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.
My wife and I were talking yesterday about how we both tended to respond to situations out of habits formed over the past two years. I didn't to do something, my wife gets frustrated and mad, I feel guilty and withdraw. For any other vets and spouses, does this sound familiar? I am sure we are not the only ones who have fallen victim to habit.
When I realized what was going on, my wife and I talked about it and we came to an agreement, a compromise that will hopefully help us from falling into those habits. Here's what we agreed on:
What's the reasoning? I have a tendency to fall asleep for a nap after work because work is very energy consuming. The end result: There are a list of tasks that I would normally do that didn't get done that, over the course of time, made my wife resent me for not doing. My wife and I talked about this and she agreed to afford me the opportunity to show her that I DO CARE. So after coming to this agreement, I thought a lot about the stress my wife was under. My wife did all of the work around the house. This was because she either didn't think I would remember to do my tasks or she thought that I didn't care. This led to an enormous amount of Caregiver Stress and eventually, Burnout.
So today we tried an experiment. I had a day off today. Last night I talked with my wife about going out somewhere and doing something. While she was gone I would do chores around the house and afford her the opportunity to decompress and unwind. She said, "Well, some of the folks from the gym are going out for breakfast tomorrow..."
So this morning we woke up, and my wife went out to breakfast with friends, leaving our daughter with me. After breakfast, she went out to the mall. While she was gone, I vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, mopped the floors, and folded my laundry - all while trying to keep my daughter entertained. When my wife came home in the early afternoon, she said she felt stoned. I jokingly told her, "This is what feeling relaxed feels like." Later in the afternoon, my wife got ready and left for work. I prepared dinner for Caley and me and then cleaned up the kitchen. My wife came home from work relaxed, happy, and grateful - three things I haven't allowed her to feel in way too long.
Now the evening is mine. I get the rest of the night to relax. So it works out well for everyone. It also helps me feel better because I don't feel like a burden rather than a husband.
I would really love to hear from Veterans and their spouses on this issue. It's too important to ignore.
I couldn't have asked for a better time to have all of the counseling that I have had in the past day and a half. Group CPT ended up being one on one because none of the other members of the group were able to make it. I individual therapy we discussed why the intensity of the anger, nightmares, and hypervigilance have been increasing recently.
When I got there and realized that no one else was coming, I almost left disappointed. I really needed to talk out what transpired over the past week. When the doc expressed a desire to talk with me relieved, I was really relieved. So I went over everything that happened. He grew very serious and we discussed two topics.
Needless to day, it was a productive session. It has helped me to put what happened into proper perspective and helped me identify an underlying issue that causes my PTSD to have such a deleterious effect on my health and life.
My therapist's major concern is the increasing intensity of my nightmares, my inability to fall asleep easily, and my hair-trigger temper at work. She asked me how much physical activity I am getting outside of work. I told her that I don't really get much. She said that I needed to find a way to work exercise into my week. She said that I didn't need to go all out every day of the week. She said to start small - one or two times per week. Her concern is that only talking and thinking about things doesn't help to drain off the energy I build up over the course of a day. When the physical doesn't have an adequate outlet, it can have a very detrimental effect on the mind. So I promised her that I would talk to my wife about making sure that I have the time to exercise at least twice a week without distractions.
So there you have it. I have a few new things to consider and act on. It gives me a sense of direction, of purpose. I don't feel like I am just reacting to my PTSD right now, which is a pleasant change. We'll see how it goes over the coming weeks and months as I work on these new tasks.
I experienced a new level of nightmare on the night before Thanksgiving. The smells and sounds were always there, but these new recollections/flashbacks now include the fear, anger, horror, and disbelief that I experienced in the moment. The end result: I fell asleep on the couch at the in-laws and had nightmares. My daughter was the one who startled me awake. I became aware of what I had done when I looked over and saw her kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room and the looks or horror on everyone's faces. My startle reflexes had caused me to scare the bejesus out of my daughter.
Needless to say, for my sanity and safety and that of my daughter's, my wife and daughter have been sleeping at her parents' house so that, God Forbid, I don't actually hurt her. She was scared by my startle response, but unhurt. She's over it but I can't forgive myself. It is my worst fear - hurting my daughter.
I was at work yesterday and had a breakdown. I effectively hadn't slept since Friday night. My father took me to the VA and they are putting me back on Trazadone. The doc said that it would keep me from being physically able to act on any startle response.
I needed someone to talk to about what had happened that wasn't emotionally invested in a positive outcome. So, naturally, I talked to Rod Deaton. Rod may be a doctor at the VA and I may be a veteran with PTSD, but we are friends and do not share a doctor patient relationship. What is great about having someone so knowledgeable to turn to in situations like these is that he can stay calm and talk me down from my figurative ledge.
Talking to him last night definitely did that. He made me remember that I am a good and honorable man. That, in and of itself, would ensure that there wasn't a repeat of what happened on Thanksgiving. Additionally, he made me realize that my I was allowing me fears to blow what had happened out of proportion. I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. When I get into situations like this past week, I verbalize my irrational fears to those I love, causing them to worry excessively. I force them to think the worst.
