So, I did a lot of thinking yesterday. Especially last night. I thought about this intensity that Rod mentions in his blog - this part of me that kept me alive in Iraq and is causing me so many problems now. For most of the evening yesterday, I was at a loss - what the hell do I do about this? How do I know what a healthy outlet is for me?
To do this, I needed to create a personal definition of my intensity, my drive. Ugh. Easier than it sounds. I have tried a billion things, using anything from meditation to rug hooking to video games to exercise. They all left me feeling dissatisfied, chomping at the bit to do more. All of these outlets just ended up delaying the inevitable implosion that invariably followed. It has been a vicious cycle for me and it's a cycle I really want to break.
I have thought about a related question: Doesn't being a good husband and a good father motivate you enough? Doesn't that give your drive a healthy outlet?
In short: No.
I need people to understand that I love being a father and a husband. Love it. They are my reason for living, for persevering. What they do not provide is an outlet for this intensity, even though they have experienced the fallout from that intensity when it turns inward. This intensity, this drive is something that is entirely and deeply personal and not something that I share with others to find fulfillment. The drive, when properly directed, provides me with a sense of fulfillment and peace.
If this is the case, when was the last time my drive was pointed in the right direction? This is what I thought long and hard about last night. I wanted to identify what I was doing that gave me that feeling and what was the criteria for feeling that way again. And then it hit me - having the freedom to direct my own destiny - when the only person I would have to blame for failure was me. The last time I was in that position was when I was in Iraq, leading a life of service, responsible for keeping our troops safe from insurgency.
That left me with even more to think about. I live in Pennsylvania. Is there a way to recreate that feeling here? That's the mission I have given myself - figuring out how to recreate that feeling. What are the fundamental underlying threads that I need to recreate? Is this activity something I have to do for myself or can I get my family invovled? That's where I am now. I think this may have been a major breakthrough, but time will tell. I will write on this more in the coming days as my purpose for 'being' becomes clear.
For those folks out there who can identify with my definition of intensity and Rod Deaton's description of drive, it's time for a gut check. Take the time to sit down and think about this. Talk to your families about this, your parents, your spouse, your siblings, your friends. This has the feeling of momentous change for me and I hope it does for you too. Time to go think for a while. Enjoy your Sunday and I will follow up tomorrow!
Sorry to everyone for leaving in a flash this morning. I needed to collect myself and work through some things. I had an appointment today at the VA and I thought a lot about what I am going through right now. Talking with the docs, one thing has become abundantly clear, the clinical depression has evolved. Co-morbidity is a bitch. What the docs have evaluated in my behavior now indicates I have substantial bi-polar tendencies that are screwing with my sense of stability.
That would definitely explain the short bursts of motivation (manic behavior) followed by long periods of lethargy, apathy, and emotional withdrawal. So I will be spending the rest of the day thinking this all through and trying to come up with a plan to work through all of this with my wife. Signing off for now. Knowing what you are facing makes you fell less helpless. At least I have that.
Talking with my wife last night I came to the realization that I have been talking a good game. I am the heaviest I have ever been. I have little to no motivation to do anything that is not sedentary. Ugh. What a gut check. I have to do something about this. I need to figure out how to put my money where my mouth is. I forced myself to admit that I hate the guy looking back at me in the mirror. I don't recognize me. I'm fat, I'm lazy, I'm the guy that finds an excuse for everything - all of the things I find repulsive.
So what to I do about it? How? It's amazing how eroded self-confidence can destroy a person. I used to be confident that my body would be able to handle whatever was thrown at it. Then I end up in the hospital, allergies out of control. I realized that I felt betrayed...by my own body. The allergies played right into my PTSD. Because I am allergic to every damn thing in the air I breathe outdoors, I now view going outside as subjecting myself to a life-threatening environment. Even leaving the apartment has become close to impossible unless it is absolutely necessary.
You know what the worst part is? I am completely aware of the train wreck I have become. I saw it all happening and felt powerless to do anything about it. I have, once again, come full circle. My PTSD is again dictating how I live my life. Yup. Definitely a gut check. I hate feeling helpless, powerless. Yet, here I sit, on my duff while my wife takes my daughter for a walk. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Time to stop talking about making changes, time to start doing. My wife and I purchased a bike seat for my daughter because my wife knows how pointless I find walking. The problem is that we don't have room to store the bikes where we live. Gah! Are you fucking kidding me? I'm already trying to talk myself out of it. I have got to sign off.
For the past few days, I haven't felt like doing much. About four days ago I had gotten some time of intestinal bug and had been miserable. For the days following I continued to feel fatigued and slept a lot during the day. My wife kept on asking if I felt OK, if I was still sick. I told her that I was just tired, like I couldn't shake the fatigue. I don't know when I realized it was depression. I think it was some time yesterday. I really can't put a finger on the moment I became truly aware. I just know it made me really annoyed with myself.
