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...
I haven't had time to write a blog entry for almost two weeks. Now, regardless of anything else I have going on, I'm taking the time to write it now. My head feels fuzzy. My thoughts and feelings haven't felt this jumbled in a long time. It has led to feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment.
Dissatisfaction with the progress I am making as a husband and father, dissatisfaction with the rate of progress I am making with the non-profit.
Disappointed with myself and my inability to successfully get myself back into shape and to better care for my physical health.
Never having enough time for all of the things I want to accomplish and getting frustrated when things don't play out the way I want them to. It seemed like everything was taking precedence over writing my blog posts. Considering how central to my ability to cope blogging has become, that was stressing me out big time. The longer I went without getting the thoughts out of my head and into my blog, the less I was able to effectively accomplish.
So, what to do? I work full-time to make the money my family needs to get by and then spending another 30-40 hours every week plugging away on the tasks that need to get done to convert my plans for my non-profit into actionable programs. Between those to things, it take all of my energy to ensure that I am not withdrawing from my family. I'm loving and caring for my wife and child. I don't want to be missing from their lives ever again.
By the time I attend to all of these things, the day's over and I am exhausted. I don't have time for anything else - and making blog posts were continually set on the back burner. I knew, with the formation of the non-profit that I would be overworked in the short-term. The problem is that it has become a long-term problem and one that I NEED to ensure the success of.
Then it hit me: maybe if I blog about this and continue to blog on a regular basis, I will be able to be concentrate on the current task. Maybe if I keep up my blogging, I will be more efficient because my head won't be cluttered with jumbled thoughts and ideas.
I need to figure this out and quick. I need to do everything in my power to get this all sorted out. It seems counter-intuitive, but I strongly believe that making the time to blog and keep my head clear will result in more efficient use of my time otherwise. Guess it's time to see.
It's been too long since I have had the energy to actually sit down and clear my head. Work has been taking every last ounce of energy I have, just to get through the days recently. The hardest part: working in a busy retail environment. Normally, it's busy but manageable. Since Labor Day Weekend, it's been a nightmare. There has been so much to do and not enough time to get everything done. Customers were four deep on the other side of the counter on many occasions. I felt surrounded, claustrophobic.
I'd come home spent, with just enough energy to keep my promise and make dinners most days, do the dishes. Other than that, ugh. I shudder to think of how I'd be right now if work hadn't made accommodations in my scheduling to help me get more regular sleep. Working in retail and having PTSD really was feeling like a match made in hell.
Then, two days ago, the flood waters receded. Things returned to some semblance of normal and I actually came home with something left in the tank. What did I do with the extra emotional energy?
And if felt wonderful.
I have used the past two nights after work to recharge the batteries. I have off the next two days. Today is mine to do with as I see fit. Tomorrow, I will actually have the energy to catch up on all of the work and correspondence that has been piling up. The last logo still needs to get finished and so do a lot of other tasks that have been put on the back burner over the past two weeks.
Gotta get this stuff done. I hate to think about what Thanksgiving and Christmas will bring this year...
This past Saturday, I waded into the deep end and attended my sister-in-law's engagement party - lots of people I don't know and lots of people I wasn't sure I would feel comfortable around. I've explained it before but I will explain it again. When I am around people I don't know the hyper-vigilance kicks in and it forces me to examine the actions of every person around me for threats.
Surprisingly, it went fairly well. I felt the compulsion to give in and watch everyone. Somehow, and I really don't know how, I was able to keep the hyper-vigilance at bay. Fighting the urge was exhausting, though. I fell asleep three times while I was at the party and it was out of sheer emotional exhaustion.
I thought about that as my wife was driving us home. Are these my two options? Giving in or exhausting myself fighting the urge? It really bothered me on Sunday and Monday when I was at work. I kept on thinking that there had to be another option - another way of dealing with the hyper-vigilance and anxiety.
Then something unexpected happened. I was waiting on an elderly couple at the store and the old man was very grateful for my help and proffered his hand. When I shook his hand, I saw the tattoo on the forearm of his other arm. Numbers. He was a Holocaust survivor.
I got goosebumps.
He saw me notice and he grew concerned at the look on my face. He asked if he was the first survivor I had ever met and I told him, to my knowledge he was. He nodded slowly. He was very astute. He asked me if I had been in war. I told him that I was in Iraq.
What he said next was a gut shot:
"You have the look of the American soldiers who freed us from Dachau. Your memories live with you every day. I can see it in your face."
I didn't know what to say. I just nodded my head.