It's form of self-flagellation. On some level I have been punishing myself continually since my daughter was born. I think about all of the worst-case outcomes to my behavior and believe myself capable of making those outcomes a reality. It's self-fulfilling prophecy. I have been hamstringing myself like this ever since my daughter was born. It all stems from irrational fears of losing my family, my daughter.
I won't go into all of the details but my conversation with Rod last night led me to make some incredibly substantial realizations about myself:
So what's the end-result of the mess of a week? Blessings dressed in wolf's clothing...
So it has been a traumatizing and productive week all at the same time. I am still exhausted and have to work at not being too hard on myself, but my wife and daughter deserve to enjoy the man I am - not the man I was afraid I could become.
Today, I woke up groggy and out of sorts. I had intense nightmares last night for the first time in a while. They were particularly intense and I am not sure as to why. I have had the nightmares about once a week pretty consistently for the past few months, but they haven't been very intense and they haven't had that HD replay reel feel or the scent memory of blood for a while. I have actually been looking forward to the holiday this year and what happens? Yeah, nightmares...
Regardless, I am not going to let that ruin my holiday. With that in mind, I want to recount all of the wonderful things I am thankful for this year:
Add all of this together and you have the mother of all support networks. My wish for everyone reading this is the grace and luck to find such amazing people to empower them. I firmly resolve that, despite my incredibly bad night, I will not let it take away from the gratitude I feel for the amazing people in my life. This post is for them - those I have mentioned and those I
I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Now stop reading and go enjoy some turkey and football!
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.
I recently asked on my Facebook Page if there were any issues that my readers would like me to discuss in my blog. My fellow advocate, Uncle Sam's Mistress, asked if I could discuss the following issue:
How do spouses and loved ones of service members with PTSD balance the celebrating events (like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) with the needs of the suffering service member to have alone time - a safe harbor in the storm?
This is an issue that my wife and I have struggled with greatly, especially when the PTSD started getting out of control a few years ago. I would want to go out to an event or social occasion and I would reach my threshold for being around people I didn't know WELL before the event was over. It ruined more than one night out for us. As we discussed these issues, we determined that the house (or at least, part of it) should be closed off from other people. Here's how we attacked this issue as a team.
More often than not, I will reach my energy threshold for being out in public way before my wife and will be ready to leave a function or social gathering. We found that taking two vehicles has really worked for us. If I was ready to leave, I didn't have to wait to head out. I would communicate to my wife that I was reaching critical mass and I would go home to relax. My wife could stay as long as she wanted. While she would love to be able to spend the whole evening or day out and about with me, it's just not possible most days.
There are times when events are held at home (children's birthdays is a great example). These events are the hardest for me to handle because people (yes, that includes family) are invading my safe space. If the I don't have a safe place to retreat to away from everyone, I get snippy and irritable with everyone. It can ruin the day. My wife and I decided to make our bedroom and bathroom completely off-limits in our apartment when other people are over. If I feel the need to retreat to safety, I can do so. Sometimes I am even able to return to the event in small doses.
Don't Talk Religion, Politics, or Any Emotionally Charged Issue:
This may seem like a no-brainer, but people like to talk about what they are most passionate about - often that can lead to a really nasty situation with a veteran suffering from PTSD. For many of us, our opinions have a tendency to be set in stone and sacrosanct when it comes to these types of issues. Anyone challenging their ideals can trigger the PTSD.
Veterans with PTSD do not take kindly to being surprised, especially in the place they retreat to to decompress. If you want to make a veteran retreat into himself faster than you can blink, surprise him at home with a birthday party. Not only can this lead to outbursts of anger, but it can also destroy the veteran's sense of security. This is crucial. If we don't have a place to go to unwind, it can cause us to regress substantially.
Sometimes We Need a Reminder:
More often than not, if I have a choice, I am staying at home on my couch watching a movie or playing a game or just kicking my feet up. Sometimes we need someone to remind us that socializing is necessary for us as much as we hate to admit it. Connecting with people gives us a sense of inclusion and belonging to society. We just need that interaction to be on our terms - not anyone else's.
I think that covers all of the major points that resonate for me. I urge you to discuss this with me and your loved ones. If you have any questions or need clarification, please ask!
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...
Last Wednesday, I was supposed to go to CPT group. I ended up stuck in the house with serious anxiety issues that made me marginally functional at best. Out of the blue, I felt anxious about everything and nothing all at the same time. The feeling was so intense that my adrenalin kicked in so violently I felt sick. I don't know why it happened, but I am starting to see a pattern in my behavior that worries me a lot. Before Iraq, I was in great physical health. Now, I have borderline high cholesterol, respiratory issues, severe allergies. It is like my body is attacking itself. The only common element I see that has been constant across all of these health issues has been my severe anxiety and the burst of adrenalin that goes with it. It can't be coincidental. I firmly believe that prolonged periods of anxiety and adrenalin induced hyper-vigilance is deleterious to your health. I am curious is any other veterans or caregivers of veterans have thought about this connection. I hope to hear from you all on this subject. I find it hard to believe that I am the only one who suffers these symptoms.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.