Yeah, you read that correctly. I recently met someone. She's intelligent, passionate about languages and culture, and attractive as hell. I had a blast speaking with her about cultural experiences and could have talked for hours more.
I have zero expectations and I think we could become good friends. The problem is, I can also see the potential for something more and it scares the living shit out of me. I just got through this divorce and I'm not ready for anything else, but...
I find her intellect and her kindness incredibly appealing. She hung on my every word with keen interest and it's been so long since someone outside of my family or work did that.
My emotions are a jumbled mess. When she finds out about the PTSD, will she think me irretrievably broken? Do I have it in me to be a good friend?
I never thought that meeting someone who shares so many interests would trigger my PTSD, but there you have it. The old PTSD fallbacks are pushing to the forefront. All I want to do is withdraw into myself and avoid the uncertainty. In my mind, it's also fear of 'inevitable alienation' that's twisting me up in knots.
The catastrophic thinking has me on my heels. When she finds out I have PTSD, will she think, "I could be friends with this guy, but boy is he a mess. Do I want to invite this drama into my life?"
This is what I was talking about in my previous post - I've grown in so many ways...but at times, I'm still crippled by low self-esteem, self-doubt, and fear hurting others and getting hurt in return. So, this is apparently my latest struggle. I don't want to spend my life alone. I want to meet and be surrounded by friends who love and respect me. I want to find someone who's committed to me for the long haul, someone who I can be committed to in return.
And I have no freaking clue how to take that first step.
Don't get me wrong, I've found a great community at my temple that makes me feel included and respected, but this is something else. After everything that I've been through, I'm not in any rush to jump into anything. I just wish I knew how to take the first step without tripping over my own two feet.
I'm a single dad with an energetic almost five year-old. I have PTSD. I'm a very busy entrepreneur and I have a non-profit to revitalize. I know I need to make time for myself and I can't put my life on hold but when am I supposed to find the time to relearn how to socialize?
If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears. I haven't been in the right frame of mind or situation to even think about this when the divorce was still in process.
Still, it feels good to be back and blogging and getting this all out.
It's been a long month. I have had to get used to things I never wanted to have to get used to again. The house is empty for at least half the week. I never realized how much it scares me to be alone and the nights when I don't have my daughter have been the hardest. I can count on one hand how many times I have seen my wife since she moved out and every time I see her, I feel like I have lead in my stomach. It hurts my heart to see her so distant, and closed off from me. Yes, we're on the same page when it comes to parenting, but I fear that the hurt I caused her when I was depressed is too much to overcome.
I wish that there was something that I could do to help her see that I love her beyond words and that I have stayed strong through all of this. I haven't disappeared back down the rabbit hole. I'm still working out and still going to MMA. Work continues to be a revelation.
So, what to do? Where do I go from here? The only thing I can think to do is just stay steady and continue to do what I have been doing - Living my life as best I can for me so that I can find fulfillment. So I'm going to keep on making the most of my workouts, MMA, and work. The biggest thing is keeping busy, especially as the major holidays approach. There's always the temptation to stay in and not go out at all. I swore that I would never go down that road again. It's the first time in my life where I have been thankful for hypervigilance. I've been able to repurpose it to help me keep from going down that road ever again.
I have been afraid to sit down at the computer to write any of this because is makes it real...Does that make sense? Acknowledging my new reality is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. It's one of the reasons that I haven't been blogging that past few weeks. I had to come to terms with how things are and fight my fear and the anger.
It took a while...
But I'm getting there. Bit. By. Bit.
And I'll keep on fighting to make the most of my life for as long as it takes and as long as I live. I never really thought that Post Traumatic Growth was really a thing. When I was in the throes of my PTSD, it seemed unattainable. I don't think that it's the bright, shiny future that they make it out to be in the press, but I do believe it's real. So, no matter how things turn out, I'm going to learn to be happy - with someone or by myself.
But that's a subject for another post...and one I'm working on writing as we speak.
So, I disappeared off the radar, again - this time for good reason. All of my spare time has been dedicated to contending with family issues at home. The end result: My wife and I are entering into a trial separation, as of today. Before anyone overreacts to this, I need to make this clear - it was a mutual decision. We have taken this step BECAUSE we love each other and want to save our marriage.
Seems counter-intuitive, right?
It really isn't and I'm going to explain why so that maybe the lessons we've learned from all of this will help other couples in distress for the same reasons. I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to write about this, but I felt I needed to articulate in writing our thought process - that and blogging always helps me process through my emotions, so...Here we go.
