Well, my last CPT session went really well. I was talking about how I had gone into a funk over the holidays and how I was trying to eliminate stressors from my life. It was an interesting conversation. We talked about how my lack of regular schedule at work was keeping me from being able to get into a routine. Routines are important to me. When I have a consistent schedule, I am able to get to the gym and workout. When I am able to work out consistently, I feel better and look better. I expressed how frustrated I was that I couldn't seem to find a way to get myself on a routine. What I realized is that having a job in retail doesn't exactly lend itself to maintaining a low stress lifestyle.
I was all down on myself and one of the guys from group and pointed out to the doc and me how much progress I have made. I thought. What Progress!?! He went on to explain that when I first came to group, I was a hot mess. All of the problems I had been trying to find solutions for were intangibles - worst case scenarios, even though they had little chance of ever occurring. I stressed out about all of the things that were out of my control. What he told me was that I need to keep a proper perspective. What he sees is a guy that is focused on addressing tangible problems that will lead to an improved quality of life.
It goes to show you how incredibly important objective validation can mean to a vet with PTSD. The progress I have made was so gradual that I didn't notice any change in my perspective or any changes in the way that I address problems. I really couldn't see the forest for the trees. My perseverance has paid off, yet I was still the last one to know!
It truly floored me. I sat back and absorbed it for the remainder of group and felt something I hadn't dared feel in a really long time: hope. If I persevere, stay the course, can I really make a more fulfilling and happy life for myself and my family? Maybe I can. Maybe I can.
As always, the post-holiday funk lasted longer than I expected it to. I have been trying for over a week to write something meaningful for my blog, but have been dissatisfied with what I had written and deleted a total of seven drafts before finally figuring out what was bothering me so much.
I was depressed, severely. I had no idea why and it was frustrating as all hell to find a way to articulate why being depressed made me feel annoyed and angry with myself. After all, the rest of the holiday season went pretty smoothly. I didn't have any major issues with my PTSD. I didn't have any anger issues with family. I really enjoyed my time that I did get to spend with family, despite my standing desire to avoid large family gatherings out of fear of my PTSD getting the better of me in those situations. I refused to let my fear of the PTSD keep me from enjoying the company of family I don't get to see very often.
So, imagine my surprise when I woke up on January Second, depressed as all hell and fighting the urge to hide in a deep, dark hole for the better part of the month. Why the hell am I still depressed? It doesn't make any sense. Why would I be depressed when everything went so well?
It took me until tonight to finally put two and two together. It was the release of pent up stress from working in a store that experiences extremely high customer traffic. Having to contend with large crowds, disgruntled and stressed co-workers, demanding customers, and substantially less sleep ratcheted up my stress level substantially. It was the release of this pent up stress that triggered the depression.
So now, I have to claw my way back out of this funk so that I can focus on all of the things that matter to me most: Family and Family. I am thinking that the break from blogging, while necessary, deprived me of an essential release valve for my stress.
I have my first individual and group therapy sessions of the year tomorrow and I am really looking forward to getting back into that groove as well. Maybe other reasons will present themselves during therapy. I am certainly hoping that I can make a breakthrough tomorrow. This depression is sucking the motivation out of me faster than I can recharge my batteries.
Am I the only one experiencing this? I doubt it. It would be very helpful to hear from you all on this matter.
When this first happened, I wanted to write something immediately. I felt compelled to write from the heart on this, but I waited. This incident devastated too many lives to be written off the cuff. I decided to look into some background information so substantiate my views and in the course of doing that research became more and more disturbed, more and more concerned for the direction our country is headed. So, here goes.
The proliferation of firearms in the United States has reached critical mass. Industry lobbyists in Washington have worked tirelessly to pave the way for almost anyone to be able to purchase and own firearms. While I believe in the Second Amendment, I think it's time we actually looked at what the Second Amendment actually says.
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Well, this seems pretty damn black and white to me. 'If this criteria is met, then this holds true'. Is the United States general public now considered a 'well regulated militia'? Is owning an automatic rifle 'necessary to the security of a free state'? Unequivocally, NO. We have local police, state police, the National Guard, and more. There is absolutely no reason for assault rifles to be available to the general public.
Before any NRA sycophants get on here and rant, you better think carefully about what you say. I fought to protect the ideals of this country, so don't you dare impugn my intentions. You want to argue your 'right to bear arms'? Last time I checked, this right is an AMENDMENT. First and foremost we have a duty to uphold the core tenants of the Constitution. Let's visit the core tenant of that wonderful document:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness."
It is not a coincidence that Life takes the spot as highest in precedence. When others' rights to bear arms encroaches on another citizen's right to live a life in pursuit of these three basic tenants, I draw the line. No parents should have to live in fear of sending their children to school. They shouldn't have to fear a phone call telling them that their six year old was murdered in cold blood by an assault rifle toting psychopath.
I thought deeply about the philosophy that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people.' While semantically true, this is a delusional rationalization. Yes, guns don't kill people. Someone has to pull the trigger and we, as a society, have made that insanely easy to accomplish. It's time that we held ourselves to a higher standard.