"So do mine. I am comforted by my faith. In our faith, God cherishes those who are just and righteous. Only a righteous man is haunted by war."
With those simple words he patted me on the shoulder and walked back to his wife who was picking out bagels.
Talk about food for thought. Having the memories as bedfellows means I am a righteous man? Is this the price of righteousness? So where's the upside of being righteous?
This is what I have been struggling with since Monday. Needless to say, these are not the kinds of questions that don't have easy answers. So...I keep on looking for them.
Well, that was an unexpected turn. A few days after the horrible nightmare I had last week, I suddenly found myself motivated to examine how I had been living my life. It wasn't pretty. I wasn't doing everything I know I am able to be. I wasn't being a partner to my wife, I wasn't pulling my weight at home. I was anxiety eating myself into diabetic shock, slowly gaining weight, pound by pound.
It hit me that I now have a consistent work schedule where I am home for dinner almost every night. I could actually go to the gym regularly as well. I actually sat down and made a commitment to my wife to be a better man and husband. For the first time in a long time and I am feeling a little more like 'myself'.
It didn't hit me until a few days ago that I was feeling this motivation, this change in outlook because of that horrible nightmare. I'm not sure how or why this is true, I just know it is. It's like there's one less shackle weighing down my soul.
All of the things I accomplished this week just added intensity to the brightness of the light in my heart. The 501(c)3 formation documents are officially submitted to the IRS. One logo is done, one done soon, and one in the works. I was asked to be the keynote speaker at Veterans' Day events in my home town. I confirmed my speaking engagement at St. Francis University. Combat Vets' Google Plus Page was listed as one of the "99 Google Plus Accounts Military Service-Members Should Follow".
Despite all of this, I am deeply anxious that the other shoe is going to drop. It tempers my happiness and dulls my optimism. At least this time, it
Here's the thing: with all of changes that I have to make in my life to put my sleep back in balance, life is presenting a lot of new challenges...and lots of uncertainty. What if work will not accommodate my need for a set schedule? Why can't I seem to get to bed at a reasonable time? Why is it still so hard for me to get up and get active?
What if? Why? How?
I asked myself these questions a lot yesterday and tried to come to terms with all of the things that are going to need to change in order for my life to center itself. I got up, went about getting new sneakers and then went running in the afternoon heat. It felt amazing. Things fell apart as the day wore on. I ate dinner and had planned to sit down and work on making some changes to one of the websites. Well, that didn't happen and as the evening wore on, I lost track of time and that I intended to go to sleep at 10PM. 1230AM rolled around and I felt like an idiot. Talk about being frustrated with myself. If I can't get to bed at a reasonable hour, then I can't regulate my sleep and catch up on the huge deficit I already have.
So, just like the old challenges, I pick myself up today, dust myself off, and try again. Today, I am going to work on the website and blog entries in the morning, clean the apartment and go for a run in the afternoon, and take some free time in the evening. That's the goal. Now I just need to push forward and make sure that I meet those goals.
So, yeah. The challenges are new but the approach to overcoming them is the same. Grit and determination. Intestinal fortitude. Finding ways to keep myself motivated. All of these things are not new to me - just the problem to overcome. The important thing for me to remember is that I have never given up in the past and I won't now. I have past successes and failures to teach me what I need to do to move forward.
Because Every Day is a New Day.
Today was one of those days. I woke up tired and angry. I was a little bit nervous about going to work because I didn't feel in particular control. I went anyways. Not even two hours into my shift someone did something that really triggered me (disrespect will do that). Next thing I know, I am shaking from the adrenalin and fighting off some extreme anger. My only saving grace was that I was responsible for tasks that left me to my own devices and allowed me to essentially ignore everyone. I made it over six hours before my anger finally made it too exhausting and stressful to stay at work.
I just couldn't figure out what the hell caused me to wake up that angry. Nothing seemed to make any sense. After I got home, I got changed and went to the gym. I did cardio until I couldn't sweat anymore. It cleared my head a bit but I still couldn't figure out what the hell had set me into that pattern of barely concealed and controlled anger. I hadn't been there in quite a while.
And then it hit me.
I only seem to get that angry when I feel particularly out of control of something - the spectre of TBI hanging over my head fits the bill nicely. Now I just need to figure out what in the hell to do about it. I am going to have to change some things in my lifestyle to help compensate for this. I have no resolution to the TBI issue in the near future but the workout helped a lot. Time to get serious about putting my life in order. Adequate sleep, exercise to burn off the adrenalin, anything I can do to stay stable and prescient for my family.
Guess we'll see how it goes...
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.