Well, it looks like the worst of the catastrophic thinking from yesterday is behind me. A special shout out to Rod Deaton for letting me vent to him. There is nothing that I can do about the evaluation now except wait and see what happens. I have to keep on reminding myself that I have an amazing support network. Others aren't so lucky. Regardless of how stressed I may be, others have it much worse.
That being said, Memorial Day Weekend looms. I know it's going to be challenging this year. I am thankful that I came home in one piece but I know that the guilt will be there. Guilt that I made it home an others didn't. Guilt that I am thankful for being alive and that it wasn't MY mother that had someone knock on her door. This is a celebration of summer for so many and they grill food and drink and celebrate. How many remember the purpose of this weekend? How many honor the fallen, go to parades, even put out the flag? I would wager my readers do. If my apartment complex would allow it, I would. This coming weekend is a time for reflection. Maybe this year the guilt will let me remember and honor those that have fallen. I guess we will see.
I meet with a member of the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council this morning. I am going to talk with him about what I can do to assist with advocacy locally. Wish me luck.
I really don't ever want to have to go through that again. The doc called me in and we sat down and talked about how much I've messed up my life and how little control I actually have over my life. It was a wonderful feeling. So now I have to sit and wonder if I am even going to keep the disability compensation I have. It could be two to eight months before I hear anything. Two to eight months before I have any hope of hearing anything about my case. So now I have to go about making myself a royal pain in the ass.
So now I have some major thinking and decision-making ahead of me. Where do I go from here? What do I do about work? How do I balance work with personal life? I am already stressing out and it's only been a few hours.
No. NO! I will not go down this road. I will not let the PTSD take over. I don't know what to do yet, but I will figure it out. I will talk with my wife and my family. I need to discuss work, disability, life at home, everything. I am supposed to start Cognitive Processing Therapy in early June. Now, more than ever, I need to know that I can take this bull by the horns and learn to live with it. I refuse to put my wife through the wringer again.
So here's to tomorrow. I put myself through that mess today because I am stubbornly holding out hope that things will work out in the long run. One thing I know for certain: I will continue to blog, no matter what transpires. I need this to help keep my head clear. Last time when things got worse, I stopped. Never again. Tomorrow's a new day for us all. Let's see what it brings, shall we?
So out of the blue I look at the calendar notice on my phone and realize I have a really important appointment tomorrow. I put in to get re-evaluated for my PTSD with the VA. Needless to say, I am anxious as hell about this and freaking out a fair bit. I am trying my best not to be overly snippy with people but it is a challenge.
My Biggest Concerns:
Well, there it is. I have this momentous day ahead of me tomorrow and somehow I let it completely sneak up on me. I am a mess. Woo. I think I need to go and hide for a little until I get this little freak out moment under control.
I'm going to starve. That's the first thing that went through my head this morning as I looked around the kitchen and realized we had practically nothing that I was allowed to eat. I'm on overload. The sensory overload. The allergies, the sleep apnea, the asthma, the massive amounts of daily medications, possible surgery to fix my deviated septum, having to change my eating habits. It's too much to process all at once. Too much change all at once.
I have to go get HEPA air filters today as well. I just feel like everything is closing in on me. I am allergic to everything outside right now. So much so that I have to turn my home into an 'allergy safe house'. Where do I go from here? I know that all of this stuff is supposed to improve my health and my physical quality of life, but what about my psychological quality of life?
Needless to say, I am in super hyper-vigilance mode. I can't get the jitters to stop. The medication isn't helping. I just got up and I am already tired from keeping the catastrophic thinking under control...
Deep Breaths, Max. Deep Breaths. Do what you do best. Learn about all of the changes that you are going to have to make. Your allergist's brother is in the service. You know she's going out of her way to make sure you get all of the treatment you need. Just take it slow. One hour at a time. One minute at a time if necessary. I can do this.
My sister had her convocation ceremony for her Ph.D yesterday at Columbia University. When I finally got home, I was utterly exhausted. I still am. Here's how the day went:
It was a very long day. I had forgotten how dirty and loud the subways in New York really are. It was a very stressful ride. I was hoping that there would be standing room at the ceremony that would allow me to put a little distance between me and the crowds. That didn't happen. I finally reached critical mass during the reception. I told my Mom that I needed to get out of there. We left as soon as was possible to collect everyone up. The anxiety really started getting to me at this point. I started getting snippy with everyone. It was not pretty, but everyone just kind of ignored it and carried on with their day. By the time I got back on the bus, I was exhausted from my experience.