Special Interests and Politics:
While the above incident is horrible, it is a symptom of a deeper malady - a cancer that has spread insidiously into every facet of National Governance. Special Interests, working to promote specific agendas have taken our political system hostage. Special interest groups have taken over policy making so completely in Washington that the average politician can't get elected without taking money from these groups and offering policy reciprocity in return. We supposedly elect these politicians to office out of a belief that they will do what is best for their constituencies. Now, campaign platforms are empty words designed to keep power-hungry 'public servants' in office. Special interest groups are the ones that facilitate this. Their money buys influence and power in Washington, drowning out the voices of the average American who doesn't have millions of dollars to throw at corrupt politicians. The firearm special interests and the NRA both tout deep and abiding beliefs in God. Unless God is now synonymous the almighty dollar, these folks and the politicians that support them are the most profound of hypocrites. Last time I checked, avarice was one of the seven deadly sins. The firearm industry and their cadre of bought policy-makers have sold the lives of our children out of a desire for more money and more power. So I say this to those policy-makers and lobbyists - HOW DARE YOU.
It's time that we take back our power from these elitists. I didn't go to war to protect and uphold the Constitution of the Unites States just to watch it be slowly subverted to fit the greed and need of a select few.
Ultimately, it is these lobbyists and policy-makers that have supported lax firearms policies that I hold accountable for what happened in Connecticut. If I had my way, they'd all be brought up on charges of Negligent Homicide. Take what you will from this, but my stance will never change. Policy-makers are given their power by us. We can just as easily take it away. It's time they start advocating for us and not the special interests.
Mental Health Care in the United States:
Since I was diagnosed with PTSD, I have taken a keen interest in the state of the mental health care system in our country. Bluntly, it's embarrassing. So little education is out there about mental illness, mental disorders that those with these issues are viewed by many as second-class citizens at best and a danger to the general public at worst.
News Flash: My name isn't Rambo. I will not go on a murderous killing spree because of the horrific things I witnessed in a Combat Zone.
PTSD, Depression, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia. People hear these words and become fearful. Thousands and thousands of people never come forward for treatment out of fear of being shunned by a society that holds no place for them. Whatever happened to compassion for our fellow man? Not surprisingly, those sufferers with the most understanding families that actively support their treatment, that show them unconditional love are substantially more successful in mitigating the effects of their illness/disorder on their lives. It's time that we, as a nation, worry more about others again. Where is our heart? Our nationalism? Our pride in what it means to be truly American? Since when did ignoring or marginalizing a portion of our population become acceptable?
The only way to fix this is to get rid of the vast bureaucracy that overshadows our efforts to provide for our citizens with mental illnesses and disorders. In the case of Veterans, the system is so cumbersome that they have to file with one organization (the VBA) in order to be provided with free health care from the other (VA Medical). It takes days, months, and sometimes years to get the help we need. And the first solution given by most psychiatrists? Medication.
There's another special interest that disgusts me. Pharmaceutical Companies. The FDA approves these drugs when the side-effects are worse than the malady they are addressing. I saw an add for Cymbalta on the TV in the work break room the other day. The first 15 seconds were about what it addressed: Depression. The last 45 seconds addressed all of the possible side-effects. By the end of the ad, I couldn't even remember what the hell the drug was for until they flashed the name back up on the screen.
Do you know what has been most helpful to me in coping with my PTSD? The compassion of others and finding therapists that help me learn to identify and cope with my symptoms. It took me EIGHT YEARS to finally find this kind of help. And I'm one of the lucky ones with a supportive and loving family.
So, have I gotten your attention yet? Please don't let this issue pass you by. I hope to hear from everyone on this issue, for and against the view I have presented. Discourse is the only way we can get to where we need to be. It's a topic of discussion that hasn't been addressed in way too long. Let's find our hearts again. Let's work to hold our public officials to a higher standard. And for Pete's Sake, get these weapons out of the hands of the general public.
This question was a serious gut check this past weekend. After my last blog post where I explained my struggle to stay motivated to get healthy, I talked with my mom about it. She said that one of the things she has always loved about me is my gentleness. I only become a fighter when absolutely necessary. While I don't entirely agree with her assessment, it did turn a different light on:
I can fight for a cause. I can fight for my loved ones. I will fight for ideals worth fighting for. But me? Am I worth fighting for?
Yeah...as is said, gut check. I realized immediately that survivor's guilt had a big role to play in this story. The guilt eroded my self-confidence and self-esteem. I have a very low opinion of my self-worth. On top of that, I have stumbled and fallen down a lot as I learn to effectively cope with my PTSD. I think that I am afraid to even try most of the time because I am afraid of failing again. My lack of confidence turn this fear into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So how do I get past this? How does a person learn how to value himself again? I should have a better opinion of myself. The PTSD has tried very hard to destroy my life and my family. Yet, I have persevered and held it all together. What I realized is that I thought THEY were worth fighting for despite my inability to fight for me.