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I've been struggling with PTSD and depression for years now. Back on November 8th, 2010, my amazing and wonderful daughter, Caley, was born. When I held her for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the profundity of my love for her. It was at that moment that I had the insidious and destructive thought: "If anything ever happened to her..."
My PTSD headed very quickly into a downward spiral and the depression followed, gleefully riding the coattails of my PTSD on the way down. I withdrew completely from my wife and from my daughter over the course of the next year, leaving my wife to contend with caring for two kids on her own: Our beautiful newborn, and me.
I hit rock bottom in early 2012 when my wife confronted me with my withdrawal and gave me the ultimatum: Get help or we are leaving. This sounds really blunt but my wife had tried every other way of getting my attention and nothing had worked. I was so deeply in the throes of my own despair that I needed the emotional slap in the face to be able to see through the fog of my depression. When I did, I was horrified. I had emotionally abandoned my family. The guilt I felt was crushing - so crushing that I seriously considered committing suicide so that I wouldn't be able to hurt them anymore. That's how insidious depression can be. I couldn't see the forest for the trees and almost deprived my daughter of a father and my wife of a husband - Not because I wanted to selfishly end it all, but because I couldn't see any way of preventing my family from getting hurt again.
To this day, I still don't know what, exactly, pulled me back from the ledge but I'm grateful that I found a way. Just thinking about how close I came still horrifies me and always will. Over the course of the next few days, I started to gain a bit of clarity and was able to make a compact with myself - that I would never, EVER, let things get this bad ever again. I knew that the road ahead of me was going to be long and painful, but I needed desperately to be the Father and Husband I know I can be when the PTSD and the depression haven't taken me hostage.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, I have put in the work. I've gone to therapy, learned how to effectively cope with my PTSD and depression, learned how to watch for warning signs that I may be headed in the wrong direction and also learned that I needed to remove as much unnecessary stress from my life as I possible could.
The end result:
Up until a few months ago, I thought that the whole concept of Post Traumatic Growth was a load of crap. I found myself, all of a sudden, full of drive and energy and motivation to live life and live up to the ideals I had always striven for. I finally felt I was WORTH fighting for.
What happened next completely blindsided both my wife and I. It sucks and it hurts, but I think you will see clearly how we got to this point.
I Need Some Time Apart to Clear My Head
Over the course of the past few months, I noticed that my wife was getting angrier and angrier with me over the smallest of transgressions. I started talking to her about it and expressed a desire to get help and get therapy, for both of us, if necessary. Nothing ever came of it and I thought, after some very serious heart to hearts, that we were moving past the anger and emotional distance (things have deteriorated so far for my wife that she's completely emotionally closed off and unable to show affection or appreciation - we've been living like roommates for the better part of the past year).
Over the course of the past few weeks, things had gotten progressively worse between us and it seemed like the hurt feelings and emotional distance were gaining momentum, regardless of how I tried to reconcile with my wife. The end result: I told my wife that I couldn't live like this anymore - that I felt like I was walking on eggshells because the was angry all of the time and was either unable or unwilling to be intimate or reciprocate my affection.
That's when she said those fateful words: "I think I need some time apart to clear my head". I felt the bottom fall out from under me and I clung desperately to the edge of my sanity.
Over the course of the past week and a half, I've climbed out and things have settled down. Yes, my wife and I are separating but it's a mutual decision and I'm going to take the time to explain why this doesn't mean the end of our marriage.
The Five Stages of Grief
It was only after I had finally accepted what needed to happen that I just gone through the five stages of grief for the state of our relationship. It's analogous to the stages of grief that a person would go through when the doctor had told them that their loved one being kept alive by life support was going to be taken off of it according to wishes presented in their living will - the machines would be turned off and the person would either breathe on their own or they'd die. For our marriage, things were very much the same. My wife needed to get the space she needed (turning off the machines) so that she could process through the intensity of her emotions and figure out whether she was able to move past them and recommit to trusting me and loving me the way she knows I need (finding out whether our marriage will breathe on its own). Here's how the five stages of grief play into this:
However, rather than a means to an end, separation can be a helpful tool to stay together. This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is troubled and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge together more, get as close as we can, and do more to "make the marriage work".
After reading that excerpt, things started to make a whole lot more sense. Our lives were financially stable, our work was stable, and most importantly, I wasn't only stable, I was ME again - the guy with the inner fire and the sense of purpose. It was finally safe for my wife to not be in survival mode anymore and when she let down the walls she had put up to survive, she was completely overwhelmed with how angry she was. She fully recognizes that I never meant to hurt her, but the end result was the same: She felt like she had been betrayed and abandoned by me for the better part of the past almost four years, since our daughter was born. As anyone will tell you, the more deeply you love someone, the more deeply you hurt when you feel abandoned and betrayed by him.