When I woke up this morning, I realized that even though I was aware of feeling depressed, I didn't seem to be able to shake the feeling. Once again, I had been blindsided by it. I didn't write a blog post yesterday. It wasn't because I didn't have the time. I felt so demotivated. I had a scheduled meeting with a local veterans advocate and I almost didn't get out of bed in time to make it to the meeting. Yeah. That's the kind of day yesterday was. I don't want today to be a repeat of that.
I am so annoyed with myself. How could I not realize it was the depression? I kept the blinds shut in the living room. I sat in the dark and stewed while I watched meaningless crap on Netflix. How many more clues does a guy need? I missed out on opportunities to play with my daughter in the park because I was caught up in my own bullshit. Well, not today. I refuse to let this happen again. I want to see my daughter laugh and play outside. It's such a joy to watch.
*sigh* As I sit here trying to type this, I feel the anxiety building. Anxiety about what, I have no idea. Great. Wonderful. It's like my body is trying to hold me hostage. Not today. Yeah, that's my new mantra. Whenever my PTSD tries to take over my life I am going to say, "NOT TODAY". I just need to stop worrying about what could happen in the future or what already happened in the past. One you can't control and the other is already history. That leaves the one day I can control the outcome of: today. I plan on making the most of it.
Every so often, you just need some down time. I have been busy with the family and with medical issues and everything else for a while now. Today is just for me. Dani is taking a day for herself as well. She is taking Caley down to her parents' and is spending time down there quilting with her mother. As for me, well...
I haven't decided what I am doing today. I just know it won't involve actually doing much of anything. I am looking forward to sitting out on the porch for a little bit here and there, reading. Spending some quality time with my Xbox 360 may also be in order. I am not sure yet. I just know that today is a day to unwind and reflect on all that has happened over the last few weeks and months. I went back and read a lot of the posts from when I first started blogging again. They were pretty desperate and dark. I feel like I am in a better place now and not only for myself and my family.
There is going to be a lot happening in the ensuing months. I am getting more heavily involved in local veteran affairs and advocacy. I am excited about where that could lead, but I don't want to get my hopes up unrealistically. There are a lot of opportunities to improve the lives of veterans in my area (as I am sure there are everywhere) and I have some plans in the works to take advantage of those opportunities. I will probably spend a portion of the day mulling over my ideas and setting them down on paper, writing up a business model to envelope the ideas bouncing around in my head.
Regardless, I stay aware of where I have come from and what I need to continue to do to manage my PTSD. Some days are better than others and today's a good one. It's what I do on the days where things aren't so hot that will narrate my story in the coming years. I am tired of feeling angry and depressed and am working hard to fight the survivor's guilt. As the uncertainty of the future weighs more heavily on my shoulders, I look at my daughter to keep my focus. In the meantime, I will revel in doing whatever I please for a day.
First, I wanted to thank everyone for their warm wishes and prayers. It's no small thing to have the amazing support from all of you. When health problems seem to just keep on piling up, it is pretty easy to get depressed without even realizing it. Even now, when I seem to be coming out on the other side in better health, staying positive can be difficult. You get so used to something else going wrong or finding out that there is another health issue that you weren't aware of and it sets you back again. I didn't even realize until yesterday that the reason that I was feeling anxious about the surgery was because it is the last medical problem on the very long list from the past few months. The surgery is the light at the end of the tunnel and I am afraid of cloud cover.
I thought about it and recognized that I am actually very confident that the surgery will not only go well, but be resoundingly successful. What I am actually stressed out about is what comes after: I don't know. Am I actually going to be fairly healthy? Is that even possible? Since when did the prospect of being healthy cause me anxiety? I caught myself thinking, "If my health is getting better and better, what else is going to go wrong?"
Two weeks goes by in a flash when you have a toddler. I just want to get through the surgery and come out the other side. In the meantime, I am going to focus on my daughter who adds new words to her vocabulary practically every day now. She is an absolute delight to play with and spend time with. I saw the allergist yesterday as well and she said my lungs were doing really well. Time to put them to the test. My wife and I bought a child seat for the back of my bike. Time to get outside, enjoy the amazing weather and forget about life for a while. I am going to revel in the simple act of loving my wife and daughter. Who knows? Maybe I'll even forget about my problems for a little while.
Just when you think all of the doctor visits are coming to an end...I went for an allergist mandated consultation with an ENT. The doctor deemed it medically necessary to fix my deviated septum and improve airflow in my nose. As a result, I will be going in for outpatient surgery in two weeks, with two weeks of recovery after. I am really hoping that this is the final piece of the equation.
It is hard not to think that my body is betraying me, a day at a time. I feel like everything is breaking down. I know that's the catastrophic thinking at work, but it doesn't make everything that I have gone through any less scary. I find that I am a whole lot more anxious on a daily basis about my health than I have ever been. I think about how debilitating the PTSD and anxiety have been for me over the past few weeks and I feel guilty. I made it home. What right do I have to complain? I think about the guys I knew who didn't make it back and I feel like the world's biggest failure.
Alright. Enough of the pity party. This is not who I am. I am better than this and tougher than this. Focus on what it going right. Focus on the local advocacy efforts that are coming together very rapidly. Focus on your family and your amazing daughter who is days away from telling you all about her days in English. Focus on the beautiful weather. Anything.
