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.
i woke up this morning and looked around feeling very dissatisfied. I look in the mirror and all I see is a tired, overweight, man with circles under his eyes in the mirror. I don't even recognize myself. I think about all of the things I am working to improve and I feel like I haven't made any progress at all. My memory is shot...again. I feel like a pall of malaise is settling all too comfortably on my shoulders. I have been living like a hermit except when my wife forces me to leave the apartment. I haven't left by choice in weeks. Yup, I'm depressed again. Woo.
What makes this such a pain to deal with is that I know I am depressed but I don't have the energy or motivation to do anything about it. I am going to do what I can to fight it off, though. I am going to freshly shave my head and trim my facial hair back into a goatee (I currently look like a mountain man). I am going to have about a billion pots of coffee if that's what it takes to fight off the lethargy.
I want so much for my family but this PTSD and depression keeps on getting in my way. I feel hamstrung. I derive so much satisfaction from being an advocate for veterans with PTSD. I'm on short-term disability right now from my current employer but I don't even know what is going on there because of all of the health issues I have that are still currently up in the air, PTSD being just one of them. I feel like my life is put on hold and I can't make a decision on how to live it until I get some guidance from the VA, from the sleep specialists, from the allergist, and from the pulmonary specialists. I haven't had a cigarette since I was hospitalized in early March, but I want one so badly. Not only am I feeling depressed, I am feeling anxious too. Too much uncertainty and not enough direction. I hate feeling this way. I wish there was a way I could alleviate this feeling without drinking or turning to drugs (neither of which I would EVER do). If there was a viable alternative, I would try it in a heartbeat. But there isn't. So I continue to fight and struggle and shuffle my feet, hoping I'm headed in the right direction.
OK, so I am starting to wonder how much of me staying home is me hiding in my cave. There's a difference between staying home and spending quality time with my daughter and being sedentary. When a person isn't being active, it doesn't exactly improve his mood. My wife pointed out to me yesterday that I didn't seem to be doing much activity. Even when I was playing with our daughter, it was always when I was sitting down or laying on the floor, etc.
She's right. I'm being sedentary. Inactivity is making it hard to get active. So what did I do? I asked my mom to come over and watch Caley so that I could go do something active - go to the clubhouse and use the gym, go for a walk, run, ride...
Guess what I did: Nothing. I couldn't get my tired ass out of bed. Again. What is so frustrating about this is I LOVE being active. I mean I really love it. I never used to be one of those guys who would sit on his duff all day and essentially do nothing. So I thought about this while I was feeding Caley and came to a realization. I am scared witless that I will go into respiratory distress again and end up back in the hospital. The doctors cleared me, but it made me scared for my life and I haven't felt that way since Iraq. So here I am, sitting. Wondering. Feeling guilty. Feeling scared. Feeling like a failure. How do I fix this. The thought of going outside to exercise scares me stupid. When my wife makes me go for a walk or I take my daughter for a walk, I don't last very long.
I refuse to let this beat me. I am going to talk to my wife about this try to come up with a plan to beat this. I want to beat this, but I need a drill sergeant to light a fire...
After the holidays were over, things got even worse. My wife was getting desperate to get through to me and was emotionally, spiritually, and physically spent. In February, she sat me down and figuratively slapped me out of it. Those details are too personal to share, but boy did it snap me out. It went into a serious introspective period that lasted about a week and half. When my wife snapped me out of it, I gained a clarity I hadn't experience for the better part of a year. I looked back and felt crushed by the guilt - of not being there for my wife and daughter. The guilt was so oppressive at first I felt like I was suffocating. I had a significant sense of the loss of time. Much of the past year I don't remember - at all. I missed doctor appointments at the VA, I had really let the PTSD take control. So what the hell happened? After a lot of talking with my wife and a lot of introspection, these are the things that I figured out that sent me down the rabbit hole for the past year:
OK, so those were the big three. My wife and I have talked about all of this and are working to fix all that we put out of place. I love my wife for her strength and her commitment. Not many women have the intestinal fortitude to hang around when they get put through the emotional wringer like that. I am back in therapy and I am starting back up group sessions again. I am going to make sure I continue blogging because it helps to clear my head and get out the 'bad shit'.
Most of all, I want to thank everyone who has read my blog and expressed gratitude. Your gratitude has been like the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. I never intended my 'online diary' to turn into this. Let's move forward. Together. For Every Day is a New Day.
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.
As I said in the last post, I have been struggling to find a way to deal with the loss of my PTSD 'Fallout Shelter'. It has not been easy. I have tried a lot of different things and discussed different options with Dani and we have yet to come up with a solution that works. Here's what we've tried:
It has been an interesting struggle. I still want to get back into the gym, but life always seems to conspire against that happening. I get frustrated that I can't and I get frustrated that I am not losing weight and it causes my PTSD to flare up even worse. Overall, being aware of what is happening to me has been helpful, but it has not been easy. Nor have I been successful all of the time. I will go from loving daddy to apathetic bump on the couch with little to no warning - it tears my heart out sometimes that I don't have the emotional energy to show my daughter every minute of every day that I love her. I am going to continue to plug away at this and see where it goes. Hopefully we will come up with something soon.
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.
Today I finally got the down time that I needed to decompress. I was so out of focus and so emotional that I didn't trust myself outside the apartment today. Dani had to work and I got some quality time with Caley as well. I didn't even realize until I spent time with Caley today that I had been a little remiss in my duties as a father and husband over the last week or so. Granted, there were extenuation circumstances like the move and Memorial Day, but it didn't make me feel any less guilty when my beautiful daughter sighed in relief that I was back to rocking her to sleep. She had been missing it terribly.
I also spent some time thinking about what I need to do moving forward. I need to make sure I stay active outside of work - I haven't been exercising. I also need to make sure that I am eating healthy. I haven't been keen on monitoring my eating habits during the last week or so. I really don't have an excuse anymore for not exercising. I have a cycling park right across the street and it would be criminal if my bike tires didn't hit the road at least three times a week.
Getting back to 'normal' has been much different this time around. It has been a little surreal to be honest. I didn't think I would be writing about this so soon. The stress of the pending move had been eating at me for over a month and I didn't realize it. My sleep was irregular, my eating was irregular. My relationship with my wife came out the other side of this a little battered and bruised but, overall, none the worse for wear. The only thing that I have been consistent about this move that has differed from all of the other ones is the fact that I never stopped or forgot to take my meds.
So when it's all said and done, tomorrow's a new day. We got through the move and we are stronger and more dedicated to each other than ever before. Let's see what tomorrow brings.
I had a bad moment at work yesterday and the night was followed up with repetitive dreams of the soldier that died...go figure. I never would have seen that one coming. The end result: I slept in really late, screwing up my sleep schedule and I have been grumpy all day. What a way to spend a day off. The worst part is, I know it's the PTSD making me feel this way and I STILL can't stop it from making me feel out of sorts and grumpy. The only two solaces I have had today are the wonderful antics of my wife and daughter. They at least distract me for a little while.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.