That will be the last time I visit New York for a long while. That city is like anxiety overload. It is way to easy to have intrusive recollections there. A lot of the sidewalks were in worse condition than in some areas in Iraq. Then there was the air quality. For a little while, I thought I was having an anxiety attack. Then I realized it was the air quality that was making my lungs so tight. Ratchet up the anxiety a little more.
Today, I am spending inside away from people and getting myself recentered. While I wouldn't have missed the convocation yesterday, I can't do that again for a long time. Regardless, I am very proud that I made it through the day without having a major breakdown. I finally got to meet two of my sister's close friends that I had never met and dinner was delicious.
Now it's time for recovery.
Recently, I have gained a lot of weight. When I went into the hospital for respiratory distress back in March, I learned that allergens (pollen) had caused the reaction. After I got out of the hospital, I have been afraid to go outside, fearful of the consequences. This is not a good thing for a veteran with PTSD. The last thing we need is more motivation to cloister ourselves away from the world and hide in our homes, bereft of contact with other people. So what did I start doing when I was bored? I ate. And ate. And ate.
Now it's time to undo the damage. Yesterday, I decided to confront my fear of doing things outside. I went for a jog with my wife and daughter at the park across the street. It felt wonderful. A little cold - the wind was ridiculous - but wonderful. My lungs felt great. I kept on wondering when my lung were going to rebel. They didn't. At all.
So this is what freedom feels like. I didn't realize how much I had been allowing my fears to imprison me in my home. I don't even recognize the fat-ass in the mirror. I never thought I could let my body go this far...
Today, I resolved to do something about this. I have a new goal. I want my body back. I want to be able to run without my body getting sore before I get tired. I want to be proud to see what is staring back at me in the mirror. It's time to take this to the next level. I am going to talk with my wife and set goals. Maybe I can find an advocacy 5k or 10K later this summer. I don't know. So, PTSD, I have a question. Is it Okay for me to go outside?
As you all know by now, I spent the 8th down in DC attending a panel discussion. The hardest part of the day I knew was coming in advance: Riding the DC Metro. I don't do well in subways. Too many people to watch, too many points of ingress and egress. It sets me on a very dangerous edge most of the time.
Knowing that I was going to be riding the DC Metro to and from the National Press Club meant I needed to prepare for the ride so that I didn't paint myself into an anxiety corner. The panel discussion was too important.
What I decided on was taking my new sleep apnea machine down with me to DC the night before and getting a REALLY good night's sleep. That thing works like a dream. I may sound like Darth Vader when I'm breathing, but I woke up very well rested and better equipped to face the day. It was pretty amazing. It was my first night sleeping using the apnea machine and I felt like someone had flipped a switch in my brain. I felt a whole lot more stable. Regardless, I took an extra dose of anxiety medication to ensure I didn't freak out or get irritable on a morning when I couldn't afford it.
Then it was time: I got on the Metro car and stood next the the door with my back to as few people as possible and a good view of the rest of the car. It was rush hours, so there was no chance of putting my back against the wall. I got a little jittery but the DC Metro is nothing like New York. It's clean, quiet and comparatively efficient. On the way back it was even easier. The ride was off-peak and easy.
I felt incredibly proud of myself. I recognized that the PTSD could cause a problem, identified ways of coping with it so that it wouldn't keep me from doing something I really wanted to do. It was refreshing and a major step in the right direction. Let's see what tomorrow brings.
I just got back from the pulmonary functions tests and the lady said there was significant obstruction, but that it didn't look like COPD - more like allergies. I didn't feel very confident that this lady knew what the hell she was talking about. If the allergies are constant and the lungs reaction is, therefore, also constant, how is it not chronic? I guess I will wait and see what the doc says for certain, but my anxiety went through the roof. It's my birthday and I am trying not to snap at everyone and everything.