What a mess. I literally hate the image I see when I look in the mirror and I wonder how much of that hatred stems from my guilt for having come home from Iraq when other I knew didn't. Am I punishing myself? Is that what's going on here? I don't know. I do intend to figure it out. This may take more hand-holding than I thought, though. The only way a person can truly improve their self-image is by having their worth validated regularly by those who love and care for him.
I don't want empty compliments and platitudes. I need the people that love me to demonstrate to me why I am a good person. Maybe I should talk to my parents, my sister, my wife, and others about having them write letters to me. The idea would be explaining to me why they love me. What they love about me. That way, on a down day, I could pull out the letters and remind myself of how my family views me each and every day. Hmm...
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.
I have another big week ahead. I am applying for another position at work that will significantly reduce my daily exposure to mold. You'd think I would be excited about the prospect. Instead, I am stressed that I won't be the best candidate. I am afraid that they won't pick me. I am pissed that I have to do this in the first place. I have the best, most supportive manager in the world and I feel like I am letting him down because my body won't behave.
Here's the weird thing. I have begun to realize that I have, in the past, wallowed in these emotions, draining all of my energy before I even get home from work. Stress, fear, and anger have been my on-again, off-again companion ever since I got home from overseas. There's a pattern of behavior in all of this that I don't know how to articulate and it is annoying me to no end.
Simplifying does seem to be helping to reduce the effects of these three, but not fast enough. Getting stressed about this coming week is making me more stressed. Snowball effect sucks. I am glad that I have CPT group this week. Bouncing my thoughts and frustrations off the guys in group does seem to help, even if only a little.
Breathe, Crazy! You have off tomorrow. Sit down, read, play with your daughter and forget you have a week of upheaval ahead.
A while back I wrote a post called It's Not Her Fault. To this day it is still one of the most talked about posts I have made. It resonated with a lot of people. Yet despite all of this, I seem to be forgetting a lot of these pearls of wisdom myself.
I need to focus more on making sure my wife knows I love her, no matter how horrible I am feeling. I need to make sure that my daughter understands that daddy always loves her, even when it is hard for him to show it.
Life doesn't pause to let you catch your breath. There is always something happening that will have the potential to change your life. I know this, but I can't seem to beat it into my thick skull. I have started down the path I was treading before - getting revved up for work, making it through the day, and then gassing out when I get home. I can't live like this and I won't.
My wife has said it very succinctly: Parents never get a day off. Yet with my PTSD not being under control right now, she is left caring for our daughter, more or less, alone. How can I expect to rebuild a strong relationship with my wife when I keep on letting her down, disappointing her?
I am a naturally driven person. Driven to succeed, driven to be the best husband and father in the world, driven to be the best employee, manager, and leader...Whatever I set my mind to, I am driven to be the best at it. Needless to say, this has caused me no end to stress and anxiety in recent years. I don't have the energy to be everything to everyone else and to myself. I invariably burn out and shut down, closing myself off from success at work and shutting out my family emotionally.
I can't accept this as normal, as the status quo. I am aware that I push myself too hard, but that is my nature, down to the very core of my identity since I was young. How do you change something that ingrained? This question continues to hound me as I encounter even more change in my life that is upsetting the fragile balance that always seems to be just out of reach...
I need to think about this some more. I am going to talk to my wife and spend time with my daughter. I would love to hear from any of you out there reading this, too. CPT is helping but if I don't get this underlying drive under control, I will only be able to get so far...
So, yeah. This past week really sucked. After the anniversary, I disappeared inside myself. I knew it was happening and felt powerless to stop it. But I am back and I return bearing a warning. Adults can handle emotional withdrawal - children can't. They think they did something wrong. Something so horrible that you are ignoring them. It is an easy road from guilt to hatred and resentment for a parent who is never accessible to you. Your child is informed on what it means to be a good husband and father by your actions. A male child will have that example. A female child will have that expectation.
As much as I am aware of this, I still fall victim to emotional withdrawal. I hate myself every day for it. That, of course, just makes it harder to get over and prolongs the agony. I see the confusion in my daughter's face and I see her withdrawing from me more and more...exactly what I worked so hard to overcome before. This has to stop. I am going to address this issue in CPT this Wednesday. Maybe the doc and the others in group will have some advice, for I am at a loss.
I had to go to work early this morning and I still had last night on my mind. I knew that today was going to be a day I just had to get through. And I did. I had to fight the depression, the lethargy. I knew that the changes that returning to work would bring had the potential to put a serious strain on my coping mechanisms.
I had been hoping to have the time to catch up on all that has changed at work. No such luck. The basic business strategy has changed and it is a challenge to keep everyone on point. I also have the challenge of learning to relate to everyone at work again. While most have forgotten what it is like to have me around, some seem to have forgotten that I was out of work at all. The learning curve has been intense.
I knew that the change of returning to work would be difficult. The anxiety and anger have been difficult to keep in check at times. When it gets tough, I think about my family. It helps tremendously. Spending time with my wife and daughter, blogging and advocating for local veterans help me remain positive and leave me feeling fulfilled. I don't know where I would be without my friends and family. I know for certain that I wouldn't be sitting here writing this.
So...Here's to Victory.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.