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.
During this past week, one of the appointments I attended was with my prescribing psychiatrist at the VA. We were concerned that the VA's mandate to lower all Citalopram HBR users' prescription to 40mg from higher doses would have a deleterious effect on me. What they discovered is that the arbitrary reduction in dosage caused many guys to experience a significant amount of emotional instability that manifested as bi-polar tendencies. The doc said I do not have Bi-Polar disorder but stated I needed something to specifically fight the depression that seemed to be winning out.
As a result of this, 100mg of Wellbutrin was added to my cocktail. I won't lie. I was really skeptical at first. It's been four days and I can honestly say that there has been a noticeable difference in my behavior. I was out all day with the family yesterday. Here's what I did yesterday:
Yeah...couldn't have done all that in one day a week ago. It wasn't that I didn't feel the anxiety and that I didn't have the urge to go hide in my hole. Not at all. The depression that made me infinitely more likely to lose the battle has been buffered a little already. It is a nice feeling. Granted, it was a lot of effort and I was exhausted by the time the day was over, but it was worth every moment.
The rest of today and, most likely the weekend, is mine to relax now. I am going with mama bear and cub down to her parents' house. We are going to go swimming and my fish, I mean daughter, will have a blast. I am going to bring down my rug-hooking kit and get some of that done as well. Then tomorrow is all mine. I am going to write my novel a large portion of the day. Have a great weekend everyone! I pland
Last night, I snapped at my wife again. I lost my temper with my parents. In other words, I have been an insufferable ass. I knew what was happening and felt powerless to stop the train wreck. I didn't know what was causing these outbursts of anger. Well, last night for the 10th straight night, I woke up to the smell of blood and the screams and moans of the wounded and dying. You heard that right - TEN FUCKING STRAIGHT NIGHTS.
The power of hindsight made me realize how close I came to destroying my family again. Here's the scenario:
The Weeping Buddha - A corner of it was barely visible under the crap that had collected on top of it that we had put there to keep out of my daughter's ever expanding reach. I pulled it out, I wiped off the dust and sat and stared at it for over an hour. I returned to bed with a level of spiritual serenity I haven't felt in ages.
Once again, I had dodged a very dangerous bullet. You never think you could become one of those 'weak junkies' addicted to pain killers or other prescription drugs. I now know how insidious and dangerous that particular addiction can be. Something at a deep and personal level told me something was vitally and dangerously wrong. It took seeing my Weeping Buddha again and meditating about my loss, about the sorrow I feel that allowed me to put the pain back into some semblance of proper perspective.
Yes I still smell and taste blood every day. It's not my imagination. My nose is still healing from the invasive surgery. It will heal, though. I just have to make it through the physical healing process and keep my grief in a healthy perspective. I just have to remind myself of the incredible strength of the Weeping Buddha. His incredible countenance and the stories whispered in hushed tones about the warlord who was the motivation for the carving have had a profound effect on my life. Back when I got this statue, the information about the Weeping Buddha was much less commonplace than it is now. I encourage you all to take that particular journey and learn about this amazing statue. I hope it resonates as strongly with you as it has with me for over six years.
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!
I was talking with Rod Deaton on Friday and we had a very constructive chat. He mentioned to me an idea he wanted me to consider. As he was telling me about it, I recalled that he had mentioned this very idea to me the last time we talked. For a second I grew frustrated and then it hit me - I had heard him last time, but it didn't register on a deeper level. This time around, as his words rolled over me, I felt light-headed. I had to sit down on the bed. What he asked me to consider was that my incredible intensity that had kept me alive was also a major part of the problem I was having right now. As he described what he meant, I felt his words resonate with me, down to the core. I felt like a bell that had been rung too hard. My nerves in my skin felt like they were crawling. Rod, in a few carefully chosen phrases and words, had gotten to the very heart of matters. I am still working through the things that we talked about but it explains a lot. I ask that you all read his latest blog entry and think about what he says very carefully. I am going to take the night to sit back and reflect. Who knows. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to flesh out the frame that Rod Deaton has so thoughtfully put down in words:
Rod Deaton's Blog Entry: Combat Vet Seeking Outlet, References Available upon Request
Sorry to everyone for leaving in a flash this morning. I needed to collect myself and work through some things. I had an appointment today at the VA and I thought a lot about what I am going through right now. Talking with the docs, one thing has become abundantly clear, the clinical depression has evolved. Co-morbidity is a bitch. What the docs have evaluated in my behavior now indicates I have substantial bi-polar tendencies that are screwing with my sense of stability.
That would definitely explain the short bursts of motivation (manic behavior) followed by long periods of lethargy, apathy, and emotional withdrawal. So I will be spending the rest of the day thinking this all through and trying to come up with a plan to work through all of this with my wife. Signing off for now. Knowing what you are facing makes you fell less helpless. At least I have that.
