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?
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.
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...
Yesterday I found out that the place that they had the largest burn pit in Iraq, LSA Anaconda, was also known at Balad Air Field when I was there. No one I was attached to ever called it LSA Anaconda. I think that may have been a convention that came later. Why does this matter? I was there for the last three weeks before I left Iraq. This really freaked me out yesterday. For those who may not know, I was hospitalized for pulmonary issues about a month ago. My issues: reactive airway disease, early stage COPD, suspected Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Diseases attributed to burn pits: hypersensitivity pneumonitis (very similar to reactive airway disease), COPD, and Obstructive Sleep Apnea...
I went into instant freak out mode. I looked at the list of cancers attributable to burn pit exposure and it instantly crossed my mind: What if I have one of those? I need to go to the doctor. I'm dying!!
I snapped myself out of the last sentiment, but I still can't shake this overwhelming feeling of dread. What if? What if? What if? Gah! Get out of my head! I was up until almost 0400, unable to close my eyes because I couldn't get my mind to shut this line of thought down.
I have that webinar focus group today. I hope I can get this anxiety under control. I feel like I am going to crawl out of my skin. It is so frustrating - every time I feel like I am making headway and getting the PTSD under control, something comes along and messes with me. See what I mean? Catastrophic thinking at it again. At least I recognize it for what it is. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.
I woke up this morning and realized that I woke up happy. It felt empty. Like a consolation prize. I don't know if I can adequately describe the feeling. I really am happy today. Truly happy. It just feels hollow, like the happiness is a veneer, a facade. Is it? I don't think so. I feel like just being happy isn't enough. I'm not satisfied with just happy. I need my life to have meaning and purpose. While I have found meaning and purpose blogging and administering to my website, I didn't realize how much I missed doing 'good works'.
I am going to do a lot of thinking on this. I had thought, before the PTSD, that I was going to lead a life of service to my country. I need to find a way to incorporate serving others back into my life. When I am living a life of service to others, I feel more than just happy, I feel...full. I desperately need to feel that way again. It's different that the amazing feelings I get when I look at my daughter. I think part of why I feel this way is I want to be my daughter's hero, for a reason other than I'm her daddy.
I think I am going to explore this. Maybe there is more that I can do around the community. Maybe there is a need that isn't being met that I can fill. I don't know. I need to talk to my wife about this and see what she thinks.
I wish everyone a Happy Easter. I hope everyone enjoys time with family. I know I will.
I have a major problem. I have not been able to quiet my mind and get a quality night of sleep for weeks now. I have so many ideas and thoughts and issues I am trying to work through bouncing around my head it's giving me a chronic headache. I need to slow everything down. I am going to try to create a place at home for meditation and relaxation. The recommendation was made to me that I explore the idea of 'just being' for a little and not thinking. This presented an interesting challenge to me. I think this idea scares me more than I care to admit. To slow down my thoughts and to 'just be' would invite memories and destructive thoughts to visit.
Well, today I am facing that fear. My wife is taking our daughter down to her parents for a while and I plan on using some of that time to 'just be'. I don't know if I know how to clear my head of thought, but I am going to try. I think that the greatest lessons in life are the ones taught to us when we aren't paying attention. Introspection or 'soul searching' have always played a key role in informing me about my PTSD and how it impacts my life.
I think a good portion of the emotional detachment that my wife experiences from me is attributable to not being able to get my mind to shut up long enough for my day to day life to register in a meaningful way. I plan on talking to my wife about making time once a week for me to focus my mind. Before I was in the military I had the uncanny ability to focus on a single problem or idea and explore it meaningfully from all angles. It made me VERY good at chemistry and drafting. Maybe I just need to find something that will appeal to my affinity for spatial relations. Building models. Wow. Where did that thought come from. Time to search online for local hobby shops. I think that's what I am going to do to focus my mind and clear it of all the other junk. Time to build a model.