I am trying to calm myself down and put all of this in a good perspective, but it is difficult. I have been scared to exercise. I was afraid of what might happen if I hadn't been to these tests yet. All these tests did was create more ambiguity and more questions. Historically, this is exactly the type of situation that would put me into a really deep funk and make me a real pleasure to be around. I know this and am trying to do make sure that doesn't happen. I have been extremely irritable the past few days and my wife doesn't deserve this.
The one thing I can't stop is the physiological change - my hands are shaking so badly from the adrenalin dump that I am having difficulty typing. I am going to focus on the part I CAN do something about - my attitude. Because of the PTSD, my mind is trained to think of the worst case scenarios with all of this. If I think about those, all that will happen is my anxiety and adrenalin will increase.
You know what? Fuck these tests. I am done with this. Come hell or high water I am going to enjoy my birthday today. I am going to start exercising my butt off - mind over matter. I am going to exercise to exorcise...
OK, so busy week ahead. I have a psych screening appointment on the first that will dictate whether I get into a group CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Group at the VA. On the fourth I have early morning pulmonary function testing to see what condition my lungs are in. Then on the evening of the sixth, I go in for a sleep study to see what the docs are going to do about my sleep apnea. And then, on the seventh, I drive down to DC to stay with a friend the night before the big Veterans Issues Panel the morning of the eighth at the National Press Club. As I said, busy week. And I'm already getting irritable.
Issue One: The CBT Groups
I keep telling myself that there is absolutely no reason for the doc not to accept me into the CBT Groups. I pretty much do that on my own and I am focused on learning how to cope successfully with PTSD. Not to mention that I can share a lot of what i learn on my blog as I learn. Regardless, there is a nagging doubt in my mind that the doc won't see me as a good candidate - then where does that leave me? I will beg if I have to. I am not to proud. I need to find other like-minded veterans who are at the same place I am - willing to learn.
Issue Two: Pulmonary Function Testing
What happens if they tell me I have irreparable lung damage and that I will never be able to be active like I used to be? What will that do to me? I am asking myself the question now and I hate the prospect of living that way. Ever since I was in the hospital a month and a half ago, I have been a non-smoker. I just hope it wasn't too little too late.
Issue Three: Sleep Study
What if they tell me that I have to wear a mask for the rest of my life when I am sleeping? What if they want to do surgery to take out my tonsils and my adenoids? What if they want to do surgery to fix the deviated septum? I shudder at the thought of all three for different reasons. One of the above is going to be the outcome of the study.
The fear of the unknown is making me extremely anxious. All I can do it stay as positive as possible and communicate with my wife. I already told her I am getting irritable and why. We have a game plan. I am going to continue to work on deep breathing to help control the anxiety. The last thing I need is a panic attack on top of everything else that is going on.
As much as I am looking forward to the Forum in DC, I am really putting myself out there. I am nervous as hell that my questions and comments will not be well received. Time will tell. At least I will be facing that with a guy I served in Iraq with. I know he's got my back!
But, tomorrow's another day. Monday, in fact and I will be starting off the day with a little gratitude.
I woke up this morning and knew I was in a bad way. My nerve endings were on fire. I was super sensitive to touch. Even to the clothing I was wearing rubbing against my skin. My emotions felt completely out of control. If I was sad, I knew I'd be sobbing. If I was mad, fuming. If I was happy, laughing hysterically. I could just FEEL it. Then, as I was about to start writing this, my daughter woke up early. I clamped down so hard on my feelings. Really hard. I couldn't afford to have them out of control with my baby girl. I went in and got her out of her crib just as Mommy got home from the gym.
Mommy and I talked a little bit and I ended up over-reacting to everything she said. I never yelled, but I ended up in a depressed funk, laying on the bed. I finally fell asleep, oblivious to everything. My wife woke me up hours later because she needed help with our daughter. I had to fight so hard against the depression, but I was able to get my self moving. My emotional freak out was over, but my nerves were still on fire and my emotions were raw, like someone had rubbed them across a cheese grater. It was the first time in a long time that my emotional intensity had manifested as physical pain. Excruciating physical pain and I can't get it to stop. I knew that if there was one promise that I was going to keep to myself today, it would be to write my blog. Hopefully this helps, but I will not be on for the rest of the day - this is as far as I could go.
Deep Breaths, Max. Tomorrow's a new day.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.