All of a sudden, I understood completely why she needed separation. The emotions she was feeling were so intense that any time she saw me, it triggered her emotions and none of them were particularly happy ones. The only way she could possibly start to work through all of this is by removing the source of the pain: Me. So, a few nights ago, I explained to my wife that I accepted her need for separation and why. Believe it or not, it was a huge relief for both of us. Up until that point, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find a way to accept her need for space and that the marriage would end before we even had a chance to work on it - not because we wanted it to, but because of irreconcilable differences.
Over the past few days, we've spent a lot of time getting on the same page and laying out the groundwork for separation and what it means for us and for our daughter. By loving my wife and supporting her in her need for space, we have already started down the right road. It may sound weird, but working together to coordinate the separation has been the closest my wife and I have been in years - because we are working together to save our marriage and working together hasn't been in the cards for a while now. In the next blog post, I will detail our Separation Contract, what it entails, and why. I could continue on and make this all one massive blog post, but this seems like a logical place to split it up. I know that there are readers out there that are probably in the same position we are in and can't seem to find a way forward. I hope that the struggle that I've gone through, both with the PTSD and Depression and with coming to terms with my wife's need for separation can help those of you out there that find yourselves facing a similar scenario.
Thank you all for your constant support and continued readership.
The Best TV Episode You've Probably Never Seen About Combat-Related PTSD, Suicide, and the Long Road Home.
Have you ever heard of the TV Show, 'Hack'? I hadn't either, but it was available in Netflix and its premise sounded interesting. I cop that made a mistake, lost his badge, and started over as a cabbie or hack in Philadelphia. The show starts Andre Braugher and David Morse so I figured I'd like it.
I'm glad I gave it a chance. The show ran for two seasons in 2003 and 2004. It has excellent lessons in morality and it's massive scale of grey, love, hope, and family. Then I started watching Season 2, Episode 14, named "Fog of War". The main character's godson came home from Iraq after being wounded and they depicted PTSD, raw and unfiltered. They showed how he tried to numb his mind with pain killers and alcohol. They showed how corrosive the effects of survivor's guilt can be on the soul. They illustrated the particular way in which our anger can flare - by raging against inanimate objects and scaring the crap out of our loved ones. It illustrates moral injury and the cost of war upon the human condition. What gave me chills was the manner in which the actor playing the soldier depicted intrusive recollections. The unconscious twitch of the body, the quasi-nauseous shudder and the thousand yard stare.
It also shows how quickly dependency and depression, combined with survivor's guilt, can lead to suicidal ideation.
One thought kept on popping into my head: "This Could've Been Me."
PTSD didn't really reach mainstream awareness and acceptance as the signature wound of this conflict until 2006 and 2007. What really gave me goosebumps was the date that this episode aired: Feburary 7, 2004. Just five days after I returned home from overseas - I was one of the vanguard. One of the first to return home from Iraq. They didn't even have support services in place for the conflict in Iraq. My support group was comprised of veterans of previous conflicts, predominantly Vietnam.
I watched the episode four times in a row, with tears in my eyes every time. Every time I watched it, the more poignant I realized it was - and just how aware the writing team was of the enduring costs of war. I would warn against watching this episode if you are still learning to cope with triggers, but if you are in the right frame of mind - take the time to watch this episode. It will be particularly educational for family members. The show demonstrates just how important fidelity, unconditional support and love are to our returning veterans.
The veteran depicted in the show had a father who was a hard-nosed cop. Old-school. The show no weakness type of man who thought his son should just forget what happened and 'just move on' in his life. The main character, who over the course of one and a half seasons has found his compassion and his own code of morality, lights the way to a positive solution to the show - not with his virtues but with acceptance of his flaws. It is masterfully done and in such a way as to give hope to those who watch it that their loved ones with PTSD can learn to cope and live with their experiences.
I really didn't see this episode coming at all. It even depicted the politics of the time from both sides of the aisle in a way that showed the validity of both standpoints without being argumentative.
Take the time to watch this show if you have Netflix. You won't regret it. It is truly an episode for the ages.
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!
Recently, I have noticed an uptick in the severity of my PTSD symptoms and my coinciding depression. It's starting to make me worry a little bit that not having a functional group to attend is slowly eroding my ability to cope and adversely affecting the effectiveness of my coping mechanisms. Or...It could be just a temporary uptick because of the uncertainty surrounding my upcoming TBI evaluation. Either way, it's decidedly annoying and not something I am handling well.