I know, a shocker, right? Well, the last 24 Hours taught me a thing or two. In the middle of the afternoon yesterday, I started having some chest congestion. I didn't think anything of it. My allergies had given me post nasal drip the day before. It was only logical that some of that would be working its way out. By dinner, I could barely breathe - every breath was labored. I thought, 'just an anxiety attack - it'll pass'. Next thing I know, I'm delirious and on my to the emergency room. The immediate assessment - Reactive Airway Disease...A generalized term that covers all respiratory maladies from bronchitis to COPD. I am sitting here typing this on the hospital bed, thinking about the fact that the doctors are steering away from making a prognosis - that is never a good sign.
When you get a potentially life-threatening physical malady like whatever the hell I have, it makes you take stock of the things that have happened recently in your life: What I realized is that I had been living my life 'in spite of' my PTSD. My life decisions were always made around how my PTSD would handle it - putting the PTSD squarely in my central focus. The outcome: stressing myself out about everything, striving to keep my PTSD under control. The stress levels got so high that I started shutting out my family from how I was feeling. Now you pile all of this stress and worry on top of all that and what do you have? Epiphany.
Epiphany. The realization that stressing out how I was going to react to any given situation based on my past experiences was like creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of my worst nightmares with my PTSD were coming true because I walked on eggshells around my PTSD. NO MORE!
-My PTSD no longer controls my strings: If my PTSD has caused me issue in that situation before, it will be duly noted but my fear of my PTSD will not stop me from putting myself out there.
-If life has more unwelcome surprises in store for me I will not spend my precious family time wrapped up in an acronym.
-This health scare has galvanized my will to fight - to be the man I know I am. I will openly recognize my limitations, communicate these limitations to my VA docs, and move forward, confident that the choices I make are the best for my long-term well-being.
I have the energy and emotional fortitude to get one thing right in all of this: ME. If I can figure me out, well...That's all I need to do to be the husband my wife deserves and the father my daughter needs.
Ok, so I am a little more stressed than I let on to family. I have been having a lot of problems with my jaw due to my bite. I consult with surgeons today to find out whether I need to have surgery to fix my bite today. Catastrophic thinking really got a hold on me last night and I had difficulty sleeping. What if the surgery is needed and I am out of work for too long and have to go on short-term disability? Will I be able to meet my financial obligations? What happens to us if I can't? And so on and so forth. It was not the most fun night I have had in a while and I didn't realize that I needed to take an extra dose of anxiety medication to help my brain shut down. Hopefully, if the surgery is necessary, the doctors will be able to put my mind at ease about it. Stay Tuned.
OK, so we moved at the end of May. The new apartments is light years better than the old place, it's less expensive, etc. I thought it would make everything settle down and put my PTSD back in its usual holding pattern...Boy Was I Wrong. Here's what ended up happening:
On the surface, everything was better about the move. We didn't have to worry about leaking foundations, clogged and ancient plumbing, mold and mildew problems, lack of A/C, in absentia landlords, etc. All of those stressors were gone. It should have meant smoother sailing. I wracked my brain trying to find out what environmental factor was different that could possibly mean more stress than all of the now absent stressors of the old place. Was it a perceived lack of privacy because we are sharing walls again? No. Our neighbors are great and everyone respects everyone else's space. Was it the gun club next door? No. I know the sound of a shotgun being fired and it is part of the background noise here. It doesn't stress me out. It sounds nothing like rifles firing. Was I bringing stress home from work? No. I was loving my job and looked forward to the challenges I faced there every day. And then it hit me.
I was dealing with sensory overload. The one factor that had changed from the old place to the new was the elimination of a physical location for my PTSD 'Fallout Shelter'. I no longer had a man-cave. I didn't realize how significant the effects of losing it would be until I thought about what I gained from it. Whenever I needed to get away from sensory overload, I went down into the basement and simplified things. I would use gaming as my focal point for cutting out all of the chatter. Now, as much as I love the new place, I don't have that. The place I try to get away from everything is right in the middle of the apartment. It doesn't allow me to get away from anything for even a millisecond. THAT's what was causing all of this stress. Finally recognizing this is a good thing, but now I need to find a way to shut out all of the chatter without having a physical location to do so. I will talk to Dani about this issue and see what we can come up with.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.