I guess we'll see how things turn out. It is what it is. I am done pushing back against the things I cannot change. Time to accept what life throws at me as best I can.
As Dani and I started getting ready, I could feel the anxiety already starting to build. I went out to the kitchen and made sure that I had a few extra anxiety pills with me and took one to try to stop the anxiety before it got out of control. Soon after, we left for dinner.
Dinner was easy. It was close to home and in a family setting. As we got in the car to head to Mayfair, I started to get a little edgy. We go close to the park where it's held and there was nowhere to park. It was pretty packed. We ended up parking a few blocks away and walking in. When we got to the gate, I was in for a pleasant surprise - military admission was free all weekend. Well, holy shit. That was new. It instantly ratcheted down my anxiety a notch. It make me feel welcome in a place I was expecting none.
After that, things went fairly smoothly. I got progressively more anxious as the night wore on and had to stop to take my anxiety meds once while we were there. Towards the end of the night, I started to tune out: I pushed Caley's stroller a little faster than the rest of the group was walking and quietly disengaged myself from conversation. I had been ready to go for a while but I didn't want to ruin the night for Dani. She was having so much fun. Shortly thereafter, we all headed out.
Looking back, I couldn't tell you much of the conversations we had. I don't remember. I was too focused on the environment around me. I do remember making comments and smiling at the appropriate times. I guess it's a start. The important part is that the night didn't end up with me blowing up, freaking out, or ruining the night out for my wife.
We got back to the car, bade our friends a good night and left for home. When we got home, I went into lala land for a while, decompressing. I just keep on remembering that one thing: It didn't end in disaster.
Two days ago, I posted to my blog that I thought I was agoraphobic. Well thanks to my support network, I have been made to see the error in my thinking. What it comes down to is that I didn't catch what was really going on: My catastrophic thinking was hijacking my thoughts.
Many of you know Rod Deaton. He's a doc in the Indiana VA. When he read that post about agoraphobia, he got in contact with me right away. We talked it all through - the anxiety, all of the changes in my life I had to make, the health complications, everything. What became abundantly clear to me as we talked friend to friend is that my catastrophic thinking is what was out of control. I kept on obsessing about the worst possible scenarios when it came to my health. It reinforced rational fears of health complications and amplified them into debilitating and lifestyle changing obsessions. While making the realization that I was better equipped now than I have ever been to face allergies and irritants, I also got really frustrated with myself for letting it affect me this way and feed into depression.
What made it even more poignant was the note I got from my mother yesterday. She basically said that this guy who was moping around feeling sorry for himself was not the strong-willed and determined son she was used to seeing. She reiterated many of the points that Rod and I talked about. This really illustrates the important role of a strong support network and motivates me even more to make sure that every vet has the strong support he/she needs to survive and thrive.
Looking back at everything that happened, it's amazing how quickly one catastrophic thought sent me down the hill like I was on a slip 'n slide. So now comes the hard part: Getting out and doing something about it. It's one thing to recognize you are letting the PTSD win. It's another to know what exactly you should do to take back control. I guess I'll find out this weekend. I am not going to squander this opportunity to honor the fallen by moping around in my apartment.
So yesterday, we were about to head out to get Italian ice from Rita's when my wife asked me why I was dragging my feet. Until she said something, I didn't even realize I was. We sat down and talked about it after the little one was put down to sleep and we made a realization that should have been obvious:
I'm Agoraphobic (Irrational Fear of Going Outside). Ever since I had the issue with my lungs where I ended up in the hospital I have been afraid to put my lungs to work exercising. now that I have the allergist diagnosis that I am allergic to everything outside, I am deathly afraid of going outside. I am scared shitless that my lungs are going to seize up and that I am going to be back in the hospital. I narrowly avoided intubation and the ICU last time.
The problem is so severe that I haven't left the house in weeks unless it is something I felt was necessary to leave the house for (doctor's appointments, my sister's graduation in NY, the panel in DC) Even then, it has caused me an ever increasing amount of anxiety to leave. I looked up agoraphobia this morning and realized that I suffered from it and told my wife. She told me that I have been agoraphobic for as long as she has known me. Wonderful. Splendid.
I know it all stems back to the PTSD. I don't like crowds, I don't like unfamiliar places, I don't like loud environments, I don't like not knowing what is going to happen next. Most of all, I don't like not being in control of the situation and my environment. Add in a wee bit of social awkwardness because I don't feel like I have much in common with other people...
Until the hospitalization in March, the agoraphobia was proportionate to the degree in which my PTSD was affecting me. Now, I can barely leave the house and it's getting worse. It feels like I can see the bridge is out but I can't stop the train. My anxiety is ratcheting up just typing this.
When am I going to catch a damn break? I'm starting to get really pissed about a lot of this stuff. Right now I have a burning rage - a frustration with my situation so profound that I can't put it into words. I need to figure out a way to channel this rage and use it to motivate me to get out, to exercise.
All you're required to do is breathe. Calm down, think it through, and do something about it. Get up off your ass and do something about it.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.