen. It isn't like this is the first time we have moved. I realized this at work and the littlest things angered me. It took so much effort to remain calm that I came home and slumped onto the bed in a fit of exhaustion. Dani was sick with worry because she thought I was sick or injured. She hadn't really seen me like that before. I think it was more visceral this time around because we have experienced stability for a good while now and we had both become comfortable with it. I wouldn't say we had become complacent, but it felt like it when I first realized what was going on.
Needless to say, figuring this out has been a great relief (or will be when I calm the hell down). I know that tomorrow will be new day and Dani and I have started planning the layout of the new apartment to keep my mind focused on creating a new home and haven for our family. I wouldn't say she's trying to distract my mind from my current environment, but she recognizes that I need something to latch onto that will make me optimistic that I will experience the sense of security we just lost. Soon.
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...
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.