I have written and erased this post more times than I can count in the past week. It was a tumultuous week for me. I was talking with my therapist about the timing of when I felt I started losing control over my anger and about the thought pattern - I don't know what's coming next, but whatever it is can't be good. After thinking about it, I started to lose control and emotionally withdraw right after my daughter was born. I said it so nonchalantly. We concluded our session and my therapist left.
About ten minutes after she left, it hit my like a ton of bricks. Holy shit, my daughter's birth is the root of all of this. As I thought about it more, I realized that this was the first time in my experience that intense POSITIVE EMOTION triggered my PTSD. That realization turned everything on it's head. So let's explore what I mean in more depth:
Finally realizing this has given me some element of power over it and control over my fears. It has been and exhausting journey, but I am hopeful that things will improve as I move forward. It's hard to cope with fears when you aren't aware of what they are. For the first time, I feel like I have a little better control over my anger again. Here's to hoping that things continue to get better.
To My Wonderful Daughter Caley: When you are older and you discover this blog, I want you to know I love you more than words could ever hope to express. Don't ever, even for a second, think that this was your fault. Know that it is the intensity of my feelings for you that make this healing possible. I love you widget, don't ever forget it.
So here I sit. It's 1:30AM and I am typing this on the computer, obsessing about this storm that's coming. I have this horrible gut feeling that it's going to be worse than they think. I can't shake it. We live in eastern PA, 30 minutes from the New Jersey border. According to the National Weather Service, we are smack dab in the center of the cone of possibility. The projected path puts us squarely in the cross-hairs to get the full force of the storm.
Enter serious anxiety. I was at work all day so distracted I could barely think straight. Do we have everything we need? What about a fully stocked first aid kit? What about enough water? Batteries? Emergency evac routes? If it gets really bad, what about potential looters? Could this traumatize my daughter? She's only two years old. What about our apartment? We have a lot of windows...
I could keep on going, but you get the idea. The adrenalin is pumping and I am going into all go survival mode and I am scared shitless that entering into that mode (which my wife has only seen glimpses of) is going to do more to scare my family than the storm will. My heart is pounding right now and I feel the blood pulsing through my hands as I try to type this. I have to get up in five hours for work and I doubt I will go to sleep.
So where do I go from here? I am standing on the precipice. The air at work was charged with a certain energy...Does fear have a smell? I am trying to talk myself down, but the adrenalin keeps getting in the way. My hands won't stop shaking but I have to try to get some sleep. I know I am not the only one out there losing sleep over this, but the waves of my adrenalin are isolating me in ways flooding waters never could.
What a long week. I keep on trying to find the time to write this post and others, but life intervenes. What is frustrating is that I always feel better after I get out my thoughts in this blog, yet right now there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day. *sigh*
Anyways, this past CPT session was pretty stressful. One of the guys brought the kid of a friend to group. The kid was in his early to mid 20's (wow - I just called someone in their 20's a kid. Must be getting older...). He was shot in the shoulder over in Iraq by a sniper. He was ghost white from the pain and the pain meds. His PTSD was deep and very severe.
And it felt like I was looking at a shadow of myself before I got help, when I first got home from overseas. His life was in shambles and he was pushing everyone in his life that cared about him away but you could tell he was desperate for the loving touch of the ones who loved him. He was a ball of jitters, anger, depression, catastrophic thinking, paranoia and guilt. It was hard to look at, hard to watch. I wanted to reach out to him and let him know that he was going to be OK. The state he was in, he wouldn't have believed a word I said, even if I said the sky was blue. He had insomnia, partially from the pain of his injury and partially from his wounded soul.
I didn't have the physical injury, but the rest...well, I don't like to think about the shriveled husk of a man that I was before I got help for my PTSD.
Here's the good part, the part that gives me hope: Every guy in group, no matter how bad their situation was, reached out to that young man with compassion and knowing love and support. We all told him he had a place with us if he needed it. The common bond of traumatic experience brought us all closer in that one moment. I think is was a benchmark moment for all of us in group. I don't know why, but something about that moment changed the dynamic in group and changed it for the better.
A lot more happened in group in addition to this. It was an eventful session. But that is a tale for another post. Off to hug my daughter now.
It's my first day off and I'm exhausted. I had nightmares last night and I didn't sleep well as a result, I am out of it today. It's not what I needed on today of all days. I have a meeting with the Director of the Baker Institute and the Chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee from the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council (LVMAC). We are going to be discussing local veterans' issues, particularly what we can do to create opportunities for veterans in my home town in the Lehigh Valley, PA. I know that veterans can be the backbone of economic growth and development. They just need the right tools to make it happen. That's what this meeting is going to be addressing. I was hoping that I would have more specific information to bring to the table, but the established programs that are out there already know how to navigate the bureaucracy that is the SBA. I explored their website and felt completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information and options available.
With the lack of sleep, things aren't feeling any easier. I have been excited about all of this for a long time and now I just feel like I am a fish out of water. Who the hell am I to try to organize this? I wish I could just hide in my hole today. I really do.
That's all later today. The rest of the day belongs to family. I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with the little one and momma bear. I know I am a little distracted because of the particular clarity of last night's nightmares, but I promised myself I wouldn't let my life return to the shambles it was before. Time to go be a participant in my own life. Off to the park.
So tomorrow's the big day. Almost four months after my entire life imploded, I am headed back to work and nervous as a school boy on his first date. I have all of these useless negative thoughts bouncing around in my head and driving me crazy. What if people think I'm nuts? What if everybody knows? What if people don't respect me anymore? What if people treat me differently because they think I'm fragile or broken? Is it possible to come back to the same department and not feel weird? Does my boss still respect me? Will he still trust me to lead and manage after all that has happened? What happens if it is weird? What happens if I can't hack it? What happens if I freak out and have an anxiety attack? What happens if...
Yeah. Anxiety and catastrophic thinking are doing their best to work me over and it's hard not to let them. I have been very good about getting outside and exercising lately and that seems to help keep me in a more stable mood, but the weather outside is oppressive today. I think I need to find ways to distract myself and just get through the day as quickly and uneventfully as possible. I have a lot of love and support from friends and family and it has made it substantially easier to get back on my feet. I am looking forward to just doing my job and coming home at the end of every day. No frills, no crazy workaholism. Just go to work, work hard, and come home to spend my time with the people that matter the most to me: My Family.
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!
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.
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.