Talking with my wife last night I came to the realization that I have been talking a good game. I am the heaviest I have ever been. I have little to no motivation to do anything that is not sedentary. Ugh. What a gut check. I have to do something about this. I need to figure out how to put my money where my mouth is. I forced myself to admit that I hate the guy looking back at me in the mirror. I don't recognize me. I'm fat, I'm lazy, I'm the guy that finds an excuse for everything - all of the things I find repulsive.
So what to I do about it? How? It's amazing how eroded self-confidence can destroy a person. I used to be confident that my body would be able to handle whatever was thrown at it. Then I end up in the hospital, allergies out of control. I realized that I felt betrayed...by my own body. The allergies played right into my PTSD. Because I am allergic to every damn thing in the air I breathe outdoors, I now view going outside as subjecting myself to a life-threatening environment. Even leaving the apartment has become close to impossible unless it is absolutely necessary.
You know what the worst part is? I am completely aware of the train wreck I have become. I saw it all happening and felt powerless to do anything about it. I have, once again, come full circle. My PTSD is again dictating how I live my life. Yup. Definitely a gut check. I hate feeling helpless, powerless. Yet, here I sit, on my duff while my wife takes my daughter for a walk. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Time to stop talking about making changes, time to start doing. My wife and I purchased a bike seat for my daughter because my wife knows how pointless I find walking. The problem is that we don't have room to store the bikes where we live. Gah! Are you fucking kidding me? I'm already trying to talk myself out of it. I have got to sign off.
For the past few days, I haven't felt like doing much. About four days ago I had gotten some time of intestinal bug and had been miserable. For the days following I continued to feel fatigued and slept a lot during the day. My wife kept on asking if I felt OK, if I was still sick. I told her that I was just tired, like I couldn't shake the fatigue. I don't know when I realized it was depression. I think it was some time yesterday. I really can't put a finger on the moment I became truly aware. I just know it made me really annoyed with myself.
When I woke up this morning, I realized that even though I was aware of feeling depressed, I didn't seem to be able to shake the feeling. Once again, I had been blindsided by it. I didn't write a blog post yesterday. It wasn't because I didn't have the time. I felt so demotivated. I had a scheduled meeting with a local veterans advocate and I almost didn't get out of bed in time to make it to the meeting. Yeah. That's the kind of day yesterday was. I don't want today to be a repeat of that.
I am so annoyed with myself. How could I not realize it was the depression? I kept the blinds shut in the living room. I sat in the dark and stewed while I watched meaningless crap on Netflix. How many more clues does a guy need? I missed out on opportunities to play with my daughter in the park because I was caught up in my own bullshit. Well, not today. I refuse to let this happen again. I want to see my daughter laugh and play outside. It's such a joy to watch.
*sigh* As I sit here trying to type this, I feel the anxiety building. Anxiety about what, I have no idea. Great. Wonderful. It's like my body is trying to hold me hostage. Not today. Yeah, that's my new mantra. Whenever my PTSD tries to take over my life I am going to say, "NOT TODAY". I just need to stop worrying about what could happen in the future or what already happened in the past. One you can't control and the other is already history. That leaves the one day I can control the outcome of: today. I plan on making the most of it.
Every so often, you just need some down time. I have been busy with the family and with medical issues and everything else for a while now. Today is just for me. Dani is taking a day for herself as well. She is taking Caley down to her parents' and is spending time down there quilting with her mother. As for me, well...
I haven't decided what I am doing today. I just know it won't involve actually doing much of anything. I am looking forward to sitting out on the porch for a little bit here and there, reading. Spending some quality time with my Xbox 360 may also be in order. I am not sure yet. I just know that today is a day to unwind and reflect on all that has happened over the last few weeks and months. I went back and read a lot of the posts from when I first started blogging again. They were pretty desperate and dark. I feel like I am in a better place now and not only for myself and my family.
There is going to be a lot happening in the ensuing months. I am getting more heavily involved in local veteran affairs and advocacy. I am excited about where that could lead, but I don't want to get my hopes up unrealistically. There are a lot of opportunities to improve the lives of veterans in my area (as I am sure there are everywhere) and I have some plans in the works to take advantage of those opportunities. I will probably spend a portion of the day mulling over my ideas and setting them down on paper, writing up a business model to envelope the ideas bouncing around in my head.
Regardless, I stay aware of where I have come from and what I need to continue to do to manage my PTSD. Some days are better than others and today's a good one. It's what I do on the days where things aren't so hot that will narrate my story in the coming years. I am tired of feeling angry and depressed and am working hard to fight the survivor's guilt. As the uncertainty of the future weighs more heavily on my shoulders, I look at my daughter to keep my focus. In the meantime, I will revel in doing whatever I please for a day.
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.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.