What to do? I am going to have an individual therapy session this week and I plan on talking to my therapist about my concerns and my frustrations with not having a group to attend. My PTSD is fighting to get through - the anger, the depression, the nightmares, and the insomnia. I also have been dealing with a higher than usual level of hypervigilance. Most nights I toss and turn so badly that I end up sleeping in my recliner, uncertain as to why I don't feel safe - I just don't.
What's even more frustrating is that there is a very clear dichotomy in my life. Everything is going so well with my non-profit and my plans for it. The more I work at it, the more I feel fulfilled and stable. When I have days where I don't have time to work on it, I feel a hair's-breadth from snapping at people. Today would be a prime example. I had to go to work early and I have not been able to do anything for my non-profit. I knew I wasn't going to have the time when I woke up this morning and it made it exceedingly difficult to deal with people at work. I am not even certain what ticked me off so much - they just did.
So, time to hold it together and hope I can figure this out. I only have ten more days to go until my TBI eval, so we'll see how it goes. I guess we'll see if I can hold myself together until them Fingers crossed.
This past Monday, I met with my individual therapist and we talked about how I feel trapped by my current situation: I am not able to make a job change easily because my family depends on my income and health insurance. I can't get to the gym consistently because my work schedule is erratic and I come home from work emotionally spent. I don't have the time I would like to pursue my advocacy endeavors because of my work schedule making it nearly impossible to meet with my colleagues. It has made me feel more and more depressed and more and more demotivated.
When I explained all of this to my therapist, she understood how this could adversely affect me but brought up one point that stuck with me and made me think: It is your choice, whether you realize it or not, to stay in that job. It is also your choice to put all of your emotional energy into your work even though you don't get paid to be emotionally invested in it. She asked me, "What do you think would happen if you chose to save that emotional energy for the other things in your life?"
Why is it the simple things that always seem to be the hardest to change? Being emotionally invested in my work has been ingrained in my since childhood. I told my therapist that and she came back with, "No, that's your job. Advocacy is your work. Put your emotional energy into that and I bet you will feel better and have more energy to find a way to get to the gym and to be there for your family".
It's a foreign idea, but makes a weird kind of sense to me. She followed this up by explaining to me that I have the ability to choose what I devote my energy to. I can't control the fact that I am currently unable to change jobs because of my financial responsibilities. What I CAN control is who benefits from my energies the most - my job or my advocacy for veterans. I have felt trapped because couldn't see any way to take control of the situation and it was causing me to become extremely depressed and unable to see any positive outcomes.
So now comes the hard part. I have to change my behavior - a behavior that has been an integral part of my professional identity since I first started working. I have to learn how to redefine what my work is so that I can devote my emotional energy to my advocacy, my health, and my family. It is definitely not going to be easy but it will be worth the effort.
Introspection...Ally or Enemy? It's a question I have been asking myself a lot over the past few days. It seems that every time I have too much time on my hands to sit and think, I get evaluate everything that's going on in my life. I look at my home life, my work life, being a husband, being a dad. I examine every facet of my life, ad nauseum. In some cases, in excruciatingly fine detail.
I have to wonder how healthy this is for a person like me to do. I seem to get less and less out of it the longer I look. While, I know that there is a lot that makes me very happy in my life, there is also a lot that has left a very bitter taste in my mouth. I wonder if I will ever be able to realize my full potential, and sitting on my duff recuperating from a physical health issue doesn't lend itself to feeling positive about what the future holds.
What I have begun to realize is that I desperately need more out of my professional life - and soon. I think about all of the things I could be doing with my time to advocate for changes in behavioral health care, to educate people about PTSD, to work to reduce the stigma associated with PTSD. It makes me sick to my stomach that I am spending my time in customer service in a grocery store. It's depressing and demotivating. I am an accomplished speaker, an even better writer. Yet, here I sit, wondering how I got myself stuck where I am. I constantly think about hunting for work in Veteran Advocacy. I look online all of the time. I think about the good I could be doing and I feel trapped by the need to make a living to support my family, unable to get out from under the thumb of crap wages and a shitty economy.
Yep, that's introspection for you. It allows me to make important realizations - realizations about things I need to change in my life. Yet, when I am in a position where I don't get to choose when the introspection ends, I get caught in the quagmire of depression and catastrophic thinking. I am on pain meds, so I can't drive anywhere, I can't work. I am stuck here at home with one of two options: sleep or think too much.
So I sit here and think. And contemplate the edges of a sword that never get dull from overuse.
This is the danger of isolation for veterans with PTSD. It suffocates our will, douses the flame of hope. Too much introspection is not a good thing. It's like painting yourself into a corner, with no one around to notice you have until the last stroke has already been painted.
Boy was that a depressing trip. I think I need to make sure that I get to CPT group tomorrow, despite my inability to drive myself. I need something to shake the cobwebs loose, something to turn my sight outward. I need to focus on getting a hold on the depression as it sinks its claws ever deeper into my psyche. I need to focus on my wife and my daughter, how much they need me to be here for them. I'll find a way, I always do. I think I just needed to get those poisonous thoughts out of my head. To rattle those insidious doubts from their nesting places in my mind.
I know I can make it until tomorrow, and that's all that truly matters when the going gets rough.
I couldn't have asked for a better time to have all of the counseling that I have had in the past day and a half. Group CPT ended up being one on one because none of the other members of the group were able to make it. I individual therapy we discussed why the intensity of the anger, nightmares, and hypervigilance have been increasing recently.
When I got there and realized that no one else was coming, I almost left disappointed. I really needed to talk out what transpired over the past week. When the doc expressed a desire to talk with me relieved, I was really relieved. So I went over everything that happened. He grew very serious and we discussed two topics.
Needless to day, it was a productive session. It has helped me to put what happened into proper perspective and helped me identify an underlying issue that causes my PTSD to have such a deleterious effect on my health and life.
My therapist's major concern is the increasing intensity of my nightmares, my inability to fall asleep easily, and my hair-trigger temper at work. She asked me how much physical activity I am getting outside of work. I told her that I don't really get much. She said that I needed to find a way to work exercise into my week. She said that I didn't need to go all out every day of the week. She said to start small - one or two times per week. Her concern is that only talking and thinking about things doesn't help to drain off the energy I build up over the course of a day. When the physical doesn't have an adequate outlet, it can have a very detrimental effect on the mind. So I promised her that I would talk to my wife about making sure that I have the time to exercise at least twice a week without distractions.
So there you have it. I have a few new things to consider and act on. It gives me a sense of direction, of purpose. I don't feel like I am just reacting to my PTSD right now, which is a pleasant change. We'll see how it goes over the coming weeks and months as I work on these new tasks.
I experienced a new level of nightmare on the night before Thanksgiving. The smells and sounds were always there, but these new recollections/flashbacks now include the fear, anger, horror, and disbelief that I experienced in the moment. The end result: I fell asleep on the couch at the in-laws and had nightmares. My daughter was the one who startled me awake. I became aware of what I had done when I looked over and saw her kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room and the looks or horror on everyone's faces. My startle reflexes had caused me to scare the bejesus out of my daughter.
Needless to say, for my sanity and safety and that of my daughter's, my wife and daughter have been sleeping at her parents' house so that, God Forbid, I don't actually hurt her. She was scared by my startle response, but unhurt. She's over it but I can't forgive myself. It is my worst fear - hurting my daughter.
I was at work yesterday and had a breakdown. I effectively hadn't slept since Friday night. My father took me to the VA and they are putting me back on Trazadone. The doc said that it would keep me from being physically able to act on any startle response.
I needed someone to talk to about what had happened that wasn't emotionally invested in a positive outcome. So, naturally, I talked to Rod Deaton. Rod may be a doctor at the VA and I may be a veteran with PTSD, but we are friends and do not share a doctor patient relationship. What is great about having someone so knowledgeable to turn to in situations like these is that he can stay calm and talk me down from my figurative ledge.
Talking to him last night definitely did that. He made me remember that I am a good and honorable man. That, in and of itself, would ensure that there wasn't a repeat of what happened on Thanksgiving. Additionally, he made me realize that my I was allowing me fears to blow what had happened out of proportion. I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. When I get into situations like this past week, I verbalize my irrational fears to those I love, causing them to worry excessively. I force them to think the worst.
It's form of self-flagellation. On some level I have been punishing myself continually since my daughter was born. I think about all of the worst-case outcomes to my behavior and believe myself capable of making those outcomes a reality. It's self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been hamstringing myself like this ever since my daughter was born. It all stems from irrational fears of losing my family, my daughter.
I won't go into all of the details but my conversation with Rod last night led me to make some incredibly substantial realizations about myself:
So what's the end-result of the mess of a week? Blessings dressed in wolf's clothing...
So it has been a traumatizing and productive week all at the same time. I am still exhausted and have to work at not being too hard on myself, but my wife and daughter deserve to enjoy the man I am - not the man I was afraid I could become.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.